Ah, yes! It’s that time of year! The time of year when non-basketball folks think Disney is releasing a remake of Cinderella (surely it’ll be trending on Twitter). The time of year when the gamblers surface, and your office is littered with people engaging in illegal office pools. The time of year where you’re forced to listen to people tell you how they pegged East Tennessee St. as the team to watch out for in the preseason. The time of year where you’ll inexplicably find yourself standing in front of the T.V., with your heart pounding out of your chest, as you watch two teams you couldn’t care less about at any other point in life… Or even locate on a map, for that matter.
March Madness is upon us!
Now, if you’ve never filled out a bracket, it’s about time to question your existence. For the rest of you, congratulations on your L (or more likely, Ls).
Whether you’re a college hoops analyst, World of Warcraft phenom, former basketball player, team mom, occasional sports dabbler, The Bachelor advocate, toddler, or someone who completely despises sports in general, your odds at a successful bracket are all about the same.
The uncertainty of the tournament, the passion, and the outright absurdity of March Madness is not only what conceived the name, but what makes it one of the greatest events in sports.
That being said, there are countless approaches to be taken when filling out your bracket. Whether you’re a statistician with a computer program used to analyze data and break down the matchups, or one who utilizes the “which team has a better mascot?” strategy, making it through the 1st weekend without using your bracket to practice your origami skills is a feat. Let alone making it through the 1st day.
There are, however, a few things you can do to increase your odds of success (that computer program wouldn’t hurt). Keep these 6 tips in mind when filling out your brackets, and best of luck!
1. Know the Teams
Now, we have to be realistic on this one. Nobody, not even the analysts who’s full-time job is to break down college hoops, has the time to watch every game played by every team. Nobody in their right mind, at least. Excluding the play-in games, there’s 64 teams which make the tournament. Assuming each of these 64 teams simply played the minimum 29 games, that’s 74,240 minutes, 1,237 hours, or 52 days worth of film.
So, by default, there’s going to be a certain degree of assumption involved in “knowing” the teams, but there are a couple things which will provide some useful insight.
– Roster Construct
Be sure to take a quick look at the team’s roster before throwing them in the Elite 8 on a whim. Experience is an invaluable commodity come tournament time, and it’d be prudent to account for teams who have been there before, and/or are laden with upperclassmen. Now obviously, this doesn’t apply to the Kentuckys (ies?) of the world – who rent NBA talent for a year – but even the juggernauts can find themselves in tough battles vs. proven, smaller schools.
Matchups play a vital role, as well. Some teams just don’t matchup up well with others, and it’s brought to light every. single. year. Even if you’ve never heard of Jacksonville St., and thought they were out of Florida (JSU is in Alabama), a quick skim of their roster, and a glance at their statistical leaders can work wonders. Team A has 3 7-footers, and is Top-10 in rebounding, while Team B’s tallest cat stands 6’9″… Probably going to be a long afternoon for Team B.
The Ratings Percentage Index is used by the selection committee to evaluate teams, and should not be overlooked when it comes to filling out your bracket. A team’s RPI accounts for their strength of schedule, offensive/defensive performance, etc. and can be useful in identifying teams which may be undervalued, tend to play up (or down) to the level of their competition, are the beneficiary of a weak schedule, or have a less than stellar record as a result of a tough one.
Now, no. Don’t simply pencil the higher ranked team into the next round. The numbers don’t tell the entire story, but they’re a fairly good index.
*You can find the RPI data here, and clicking each individual team will give a more detailed look into their performance this season (make it a point to check their record in games played on the road, and at a neutral sites).
2. Know the Coaches
Like experience, coaching is invaluable. Some coaches tend to fare well in the tournament, while others, not so much.
Take Tom Izzo, and Michigan St. They’re a threat on a yearly basis; regardless of their regular season play. The man pulls some unexplainable magic come tournament time, and his 46-18 record is a direct reflection.
The same applies on the contrary.
Enter Bob Huggins. Huggins has had several teams with unbounded talent during his time at Cincinnati, Kansas St., and now West Virginia, his career record is above 70%, he has 5 Conference Coach of the Year awards… Suffice it to say, the man knows how to coach the game of basketball. Yet, his all-time record in tournament play sits at an unimpressive 29-22. Could be style of play, maybe in-game adjustments, who knows? But, one thing is for certain, some coaches just don’t fare well come tournament time.
A quick google search will provide all of the information you need in this regard, but here’s a quick look at some of the best active coaches from DBWoerner
3. Pay Heed to Location
Yes, every game is played at a neutral site. Kind of.
Every year there are teams who spend the 1st few rounds within hours of campus. This not only benefits the players, but the fans as well (which in turn, also benefits the players).
Every year there are teams who have to travel across country. This is not only a hinderance to the players, but the fans as well (which in turn… You get the point).
4. Take a Heat Check
Sometimes, winning 6 games in 2 weeks simply comes down to being hot at the right time; à la Shabazz Napier & UConn in 2014. Therefore, a teams’ seed isn’t always an accurate representation of their play.
Injuries, suspensions, and cohesion are just a few of the factors which can contribute to a team being hot or cold as the tourney approaches. Be sure to check recent schedules, and injury reports, to determine which direction the arrow is pointing, and don’t ignore your findings.
5. Check the Odds
The oddsmakers are good. Very effing good. Vegas isn’t in the game to lose money, if so, it wouldn’t exist as we know it (there’s a reason the gambling industry is valued in the billions). As a result, the point spread is a good indication of how the game is going to go… More often than not.
By using algorithms, and statistical analysis, they’re able to evaluate team rankings, coaching staffs, player performance, etc. which is combined with public perception, location, injuries, and God knows what else, to provide which team is favored in the matchup, and by how many points.
Again, typically a pretty good indication of how the game is going to go.
There are several free websites, my personal favorite being www.sportsinsights.com, which provide not only the odds, but also show the betting percentages, and update in real-time to adjust with the betting climate, lineup changes, etc. Even if you’re risk averse, and have never placed a bet in your life, this information is extremely valuable (if you’re a novice, just remember -x is a good thing. That team is projected to win).
Now, this will only apply to the 1st round, but hey… I said you’d probably still lose. One round > Zero rounds. So, be thankful.
*Pay attention to the line movement. For you novices, again, – is a good thing. In the most oversimplified manner I can deduce, if you see an increase from -5 to -6.5, the likelihood that team wins has improved (Or the books need more money on the dog, but that’s a conversation for another time).
6. Follow Your Gut
All that said, no amount of data, research, or knowledge can guarantee you a quality bracket. Unless, of course, you have Grays Sports Almanac. Listen, there’s a reason it’s called March Madness. There will be upsets. There will be insanity. Plus, March Murmurings doesn’t have quite the same ring.
Last year, my 3-year old daughter “filled” out a bracket. I simply showed her the teams logos, and she picked based on colors/mascots. Now, if she knew what was happening, she would’ve put the bracket in the shredder by Saturday afternoon. But ultimately, she didn’t fare too much worse than myself.
Point being, if you think this is the year a 16-seed upsets a 1? Go with it. You like UNC-Wilmington to make a Final Four run? Eff it, why not? Gut saying one thing, ESPN/your friend/statistics/whatever else saying another? Always go with your gut. If not, you’ll regret it when you’re right.
Just go with it, and enjoy the ride.
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