FFJD: March Madness.
If there’s one thing I know, it’s basketball. Who am I kidding? (I literally just wrote who am I kissing? instead. Oh FFJD.) Anyway, I don’t know much about basketball except that I’d like another vodka soda at the Verizon Center while I admire the biceps on the court. So I called in the big guns (ZING BICEP PUN!). Here is Beckley Mason, a writer for Hoopspeak, part of the ESPN TrueHoop Network NBA Blog. READ ON! And fill out your bracket so you win money and can buy shoes at Barneys!
Despite what you may hear, read or feel within the core of your being, picking March Madness teams is quite easy. It’s only hard if you begin with the belief that success is a possibility. Look, no one knows what’s going to happen, it’s just a logistical nightmare. There are over 300 college basketball teams, about one fifth of which end up in the tournament. Those teams play around 30 games each. So picking NCAA tournament games amounts to deciding between 64 of 300 possible teams of 19 year olds that often do not share common opponents and play wildly uneven competition.
The fact is that unless you watched and analyzed around 9,000 college basketball games, or even just the 1,800 played by tournament qualifying teams, you’re probably feeling unprepared to make an intelligent prediction about who will win each of the 63 games coming your way in the next two and a half weeks.
Personally, I find picking 64 teams playing 63 games produces more stress than watching A Clockwork Orange right before getting Lasik surgery. Just keep in mind that the reason everyone gets so excited for the tournament is because the results can’t be predicted. When it comes to March Madness, the real fun isn’t perfectly predicting the upsets in your own doomed bracket, but seeing nationally held expectations crumble beneath the thundering sneakers of young men chasing their dreams. That, and culturally sanctioned gambling.
For those who had other priorities besides charting the progress of Belmont’s pressure defense over the last five months, here’s a little primer to help you make picks:
· They’re #1!!: This seems silly, but it’s worth pointing out that # 1 seeds usually do pretty well in the tournament. Over the last thirty years, only twice has at least one #1 seed failed to make the Final Four. They have an 88% chance of making it to the sweet 16, so pencil them in. The caveat: only six times have all four teams made it. But, it’s safe to predict that each year two #1 seeds will make it to the Final Four. A #1 seed has never lost in the first round, so don’t even think about it.
· Odds predict upsets: After the top two seeds in each region, success rates fall off precipitously, to the point where you should pick one #13 seed to advance in the first round, as well as one or two #12 seeds, one or two #11 seeds, two #10 seeds and at least two #9 seeds. That being said, most lower seeds will get smushed before the Sweet 16, so picking a great bracket usually amounts to choosing the correct high seeds to make a deep run, rather than expertly navigating the early rounds.
· Go with your gut: Winning the NCAA tournament takes some serious luck, and so does winning a pool. Instead of agonizing over every game, it’s fine to just pick by whim. Remember, others may tell you they know more than the committee of people who seeded the teams, but that’s generally not true. If a team has a higher seed, they are almost always a better team, and will probably win. But because these are college kids playing one game (instead of a series), strange, unpredictable things happen. Don’t bother with too much logic.
· There will be blood: …Or carnage, at least, in each bracket. This year, in particular, features a lot of teams with relatively weak resumes for NCAA tournament teams. Expect plenty of upsets and a volatile tournament from the #3 seed down.
· Go with Goliath: This year, Kansas and Duke are the two, biggest, most skilled and wellrounded teams in the country. Duke returned the two best players from last year’s title run, and Kansas is a mature teams that has only lost two times all season. They’re in my final, and will be in a bunch of other people’s finals, but I just can’t see one of them not making it. Duke probably has the easier path to the Final Four.
· Big Blue: Kentucky is a #4 seed that should probably be seeded higher, if the seeding committee only considered the second half of the season. They are young, but loaded with talent and playing with confidence.
· Good players with funny names: Jimmer Fredette (BYU) and Kemba Walker (Connecticut) are the two most high profile, high scoring guards in the tournament. Both are capable of winning games singlehandedly, but probably neither is good enough to lead their team past the Elite 8.
· The Final Score: Most brackets ask you to guess the combined score of the championship game. It will almost always be between 135-147.
OK, if you’ve made it this far, you are ready to make some moolah. Remember: trust #1 seeds, pick plenty of first round upsets (then fewer going forward), and don’t be afraid to use mascot or school colors as a tie breaker. And if you correctly pick and upset, don’t ever reveal it was a shot in the dark—when predicting college hoops, it’s called “an educated guess.”
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