Monday, March 16, 2015

2015 Non-essential, Indeterminate Guide to Surviving NCAA Bracket Pools

Quite possibly, more time is wasted and more work hours spent in an unproductive manner on filling out brackets for the NCAA tournament every year than by any other outside influence.

No event captures the imagination and gaming instincts of the American public (an easy group to engage) like the annual rite of March Madness, but, in the end, almost everybody goes home a loser, while some overfed, testosterone-overdosed moron in the office or workspace lauds his or her game-picking prowess over the unfortunate few who suffer the fool.

Remember, Kentucky wins.
Not that there may or may not be a science to correctly picking four (the First Four), 32, then 16, then 8, 4, 2 and finally one game correctly. Some people actually make a living at it, like ESPN's Joe Lunardi, often referred to as the bracket guru or tournament maestro, though it would be interesting to tally up how many of Joe's predictions actually pan out. At the very least, Joe Lunardi has emerged far enough into the American psyche that he now has his very own drinking game, played during ESPN's Championship Week.

It's an easy game. Watch games on ESPN. Any time Joe Lunardi is mentioned by name (often), drink. Guaranteed to please.

Beyond the obvious need to engage in picking winners, without further ado, College Basketball Daily presents its first - and maybe last - guide to picking your brackets without losing your mind, a lot of money or your personal dignity.

The 2015 edition of the NCAA tournament is pretty easy to break down. Kentucky will win it all. Simple enough, right? Just take Kentucky all the way through and you're guaranteed to end up in the winner's circle of your office pool or Calcutta... along with about a zillion other players. So, our advice is neither prescient nor the stuff of genius, though it is an indefatigable prescription for being right on six games, all of which will be won by the Wildcats.

After those six nearly-guaranteed winners, there are only 61 games remaining to pick. Nothing to it. We'll give you some tips and pointers along the way which will make some sense and maybe produce a plurality of winners.

Tip #1: Take conference champions over at-large teams. Simply put, teams who captured automatic bids by winning their conference tournaments (except for Harvard in the Ivy League, where they have no post-season tournament, though the Crimson did win a one-game playoff over Yale) are battle tested in single-elimination competition. That said, the selection committee was a little hard to read when they made Iowa State and Notre Dame - winners of the Big 12 and ACC tournaments, respectively - #3 seeds, while making Duke, which didn't even win the ACC regular season (Virginia did) and was eliminated in the semi-final by Notre Dame, a #1 seed. The other three #1 seeds - Kentucky, Villanova and Wisconsin - all won their conference tourneys, so what gives? Yet another reason to hate Duke.

Tip #2: Low-number seeds over high-number seeds, 1 through 4. The parlance used in terms of seeds can become confusing. Somebody might say Louisville is seeded higher than Iowa, for instance, but what that actually means is that Louisville is a #4, while Iowa is a #7. Confusing? No. Reverse logic. Simply put, take the #1, 2, 3, and 4 seeds in each region over their opponents in the opening round, unless advised otherwise. We'll get to that in the region-by-region breakdown.

Tip #3: Upsets are common in 7-10 and 5-12 match-ups. #11 seeds don't often beat #6's, and 8's vs. 9's are toss-ups, though sometimes mismatches.

Tip #4: After the opening round games on Thursday and Friday of the first week, it's wide open. - Anybody can win once they've gotten through the first game, but, odds are the lower-number (higher) seeds will survive. Some teams will surely surprise, but those are often teams which won their conference tournaments or teams from big conferences that lost in the final.

Tip #5: Don't listen to experts. Whether it's some guy on a talk-radio show, ESPN or the reigning champion of your office pool, who has done nithing but drink beer and watch basketball for the past two months, they will almost always give bad advice. All. The. Time. A good example was whether or not UCLA would be in this year's tournament. All the experts said, "no way." we said, "absolutely," our reasoning being that we figured the PAC-12 would send four teams to the tourney. We're not experts, and, lo and behold, we were right.

Tip #6: If you don't do well, don't worry about it. A lot of what goes into picking winners in the NCAA tournament has to do with dumb luck, voodoo, i-Ching, tarot cards, tea leaves, astrology and alchemy. Most of it is bunk. You're a good person, and you might even be a smart person. Just because Kansas loses to Northern Iowa or some other malady of fate occurs, doesn't change who you are. Unless you're a complete loser whose entire existence revolves around being right or this particular tournament, of course, then losing might cause some disturbing personal reactions, like not bathing for a couple of weeks, or throwing your TV out a window (this has happened), or not showing up for work, which might actually be a silver lining to both your boss and your co-workers.

Tip #7: After the second weekend, it can get really boring, really fast. The first two weekends are exciting, with games on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and lots of teams involved. By Saturday and Sunday of the second weekend, however, it's down to the Elite Eight - and, while those games are usually some of the most exciting of the tournament, being regional finals, the winner going to the Final Four, after that, there are only three games left, and they're a week away, the semi-finals on Saturday and the National Championship, Monday night.

