Monday, March 14, 2011

March Madness: A Strategy Guide

Admittedly, I should have written this blog last week before you all frantically printed off your brackets last night and scribbled in answers while the ESPN Films Fab 5 documentary played in the background.

Oh...that was just me? Never mind.

In case you haven't finished your bracket, or you have and realized you put Wofford in your Final Four and would like a second chance at filling it out, I'll offer you a few strategies to a successful (or at least less gut-wrenching) March Madness experience.

Until about two years ago, I, like many of you, had sworn off completing a March Madness bracket every April for the last 10-15 years. Put myself through the agony of picking the three 5 v. 12 upsets that didn't happen? No more! Fill out four brackets in pencil, ensuring every pick is right, before finally inking the official bracket only to regret it moments later? No way! Slam my head against the wall after losing to my wife for the third year in a row? Not me!

Then March comes and I'm scurrying around frantically trying to figure out who UAB played this year, how many points per game they average and if they have a clutch shooter on the team.

So I developed my March Madness Theories. Not all of them are creations from my mind, but the ones that are will be marked in bold...and some that probably aren't will to. I can't regulate this stuff, I have real work to do today.

Without further Freddy Adu, I present the "Five Strategies to Filling out your March Madness Bracket for a Less Gut-Wrenching NCAA Tournament Experience".

1. Pick the teams you hate to win
I perfected (and created) this technique in 2009. Being a Duke fan, (Yeah yeah, I'm an tool for liking a team that plays smart basketball, better defense and features more great white guards than most programs in college basketball history. You're right, I bandwagon the team that turns out long-term skill and position players for the NBA instead of ego-maniac All-Stars that flame out after a few years [with many exceptions]. Who would you rather have on your team right now, a 37 year-old Grant Hill or a 34 year-old Vince Carter? Shane Battier or (from same draft class) Brendan Haywood? Michael Jordan or Christian Laettner?)

Ok, you can't win them all. Where was I? Oh yes. Being a Duke fan, I did not like seeing the Tyler "Most Awkward White Athlete Since Bill Walton" Hansbrough led North Carolina Tarheels get the #1 seed in their division. However, knowing they were a good team and knowing my picks never pan out, I took them to win the title.

I knew one of two things would happen, my picks would not pan out (as usual) and UNC would lose bringing me great joy. Or, my picks WOULD pan out and UNC would win the whole thing and I'd win my brackets...also bringing me great joy.

Obviously the latter happened and I won my first Tournament Pool in ages. Great joy was shared throughout.

2. Pick Higher Seeds
Not an original idea, but still a useful one. Don't get caught up in the upset potential of the NCAA tourney. Yes, a 12-seed almost always upsets a 5-seed. Yes, an unsuspecting team usually makes a run to the Sweet Sixteen or Elite Eight. No, you will not pick them this year. If you don't have a good strategy just take the high seed, make a mojito and laugh at the presumptuous know-it-all who took Belmont to the Elite Eight. Sure, George Mason stunned the world in 2006, but 86.5% of Final Four teams are ranked 4th or higher. Hang on, I need to re-tape my glasses and wipe off the screen to my TI-83.

Look, a guy who works at the local sports radio station in town posted some of his picks for the Southeast Division. He's taking 11-seed Gonzaga to the Elite Eight, 14-seed Wofford to upset 3-seed BYU in Round 1, 12-seed Utah State beating 13-seed Belmont in Round 2 (Utah State needing to upset 5-seed Kansas State and Belmont needing to upset 4-seed Wisconsin both in Round 1) and finally 9-seed ODU is his Final Four pick from that division. That's a 9, 11, 12, 13,14 seed all advancing in the same division. You like upsets? Copy that bracket and laugh your way to last place in your pool.

And you're telling me I can't find a job in sports? Maybe I should start actively looking...

3. Pick the Best Player
Another method I use, is siding with the dominate player in close match-ups. I used this method last year and took the John Wall/Demarcus Cousin led Kentucky Wildcats and the Evan Turner led Ohio State Buckeye's to the Final Four. It didn't exactly work out (Kentucky made it to the Elite Eight and Ohio State to the Sweet Sixteen), but if I had realized that the best player in the tournament was going to be Gordon Haywood, maybe I would have taken Butler to the Finals.

Point being, if you can't decide if Connecticut is going to beat San Diego State in Round Three ask yourself, "Is Kemba Walker going to let the Huskies lose?". Or, "Is Jacob Pullen really going to let Utah State upset Kansas State in the first round?" And there's your answer.

4. Look at Wins vs. Ranked Teams
This is probably something people who spend way too much time on their brackets already do, but its the new technique I'm trying out this year. In tourney time, you gotta know who is a legit threat and who is a good team in a bad conference. For instance, San Diego State (a team a lot of people like to go deep in the tourney) has a 32-2 record on the year. Its the same impressive record that number 1 seeds Ohio State and Kansas have for the season.

However, San Diego State has played 2 ranked teams all year (Gonzaga and BYU). They lost to BYU twice in the regular season and finally beat them the third time in the conference championship (after BYU lost 2nd best player Brandon Davies for engaging in some, um, extracurricular activities). So, does SD State scare me in the tourney? Yes. But I think when they play UConn in the Sweet Sixteen their inexperience against ranked teams will be the deciding factor.

5. Take the Hot Team
I'm taking credit for this one. I may not be the first person to say it, but I haven't taken the idea knowingly from someone else.

Playoffs in any sport come down to who is hot, or who has the deepest roster. In the NHL last year the Montreal Canadieens were a 6 seed yet made the Conference Finals because they were hot at the right time and had the hottest goal keeper in the league. The Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl by having a deep roster and winning the final two games of the season to enter the playoffs streaking.

That said, who do you think I' m taking in the Temple vs. Penn State game? The team from the Atlantic 10 Conference who lost to Richmond? Or the team who burned through the Big Ten tournament to reach the finals for the first time upsetting Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State along the way? Give me Penn State.

Bonus Strategy: Pick (or Don't Pick) Teams from your State-
I usually don't subscribe to this theory like some of my other Virginia natives although I am tempted to every year. This year I've fallen victim. I'm taking GMU over Villanova, Georgetown to beat VCU (who will beat USC in the play-in), Richmond to upset Vanderbilt and ODU to sneak past reigning runner-up Butler.

First of all, great representation from the state of VA. Second of all, I expect more than half of those picks to be wrong but how can you root against a team from your state?

Unless its Virginia Tech...who I expect will also win their first round game.

In the NIT. Suckers.

Didn't say you had to like every team from your state.

So there you go- six strategies to help you complete your bracket. My final suggestion would be to do what my wife does every year:

1. Read this blog
2. Do the opposite of what it says
3. Rub it in my face that you beat me

Its the most foolproof method here.

1 comment:

  1. BGunst here with the following comment I could not post any other way but anonymously ha

    You know I read this on my lunch break at my internship haha. This is the craziest year since I can remember in my young life for bracket picks. I do not trust any team really. Tough calls all around. Solid info and logic though, respect. I am too picking most of the VA schools, but I am also picking Utah State and Belmont on one of my brackets because I think things are going to get crazy. Hooray for multiple pools!