Your bracket needs to be set in T-minus two hours. No doubt you’re either scrambling to fill out one for your office pool because you’ve been putting it off all week, or you’re like us — looking over what you’ve chosen over and over again, making sure you made all the right choices.
The question is, did you, in fact, make all the right choices? There have been so many previews and predictions and analyses of each region put out over the last few days (have you read ours yet?) that your head is no doubt swimming with potential upsets and Final Four “locks.”
Do us a favor: Look over these tips and then your bracket one more time. This will either serve to help you feel secure in your selections, or throw everything you’ve done into doubt. You have until tip-off of the first game (12:15 ET) to have a panic attack before settling:
1. Going against the grain is smart — but don’t go too crazy.
Everyone is picking Michigan State to win the title. In fact, everyone is picking the same Final Four (MSU, Zona, Louisville, Florida). That means that if you pick these teams, and are right, you won’t be alone. So making some contrarian picks is smart. But there’s a reason these teams were picked by many of the “experts”: they are good teams. Really good. And they come from dynamite programs with experienced coaches. So if you pick too many teams that don’t end up making it, you’re going to have a bad time.
2. Upsets happen — but don’t look too hard for them.
You may feel compelled to pick upsets no matter what (I had a friend who always made sure to pick at least one upset per round in filling out her bracket), because upsets happen in this tournament. It’s the truth. But the reason they are upsets is because the one team is expected to beat the other. For example, I have no idea why people are going so heavy with Harvard over Cincinnati, or S.F. Austin over VCU. Those don’t seem likely to me.
Hey, if you think they’ll happen, go for it. But don’t force upsets. They should come naturally to you — don’t just choose them because other people said so.
3. Check out kenpom.com for quality rankings to see which teams might be undervalued.
As early round upsets go, you’ll want to see which teams may have gotten low seeds considering their overall value. For example, Ken Pomeroy has Tennessee as the 9th-best team in the country — and they’re an 11-seed! Pitt is 17th and they’re a 9-seed, and Harvard (yep, Harvard, I know, I just threw shade on them) is 34th as a 12-seed. Consider these as you make your picks.
4. Don’t be fooled by Wichita State’s in-conference record.
This is a great team. Ken Pomeroy has them 5th overall, which would make them a “2” seed in his estimation, but many people have Wichita State losing to Louisville or even Kentucky. WSU went to the Final Four last year as a 9-seed — they’ve got chops.
5. Experience matters.
A big reason that teams like MSU, Kansas, Duke, etc. often find themselves not just in the tournament but in the Final Four is because of their coaches. Sure, they have talented players, but there’s nothing more valuable than a coach who’s been there before. In tough (possible) matchups, like Michigan State-Virginia, go with the coach tiebreaker.
6. Try to balance rationale with passion.
It’s tempting to pick only the teams you like to win. It can be equally tempting to go chalk, or to select teams blindly based on statistics and measurements and analytics. But neither route is particularly satisfying — the first one because your alma mater is likely not going to win the title (especially if you went to Cal Poly), the second because you’ll hate rooting for favorites in every round. Don’t play with your heart, but don’t put yourself in a position where you won’t enjoy your victories.
If you want a formula, I say go 75 percent rationale, 25 percent passion-ale.
7. READ OUR PREVIEWS AND JOIN OUR POOL.
They’re in-depth — way more in-depth than this — and you still have time. Then take that knowledge and try to use it against us in our Bracket Challenge. You’ll win a candle and the opportunity to appear on our podcast and brag about your knowledge/big brain/large genitals/fantastic pedigree, whatever you want, if you come in first.
Bonus tip: Going back to number 6, remember to enjoy yourself. This is a basketball tournament, after all.
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