That week can get tiresome, especially if you've already been eliminated in your pool, and even moreso if a couple of guys are making everyone else crazy arguing over who's going to get that $136 final prize. Whether you're still alive or not, get some fresh air, do some yard work, take a bike ride. Ferchistsake! It's a basketball tournament. Get a life, or, get yours back.

Now that we have the tips out of the way, on to the breakdown.

Let's start with those pesky First Four games on Tuesday and Wednesday night.

Tuesday's games are:
6:40 PM (16) Hampton vs (16) Manhattan - Hampton is the only team in the tournament with a losing record (16-17), despite winning the Mid-Eastern tournament. Did you know that they beat Delaware St. to get the automatic bid? No? Nobody else does either and nobody cares. Manhattan beat Sienna to win the Metro-Atlantic. And they won by 10 points. And they're called the Jaspers, defined as an opaque reddish-brown variety of chalcedony. Cool. They are the pick.

9:10 PM (11) BYU vs (11) Ole Miss - BYU can really light up the scoreboard. Good enough. Both of these teams were at-large selections. Cougars maul Rebels. Excellent.

Wednesday:
6:40 PM (16) Robert Morris vs (16) North Florida - Both are tournament winners with automatic bids, North Florida from the Atlantic Sun, Robert Morris from the Northeast. North Florida's team name is the Ospreys. Good enough. You'll look like a genius.


9:10 PM (11) Dayton vs (11) Boise State - Dayton lost to VCU in the Atlantic 10 final. Take a flyer on the Flyers. But, shouldn't it be spelled fliers? Never mind. They'll probably lose in the next round.

OK, since everybody figures the Wildcats will be crowned national champions come April 6, the Midwest region where Kentucky is the #1 seed and the #1 overall seed in the tournament starts the region-by-region breakdown.

Midwest Region

You've already penciled in Kentucky, right? For the remainder, follow our tips, which means #12 Buffalo (MAC champs) over #5 West Virginia (at-large) is the main upset. After Kentucky, the 2, 3, and 4 seeds should all win. In the 6-11 match-up, Butler (6) should handle Texas (11). Wichita State and Indiana, that's a toss-up. Flip a coin. And, #9 Purdue should handle #8 Cincinnati.

After the opening round, keep to our tips and keep this in mind. Kansas lost in their conference tournament. They are not that good and could conceivably lose either of their first two games. Notre Dame won their's. If they meet, the Irish will move forward ad probably lose to Kentucky in the regional final.

West Region

OK, now it gets interesting, because the #1 seed, Wisconsin, may not get through to the Final Four. They might, but #2 Arizona, #3 Baylor and #4 North Carolina all look pretty darn good.

In the opening round, #7 VCU should oust #10 Ohio State. The winner of the BYU-Ole Miss game gets #6 Xavier on Thursday night and could easily upset. Oregon (8) over Oklahoma State (9) and #12 Woffard will give #5 Arkansas a heck of a time. That's a key game, but Arkansas is likely to pull through.

After the opening round, this region looks pretty chalky and could easily end up with the top four seeds. In that case, Wisconsin will likely get past North Carolina and Arizona should beat Baylor. Arizona is a very good choice to win this region. They won the PAC-12 tournament and the PAC-12 isn't getting much respect.

East Region

Winners of the Big East, Villanova, the #1 seed, looks vulnerable, but the competition in this region is weak. This could be the one that blows up. The 8-9 game, NC State vs. LSU is a pure toss-up, as is the 5-12 game, Northern Iowa and Wyoming. Both won their conference tournaments, but Wyoming might be the ultimate sleeper pick. Might not, but, if they win, you'll look awesome... for about a day.

Providence, the 6 seed, could be awesome, but they may fall to the winner of the play-in game, Boise St. or Dayton. Michigan State got in as a 7, and they look good for at least a win, but they'll probably lose to Virginia in the next round. Also, #4 Louisville has trouble scoring at times and UC-Irvine won the Big West. Could be the upset of the weekend. Any combination could end up in the regionals, but stick with #2 Virginia. One could take Villanova, Virginia, UC-Irvine, Oklahoma, Providence or Michigan State to make the Final Four. This is wide open.

South Region

Duke got the #1 seed in this region and should make it through the first weekend without a problem. After that, Utah could beat them, or, either (2) Gonzaga or (3) Iowa State in the regional final, should knock them out. But, they're good, and they're Duke, but, you don't really want to pick Duke, do you?

As usual, the 8-9 (San Diego St. vs. St. John's) game is unpickable. #5 Utah is a good sleeper in this region, as is #10 Davidson. #11 UCLA should slip by SMU, but they'll lose to a very strong Iowa State team, winners of the Big 12 tournament.

Georgetown is the weakest #4 team in the tournament. #13 Eastern Washington (Big Sky champions) could get them. If not, Utah surely will in the following round.

#2 Gonzaga is one of just three teams that could beat Kentucky, though that's a questionable call. The other two are Notre Dame and Arizona.

Final Four: Midwest plays West, East plays South. Whichever team comes out of the South region will beat the East region representative, which means, either Gonzaga, Iowa State, or, heaven forbid, Duke, could meet the Wildcats in the Final. Arizona could upset Kentucky, but not likely.

Kentucky wins. Didn't we say that already?

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