You're going to put together an NCAA tournament bracket. I know it. You know it. It's a rite of spring which as an American you are all but obligated to engage in. And we want to know how you intend to do it.
Everybody has a different method for putting together that winning bracket. I'm no expert, but I do have a few guidelines which I consider pretty important. The first rule is that I never pick a #16 seed to upset a #1. It's going to happen eventually, but it hasn't happened yet. And when picking your bracket you want to play the odds.
That being said, I recommend picking a #12 or #13 to move on to the second round. This happens almost annually, but the key is finding the most slipper-worthy Cinderella. Usually team in this section of the bracket fall into one of two categories: mid-major tournament winners and big conference at-large selections. The at-larges who end up in this range have barely slipped into the field. They often had a solid RPI and a couple of decent wins, but didn't put together a consistently solid season. The mid-majors in this area however are here solely because they come from small conferences. The winner of the Atlantic Sun tournament, Nashville's Belmont University, had won 14 straight games. The Bruins feature veteran big men who have been to the tournament before (Belmont fell to Wisconsin in last year's opening round 72-58).
I also avoid picking all four #1 seeds to go to the Final Four. Again, it's about numbers. Sure it has happened, but a #2, #3 or #4 usually sneaks in there, and often wins it. Given that most pools prioritize picking the Final Four, championship participants, and ultimate winner, this is where you make your money (figuratively speaking of course).
I used to look for teams that appeared to be getting hot at just the right time. But I've learned over the years that it's fairly rare for a team that comes into the tourney on a hot streak to be able to extend it deep into the tournament. Rather, what you tend to see is teams getting hot in the early rounds and parlaying that into a tournament run. Your challenge is to guess which teams will get hot at just the right time.
But it's not a totally blind guess. For example, some coaches have a reputation for guiding their squads deep into the tournament. I tend to pick Tom Izzo's Michigan State Spartans to go farther in the bracket that the seeding might suggest. Izzo just seems to have his team ready to play in March. Ditto for Coach K and his Duke squad. These coaches have been there and done that. They know how to handle the psychological aspect of tournament preparation, not getting too high or too low, and keeping young athletes focused. Picking the coach and not the team can pay dividends.
Think you have what it takes to take the tournament by storm? Head on over to SB Nation's "Wisdom of the Crowds" page sponsored by Yahoo! and get your pick on. And if you're not too secretive about your formula, let us know how you pick 'em in the comments below.
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