March Madness 2012: Mistakes to Avoid When Filling Out Your Bracket

Josh Schoch@JoshSchochAnalyst IIIMarch 12, 2012

March Madness 2012: Mistakes to Avoid When Filling Out Your Bracket

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    Selection Sunday is behind us, and the brackets for the 2012 NCAA tournament have been unveiled. As millions of people enter pools and fill out brackets in their quest for a perfect bracket, these are mistakes to avoid when making predictions in March Madness.

    The Big Dance gives sports fans the opportunity to display their knowledge to their friends by completing their brackets, but making these mistakes could lead your friends to think that you don't know anything about sports.

    Even if you don't know much, these are the mistakes you should avoid when filling out your bracket. While following these steps won't give you a perfect bracket, they will certainly help.

Don't Forget to Pick a No. 12 Seed over a No. 5 Seed

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    It's the most predictable upset in the entire tournament.

    Just about every year a No. 12 seed will upset a No. 5 seed in the first round. For some reason this always seems to happen, and it typically happens more often than any other first round upset with the possible exception being a No. 9 seed over a No. 8 seed.

    Remember to have at least one No. 12 seed moving on, as its happened for the last several years, and that No. 12 seed will make the Sweet 16 surprisingly often.

    This year the tournament is going to be filled with upsets because there are so many good teams clustered around the same rankings. This, in turn, will lead to some pretty big upsets.

    Don't be the only one in your pool not to pick a No. 12 seed, especially since the rest of the tourney will be so unpredictable.

Don't Pick a No. 16 Seed over a No. 1 Seed

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    Do you remember the last time a No. 16 seed beat a No. 1 seed? No? That's because it's never happened.

    Make sure you don't pick a No. 1 seed to lose in the first round because that is asking to lose ground in your pool.

    No one else is going to have a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 seed, so even if it does happen you won't lose anything by picking the No. 1 seed to win.

    Remember that Kentucky, Syracuse, Michigan State and North Carolina have all earned their high rankings, and they aren't going to lose their first game.

Don't Pick All No. 1 Seeds

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    When you're picking your Final Four make sure to include at least one team that is not a No. 1 seed. While they are good enough to guarantee themselves a win in the first round, that doesn't mean that they will necessarily make the Final Four.

    There has only been one time in history when all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four, and that came in 2008, with North Carolina, Memphis, Kansas and UCLA.

    This year is going to be filled with upsets because there aren't many clear-cut favorites, and I can personally guarantee that at least one No. 1 seed will not make it to the Final Four.

Don't Leave All No. 1 Seeds out of the Final Four

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    While we won't see all No. 1 seeds in the Final Four together, we won't see a Final Four without any of them.

    It's only happened twice in history (1980 and 2006), and it's not going to happen this year. The No. 1 seeds have earned their rankings, and at least one of them will make it to New Orleans.

Don't Forget to Talk About the Tournament with Everyone

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    Part of the fun of the Big Dance is the fact that it unifies just about every sports fan out there. We can't resist filling out a 68-team bracket and proving that we are smarter than our friends and colleagues.

    Since everyone is doing it, you might as well talk to them about it. Half of the fun is discussing the tournament at every opportunity, whether that's in a bar, on the street, in your house, or even *ahem* at work.

Don't Forget Who You Are Talking to

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    Remember, if every sports fan is doing this then there are obviously going to be some who don't know very much. Because of this you need to remember who you're talking to.

    If you're talking to a Duke alumnus who has watched every game, you can take their opinion on how far Duke will go seriously (my prediction is the Sweet 16).

    On the flip-side, if you're talking to some guy in your office who doesn't even know that Duke's mascot is the Blue Devils, you probably shouldn't put much faith in them guaranteeing Syracuse a second-round loss.

    Any time you take advice from someone else, you need to take it with a grain of salt, as it could very well be completely ridiculous.

Don't Pick the Team Everyone Is Picking

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    The best way to distance yourself from the pack in your pools is to pick a team that has a decent chance to win, but that just about no one else is picking.

    You won't gain any ground by picking the best team in the country because everyone will be cashing in on those points, so pick a different team.

    Last year the people who took a chance and picked UConn to win it all after a long Big East tournament, and as a No. 3 seed, were rewarded with many points that no one else was given, giving them a huge edge in their pools.

