March Madness is officially here. With the 68 teams now placed in their respective regions, the question shifts from which teams will get in to the most important question of the year: Who will win it all?
I can’t tell you who will cut down the nets in Glendale, Arizona in early April. After all, I’m a writer and not a magician. What I can do, however, is pass along some general bracketology tips that can give you chance at bragging rights, a top spot in your bracket pool or maybe even some money, if you’re into that.
So without further ado, let’s get to it. Here are some helpful tips for a bracket that might just make it past the first slate of games.
We Live in the Future
We live in 2017 and are blessed (or cursed, depending on how you look at it) with the internet. Use it! With so much information at our fingertips, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. My advice? Pick a few websites/metrics and stick with them. Personally, I like to use a mix of advanced statistics website KenPom.com, picks from ESPN analyst Jay Bilas and my own experiences from watching teams over the course of the season, but pick whatever you think works best and roll with it.
Guards Win Games
When March rolls around, guards are more important than ever. In some years, it’s more obvious than others (see: Kemba Walker, 2011 and Shabazz Napier, 2014). Other years, the guards may not be the stars, but have their moments much like last year’s Villanova team. Guards dictate the tempo on both ends, and great ones have a knack for solid on-ball defense and hitting free throws when it matters. If a team has good guards, they can control the game long enough and pull away when it matters to advance.
2017 Examples: UCLA, Gonzaga, North Carolina and Louisville
Upsets Will Happen
This is just a plain and simple fact. Higher-seeded teams will lose to lower-seeded ones, and not just in the No. 8-No. 9 games. In the last few years, pretty much every game between the No. 5 and No. 12 matchup to the No. 8 and No. 9 has been a coin-flip as of late, and 2017 won’t be any different. In the past five NCAA tournaments No. 12 seeds have a 10-10 record against No. 5 teams, and No. 11 seeds are 15-13 against No. 6 seeds since 2010.
Upsets are inevitable, so don’t pick chalk top to bottom. Be smart and do some research. Just like in the past few years, there are some dangerous No. 11 and No. 12 seeds looking to make some noise.
2017 Examples: No. 5 Minnesota vs. No. 12 Middle Tennessee State, No. 6 Maryland vs. No. 11 Xavier, No. 7 Dayton vs. No. 10 Wichita State
Experience (Sort of) Matters
In the age of the one-and-done player, upperclassmen still pull their weight when tournament time rolls around. Having talented players is key (obviously), but experience plays a role too. Teams that are filled with battle-tested, experienced players usually have an easier time adjusting to the limelight.
The same goes for coaches, too. The few that have won a championship or made a Final Four usually end up doing well, and can really get the most out of their teams. Experience isn’t a do-or-die thing for teams, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.
2017 Examples: Villanova, Oregon, Virginia and Notre Dame
Think About the Journey Through the Tourney
More likely than not, the best college basketball team will not win the NCAA tournament. That’s what makes March Madness so exciting. Due to the nature of the tournament, some teams have easier roads to the Final Four than others, and it’s not always the No. 1 seeds. Whether it be due to matchups, injuries or regional locations, certain teams will have things fall in their favor. Keep an eye out for paths like these as you pick teams to make a deep run.
2017 Examples: Arizona, UCLA, Duke and SMU
Best of luck with your brackets this season, and enjoy yet another year of the greatest postseason in all of sports.