NCAA Tournament 2015: Schedule, Picks, Tips for NCAA Bracket Success

Adam WellsFeatured ColumnistMarch 16, 2015

NCAA tournament time is great for fans, but it's also one of the most nerve-wracking events on the calendar. There's so much pressure to win your pool every year that it causes you to overthink every game on the schedule. 

 

All Your Bracket Essentials

 

Fortunately, the answers to all your bracket-picking problems aren't far away. The strategies presented can't guarantee 100 percent success, because if it did, we would have selfishly used it last year to win that $1 billion prize Warren Buffett was offering and bought a small island for vacationing. 

In your quest to gain bracket supremacy over your competitors, follow the simple steps presented in this article after looking at the full bracket for this year's NCAA tournament. 

 

The Championship Pick

It's impossible to say the obvious pick is the wrong one in this year's NCAA tournament. Kentucky started the year ranked No. 1 in the polls, went undefeated in the regular season and has been the most dominant team in the country. 

If having a zero in the loss column doesn't convince you of Kentucky's greatness, all of the numbers support the statement. 

First, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports offered this succinct summation of the Wildcats' regular season that highlighted why it's been impossible to break through against them:

Using in-depth stats to show how dominant Kentucky has been, the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings have you covered:

Kentucky 2014-15 Advanced Stats
StatNumberNational Rank
Offensive Efficiency (Points scored per 100 possessions)119.75th
Defensive Efficiency (Points allowed per 100 possessions)85.82nd
Adjusted Tempo (Possessions per 40 minutes)63.4251st
Pythagorean Rating.97871st
via KenPom.com

Kentucky's adjusted tempo rating actually makes the offensive efficiency look more impressive because the team doesn't get as many possessions in a 40-minute span as a typical team, yet still ranks eighth in points per 100 possessions. 

One other reason to like the Wildcats in the tournament is because they have been battle-tested. This isn't a scenario like Florida State's football team winning the national title two years ago, going undefeated in the regular season with 12 of 13 wins coming by at least 27 points. 

Auburn gave the Seminoles a scare in the title game, as a late touchdown pass from Jameis Winston to Kelvin Benjamin gave the team a 34-31 win. 

Kentucky has nearly tasted defeat multiple times this season, most notably against Mississippi, Texas A&M and Georgia, yet always found a way to win. The hallmark of a great team is being able to win without playing your best. 

To put things in the simplest possible terms, which Mark Titus of Grantland did, sometimes being better than everyone else does matter.

"They might be the best college basketball team of all time," Titus wrote. "Kentucky will win the national championship because Kentucky is better than everyone else. By a lot."

It's going to be fashionable for people to pick against Kentucky in the NCAA tournament, just so they can brag about the Wildcats losing if it happens, but with no evidence that is going to happen until some point next season, there's no reason to do it. 

 

The Secret to Winning Your Bracket

Now that you know Kentucky will win the national championship, winning your bracket is going to be about figuring out how the early rounds of the NCAA tournament will play out. The first weekend is when your bracket soars or sinks, so pay careful attention to those games. 

The one thing that can be said with absolute certainty is the No. 16 seeds will exit early, as those teams have not won a game against No. 1 seeds since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985. 

Despite the struggles for the lowest of low seeds, there's no reason to shy away from double-digit seeds winning at least one game, as Reid Cherner of USA Today wrote last year:

Computer science professor Sheldon H. Jacobson shared these numbers with the News Bureau of Illinois, and we're not too proud to co-opt them for our brackets. Since 1985, an average of 4.45 teams seeded No. 11 or worse have advanced to the round of 32 and an average of 1.69 teams seeded No. 13 or worse have won in the first round. And only in 1995 has a team seeded No. 7 or worse not made the Sweet 16.

Those numbers surely went up last year, when six teams seeded 11th or lower won at least one game and two made it to the Sweet 16 (Tennessee, Dayton). 

In fact, using advanced metrics to gain an advantage over the competition is always a good place to start when filling out your bracket. There's no better place to look at the head-to-head numbers than FiveThirtyEight, as Nate Silver's methods have been proven to work in all avenues of prediction. 

Another tactic to keep in mind is the underrated major conference team that is playing well at the right time. For instance, last year, Kentucky and Connecticut had mediocre regular seasons—by their standards—with 16 combined losses before making it to the finals of their respective conference tournaments. 

The Wildcats and Huskies hit their stride, despite losing in the conference title games, and used it to make their way to the national championship game. 

That's not to say you should always fall in love with upsets. Last year was one of the most upset-laden years in recent memory, but Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports noted that was more an exception instead of the rule:

According to BracketScience.com, roughly 14 percent of top seeds per season are bounced early. That trend, though, is rising. Over the past five years, 19.2 percent of big boys have gone home crying. Last season, due to nutty runs by Dayton, Stanford and Tennessee, an astounding 21.4 percent of higher seeds were bitten by the upset bug. Obviously, don't pick by the book. Just be mindful underdogs only occasionally topple regional favorites, especially over multiple rounds.

Upsets happen every year, which is part of the NCAA tournament's appeal, yet it's all about being able to find the right ones that will make your bracket special. 

As you start putting pen to paper, smiling wide with a slew of brackets at your fingertips, be smart about what you're doing. Don't always pick with your loyalty, because no one believes LSU is going to win a national championship. 

Instead, use the best information you can get from the Internet and apply it to the matchups. Trying to get too cute is the easiest way to get in trouble. It's hard to avoid picking upsets, but there's a reason favorites are favorites. 

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