    The same concept applies every year because there are always people who are just picking the best team available, forgetting that will mean they won't be distancing themselves.

    It's a risky strategy, but what's the fun of betting without any risk?

Don't Go Overboard with Upsets

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    I know I just told you to pick a team that no one else is picking, but don't go overboard and pick a No. 14 seed to win it all because that is just wasting an opportunity.

    While you certainly need to pick some upsets, don't be the person who picks UNC Asheville to win it all.

    There is a line where being different becomes stupid, so make sure you aren't the person to cross it.

Don't Forget to Look at Records at Neutral Sites

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    Since all of the games are played at neutral sites in the NCAA tournament, a team has to play well on neutral courts.

    Last year UConn was undefeated at neutral sites, including winning the Big East conference tournament at the end of the season.

    Their ability to win away from home was key to their success, and it is an important quality in a champion.

Don't Forget to Look at Coaching Experience

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    There are certain coaches who seem to always end up in the Elite Eight or Final Four, and that should be a major factor when filling out your bracket.

    Many people had Butler losing in the first round last year, but because Brad Stevens had his players well-prepared, the team made it to the finals.

    Tom Izzo is the type of coach who seems to always end up in the Final Four, and that ability to coach during the Big Dance is going to make Michigan State a popular pick to go far.

    When a dozen or so teenagers are thrust into a national spotlight the pressure can be overwhelming, and that's when coaching becomes important. Don't be surprised to see the Tom Izzos, Jim Calhouns, Roy Williams', Mike Krzyzewskis and Bill Selfs of the world in the Final Four this year.

Don't Forget to Look at Postseason Experience

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    Experience in the NCAA tournament is key for success in most cases, but making deep runs in the NIT tournament can be almost as good.

    Very rarely does a team come from an early exit or missing out on the Big Dance completely to win it all. The biggest contradiction to this was UConn last year, but they had made it to seven of the last eight NCAA tournaments before that.

    Having a team with most of its members having postseason experience is a valuable asset because the pressure of being on the big stage is minimized, as the players have done it before.

Don't Forget Look at Seniority

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    Having a team of veterans is important in college basketball because they have been playing in the league for a few years and have adjusted to it. On the other hand, having a team filled with freshmen can be a risky strategy (I'm looking at you, Kentucky).

    One of the reasons North Carolina was favored to win it all this year was because of their seniority. The Tar Heels returned all five starters from a team that made the Elite Eight last year, which made for a team that had the seniority to win it all.

    Don't discount player experience, both in the postseason and the regular season.

Don't Forget to Look at Injuries

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    Injuries can be decimating in the NCAA tournament, and if an elite team loses a star player, they could easily be an overrated team without him.

    As I mentioned on the last slide, North Carolina was the overwhelming preseason pick to win it all. However, the team has lost starting shooting guard Dexter Strickland to an ACL tear, and they have also lost Leslie McDonald. Notre Dame has also lost their best player, Tim Abromaitis, for the season.

    Also keep in mind that even if a player is rumored to be coming back from an injury, they may be altering team chemistry.

    Last year when Kyrie Irving returned from an injury to play for Duke in the NCAA tournament, he may have actually hurt the team. While Irving played well himself, teammates like Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler, who stepped up in his absence, suffered. When watching the team, they did not look smooth, and that can be attributed to a lack of chemistry.

    Make sure you know your team's injury history.

Don't EVER Flip a Coin

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    My biggest pet peeve is when a coin toss is the deciding factor when it comes to sports. There are simply so many different tie-breakers that flipping a coin seems incredibly stupid to me.

    Last year one of my friends flipped a coin for every game of the tournament, with heads being the favored team and tails being the underdog. He had Morehead State winning it all.

    There is so much factual knowledge and research to base decisions off of that flipping a coin won't cut it. Even going with your gut feeling (there's a reason you have them) is a much better option than leaving it up to chance.

    Please, please don't flip a coin when filling out a bracket that you're betting on.

Don't Base It on Mascots

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    When filling out the bracket or brackets that you are going to be betting on try not to base it on mascots. I know that a lot of the games are difficult to pick, but there are much better tie-breakers than mascots.

