Where to Take Your Biggest Gambles in Picking Your NCAA Bracket
The key to winning a bracket pool is to take some gambles, but to do so within reason.
Don't be a contrarian just to be a contrarian. As you'll see in these slides, it makes sense to look back at history in relation to the seeds and to consider the maximum potential for each.
A good strategy: Be bold, with a touch of conservative here and there.
This guide should help you identify the teams in each round that will go against the grain.
Round of 64 Gambles
Belmont vs. Arizona Preview
Any upsets in the middle of each region are worth gambling on. Even if you're wrong, it's not likely to hurt you too much because it's rare the Nos. 4-6 seeds make it past the Sweet 16.
The matchups that make the most sense gambling on are the No. 6 vs. No. 11 games. Only one No. 6 seed has made it past the Sweet 16 in the last five years, and not since 1992 has a No. 6 made the Final Four.
There have also been five No. 13 vs. No. 12 matchups in the Round of 32 in the last five seasons, so feel free to identify a region that has a weak No. 4 and 5. UNLV and Syracuse in the East might be the best option.
Since No. 8-No. 9 and No. 7-No. 10 games are close to coin flips, those are not considered gambles here.
(11) Belmont over (6) Arizona: Opponents shoot 36.0 percent from three against Arizona. Belmont loves to shoot the three and shoots 37.6 percent from deep.
(11) Minnesota over (6) UCLA: The Bruins are without second-leading scorer Jordan Adams, and the Gophers are the more talented team.
(14) Davidson over (3) Marquette: Davidson knocked off Kansas in Kansas City last season with a similar team and can play with the big boys. The Golden Eagles are the weakest No. 3 seed, and the talent difference is not large in this game.
(11) Bucknell over (6) Butler: The Bison have made it out of the first game in two of the last three tournaments they've appeared in. The Bulldogs are seeded this high because of impressive wins against Indiana and Gonzaga, but they went 1-5 against A-10 tourney teams. This one should be close.
Round of 32 Gambles
Paul Halfacre-USA TODAY Sports
It's tempting to start knocking off No. 1 and No. 2 seeds at this point, but proceed with caution. In the last five years, only two No. 1 seeds have fallen in this round (Kansas in 2010 and Pitt in 2011).
As for the No. 2 seeds, if you feel the need to start picking them off, there have been three No. 2s knocked off in the round of 32 since 2008 in addition to Duke and Missouri, who both lost to No. 15 seeds last year.
(7) San Diego State over (2) Georgetown: I actually like Georgetown to win this game and lose to Florida; however, recent history tells us it would be a good bet to go against the Hoyas versus a low seed. They've lost to 11th-seeded NC State (2012), 11th-seeded VCU (2011) and 14th-seeded Ohio all as a No. 3 seed. They also lost to 10th-seeded Davidson (2008) the last time they were a No. 2.
(7) Creighton over (2) Duke: Unless you feel Duke is a Final Four team, this might be a good round to send Coach K packing. Creighton can score with Duke and Ryan Kelly and his wounded foot could have a hard time checking Doug McDermott on short rest. McDermott is the best scorer in this tournament and it's tough enough guarding him healthy.
(14) Davidson over (6) Butler or (11) Bucknell: Bob McKillop took the Wildcats to the Elite Eight in 2008. He's one of the best coaches in the game—not just one of the best coaches no one knows about. He's Jim Larranaga before George Mason went to the Final Four. If you just have to take a big risk, ride Davidson to the Sweet 16.
Sweet 16 Gambles
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
It's easy to take a risk in the early rounds because if you miss, you're likely only missing out on a few points. The Sweet 16 is where it sometimes pays to start being conservative.
Only five teams seeded six or lower have advanced past the Sweet 16 in the last five seasons. No seed lower than a No. 11 has gotten past the Sweet 16. With that in mind, be selective here in who you advance. Here are few to consider.
(4) Saint Louis over (1) Louisville: Saint Louis is one of the few teams that has faced a pressing team like Louisville. The Billikens dealt with VCU's "Havoc" twice and won both times. Their guards also have the quickness to stay with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Out of all the teams in the Midwest region, this is the one best equipped to knock out the Cards.
(1) Gonzaga over (5) Wisconsin: Yes, this appears to be the opposite of a gamble. However, so many fans and experts question the Zags that it's likely many will have them losing early. Picking the Zags will almost become the contrarian thing to do, and they're unquestionably more talented than anyone they could play in the Sweet 16.
(5) VCU over (1) Kansas: Bill Self had to hate seeing Shaka Smart in his bracket. Two years ago, the Rams knocked out a KU team that had a good shot to win the title. KU's guards are not great ball-handlers, including point guard Elijah Johnson. Not a good flaw to have against Havoc.
Elite Eight Gambles
Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
It's once again time to warn against gambling too much. Twelve of the last 20 Final Four teams have been No. 1 or No. 2 seeds, so you better pick at least two to advance to the Final Four.
This is also where you probably want to wipe out any seeds No. 6 or lower. Only two such teams—eighth-seeded Butler and 11th-seeded VCU, both in 2011—have made it to the Final Four in the last five seasons.
Those were two unique cases in a crazy tournament that saw Connecticut, a team that went .500 in Big East play, win the title. Maybe this year will be a repeat, but it's not likely.
If that's not enough for you to temper your gambles here, consider that the last time any team with a six, seven, nine, 10 or 12 next to their name made the Final Four was Michigan as a No. 6 in 1992. There isn't a Fab Five in this bracket.
(5) VCU over (3) Florida: The Gators, like the Rams, try to speed up their opponents with pressure. The one team that tries to do the same in the SEC, Arkansas, handed Florida its worst loss of the season. VCU is better at forcing turnovers than the Razorbacks and definitely a better team.
(4) Saint Louis over (3) Michigan State: We've already knocked out Duke, so Sparty is the most likely opponent here. Sparty matches up pretty well with the Billikens, but the team that Rick Majerus built would have two advantages. 1) SLU's guards are more reliable than Keith Appling; and 2) SLU's big men can shoot outside and would pull Derrick Nix away from the paint and out of his comfort zone.
Final Four Gambles
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
So at this point there aren't a lot of gambles to take. All your Final Four teams should be top five seeds unless there's one low seed out there you think has a run in them. And if they do, this is probably the place where that run will end, unless said team is coached by Brad Stevens.
To go back to a point made in an earlier slide, picking Gonzaga to reach the Final Four is something not a lot of people are going to do. So why not ride the Zags one more round? (And yes, I realize that's a pretty weak gamble.)
Saint Louis is another team to consider advancing to the championship game. Rick Majerus took his Utes there in 1998, and he constructed this team as well.
On the other side of the bracket, it's tough to see anyone but Miami or Indiana making the Final Four out of the East. It doesn't hurt to have what everyone else has in at least one region, and the East would be a good region to pick a top two seed to get to the Final Four.
If you want to gamble, go Miami and then go with the 'Canes again to get to the championship game.
Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports
So if you're following my gambling ways, you have Miami and Saint Louis here. Both teams are coached by veterans who are probably at their last stops. At this point, it's best to bet on a coach who has been far in the tournament before, and Jim Larranaga took George Mason to the Final Four in 2006.
Miami would be a solid pick as a champ that goes slightly against the grain.
Here are two other champs to consider that the majority will not pick, but they have the talent to win the title and they mostly fit the historical criteria: Florida and Ohio State.