Usually, I get pretty excited to pick brackets - for myself, for other people, for strangers on the trains, for interested and captivated children. I think I know everything about how to pick brackets. And in recent years, I've been good at calling a few upsets.
I've also been good at completely overthinking any and all brackets. It's not because of extreme homerism. St. John's hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 2002, and the only homerism I have beyond that is a deep and abiding appreciation of the Missouri Tigers program, which has actually helped me.
But other than that, I have not dominated brackets like I would like. Why?
1- Every upset pick is a big risk. Let's say you have an 8 seed going to the regional finals. If that 8 seed loses to a 9 seed in the first round, well, that's a whole lot of points you're giving up in your bracket pool
2- The tournament actually has a great measure of surprise to it. Sometimes, VCU really does beat Duke, and you kick yourself because you knew Duke was soft as down pillow stuffed with marshmallows on a waterbed. You have to go with one or two concepts that you think shouldn't work, but would make you happy if they did.
So this year, I'm staying true to a few ideals, described below. Take a look, and tell me how you go about picking your brackets:
- Read a little. Sites like SB Nation (yes, company plug there) have capsules on all the teams. So does CBS Sports. No need to get too deep; read a little, and then find out what smart people like Vegas and Five-Thirty-Eight are saying/ predicting.
- But those seeds are there for a reason. An 8 seed is probably not getting into the Final Four. You can go for the big win and put it in your bracket, but chances are, you're not winning with that play.
- Look at what a team does on defense, using field goal percentage or effective field goal percentage. Ken Pom's site is helpful for this, use the column that says "AdjD".
- Ball is ball. So if a team can't get out of its way, and loses more than 11 games... don't believe the hype if someone hypes them up. Of course, watch Illinois get to the Elite Eight. (I can promise you that will not happen. That's a bad team with enough talent to pull them into the NCAAs.)
- In a short tournament, look at the win-loss records. A team like, oh, say, Utah State - that's sexy to me, a team that executes at a high level, wins the games in front of them, and only has a few losses to reputable programs or a conference rival. Utah State struggled away from home but... I like them.
- If you find out a team has turned a corner in conference play (in a good conference) and rattled off what people think of as surprising wins, lean a little more towards that team. It's a long enough season that the team that was crap in November could have matured or gotten the services of a needed transfer who wasn't eligible until December (like USC's Jio Fontan).
- If you find out a team has been beaten up late, lost a number of games, and backed into the NCAA Tournament, lean a little away from that team. Even if, as in the case of the Georgetown Hoyas, the player who made them go is reported to be cleared to play in all NCAA action.
- Pick something a little ridiculous - no 14s or 15s or 16s winning, but pick an upset or three.
And when making your bracket picks, remember that it's FUN. Don't put too much money on 18-24 year olds trying to put a ball in an orange hoop more than the other guys. Most of you weren't your most consistent at that age... or aren't that consistent at this age. And people often win bracket pools picking by mascot, or color, or places they've been.
Ever wish that more things worked like college brackets? That you could seed everything that way? Top 64 pre-game foods. Top 64 college players. Well, now you can do just that with your friends, with the Allstate BFF Brackets, which takes your 64 top Facebook friends (an algorithm seeds them based on interaction) and seeds them in four regions, exactly like the real tourney. Once the tourney starts, your friends advance with the corresponding seeds – till one is left standing. Check it out at http://apps.facebook.com/bffbrackets/