Time is running out on the quest to fill out a perfect bracket. The play-in games are over, setting the field of 64 remaining teams for the 2014 NCAA tournament, and now prognosticators have one last chance to look over their selections before the games begin.
March Madness is one of the most exciting sporting events of the year in large part because of the popularity of filling out brackets. It gives everybody from diehard college basketball fans to casual observers an opportunity to become heavily invested.
While there are no surefire ways to guarantee success—this is sports, after all—there are some general ideas to help the process of filling out a successful bracket. Let's check out all of the key information for the Big Dance, including a printable sheet, followed by some tips.
All Your Bracket Essentials:
Avoid Monumental Upsets
Actively searching for potential upset picks is a smart move in a year where the difference between a No. 5 seed and a No. 12 seed is minimal. Yet, going completely overboard with underdogs isn't going to work, especially when it comes to picking against top seeds.
Yes, every once in awhile there's a team like 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast last year that wins a couple games, but it's rare. RJ Bell of Pregame.com passed along some stats concerning No. 1 seeds and their rate of success in the early rounds:
The biggest problem with picking against No. 1 or No. 2 seeds in the round of 64 is the potential loss of points. A majority of pickers are going to take the top teams to advance at least for a couple rounds and in many cases into the Final Four.
Since there's a better chance of that happening that them losing to a No. 15 or No. 16 seed, picking a massive upset very rarely pays off in the long run. There can be a case made for a couple No. 14 seeds this year, but stay away from the longest shots.
Let Future Picks Guide Selections
In most cases, people have a pretty good idea of which teams they think around going to make it to the business end of the tournament. Florida, Arizona, Michigan State and Louisville are the most popular Final Four picks based on the national bracket on ESPN.
Michigan State in particular has been garnering a lot of hype in the days leading up to the start of the Big Dance. The Spartans are coming off winning a title in the Big Ten tournament and head coach Tom Izzo thinks his seniors will be motivated to make one more deep run, as quoted by Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press:
It's the players that don't get another chance. If we don't do that, I get another chance next year to get to one. They don't. They become that team (that) when you have reunions, there will be a lot of players (from other eras) getting after them. Sometimes fair, sometimes unfair. It's just the way it is.
If you're locked into Michigan State going deep into the tournament, that pick can help make other selections. For example, perhaps you think Cincinnati against Harvard is a toss-up game. Since the winner is scheduled to face the Spartans next, it's safe to take the underdog Crimson.
The same idea carries throughout the bracket. Identify close games and if the winner is going to get knocked out by one of your top teams right away, you can take the underdog without the risk of losing a lot of points.
As mentioned, there should be some chaos given the relative equality throughout the bracket. This approach allows you to take some chances but limits the downside.
Keep Recent Performance In Mind
The most overlooked factor while filling out a bracket is how a team has played in recent weeks. A team's record and seeding is indicative of its entire season of work, which is a fair way to rank all 68 squads, but isn't the greatest predictor of future results.
A good tool to use for quick reference is TeamRankings.com's last-10 power rating. It shows how a team has performed over its last 10 games, including their record against different levels of opponents, helping provide a picture of how a team is playing right now.
For example, Syracuse enters the tournament as a No. 3 seed with a strong 27-5 record. The Orange's seeding would rank them somewhere in the No. 9-12 range overall. However, based on the last-10 power rating they are 52nd in the country.
Just keep in mind it's not the only thing to consider. It's just another factor to consider, especially in close contests. It's a lot more difficult to put your faith in a struggling team like Syracuse than Florida or Louisville, which finished strong.