Things Every Fan Needs to Know for March Madness
Can you smell that? That's the bittersweet tang of brackets roasting on an open fire.
March Madness hasn't even begun, but in a few short weeks college hoops fans will be building bonfires with the crumbled-up corpses of their busted tournament picks.
If you hate the smell of brackets burning in the morning, this brief guide is for you. Part bracket-y wisdom, part statistical brain food, the following is a walk-through concerning what fans should expect in the 2014 NCAA tournament and how best to cope with it.
Knowing these points won't keep your bracket from imploding, but it will help prepare you for when things get nasty. And things always get nasty in March.
Your 'Serious' Bracket Will Be Terrible
The bracket you take seriously—the one you slave, sweat and cry over—will be the first to fall apart. This is just the way of the world.
By some strange law of nature, the amount of time you spend fretting over a bracket has an inverse effect on how successful it will be. Accept that you have no idea what Wichita State will do. Embrace the fact that two of your Final Four picks will implode by the Sweet 16.
The more time you spend switching Creighton from winner to loser, the less likely you will win any money with this bracket.
No. 16 Seeds Never Win, but No. 15 Seeds Have Been on a Roll Lately
It's sad but true. A No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed. And when it does happen someday, you won't be the one to pick it. But don't worry, nobody else will either.
No. 15 seeds, on the other hand, are experiencing a bit of a renaissance lately. Three different No. 15 seeds have won over the last two years, and last year one of them even made it to the Sweet 16. Everybody remember Dunk City?
But be warned, there have only been seven No. 15 seeds to ever win a tournament game:
- 1991: Richmond over Syracuse
- 1993: Santa Clara over Arizona
- 1997: Coppin State over South Carolina
- 2001: Hampton over Iowa State
- 2012: Norfolk State over Missouri
- 2012: Lehigh over Duke
- 2013: Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown
Your 'Wild Card' Bracket Will Surprise You
You will fill out multiple brackets, and somehow the one you cared least about will be your best one.
Unfortunately, you only filled this one out "for fun" and won't see a single nickel for your efforts. Sigh.
Don't Go Crazy on the Favorites
I know it looks tempting to put all of the No. 1 seeds in your Final Four. They're the four best teams after all. Makes perfect sense.
But in fact, only once have all No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four. In 2008, Kansas, UCLA, Memphis and North Carolina accomplished the feat.
So do yourself a favor and pick at least one to go down before they get to Dallas.
At the same time, don't get too chop-happy either. Only three times has there been a Final Four that didn't feature a No. 1 seed (1980, 2006, 2011).
You Should Fill out a 'Hate Bracket'
This painfully fun exercise is a personal favorite of mine.
As its name suggests, a "hate bracket" is the most uncreative, insufferable bracket you can dream up. The key to making a good hate bracket is plotting out a series of events that if they were to occur in the tournament would keep you up at night for weeks on end.
If your team is slated to go deep into the tournament, find the first game that even smells like a trap. Boom—that's where you end it for your boys. In addition to being heavily pessimistic about your team, make sure to pick smug, perennial powerhouses and hated rivals to make deep, predictable runs.
Constructing this masochistic contraption is not easy, and the pain only sharpens when it turns out to be a great bracket.
It's OK to Compare Notes
Go ahead, talk out your picks.
While some guys like to hide their hunches during the bracket-planning phase, there's nothing wrong with reaching out to quickly fill in knowledge gaps.
Worried about Adreian Payne's ability to stay healthy? Hit up your Big Ten buddy. Give him your opinion of North Carolina in exchange—whatever you have. Don't be shy.
This is a take-home test. You're encouraged to share answers.
Give the Mid-Majors Some Love
This is not your daddy's tournament anymore. The years of the Final Four being dominated by Kentucky and Michigan State and UCLA are over. The new kids want to play.
And those new kids are the mid-majors. They may not belong to a big, fancy conference, but mid-majors have made a Final Four six times in the past eight years. Not too shabby.
So before you write off teams like Wichita State because "they haven't played anybody," just remember that plenty of teams like that did just fine when they had to "play somebody" on the way to a Final Four appearance.
In the Shockers' case, they did it just last year.
You Will Need More Patience Than Last March
Like the rest of the 2013-14 season, the NCAA tournament will be officiated with tight adherence to the NCAA's hand-checking rules.
