The greatest weekend in sports is finally upon us. Nobody’s bracket is busted (yet), and fans of at least 20 teams think they have a legitimate shot at the Final Four. Although the tournament officially starts today with the play-in games First Round, I don’t consider things official until Thursday’s games. While I’m usually excited to fill out my bracket, this year has been a challenge. In a year where seemingly every good team has taken a turn at the #1 seed, you get the feeling that virtually anything can happen.
That makes picking a bracket even more impossible than usual.
Quick note: I only fill out one bracket. I do this for a couple reasons. First, I am a man. Second, it makes it much easier to figure out if I should be happy or sad as games are played. I won’t judge you too harshly if you have several brackets with a few different champions. I’ll just say, “grow up” and “a man must have a code.” Pick one bracket and roll with it.
Now, when it comes to filling out your bracket, I follow a few simple rules. These mean more in my head than in real life, but they at least make me feel better about picking Team X over Team Y. Here are a few things to consider when picking your winners and losers:
Location, location, location –
Recently, the NCAA has mixed up the locations of the tournament’s first two rounds. Schools given a lower seed can end up playing closer to home.
This year, Michigan (South Region) and Michigan State (Midwest) get to play their first two games outside of Detroit. Cal (East), a 12-seed, will “host” the higher seeded UNLV in San Jose. Also, Kansas (East) and Kansas State (West) will play down the road in Kansas City. As you can see, these locations have little to do with the region each team will play in. Something to remember.
Age matters –
You hear about this every year, but it always seems to play a factor: more experienced teams do better in the tournament. Miami proved this over the course of the regular season. The Hurricanes’ best players are 19-24(!) years old. Don’t discount the poise and physical superiority some of these grown ass men have over other freshmen and sophomore-laden teams.
That gives an edge to Miami and Saint Louis (among others), teams that are led by Junior and Seniors. Saint Louis plays in the brutal Midwest Region, so their experience could be an edge against the more well-known teams they’ll face.
Guard play –
We’ve seen the decline of the big man in the NBA, where there are only 30 teams. There are just as few great big men in college, except they are spread over four times as many teams. That means teams with great guard play have a real advantage in the tourney. These are the players with the ball most of the time, so those who run their offense the best and limit turnovers are ones to focus on.
That means Michigan (Trey Burke), Miami (Shane Larkin), Louisville (Peyton Siva), and Ohio State (Aaron Craft) lead teams that could make a serious run. Let’s hope I’m wrong about Craft though.
The Steph Curry factor –
This rule is dedicated to the players who can drop 40 points in a random game. Curry took over the entire tournament in 2008, leading Davidson to within one missed three pointer of the Final Four. There are a few dangerous players in this year’s tournament. I’d move a few teams a few games ahead of where you normally would on your bracket.
Doug McDermott (Creighton), Otto Porter (Georgetown), and Nate Wolters (South Dakota State) can all get hot. Think long and hard about crossing their teams off early on.
Blind, dumb luck –
Which is why the person who picks the teams by where they’d rather vacation will win the office pool.
I have a few other rules (Always pick one 12-seed over a 5-seed for instance), and The Oracle (aka my Dad…who already knows who will win it all) on my side…which is all well and good until I remember that the last rule is really the only one that matters. I still enjoy the hell out of the tournament and can’t wait until the official start on Thursday/Friday when there are games from noon to midnight.
As far as my predictions, I have Duke out in the second round, Michigan State, Kansas State, Georgetown, and Miami in the Final Four, and Miami taking it all. It was hard to go against Indiana and Louisville, but no team out there is unbeatable.
What about you? Who do you have winning the championship? Do you have a system? If so, what “rules” do you have when picking a bracket? If you’re a person who fills out more than one set of picks…please explain why in the comments below.
Good luck on your picks!