Upsets, locks, diaper dandies, Gus Johnson, buzzer beaters, and Cinderellas. My favorite time of the year.
There are more brackets being filled out than votes cast in the Presidential election and most of the authors are more clueless than Alicia Silverstone. I've been doing a bracket since I could pee standing up (last year) and have come across some useful tips to those who don't know where to start. Here are a few of them. I've left out "don't pick Hampton over Duke" to save time.
Tip #1: Find your streak
Teams coming off early round exits in their conference tournaments will show rust in the first half of their first round matchup. Even moreso for a team that hasn't been there before. But the teams that have strung a few great wins together, including at least a trip to their conference tourney, have a much better shot of keeping up that momentum and not holding their breath on a bad seed on Selection Sunday.
A few teams to stay away from that lost their first game in their conference tournaments are: Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Kansas State, Wisconsin, Purdue, and UCLA. I have three of these teams losing in the first round. The streaking teams that could make a deep run are UConn, Kentucky, Kansas, Duke, and Ohio State. Four of these teams are in my elite 8.
Tip #2: Look at the home/road/neutral record
If teams are overly dominant at home and much weaker on the road, it will hurt them during Tourney time. Look at last year's champion, Duke. Against some very good competition, they were 7-0 heading into the tournament in a neutral location. The 08-09 Tar Heels were 6-1 and the previous year's Jayhawks were 4-0 in a neutral court. When counting the back to back champion Florida Gators, the previous five champions combine for a neutral court record of 29-2. Let's take a quick look at the top 8 seeds record on neutral courts.
Ohio State: 3-0
Notre Dame: 4-2
San Diego State: 7-0
North Carolina: 5-3
It's not an exact science, obviously. When you look at the seven teams San Diego State beat and the two teams Pittsburgh or Notre Dame lost to, it's be clear that the level of competition isn't particularly even. But your championship team needs to be able to win away from their home court, because that's where they'll be playing.
Tip #3: Don't pick against teams you hate
This one has bothered me for many tournaments past. I'd pick against UCLA or Florida or Ohio State or Michigan State because I just hated the teams (sometimes more specifically their players) so much. But you have to forget all that come Tourney time. You don't want to have Michigan beating Duke in the second round only to have them march all the way to the championship game and redden your once-immaculate bracket just because you hate that most of their players are white and won't have a good pro career.
In the same vein, go with logic over heart when it comes to picking "your team" to make a run. Villanova isn't going to win it all. Neither are Temple or Penn State. If you must, give them a Sweet Sixteen birth. That won't hurt too badly. But if you have Temple beating Kansas in the championship game, then you, like my father, will be looking at a whole bunch of red marks way sooner than you'd like. Making a second "fun bracket" is also a possibility, but then you run into the problem of the fun bracket miraculously being better than your real one for a thousand dollars.
Tip #4: Print out a bracket and write it in pen
There's something about writing your picks in pen that gives you that feeling of finality. Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg call it "the sheet of integrity", which aside from a terrifically fitting name, has a deeper truth to it. This is your proof that you can tell shit from Shinola. You're not just some dude or chick who happens to glance at the bottom line from time to time while gobbling up the spoonfed muck that "mainstream" sports media throws at you. You know what the hell you're talking about.
And when you take the time and the ink to print out a bracket, carry it with you all day, and shove it under the nose of any hack-bag who has Florida going anywhere near the Elite 8, you mean business. And that's cool.
Tip #5: Don't listen to anyone, especially not experts
Nobody knows anything. Operate under that assumption and you'll have as good a shot at getting a perfect bracket as Joe Lunardi. I've shaved years off my life not getting enough sleep because St. Mary's and Gonzaga were playing the 11:00 game in November on the East Coast and I had to stay up to watch it so my bracket didn't suffer. It doesn't matter -- just like me, you'll be wrong.
Plus experts won't come out and be like "my bad, that was a dumb pick". They'll just hope you forgot about it and go on pretending like they know what they're talking about while they collect major coin and get to hang out with John Buccigoss.
Enjoy the tournament and if you win a million dollars on a perfect bracket, toss me a few bucks.