    If you base it entirely on mascots then you will have the Syracuse Orange losing in the first round. You may also run into the problem that there are several teams with a mascot of a wildcat.

    I personally fill out an entire bracket just based off of mascots, but I would never dream of betting on it. If you want to fill out a bracket on mascots that perfectly fine, but please don't bet on it.

Don't Forget to Fill out Multiple Brackets

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    Part of the fun of March Madness is filling out as many brackets as you can. While they will eventually get repetitive, you can always find new ways to make filling out brackets exciting.

    Here is how I spread out my brackets:

    • Gambling (the one I actually bet on)
    • Secondary (the one where I change all of my tough decisions in my gambling bracket)
    • Idealistic (the one where I have my favorite team winning and every game is picked based on which outcome I would like to see)
    • Coaches (the one where I pick every game based on coach prestige/experience)
    • School Ties (whichever schools I like more/have ties to)
    • Mascots (sorry Syracuse)

Don't Get Caught at Work

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    Look, everyone is going to be filling out their brackets at work, but be smart about it and don't get caught.

    Your boss might understand, but the more likely situation involves you getting chewed out, and no one wants that.

Don't Forget to Look at Stars

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    Teams that are successful in the Big Dance typically have stars that they can rely on.

    Whether it's a single star like Kemba Walker from last year, or a trio of stars like Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler from two years ago, the team that wins typically has at least one star.

    When it comes down to a one-game matchup stars will shine, and if you're going to make a deep run you need a star.

Don't Forget to Look at Style of Play

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    Style of play is a very important factor in college basketball. Some schools love to run the floor, while others play a strict half-court game.

    If a team that loves to run the floor like Baylor or Kentucky plays a team with a 2-3 zone like Syracuse, you need to know which strategy you think will prevail.

    The team whose style of play is better suited for the game will typically win, which means that you need to make sure that you take each team's style of play into account.

Don't Pick a Mid-Major to Win It All

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    In today's game, mid-majors almost never win it all. In fact, the last team from a non-power conference to win the NCAA tournament was UNLV in 1991, under Jerry Tarkanian. That's 20 years without a mid-major winning it all.

    Even if you think Murray State or Wichita State is going to make a deep run, don't pick them to win it all.

    Recruits want to go to a school in a power conference so they can go to the NBA. With that in mind, very few talented players go to mid-majors, and without talent you can't win the Big Dance. I can't see a mid-major winning it all this year, so my advice to you is to pick someone else to cut down the nets.

Don't Write off a School You Haven't Heard of

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    If you haven't been following college basketball that closely this season, you may not have heard of Wichita State, Murray State, UNLV, etc. However, just because you haven't heard of a team doesn't mean that they aren't good.

    If you haven't heard of a team before, you may want to do some research. Simply looking up a team to find out their best players, looking at their roster and their style of play could be incredibly helpful.

    When you come across a team you haven't heard of, just look them up online and see what they did to get this far.

Don't Write off West Coast Teams

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    If you live on the East Coast or the Midwest, you probably haven't heard a lot about teams in the West. This is because news stations feature the East Coast, and because you may not have stayed up to watch the games on the West Coast.

    These teams could be very good, but they don't make headlines often. If you see a team from the West that you haven't heard much about, just do a little bit of research to find out what you haven't been told by the media.

    You will be shocked at what you find.

Don't Forget to Look at Venues

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    Having the crowd behind a team is a big difference-maker in college sports, so don't forget to look at where games are being played.

    If a team is playing in their own backyard with tens of thousands of fans cheering them on, they are much more likely to do well than if they were playing on the other side of the country.

Don't Freak out When You Get a Game Wrong

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    Look, over the course of picking 63 games, you're bound to get at least one wrong. Don't freak out when you have a bad night, just relax and be sure you're still having fun.

    Even if you're out of your pool because you had a rough couple of rounds, there's still the chance to watch the best teams in the country play each other.

    Just have fun with it.

Don't Forget to Enjoy Every Minute of It

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    March Madness only happens once a year. This annual event is the best the sporting world has to offer, so take it all in, and make sure you enjoy it.

    If you take anything from this article let it be this: March Madness is about having fun, not winning, so just sit back, relax, and enjoy the best month in sports.

    For your printable bracket for the 2012 NCAA tournament, click here.