With the madness upon us, Selection Sunday gives way to “Matchup Monday,” when brackets are scrutinized in preparation for office pools across the country. The American Gambling Association estimates that nearly 40 million of us will fill out more than 70 million brackets for this year’s NCAA Tournament, and approximately $2 billion will be wagered in pools.
Whether you’re a diehard fan or a casual observer who doesn’t know an Leopard (Lafayette) from a Lumberjack (Stephen F. Austin), we have some tips to help you fill out a perfect NCAA Tournament bracket — or at least one that might save you the embarrassment of finishing last in your pool:
- Pick a No. 1 seed to win it all. Eleven of the last 16 national champions have been No. 1 seeds. Other than Connecticut (a No. 7 seed) last year, all the others have been seeded third or higher.
- Be careful about picking a Final Four consisting of all No. 1 seeds. It’s only happened once, in 2008.
- Pick a No. 11 seed to knock off a No. 6 seed in the second round. That’s happened at least once in each of the last 10 tournaments.
- Pick a double-digit seed to reach the Sweet 16. It’s happened a total of 29 times over the last 30 years, including twice (Dayton and Tennessee) in last year’s tournament.
- Do some math. When you add up the seed numbers for your Final Four, the total shouldn’t exceed 14. That number has been higher only six times since 1979, when the NCAA began seeding teams in the tournament. But, in three of the last four years, that number has been at least 18.
- Think blue when picking your champion. Including Connecticut last year, 10 of the last 11 tournament winners have had some shade of blue in their jerseys. So that bodes well for teams like Kentucky, Duke, Villanova, Kansas and Arizona.
- Consider picking against your “gut.” Let’s face it: Every time you fill out a bracket, you regret half your choices anyway, right? So if you have a hunch about the winner of that dreaded 8-9 matchup, think about picking the opposite. Hey, it worked for George Costanza on “Seinfeld.”
- Get a kid to help you. If you think the so-called “experts” will provide the information you need to pick a pool-winning bracket, think again. Besides, kids almost always have strong opinions. So why not ask Johnny: “Who do you like, Iowa State or New Mexico State?” If that doesn’t work, resort to team colors: “Orange or green?” Nothing will give you the appropriate balance of ignorance and confidence you need to fill out your bracket like advice from a child.
- Pick a No. 10, 12, 13, 14, 15 or 16 seed to make it to the Final Four. It’s never happened. One caveat, though: Three No. 11s (LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011) have advanced to the tournament’s final weekend.
- Pick the team that finished the regular season ranked No. 1 to win the title. Only four times since 1990 has a team fitting that description gone on to win it all. But Kentucky seems like a good bet to buck that trend this year.
- Choose a Big Ten or Pac-12 school to win the title. Neither of those conferences have produced a national champion since Michigan State won the crown in 2000. Meanwhile, the ACC has won five tournaments in that span.
- Pick a team with a human mascot as your champion. Since seeding began in 1979, 22 champs have had animals as their school mascot. The most common? Wildcats (Kentucky in 1996, 1998 and 2012, Arizona in 1997 and Villanova in 1985). Other multiple winners include Cardinals (Louisville, 1980, 1986 and 2013), Gators (Florida, 2006-07) and Jayhawks (Kansas, 1988 and 2008).