The 2014 NCAA tournament consists of several premier teams at the top of each region of the bracket, but March Madness lends itself to crazy upsets every year, making the duty of picking games a daunting, mistake-ridden ordeal.
Thanks to the continued escalation of technological innovation, NCAA.com has put together some impressive mobile-friendly content, which will be available for the tournament and allow for an excellent fan experience. Video of games and the ability to track how the bracket is unfolding in real time should only add to the drama that accompanies this annual college basketball spectacle.
That also gives bracket enthusiasts an added advantage. If one is on the fence about certain teams and can access key information while they're out, or if one sees something in passing on television out at a bar or elsewhere, the ability to adjust picks on the fly exists.
But a continual, unprecedented amount of access to information comes attached with the potential to psyche oneself out and have a disastrous bracket. It's a fine line, as there's rarely a sound method to March Madness.
Now that the mobile commodities available have been established, let's take a look at some betting advice as a means of enhancing bracketology comprehension.
Count on Elite Teams in Top-Heavy Tournament
The Florida Gators went undefeated in the SEC and the Wichita State Shockers finished with a perfect 34-0 record after winning the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
Those should be considered the premier favorites, but two other prominent programs from power conferences headline the tournament field in Villanova out of the Big East and Arizona from the Pac-12. Both of their mascots are Wildcats, and they are deserving of their top-flight statuses.
Arizona is No. 1 in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com, while Villanova sports a top-20 offense. Coach Jay Wright guided a team that wasn't ranked at the beginning of the 2013-14 campaign to a school-record 28 regular-season victories and ninth NCAA tournament bid.
Jon Rothstein of CBSSports.com noted how quiet yet effective Villanova has been in going about its business and having a historic season:
Villanova again impressive with an 18-point win over Georgetown. Jay Wright has a team of silent assassins --- they'll rip your heart out.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 8, 2014
Coaching is a big part of what makes these teams so successful, but Wright isn't the only standout. Billy Donovan has guided the Gators to two previous national titles, Gregg Marshall shocked the world by leading the Shockers to last year's Final Four and Sean Miller has proven a worthy long-term successor to Arizona legend Lute Olson.
This quartet of squads has very few weaknesses across the board, and as much parity that exists in college basketball, Florida, Wichita State, Arizona and Villanova have the necessary blend of experience and talent to make deep runs.
Be Bold in the Beginning, But Don't Get Greedy With Upsets
Getting too specific here is dangerous, but it's often safe to say that the traditional No. 12 seed beating a fifth seed will happen. In 2013, none of the No. 12 seeds won in the round of 64, yet Florida Gulf Coast made the Sweet 16 as a 15th seed.
But Florida Gulf Coast is the exception, not the rule.
Harvard won the Ivy League this year and returns many of the players from last year's team that knocked off third seeded New Mexico in the second round. The Crimson figure to be a potential Cinderella story this time around, too, which is a testament to the great job coach Tommy Amaker has done in building that program.
Amaker certainly has the long view in mind, per the Boston Globe's Julian Benbow:
We’re really proud of that. We haven’t thought of ourselves as being a one- or two-year wonder. We’ve been able to string together a number of really good years and there’s been some really good players that have bought into our philosophy and our system, obviously including this team right now...We’re hopeful that we can continue to see ourselves as a strong program, a relevant and nationally-thought-of basketball program.”
Shy away from picking Harvard to win. Teams such as those will be trendy upset picks, similar to how New Mexico was a trendy mid-major force projected by many to make a deep run last season. Beware the underdogs that are a little bit too hyped up and touted by experts as the likeliest to pull off improbable victories.
Often the team that seems like the most obvious lower seed to win will wind up falling on their face and wrecking millions of brackets that had them on an ill-fated jaunt to the Sweet 16.
A big equalizer can be three-point shooting. Take a team like—darn, using them again—the Crimson, who stroke it at 38.7 percent from downtown. But do they have the athleticism and proficient execution to get clean looks against higher-caliber competition?
These are the right inquisitions to make when assessing underdogs, and Harvard is an interesting case studying many respects. How appropriately academic. Go Harvard!
Focus on Tight Matchups The Most in Pick Research
Those pesky No. 8 vs. No. 9 games and the No. 7 vs. No. 10 showdowns can make or break an entire bracket. Often two evenly matched teams are pitted against each other, and both of them have the tools to catch fire and string together a few wins.
Even a massive disparity in seeds can be deceptive. It's worth looking into every team as much as possible, checking out how their personnel matches up and the general identity of the squad in question.
For example, a team like Wisconsin is reputed to be a slow team reliant on defense and structured, methodical halfcourt offense. The Badgers bruise and batter opponents with their size and physical style. How would they fare against an up-tempo upstart that likes to run, such as Iowa State?
Looking at a team's basic stats can also help discern how they match up from a personnel standpoint. If one team has a great defensive center and a stronger frontcourt while the other team relies on penetrating guards and strong perimeter play, those hoping for a good bracket must look into that and make an educated guess as to which side would have the advantage.
When these battles consist of strength versus strength—a la two quick-paced offenses that will run each other up and down the court—it becomes especially hard to predict who will win. To stick with the Cyclones as an example, they played to overtime in both contests against Oklahoma State this season and won both, scoring 183 total points.
A good barometer is strength of schedule and conference more often than not—unless, of course, the two adversaries are from the same conference. Then just about all bets are off, and it's back to square one with personnel matchups.
All of this advice just goes to show how trying of a task it is to come up with a winning bracket formula. To be transparent, no one is a surefire expert, and as long as a decent amount of research is done and upsets are avoided in the later rounds, even the most casual fans can have success.
Egos can be bruised at the office during March Madness. There's always next year if the 2014 method doesn't work out as expected. This thrilling tournament isn't going anywhere, and the law of averages should reward dedicated bracketologists at least once with good fortune.