In short, this means that games will be more high-scoring and likely bleed into other games a bit more than usual.
In long, your fanbase could miss a portion of your game due to another whistle-happy, round-of-64 matchup. It could also mean that your star center will continue to spend a lot more time on the bench than you'd like this postseason.
As far as your bracket is concerned, this change means games now feature more free throws than a Rick Barry YouTube compilation. When you're picking teams, make sure you pick a team that can knock down a freebie every once in a while.
Follow the Games When You're Not in Front of a TV
Call it a plug, but the fact is this: Bleacher Report is going to be all over this thing.
All tournament long, we'll be grabbing March Madness news by the neck and swimming it to you across the river of social media like a wild Bengal tiger. Don't worry about the metaphor, just believe me when I say we're going to take care of business.
Which brings me to my point: If you don't want to miss out on a moment of March goodness, download the B/R TeamStream app for up-to-the-minute news updates. You can also fill out a bracket on the NCAA March Madness Live App and watch live, streaming tournament action as your picks play out in real time.
Sounds like a free, win-win proposition to me.
Only One Team Wins
It's obvious, but it bears repeating: Only one team wins it all.
Of the 68 teams with a chance, a single squad will be "NCAA champions" at the end of the tournament.
Your team is heading into a meat grinder of college basketball's best teams, and even the top contenders need everything to go right in order to pull off this near miraculous feat.
So enjoy the ride. View every game as a blessing—it could be your team's last. And in the (extreme) likelihood that your team falls, try to look on the bright side. At least you had the opportunity to dance.
You know the guy who freaks out when the upset he picks doesn't happen? Even though he had that team losing the very next round? Come on, man. Nobody is perfect. Learn to let the little things go.
Sure, if the team you picked to win it all is about to lose, you can get nervous, but don't expect to get every single pick right. I mean, if you do, then you'll win $1 billion. But the odds of that happening are 9,223,372,036,854,775,808-to-1.
I'll do the simple math for you: That means "not great."
So enjoy the ride and don't sweat the small stuff. Nobody is perfect.
Now for Some Final Facts
Now that we've laid down our bracket guidelines, it's time for a few Final Four facts.
Michigan Doesn't Foul
I noted this phenomenon during last year's tournament, and the trend has continued into 2014: Michigan doesn't foul.
Or at least the Wolverines don't get caught fouling.
They lead the NCAA with the fewest number of fouls committed on the season. Through 30 games, Michigan has committed 439 fouls (14.6 fouls per game). This figure is only a two-foul increase from last year, when the team averaged 12.7 over the course of the 2012-2013 season.
Averaging 14.6 fouls per game is nuts, especially when you consider the NCAA crackdown on hand-checking this season.
The Syracuse Sinking Is Real
ESPN and friends continue to ring the alarm about the sudden torpedoing of the S.S. Syracuse.
The Orangemen started the season 25-0 and have proceeded to lose five of their last seven games. This isn't a death knell for their chances at a deep tournament run, but it doesn't help them statistically.
According to NCAA.com, only one team in the last six years has gone on to win the national championship after losing four games after Feb. 1 (Connecticut).
Head coach Jim Boeheim is still saying the right things, like after his team's 66-63 loss versus NC State on March 14, according to The Associated Press (via ESPN.com):
I'm not concerned about our team. I think we've played well all year. I think we've struggled shooting, and I think that's pretty well-documented. But in spite of that, we won 27 games, so I'm pretty pleased with what these guys have done, and I believe we'll be a very good tournament team.
Look at the bright side, 'Cuse fans. It's not an impossible feat.
Wichita State Is Warming Up the Swat-Team Van
Wichita State loves to throw your shot into the stands. It's what the Shockers do in March.
I noted last year that the team blocked 14.8 percent of Ohio State's two-point field-goal attempts when the two teams met in the 2013 NCAA tournament.
The Wichita State block party appears to be on schedule for the 2014 NCAA tournament, according to NCAA.com. Facing off against Evansville in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament last Friday, Shockers center Kadeem Coleby blocked six shots.
Coleby's six blocks contributed to a team total of 11 blocked shots—a Missouri Valley tournament record.
It remains to be seen whether the Shockers can continue this trend of shot-blocking prowess late in the season, but they could be well on their way to a second consecutive Final Four bid if they do.
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