The NCAA tournament is among the most exciting sporting extravaganzas of the year. Not only do fans love to soak in the high-level competition, but they enjoy taking part in it as well.
NCAA tournament brackets allow every fan to have a vested interest in every game, which simply isn't possible over the course of the regular season. Even if someone doesn't know a single thing about the two teams that they're watching, they have a reason to care.
There are no foolproof rules that can guarantee success when it comes to filling out a bracket. There are huge surprises on a yearly basis, and hitting on all of them is close to impossible.
With that said, there is a way to minimize risk and maximize your chances of placing well in your bracket pool. Here are a few that you should take under consideration while making your picks.
Ignore No. 16 Seeds
A big part of success with regard to NCAA tournament brackets is identifying and correctly picking upsets. Doing so can give you a huge leg up on your competition, but chasing upsets that aren't particularly logical is never a good idea. Getting too upset-heavy means that hitting on a few is bound to happen, but those accurate picks will be canceled out by wayward ones.
There is a first time for everything, but don't be the person who tries to predict the first No. 16 over No. 1 upset in NCAA tournament history. No. 1 seeds have never lost in the round of 64 in the NCAA tournament under the current format, and having a hunch isn't reason enough to take the leap on your bracket.
The Wichita State Shockers enter the tourney undefeated, but many doubt whether they have what it takes to do damage. Their record is certainly a product of a lower level of competition than many of their counterparts, but this is still a team that reached the Final Four as a No. 9 seed last season.
According to Gary Parrish of CBSSports.com, Wichita State assistant coach Steve Forbes believes that the Shockers deserve the lofty seed that has been bestowed upon them:
There's no question. We have the look of a BCS-level team ... and our team is better than any team I've ever coached, to be honest. This team is coming off of a Final Four, and now they're backing it up with a 34-0 record? I don't know how you could doubt that.
Are the Shockers more vulnerable than most No. 1 seeds in recent years? Perhaps, but not vulnerable enough to lose in the round of 64.
At the same time, prognosticators shouldn't lean on No. 1 seeds throughout the entire tournament. According to ESPN Stats & Info, it has been more common for a top seed to disappoint than reach the Final Four since 2009:
Being a No. 1 seed isn't what it used to be. Since '09, more No. 1 seeds have lost in Sweet 16 (6) than have made the Final Four (5).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 5, 2014
It's generally a good idea to place two No. 1 seeds in your Final Four and have the other two lose prior to that, but certainly not in the round of 64.
Roll the Dice on No. 12 Seeds
No. 16 seeds have no history of success in the NCAA tournament, but the same can't be said for No. 12 seeds. No. 12 teams are generally power-conference teams that displayed inconsistency during the season, or top-notch, mid-major teams that have the tools necessary to beat better-known teams.
According to Case Keefer of the Las Vegas Sun, the No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchups over the past five years are dead even with an overall record of 10-10. Also, No. 12 seeds are 19-11 against the spread in the rounds of 64 and 32 during that time, which suggests that they keep things close and provide a threat even if they don't ultimately come out on top.
On top of that, a No. 5 seed hasn't reached the Sweet 16 since Arizona turned the trick in 2011, so having a No. 5 win even just two games is a risky venture. Of course, that doesn't mean that all No. 5 seeds should be ignored. Things change on a year-by-year basis, so it's important to analyze the matchups without any preconceived notions.
All things being equal, however, picking two No. 5 seeds and two No. 12 seeds to win in the round of 64 is advisable. It is much easier to pick upsets in No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchups and they are far more prevalent as well.
Take Conference Tournament Success Into Account
What is the biggest thing to consider when filling out your bracket?
The selection committee considers a team's entire body of work when laying out the bracket, but those who fill out the brackets should pay particularly close attention to how teams are playing heading into the NCAA tournament. It isn't unheard of for a struggling team to catch fire at the right time, but conventional wisdom suggests that a hot team is far more likely to stay hot.
That means conference tournament results are of particular interest. Three of the past four NCAA champions have won their conference tournament, and all of them have reached the final at the very least. Perhaps the best recent example of a team riding a wave of momentum through the NCAA tournament is the 2010-11 Connecticut Huskies, who had lost nine games ahead of the Big East Tournament but managed to win it as well as the national title by virtue of an 11-game winning streak to end the season.
Making accurate bracket selections is more difficult now than ever before due to the insane amount of parity that has overtaken college basketball. According to Jon Rothstein of CBSSports.com, that is something that has crossed conference lines this season:
The minimal level of separation this year in CBB has even stretched to mid-majors. Many conference favorites have already fallen.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 10, 2014
Conference championship winners aren't guaranteed success in the NCAA tournament due in large part to that parity, but it helps. When teams overcome adversity to win their conference title, they inevitably have the confidence to do so in the NCAA tournament as well.
If you're struggling between two teams, using conference tournament success as a tiebreaker could prove to be a lucrative decision.
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