NCAA Tournament 2011: 5 Mistakes People Make Filling Out a Bracket
With just one more day to fill out brackets for the 2011 NCAA tournament, basketball fans around the country are looking for an edge.
There is, of course, no sure recipe for success in picking the tournament winners, but being aware of some common pitfalls can't hurt.
Here are five ways a bracket can go wrong, with some possible examples from this year's field of where those mistakes might lead a fan astray.
5. Power-Conference Bias
Seeding aside, most fans are always going to have a certain amount of bias in favor of the major-conference teams, if only because of their advantage in national TV exposure.
No matter how many Gonzagas and George Masons make great runs in March, it can be tough to pick against the team that survived a season of being battered around by Michigan and Ohio State.
Last year’s second round, which saw Northern Iowa stun top-seeded Kansas, provides a classic example.
Had the Panthers been a similarly-talented squad out of the Pac-10 (for example), their win wouldn’t have felt nearly as shocking, and they’d probably have appeared on a few more brackets as a result.
This Year's Example: Marquette
Naturally, the Big East and its record 11 teams in the field provide the most opportunities for this issue to surface.
Big East squad Marquette, an 11th seed against perennially overlooked sixth seed Xavier, could be one team that gets over-picked on the strength of its conference foes.
To be fair, Marquette has the defensive toughness to be a plausible pick over the Musketeers on its own merits. Still, fans who assume that the Golden Eagles are the team to beat purely because they survived the Big East crucible may not like the results.
4. Counting Too Much on One Player
Guaranteed offense is always a good thing in a one-and-done tournament, as UConn’s Kemba Walker just demonstrated.
However, the allure of the unstoppable go-to guy can sometimes lead to over-picking a team that has deficiencies at other spots on the floor.
Adam Morrison provides one of the best examples in recent memory, as the high-scoring star fell to a hard-fought comeback by UCLA after reaching no farther than the Sweet 16.
While no Bruin had matched Morrison’s 24 points, the Zags were the team going home.
This Year's Example: BYU
This year’s field is rife with teams that will ride an individual star as far as he can carry them. Among the most scrutinized (and probably most picked) will be Jimmer Fredette and BYU.
That Fredette is a first-class scorer is undeniable, but he’s facing a tough road in the Southeast regional.
Physical defensive teams like Michigan State and Pitt can body up on Fredette and wear him down over the course of a long game.
With his supporting cast thinned by the suspension to Brandon Davies, Fredette’s squad could even fall as early as a potential third-round meeting with an athletic St. John’s team.
3. Picking the Name and Not the Team
There is, certainly, a measure of logic to counting on a school that’s played well in years past to be a school that will do so again.
Many of the coaches at high-profile programs have established records of winning in spite of rapid personnel turnover.
At the same time, not all Roy Williams teams are created equal, as Tar Heel fans learned to their dismay last season in missing the tournament entirely.
Sometimes, expecting a team to win (or lose) based on past performance can be a risky proposition.
This Year's Example: UCLA
One of the biggest down-year teams in the 2011 tournament is UCLA.
Ben Howland’s success in Westwood has been well documented, but this isn’t the talent-laden squad that Howland has brought in years past.
Tyler Honeycutt’s individual brilliance notwithstanding, UCLA is a poor free-throw shooting team that lacks the backcourt leadership that has carried so many Bruins teams to tournament success.
This year’s edition will be doing well if they survive their second-round meeting with Michigan State.
2. What Have You Done for Me Lately?
The hype and TV coverage surrounding the conference tournaments makes every game played in the week leading up to Selection Sunday seem magnified.
While getting hot at the right time can certainly help a team, it’s easy to overvalue a team that’s just played a great game or two.
Conversely, a bad loss in the conference tournament can make a strong team look vulnerable, even though it’s just one game.
Last year’s Big East tournament shows just how quickly a hot team can cool off in March.
While tournament champ West Virginia did indeed go on an impressive Final Four run, the runner-up (after three decisive victories) was Georgetown, which proceeded to get whipped by 14th-seeded Ohio in its first NCAA game.
This Year's Example: Purdue
Purdue’s early exit from the Big Ten tournament could prove to be an example of a team that gets undervalued after a weak finish.
The Boilermakers enter the NCAAs having gotten mauled by Michigan State in their conference tournament opener, but be careful about letting one wretched performance overshadow a brilliant season.
Purdue is a veteran team with a physical defense and scoring options inside (JaJuan Johnson) and outside (E’Twaun Moore).
Fans who saw the Michigan State score and expect the Boilermakers to roll over and die against Georgetown or even Notre Dame in the middle rounds could be in for a nasty surprise.
1. Too Much Chalk
Obviously, the favorites are favorites for a reason, and a lot of them are going to win. That said, leaving too many highly ranked teams in the bracket for too long is usually a recipe for disaster.
After all, only once in 30 years have all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four.
Last year’s tourney, when two top seeds were gone by the Elite Eight, makes for a fairly typical example. Relying too heavily on the seemingly obvious teams will rarely prove the right decision.
This Year's Example: Pitt
This year the danger of over-relying on the top seeds is especially apparent, as there isn’t an overwhelming force coming in with a 31-1 record.
All the No. 1 seeds have their vulnerabilities, and the wrong matchup could sink any of them.
Pitt, despite its superlative defense, seems the most vulnerable of the four simply because it can’t lean on a dominant offensive player.
A mid-round matchup with another defense-oriented club (say, No. 4 seed Wisconsin) could sink the Panthers if they don’t have a hot hand to bail them out.