March 13, 2017
by Chase Gage
It’s finally here. It may be the greatest sporting event in all of America (besides maybe the Women’s Disc Golf Championship (yes, that’s real. Look it up. http://www.pdga.com) of course), and it is FINALLY here.
The field of 68 has now been set. Do you know what the only thing more stressful than waiting to see if your team made the field is? Picking your perfect bracket. That’s why I’m here.
There are several strategies to picking your bracket. Some people may go by which team has a better record or a higher seed. Some pick based on which teams they like and dislike. Some do it based on who has the coolest uniforms or the weirdest mascot, or even which team has the players with the coolest haircuts. Whatever your strategy is, though, it is probably wrong. Everyone is always wrong. That is what makes this tournament so much fun.
The best method that I have found is to simply go with your gut feeling. Sure, it may be wrong most of the time. But if you’re right, you feel like an absolute genius. Even if it is wrong, who cares? No one ever gets them all right anyway. The most important thing is to have fun and to do better than your friends.
I tend to be halfway-decent when it comes to picking games in the tournament. Last year, for example, I made it through the first day with only ONE miss! Of course, that miss was Michigan State and I had them winning it all, but I digress. Anyway, I will be providing you with some advice. The most important piece of advice that I can give you, however, is to definitely not listen to my advice. Without further ado, here are my tips to help you pick a perfect bracket.
Don’t Pick All #1 Seeds
Sure, it may be wise to pick all of the top seeds to advance past the first and second rounds, but at least one of them will fall earlier than expected. Only once have all four one seeds advanced to the Final Four (2008). The popular pick this year would be to oust Gonzaga earlier than the semifinals, as they are seen as the weakest of the top seeds. However, I usually advise going against popular opinion. I believe it will be either Kansas or North Carolina that fall earliest. In fact, in my bracket, I only have two of the one seeds advancing to the Elite Eight. One-seeds tend to win games in the tournament, often even winning the whole thing, but one of them will fall “early”(before the Final Four).
Pick At Least One 12 Seed
One of the best matchups is the 5 vs. 12. It seems like every year this is where the most upsets happen. In fact, since 1985, there have only been four occasions where at least one 12-seed failed to upset a five-seed (isn’t it kind of funny that they’re called “seeds”? Once you type it so many times, it starts to sound odd), occurring in 1988, 2000, 2007 and 2015.
This year a hot pick is Nevada over Iowa State. While this is plausible, I don’t think it will happen. One pick that could be very beneficial to your bracket would be to pick UNC Wilmington over Virginia. Sure, you could be wrong, but do you have Virgina advancing past Florida and making the Sweet 16? Probably not. So might as well go for the long-shot, right? Another one to pay attention to would be Middle Tennessee vs. Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are pretty solid, but this one just feels like it could be an upset waiting to happen.
Don’t Get Caught Up in the Past
Florida Gulf Coast is back in the tournament. I repeat, DUNK CITY IS BACK! For those of you unfamiliar, Florida Gulf Coast was a 15-seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. It was their first-ever appearance, but they were up against second-seeded Georgetown in the first round. The Eagles pulled off the miracle victory in emphatic fashion, winning by a score of 78-68. But they didn’t stop there. The Eagles beat seventh-seeded San Diego State in the second round 81-71 to advance to the Sweet 16. That’s right. A 15-seed made it to the Sweet 16. They were defeated, however, by a better team from Florida, the Gators. It was a great run, though. The Eagles returned to the Big Dance last season, this time playing in the First Four. They won and went on to be a 16-seed. They lost, of course. No 16 has ever won a game (until this year maybe..?).
This year is different, though. This is a team that is hot and ready to compete in the tournament. They are a 14-seed and will play Florida State in the opening round of the tournament. Many are quick to pick this team as the Cinderella again, but I believe they are mistaken. As great as their 2013 run was, and as much as we all want it to happen, I don’t see it happening. I genuinely enjoy watching this team. I hope they can do it. But the Seminoles are the real deal. If they show up to play and take care of business, it will hit midnight for Cinderella quicker than we expect.
While we’re on the topic, most people don’t respect Gonzaga because of their struggles in the tournament in the past. Don’t let the past define the present. This is a different Gonzaga team than those who have come before. Do not pick them as the first one-seed to lose solely because of their history. Pick them as the first one-seed to lose because they’re the worst one-seed. See the difference?
When in Doubt, Go With Coaching
Coaching is one of the most overlooked aspects when picking a bracket. There is a reason that teams like Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Kansas, Michigan State, Kentucky, etc. are always in the tournament and seem to always make a deep run. Yes, partially because of their rich histories, but in the present, it is because of coaching.
Great programs with great histories have great coaches. It’s that simple. Love him or hate him, Coach Calipari at Kentucky wins games. Coach K has five championships and 12 Final Four appearances for a reason. Coaching matters.
If you’re stuck between picking two great teams and can’t make a decision, let the coach be the final factor. Mike Izzo, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, Bill Self, etc. Bottom line, they have their teams ready to win championships year in and year out.
Don’t Let Your Personal Bias Get in the Way
This is the hardest factor for most die-hard fans. You can NEVER pick against your team, or even worse, pick your rival to win. This is always a tough call when you’re caught between your allegiance and hopeful results and harsh realities.
In my case, as many of you may know, I am a Razorback fan. As badly as I want them to beat Seton Hall and then move on and beat North Carolina, I cannot in all good conscious make that pick. I picked my team to lose for the sake of being right. I will continue to hope that I am wrong. I am willing to sacrifice my bracket for a Sweet 16 appearance, but I do not think it will happen.
Troy fans, be ecstatic that you made it this far, but Duke will beat you in the first round. Sorry, Northwestern. You’ve made a great run. You made the tournament! You might even win a game, but don’t count on making it too far. As much as you may love your Bearcats, Cincinnati won’t survive UCLA if they even make it that far. Pick realistically. Even if that means that a North Carolina fan has to pick Duke to make the Final Four.
Have Fun With It
You’re not going to have a perfect bracket. In fact, the harder you try, the less likely it is that your bracket will be any good at all (not a proven fact, just a general observation). You’ll never be as good as me at this, so don’t kill yourself trying to be. Take those risks (I’m really contradicting myself here, aren’t I?). Pick that 16-seed to make it to the Elite Eight. Just don’t bet too much money on it. Make a bracket where your favorite team wins it all. Make another one where the Final Four is filled with double-digit seeds. You can make up to 25 on the ESPN Tournament Challenge App (free plug, ESPN), so why not make a bunch of crazy ones? The fun of it lies in making the picks and watching the games, not in being right. Because at the end of the day, none of us are any good at this anyway. Especially literally anyone on ESPN that says they know what they’re talking about (shots fired, ESPN).
Who do you have winning it all? Who is your Cinderella? What upsets do you think will happen? Leave your answers in the comments below. See you in the second round. Who’s going 32-0 Thursday and Friday besides me?