There are an endless number of ways to fill out an NCAA tournament bracket, as you’ve no doubt learned over the years observing an endless string of mascot-pickers, chalkers, homers, contrarians, nerds and people who just copy whatever you do.
It there was a foolproof way to pick an NCAA tournament bracket, it wouldn’t be any fun, and nobody would bother. Fortunately, there isn’t. But there are a few things you might think of as “good policy.” There are steps you can take to help yourself avoid stupid mistakes, and there are some things about some teams in the tournament this year you might want to be aware of, if you haven’t been paying close attention to the college basketball season.
It has been a strange year in college basketball, in that while Virginia, Villanova and Xavier have glistening records and have dominated all year, there is a general sense that the teams at the top of college basketball are more beatable than in years past.
As usual, chaos is anticipated.
But you can rise above it by following these 10 tips.
Do: Look Up Some Basic Stats
You might (correctly) identify the NCAA tournament as a crapshoot in which even the most sophisticated research can be rendered irrelevant by a single bounce of the ball. For this reason, you may be tempted to fly through your bracket making educated guesses.
This is not a bad strategy, so long as the guesses are actually educated.
There is no need to try turning yourself into Ken Pomeroy to do this. If nothing else, just browse through the conference statistics for all the teams you’re evaluating. You’ll be amazed how quickly the cold truth about certain teams is revealed, and you’ll gain insight into specific matchups. Take West Virginia, for example. It’s a tough, veteran team with a popular coach (Bob Huggins) that runs a press and devours offensive rebounds. The Mountaineers are the fifth seed in the East Regional, and because of their recent history, you may be tempted to make them a sleeper Final Four pick. You may well still want to do that after you find out West Virginia was last in the Big 12 in field-goal percentage and seventh in three-point percentage, but then again you might not.
On the flip side, look at Purdue, which appears headed for about a second seed. The Boilermakers are known for their incredible size on the block and their excellent defense. But did you know they led the Big Ten both in three-pointers made and three-point percentage?
Face it, you don’t have the time to do in-depth research on every team in the tournament—or even half of them. So just browse the stats and keep things in mind that stick out and will help you avoid making stupid mistakes.
Don’t: Assume Kansas Is an Early Out
The Jayhawks have a reputation for losing NCAA tournament games they’re expected to win, and there are a handful of anecdotal examples to point to. But that reputation starts to fall apart under closer scrutiny.
In the 11 seasons since a first-round loss to Bradley, Kansas has played in eight Sweet 16s, six Elite Eights, two Final Fours and two national championship games, winning one (2008). Kansas was upset by VCU in 2011, but you might not remember that being an Elite Eight game. A second-round loss to Northern Iowa the year before holds up as one of the most devastating in school history, but the second-round losses to Stanford and Wichita State in 2014 and 2015 were not particularly big upsets.
Compared to other blue bloods, Kansas underperforms as a No. 1 seed, but it overperforms as a No. 2, as Sporting News’ Bill Bender noted. That hardly makes for any sort of guarantee.
If you’re looking to bet against Kansas, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional, you may be better off slotting the Jayhawks for an Elite Eight loss. Kansas has played in seven Elite Eight games since Bill Self took over the program in 2003 and only made it to the Final Four twice. It’s a trend that has followed Self his whole career, beginning when his 2000 Tulsa team made an Elite Eight run, followed by his 2001 Illinois team that did the same.
Be especially wary of the Jayhawks advancing if you have them facing a veteran mid-major school in the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. The Jayhawks sometimes tighten up in those situations.
Do: Consider Creighton
The Bluejays are seeded No. 8 in the South Regional, but they finished third in the Big East, and their leading scorer is senior guard Marcus Foster, a Kansas State transfer who averages 20 points per game.
Creighton beat Villanova on Feb. 24, Seton Hall in January, UCLA in November. Granted, the Blue Jays also lost to Villanova and Seton Hall this year, took a 17-point loss at Gonzaga, a 22-point loss at Xavier and a 23-point loss at Butler, among others. There are reasons this team isn’t a top seed.
But there are some things to like.
As usual, the Bluejays are a sound offensive team that finished second in the Big East in field-goal percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio and defensive rebounds, and they were one of three Big East teams that made at least 10 threes per game.
Defensively, Creighton is not a disruptive team, and for that reason it would be a surprise to see it make a deep run. But with a veteran scorer like Foster, it isn’t hard to imagine Creighton beating No. 9 seed Kansas State in its opener and then giving hell to Virginia, the overall No. 1 seed, in the second round.
Don’t: Pay Attention to Seeding Between 5 and 13
Featured Image: Big East Coast Bias
Inset Image: CNN.com/File Photo