Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Idiots Guide to Picking the NCAA Tourney

First off, let me say there is no experts when it comes to picking the NCAA Tournament. The problem is that anything can and usually does happen. However, I win $500 in 2002 when I picked Maryland to win it all, so I think that makes me as qualified as anyone. :)

That being said, here are my rules. Pretty basic, but maybe they'll be a nice refresher in case you haven't filled your bracket out yet.

1) Don't try to pick a 13-16 seed pulling an upset. No need to be a hero. As you probably know, no 16 seed has beaten a 1 seed (0-84). Only 4 15 seeds have won a game, 14 seeds have won 14 games, and 13 seeds have won 17 games. 13 seeds have a winning percentages of .202 in round 1 of the tournament. An upset from there could very well happen, but there's no need to be a hero trying to pick it.

2) The early-round key is the 8/9 and 7/10 matchups. Most people think picking the right 12 over 5, etc. is the most important, but unless one of your Final Four teams is upset in round 1, it's these "toss-up" games that make a big difference. They make up 25% of the bracket, and they're the toughest to predict because the teams are generally evenly matched. For example, 9 seeds have actually won more games than 8 seeds. Pore over these games, because they really are important. Of course, realizing this hasn't really helped me pick these with any more success lately.

3) Go with your gut. When I won $500 in a big pool (basically, my whole city), a lot of it was on the strength of me picking the 8 seed UCLA over 1 seed Cincinnati. Now, I did this partly because I'm a Bruin fan, but also because I felt UCLA was a talented team that usually performed well in the Tourney under Lavin. Without this pick, I wouldn't have won the pool.

4) Be on the lookout for teams with an unorthodox style. Last year, Wisconsin-Milwaukee used their full-court game to pull off a couple of upsets, one over 5 seed Alabama and one over 4 seed Boston College. I had the good fortune of picking that one. Also last year, West Virginia used a patient, 3-point shooting offense to make it to the Elite Eight and play in a tight game there. The year before, UAB used their full-court all-out style to shock Kentucky in round 2. Teams like this are difficult to gameplan for, especially in a day or two, which makes them dangerous in the Tournament.

5) Experienced coaching really does matter. Take Michigan St. for example. Last year they went from a #5 seed all the way to the Final Four. Coaching matters.

6) Don't pick an upset just for the sake of picking an upset. Yes, a 12 seed beats a 5 seed more often than not, but if you're not confident in one of the 12 seeds, don't pick it. It's better to get one wrong then two. Just be aware that they usually do happen, and try to pick them out looking at some of the points above.

7) Experience does not matter as much as it used to. Nowadays, a lot of the younger guys that are really good are going pro early. Look at Syracuse in 2003. They were the young team led by freshmen Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara. Kansas was led by seniors Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich. Syracuse won 81-78. Experience certainly helps, but talent is usually more important. In other words, don't dismiss Memphis, UNC, or Kansas just because they lack experience.

And with that, my small contributions to try and make you feel a little better about picking the NCAA Tourney. For other good tips check out here for general picking tips, and look here for Peter Tiernan's thoughts on the "tossup" games.

My picks are coming sometime Wednesday.

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