NCAA Brackets 2016: 10 Do's and Don'ts for Making Your Picks

Steve GreenbergCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 13, 2016

NCAA Brackets 2016: 10 Do's and Don'ts for Making Your Picks

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    Your bracket sheet for the 2016 NCAA tournament is staring at you.

    It's titillating. It's daunting. It's madness.

    It's the most important thing you'll do all day, so take heed—these are your do's and don'ts to live by. To swear by. To bet the next three weeks of your life by. Or not. We can't make you do anything.

    What follows—nudging and precautions—is intended to help you. When you win your pool, thank us; we'll party. When you don't, let's agree to pretend we never met. Seriously, though, good info awaits.

    See you on the other side.


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Do: Give Dayton (the City, Not the School) a Try

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    The brand-new shine on making the NCAA tournament fades somewhat for the eight teams—the four lowest-seeded at-large ones and the four lowest-seeded automatic qualifiers—shipped off to the Gem City for Tuesday and Wednesday play-in games.

    It's an opportunity that smacks of consolation prize.

    The First Four, as the Dayton games officially are called—oddly, now that the NCAA has gone back to referring to the round of 64 as the "first round"—doesn't start the Big Dance as much as it arrives awkwardly early.

    Yet in each of the last five years, a team has survived Dayton and gone on to win at least one more game; famously and incredibly, 11th-seeded VCU won four more in 2011 to reach the Final Four. 

    In 2012 and 2015, respectively, 12th-seeded USF and 11th-seeded Dayton reached the round of 32. In 2013 and 2014, respectively, 13th-seeded La Salle and 11th-seeded Tennessee advanced to the Sweet 16.

    That's a total of 10 games won by those five teams after Dayton. If you're looking for a team this year that will be leaving its First Four matchup with some momentum, the winner of the intriguing Vanderbilt vs. Wichita State matchup would certainly be a good candidate.    

    Pick a Dayton-bound squad this year and roll with it at least a little.    

Don't: Be Too Swayed by the Old Saw About 12s over 5s

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    The successes of No. 12 seeds in the tournament have snowballed into the stuff of legend—and for good reason: From 2012-14 alone, No. 12s won two-thirds of their games against No. 5s.

    In all, 12th-seeded teams have 44 victories in the first round (it is nice to use those words again). It's an impressive total. But it's dwarfed by the fifth-seeded teams' 80 first-round wins.

    The fives haven't held their weight over time, no doubt about it, but they've batted .645—not altogether terrible and certainly a clear indication you should advance more No. 5s than No. 12s in your bracket. Tellingly, only one No. 12 seed—Missouri in 2002—has gone as far as the Elite Eight.

    You can pick as many of these upsets as you wish, but the hard truth is, it won't make your bracket even if you're right on all counts. And let's not overlook the No. 12s' 0-4 record against No. 5s in 2015. It could be the No. 5s are in the process of reversing this trend.

    It might be wise to let their most recent success breathe a little.

Do: Think Long and Hard Before You Dismiss Kentucky

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    The Kentucky Wildcats lost five games before the end of January and faded into the background of a season where the prevailing theme seemed to be the volatility at the top of the weekly polls. John Calipari's team hasn't even appeared in the Top 10 in over two months.

    Remember, though, Calipari and Kentucky have been to four of the last five Final Fours. That includes 2014, when they lost the national title game to UConn as a No. 8 seed, and 2011, when they lost to UConn in the national semis as a No. 4 seed.

    In 2010, Calipari's first postseason at Kentucky, the Wildcats got to the Elite Eight. Prior to that, Coach Cal's last four Memphis teams won a combined 13 tournament games.

    Another Big Blue run could be coming, and capping off another SEC tournament championship Sunday will certainly help the Wildcats' cause. 

Don't: Get Overly Excited About Wisconsin

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    The Wisconsin Badgers joined Kentucky as participants in the last two Final Fours. And for six weeks, starting in mid-January, they were the hottest team in the Big Ten—maybe in all the land—going 11-1, with their lone defeat coming at Michigan State.

    Coach Greg Gard shed his "interim" tag for his estimable performance, and good for him, but this isn't the same caliber of team predecessor Bo Ryan led into the last two Marches. Really, these Badgers aren't even close to what they were when Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker were doing their thing.

    Juniors Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig are tested and terrific. Freshman Ethan Happ is a formidable big man. Yet these Badgers have far more in common with Ryan's first dozen teams at Wisconsin, all of which finished in the top four of the Big Ten and reached the Big Dance—but only one made it as far as the Elite Eight.

    Bucky enters the tourney as a No. 7 seed having lost two in a row. It'll likely lead to an early exit, whether against 10th-seeded Pittsburgh in the round of 64 or second-seeded Xavier in the round of 32.

Do: Look for Dominant Lead Guards

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    When filling out our brackets, don't we all tend to err on the side of dynamic, cold-blooded backcourts?

