March Madness tipped off last evening with Arkansas Pine-Bluff handling a tough Winthrop team to advance to play Duke. Today I am going to provide you with some advice when filling out your NCAA brackets over the next day. You can take it for what you want in that I rarely win the pools that I am in each year. I will just provide you with some tidbits that I have picked up over the years.
1. First of all there are plenty of upsets. But once you hit the Sweet 16 and Elite 8, the big boys take back over. The tournament takes place over 3 weeks. By the end of the 2nd weekend, it has struck midnight on the Cinderellas 99 percent of the time and the big time teams from the power conferences are the ones left standing. That is why it should be no surprise to you that every one of the top 4 seeds in each region come from the power conferences except one (New Mexico).
2. Pick with your head and not your heart. This can be very tough for most. They want to see their teams do well and struggle to pick against their guys. Well, there will only be one team left standing in the end. It is very unlikely that it will be your team unless they are a one or two seed. So look at the matchups and pick the team that you actually think will win, not who you want to win.
3. Do not over think and over analyze games. There is a reason why most people in America do as well or better than Sports Illustrated with their picks. Sports Illustrated has access to every stat and generally over analyzes games rather than going with a gut. This does not mean that you know more than Sports Illustrated. This just means that picking with your gut is the best way to go most of the time in this tournament.
4. Pick the teams from the Big East. This conference was overwhelmingly the best conference in the land this year. I know the Big East generally has teams fizzle out by the Final Four, but you should expect the teams from this basketball powerhouse to provide more of the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 teams than any other conference. They may not provide you with the National Champion, but look for more teams to leave the first weekend from this conference than any other. The Big East has 8 teams in the NCAA tourney and 5 in the NIT. 13 teams in the two premier tournaments in the country. Big East teams play tough grind it out games all year. They are used to the intensity of the atmosphere and this will show starting tomorrow.
5. Other than Kentucky, do not waste your time on the SEC. The SEC was way down this year. I will be very surprised to see any of them leave the first weekend other than the Wildcats. Florida does not match up well with an experienced BYU team. BYU thrives against teams that are do not have a strong interior presence. Tennessee, if they survive the first round will likely take on a very tough Georgetown Hoyas team. If Georgetown plays anywhere near their capabilities, they should handle the Volunteers with ease. Then Vanderbilt takes on a tough Murray State team that has won 30 games. Also do not forget, that turnover prone teams tend to really struggle in the NCAA tournament regardless of if they are talented. The Racers are great at forcing turnovers, and Vanderbilt struggles to take care of the ball (this is a 13 vs 4 upset alert). And even if Vanderbilt wins, they will have a tough Butler, or dare I say UTEP squad waiting for them.
6. Pick teams that have a go to guy to advance deep into the tourney. Kentucky has John Wall. Kansas has Sherron Collins. Ohio State has Evan Turner. Villanova has Scottie Reynolds. Then finally, West Virginia has the best finisher of them all, Da’sean Butler. Most tournament games come down to the final couple of possessions. If teams have a guy that they know is ready and able to take the big shot, they generally move on in these down to the wire battles. So look for all of these teams to make great showings in that they have a star to rely on.
7. Look at where games are being played. For instance if Baylor is able to get to the Sweet 16 in the South Region, the games will be in Houston. This will be a huge home court advantage for this very hard to predict team out of the Big 12. Also, take note that the Final Four is in Indianapolis. You better believe that if UK gets to the Final Four, it will be like a home game for the Wildcats in Peyton Manning’s palace. So take notes of where these games are being played. Most of the time the tournament committee does a good job about only rewarding top seeds with good locations. But there is the occasional lower seed that lucks into playing close to home and this can make an upset bid all the more possible.
8. Rely on teams with great guards to go far. Teams like Kansas, UK, Villanova, and Syracuse. They all have strong backcourts and guards are a real key in March Madness. Taking care of the ball is essential to success. Now obviously teams with strong interior play will do well, but it is the teams with the great backcourts that make Final Four runs. Remember Villanova last year?
9. In the words of Dickie V, it’s totally Awesome Baby with a capital A! This is the best tournament in sports for a reason. Make sure to sit down and take in as many games as you can. Especially the first weekend, where there is normally complete madness.
First Round Upset Alerts: UTEP over Butler and Murray State over Vanderbilt (people will be going wild in San Jose where both of these games are being played if this happens) Sienna over a Robby Hummel’less Purdue team. Also do not be surprised to see one of these three teams sneak into the Sweet 16 and be this year’s Cinderella.
My Elite 8: Kansas, Georgetown, Syracuse, Kansas State, Kentucky, West Virginia, Duke, Villanova
My Final Four Picks: Kansas, Syracuse, Kentucky, and Villanova.
My National Champion: Kansas (best and most well-rounded TEAM in the tournament)
Stay tuned for the next edition of Sportskraze.