The NCAA tournament is one of the biggest sporting events of the year. Perhaps the most important factor in the rise of the event is mainstream fans becoming fully invested once they fill out a bracket, even if they haven't watched any college basketball this season.
Of course, there's no perfect method to filling out a bracket, mostly because there are so many toss-up games. That's especially true without a dominant team this season. So the task is simply maximizing your chances and then hoping those 50-50 contests fall the right way.
Avoid Massive Upset Picks
Everybody is searching for the next surprise team that comes out of nowhere to win a couple of games. The search will be even more intense after Florida Gulf Coast made the Sweet 16 last season, emboldening people to make more long-shot selections in the early rounds.
Don't fall into that trap. The top two seeds are still overwhelming favorites in the opening round and don't lose often enough to risk picking against them right away. Doug Gottlieb of CBS Sports provided some stats to keep in mind when it comes to No. 1 and No. 2 seeds:
The top team in each bracket is more of a lock, but the second seeds win at a very high rate as well. Furthermore, if one of them loses, a vast majority of people in pools will lose, meaning very little ground is lost. If you pick against one of those elite teams and they make a deep run, the loss is far greater.
Check Out Recent Performance
A quick glance at the bracket only provides a full-season look at how teams stand. They are seeded based on the complete résumé and their records indicate how they performed over the entire season, which started in early November.
When it comes to tournament time, however, how a team is currently playing is the crucial factor. For example, Syracuse was sluggish down the stretch, and its late struggles weren't a total surprise for head coach Jim Boeheim, as noted by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News:
What did I say when we were 25-0? This isn't going to keep happening. We're not going to keep winning these games. It's one thing when you're in close games and you're even or you're a little ahead and end up winning. That’s still good. But every single one of those (close) games we were behind and we won.
The Orange become a riskier team to lean on heavily because of the uncertainty. By contrast, some teams that were playing better basketball in recent weeks include Florida, Villanova and the reigning champions from Louisville.
Don't Get Too Caught Up in Records
Wichita State is a legitimate title contender after reaching the Final Four last season and completing their run through the regular season and conference tournament at 34-0. The Shockers weren't truly tested in order to secure that record, though. That's why they aren't viewed as prohibitive favorites.
So while they are a team to strongly consider advancing deep in your bracket, their record and status help explain other situations. There are teams with very good overall records but middling or low seeds simply because the competition they faced wasn't up to par with what's to come.
Once again, it just comes down to digging a little deeper. Check out how a team has performed against ranked opponents before going all in on a low seed with a good record. If there's a situation that looks too good to be true, it probably is.