Five Tips for 2017 NCAA Bracket Success | THE POLITICUS

Five Tips for 2017 NCAA Bracket Success

March Madness is the intoxicating psychosis that infects the minds of millions of NCAA men’s collegiate basketball fans this time every year. The focus of our frenzied obsession is the 68 teams that are poised to begin the unpredictable journey up the precarious slope — and one to the storied pinnacle — of college hoops’ most sacred mountain. To the basketball gods enthroned on its peak, I say this: let the three-week March Madness viewing feast begin!

And for those of us who watch college basketball, there’s another ritualistic component — one that is equally infectious — of this annual rite of passage. Selection Sunday will find us diligently filling out our NCAA brackets. For me, last year’s brackets were, as usual, frustrating. I cursed their crumpled remains on my dining room table, told myself “never again!” Where in the world are Stephen F. Austin and Middle Tennessee State anyway?

But, much like an addict in search of their next fix, bracketology’s cold web of deceit is pulling me in once more. This is going to be my year. And I will keep telling myself that ridiculous lie as I religiously enter my brackets into various tournament pools. Einstein once quipped that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Based upon that, college fans like myself must be insane. March Madness is insanity; our brackets the yin to its anticipatory yang.

Over the years of watching NCAA college basketball, I’ve heard just about every conceivable theory on crafting successful brackets. I’ve tried them all, and they’ve gotten me absolutely nowhere. For 2017, I’ve decided to cast those unsuccessful methods aside, and formulate my own. And now I’m going to share five of my secrets with you. Good luck! I’ll see you at the top of the mountain …

1. Ignore the “Suits in a Circle”

Now let me ask you a question: do you sit around and talk hoops with your buddies wearing a $1,000 Armani suit? All the major sports networks feature tournament tip-off specials, with nattily attired former coaches and basketball writers. Well, for the last two tournaments, I listened to their NCAA bracket advice (even taking copious notes). In the end, their prophetic words busted my brackets within days. In fact, I have my own conspiracy theory that they actually give you the wrong information on purpose. I mean, they might have brackets in the same pools we do. Think about it for a second.

Additionally, there’s a reason these “experts” aren’t coaching any longer, right? And most of the sports writers got cut from their 5th grade basketball squads. The problem with these “suits in a circle” is that they — just like we novices — can’t accurately foresee tournament contest intangibles. Things like injuries, toughness, heart, foul trouble, and what I call the “sphincter” factor … the teams expected to win that will wilt under the pressure. Last year Michigan State and West Virginia experienced this “coal to diamond” pressure transformation. Every bracket’s owner deals with these surprises.

Bottom line: The only advice to take from these guys is fashion-related.

2. Good Coaches, Like Dogs, Have Pedigrees

One thing I know from watching the Big Dance for the past 40 years is this: the best coaches, no matter where they are coaching, rise to the top. There’s something in their DNA — like the competitors in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show — that sets them apart. They recruit, teach, motivate, and lead players better than their peers. And that’s why they drive Jaguars and Mercedes, and we don’t.

Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski — love him or hate him — has led the Blue Devils to 12 Final Fours. Michigan State’s Tom Izzo has been there on seven occasions (sorry Sparty fans, not this year). Coach John Calipari has been to six Final Fours, with three different schools. So, if you find yourself in a match-up bracket dilemma, pick the team with the most pedigreed coach. Oh, and they usually get the close calls when the games are tight — that certainly helps.

Bottom line: Go with the “dog” that will most likely win “Best of Show.”

3. Protect Your Brackets with Strong Guards

Good guard play wins close tournament games. This is actually one cogent point that I learned all by myself, from watching big-time match-ups over the years. Villanova rode this horse to the title in 2016. Back in 2011, UConn’s backcourt duo of future NBAers Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb shredded teams in the Big East Conference on their way to reach the pinnacle of Mount NCAA Tournament.

Recently, I pulled up a Bleacher Report article from last December, in which they ranked the top 10 backcourts in college basketball. The four highest-rated backcourts (Kansas, UCLA, Villanova, and Gonzaga) were playing for the top four teams in the USA Today Coaches Poll the week before the tournament started. And that ought to tell you something. When in doubt, pick the team with the best guards. Quintets with ball handlers who shoot free throws well — important at the end of games — cause more turnovers than they commit and distribute the ball wisely. And ball handlers are usually leaders too. That wins championships.

Bottom Line: Guards that don’t do these things will lose to those who do.

4. The Luck of Underdogs Eventually Runs Out

Americans love it when the dark horse leads coming into the stretch. And we hoops fans breathlessly enjoy watching them take down higher seeds in the NCAA tournament (unless it blows up our brackets). Over the years we’ve seen upstarts like Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), George Mason, Wichita State, and Butler take down the Goliaths during the Big Dance. Last year it was Hawaii, Stephen F. Austin, and Middle Tennessee State (by the way, they’re from Murfreesboro, TN).

But don’t allow those emotions to cloud your bracketology good judgment. According to ESPN.com’s “NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Facts, the lowest seed to ever win the whole ball of wax was Villanova, ranked number 8, in 1985. According to an article entitled “7 Mad Facts About March Madness” from U.S. News & World Report, since 1979, at least one number 1 seed has made it to the Final Four … and its usually dos. Typically, upsets prevail during the first couple of rounds. But once you get to the Sweet 16, the tournament organizers tend to get it right, and the big dogs have settled down.

Bottom Line: The big dogs eventually put the little ones in their place.

5. Envision Mascot Combat Scenarios

Okay, you’ve used the four tips above, but still need a tiebreaker. Look at each team’s mascot, then picture the two engaged in an MMA death match … like in a cage or something. Use your creativity. For example, you have a dilemma, choosing between the Southern Methodist University (SMU) Mustangs and the Purdue Boilermakers. Now the big guy (Purdue Pete) is pretty buff, and wields a nasty sledgehammer, but the horse is fast and can kick like the dickens. In a cage, I believe Pete would eventually win out, and cold-cock the mustang into la-la land. Advantage: Purdue.

Now, a couple of potential problems could arise with this method. First, you may get two teams with the same mascot. Case in point: Butler and Gonzaga both use bulldogs. Another issue is trying to determine what exactly some of these mascots are. What’s a Gael (St. Mary’s), or a Shocker (Wichita State)? Can anyone tell me what a Tar Heel (North Carolina) actually looks like?

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that some of these schools really need to toughen up their images. For instance, a Blue Jay (Creigton), an Orange (Syracuse), or a Duck (Oregon) are not going to strike fear in the hearts of their opponents; and they will be quickly eliminated from someone’s bracket when this selection method is used.

Bottom Line: If a mascot rules, then their school probably will too.

Well, I hope that you were able to gain some insights about filling out your brackets. Good luck in the tournament and please leave your feedback, including your favorite March Madness bracket-selection pointers, in the comment section below. And keep watching this blog for more advice as the tourney’s events unfurl. Let the games begin!



Five Tips for 2017 NCAA Bracket Success was originally published in Democracy Guardian on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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