NCAA Tournament bracket challenges reward bold picks, and those who correctly identify upsets are the ones who win their pools.
But the picks that offer the highest reward often come with the highest risk. Sending a 12-seed through to Atlanta will reap massive benefits if the team delivers, but if that team loses in the round of 64, it will slowly burn a hole through your bracket and make you vulnerable to a considerable amount of derision.
Knowing where to take risks and where to play it safe is the key to making successful picks.
Here are the teams that come with the most risk if you choose them to make a deep run.
Midwest: No. 4 Saint Louis
Louisville has plenty of momentum and has become the favorite to win this year’s tournament. Those who have contrarian urges will be tempted to look for another team that can come out of the Midwest, but the Billikens are ultimately a risky bet.
It is unlikely that many people will have the courage to send Saint Louis to the Final Four, but this does not mean that they offer a quality opportunity to get points in your bracket.
According to The New York Times’ Nate Silver, no No. 4 seed has a worse chance of making it to Atlanta, placing the Billikens’ probability to reach the national semifinals at just 4.6 percent. This likely has to do with the level of competition in the Midwest.
Saint Louis will have to go through a gauntlet to get out of the region, and those looking for a surprise Final Four pick should search in another part of their bracket.
South: No. 2 Georgetown
Silver’s methodology takes into account multiple rankings systems and considers margin of victory, preseason rankings and recent injuries, among other factors. Teams that don’t stand up to advanced statistical scrutiny are given a low probability of making it to the Final Four.
Unfortunately for Georgetown, the team ranked 60th in KenPom.com’s offensive efficiency rating. This is a major factor in putting the Hoyas chances at leaving the South region at just 6.9 percent, which is easily the lowest of any No. 2 seed.
Georgetown needs Otto Porter to have a productive scoring night in order for its offense to be effective, and this may cause problems against potential Sweet 16 opponent Florida, which plays extremely tough defense.
It is certainly possible that Porter can take over and create enough offense for the Hoyas to make a deep run, but this is a risky bet that can easily be avoided. Florida and Kansas are much better Final Four picks from the South.
West: No. 1 Gonzaga
If there is a No. 1 seed fans should be wary of, it is definitely Gonzaga. The Bulldogs rank 96th in the country in strength of schedule, and even with an easy path to Atlanta, Mark Few’s team will be experiencing its toughest tests of the season.
Gonzaga’s strength is its offensive efficiency, and it ranks third in KenPom.com’s rankings. But the team will likely face multiple teams that are extremely stout on defense.
Wisconsin is a possible Sweet 16 opponent for the Bulldogs, while Ohio State is their most likely Elite Eight matchup. Both these teams rode their impressive defenses to the Big Ten Tournament final.
The B1G teams are battle-tested and know what it takes to defend offensive powerhouses like Michigan and Indiana. This does not bode well for Gonzaga’s chances to beat these teams and advance out of the West, which Silver puts at just 33.4 percent.
East: No. 3 Marquette
Florida and Michigan State are extremely impressive 3-seeds with decent chances at getting to Atlanta. New Mexico is a gritty team that could also make waves, although they are a step below the other two teams with the same seed.
Then there’s Marquette. The Golden Eagles rarely get the respect they deserve for their consistency, but the team just does not stack up with the other 3-seeds. The team lacks outside shooting and is not impressive defensively.
It is a balanced, well-coached squad, but it fails to excel in any single area. The Golden Eagles are certainly capable of winning a game or two in the competition, but it would be truly surprising to see them get past the Sweet 16.
Silver puts their chances to reach the Final Four at just six percent. Those who feel compelled to put a 3-seed in the national semifinal are better off picking anyone but Marquette.
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