    These are the guards who hit the money threes with which tourney viewers' emotions rise and fall. They lock down games late with clutch free throws. Many of them are point guards, but all of them have the ball in their hands when it matters most.

    Think of Duke's Tyus Jones in 2015. Think of UConn's Shabazz Napier in 2014 and Kemba Walker in 2011. All sealed the deal and were feted with Most Outstanding Player honors.

    Who fits that bill in 2016?

    There are many candidates. Denzel Valentine makes Michigan State perhaps the most attractive championship pick of all. Kansas has a pair of potential closers in Frank Mason III and Devonte' Graham. Believe in North Carolina's Marcus Paige, Kentucky's Tyler Ulis, Indiana's Yogi Ferrell, Maryland's Melo Trimble and Miami's Angel Rodriguez.

    There are others. Get to know them—and fast.

Don't: Overcorrect on Those No. 5 Seeds

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    Remember way back when, a few clicks of the forward-arrow button ago, we warned you not to fall in love with the idea of picking No 12s over No. 5s?

    We still mean it. Promise.

    But keep in mind that 2010—when Butler edged Michigan State in a No. 5 vs. No. 5 national semifinal—was the only year in the last 10 when a No. 5 seed advanced to the Final Four. You don't want to fall too much in love with these No. 5s, you see.

    Since the NCAA began seeding tournament teams in 1979, a No. 5 seed has yet to win it all. Two sixes—NC State in 1983 and Kansas in 1988—have cut down the nets. Champion UConn was a No. 7 in 2014. Villanova brought down the house as a No. 8 seed in 1985.

    Over 37 years, a scant seven No. 5 seeds have reached the Final Four. The odds are long that it'll happen in 2016.

Do: Be Wary of Duke

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    Dig this about Mike Krzyzewski, master of the universe, purveyor of unparalleled excellence, certified basketball god: He stinks when his teams aren't seeded No. 1 or No. 2. In 2014, the third-seeded Blue Devils lost their opening game of the tournament.

    They did the same as a No. 6 in 2007. In 2003, third-seeded Duke lost in the Sweet 16. Yada yada.

    Nutshell: Duke is almost always a No. 1 or a No. 2, but the last five times it has been anything else—anything less—it has hastily beaten a path to the offseason. Those five tournament appearances, dating back to 1993, yielded a meager total of three wins.

    This year, the Blue Devils head into the tournament as a No. 4 seed and will try to reverse this trend against No. 13 UNC Wilmington. 

    There's no question Duke has Final Four talent. Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram are superstars. But we're not here to Dickie V you. Take a pass on the Blue Devils.

Don't: Overvalue the Big East

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    Villanova is a great team, right? A major-conference champion. A 29-win behemoth.

    Also: In its last five NCAA tourney appearances, Villanova has yet to win more than one game. Three of those times, the Wildcats were a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed.

    Xavier hasn't been past the Sweet 16 in its last six tourney appearances. Seton Hall has one Big Dance "W" in the last 15 years. Providence hasn't won an NCAA tourney game since 1997. Butler doesn't have Brad Stevens anymore, no offense to Chris Holtmann. 

    Look, the Big East is a fun league. It's a good league. As recently as late December, it had three teams in the Top 10 of the polls. Geez, that was a long time ago.

Do: Give Dayton (the School, Not the City) a Try

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    The Dayton Flyers edged fellow No. 11 seed Boise State—in Dayton—a year ago, then gob-smacked sixth-seeded Providence by 13 in the round of 64.

    They gave third-seeded Oklahoma hell in their next game, but lost. The defeat was almost surprising given Dayton's tremendous success in the 2014 tourney, when Ohio State, Syracuse and Stanford went down in succession and coach Archie Miller became a rising star.

    The previous time the Flyers made the Big Dance—in 2009—they scored an No. 11 vs. No. 6 upset of West Virginia. Miller wasn't in charge then, but still: There's something about this school that engenders confidence at bracket time. Don't be afraid to pick them in the 7 vs. 10 matchup against Syracuse. 

    And there's something about the Atlantic 10. VCU has had March success and might again. When you see an A10 team on your bracket sheet, don't be afraid to press go.

Don't: Buy the Pac-12

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    Hey, Oregon looks good, especially after getting a No. 1 seed. So does Utah. So does Arizona. So does California. So do…who cares?

    Here's the cold, hard truth about our dear friends out West: Other than UCLA, which went to three straight Final Fours from 2006-08, there hasn't been a Pac-12 team in the Final Four since Arizona got there in 2001.

    And there hasn't been an NCAA tournament champion from the Pac-12 since Arizona in 1997. What the heck has happened to this league? Perhaps "soft" gets at the heart of what's wrong. Certainly, "overrated" does. Beyond that, it's difficult to pinpoint the problem.

    But it isn't—or shouldn't be—a hard choice at all to ignore these teams like there's no tomorrow.