NCAA Brackets 2015: Do's and Don'ts for Filling out Bracket

Joe Menzer@@OneMenzFeatured ColumnistMarch 15, 2015

NCAA Brackets 2015: Do's and Don'ts for Filling out Bracket

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    One thing is for certain: There will be a new national champion crowned this year.
    One thing is for certain: There will be a new national champion crowned this year.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Is there a better feeling than printing out an NCAA tournament bracket, sitting down with a few research materials and methodically filling it out?

    Or is it the most maddening aspect of March Madness?

    The truth is it can be a bit of both. But rest easy, folks, because we're here to offer you a few simple do's and don'ts.

    Based not just on years but decades of experience, including years of great success (and more than a few of miserable failure), this encapsulates all the knowledge acquired along the way and is an absolute must-read for novice bracketologists and experts alike.

Do: Trust Your First Instincts (If You've Done Your Homework)

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    Davidson is a team that could win a couple of games and make you smile, too.
    Davidson is a team that could win a couple of games and make you smile, too.Associated Press

    It's basic psychology. Trust your instincts.

    Do some moderate homework first. There is plenty of information out there these days on every single team in the tournament, and it's not hard to find.

    On the other hand, if you fly through your bracket and fill it out in record time, turn it in and don't look back. If you start making wholesale changes, doubting your initial selections, you'll only regret it.

    In other words, say you've seen Davidson play often and you love the way the team looks. The Wildcats' record down the stretch of the regular season included nine consecutive wins to clinch the Atlantic 10 championship and 10 in a row overall en route to the Atlantic 10 tournament semifinals, making fools of the media who picked them to finish 12th in their first season in a new conference.

    So why not pick them to win a game or two? Who cares whom they're playing? Trust your gut and don't second-guess yourself.

Don't: Expect Another No. 7 Seed to Make a Title Run

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    Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie coaxed his seventh-seeded team to the title last year, but it's not likely to happen again.
    Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie coaxed his seventh-seeded team to the title last year, but it's not likely to happen again.Associated Press

    Um, don't expect another No. 7 seed to make a run like Connecticut did en route to the national title a year ago.

    The Huskies won it all last year by beating top-seeded Florida in the semifinals after earlier beating a No. 2 seed (Villanova), a No. 3 (Iowa State) and a No. 4 (Michigan State). They then dispatched No. 8 seed Kentucky in the championship game.

    It's the only time in the history of the tournament it has happened. The only other No. 7 seed to reach the Final Four was Virginia in 1984, and the Cavaliers were defeated in the semifinals by Houston, a No. 2 seed that then went on to lose to No. 1 seed Georgetown in the championship game.

    Low seeds can and have made long runs in March, but winning the whole thing is another story.

Do: Pick a Few Early Upsets

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    Mercer led a rash of early-round upsets last year by knocking off Duke.
    Mercer led a rash of early-round upsets last year by knocking off Duke.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    Mercer, a No. 14 seed, beat No. 3 seed Duke in the Round of 64 (otherwise known to most of us as "the real opening round") last year.

    That's all you need to know. There will be some shocking upsets this year and every year. Figuring out when and where they will occur is the real trick, but you have been warned: Pick all favorites in the early rounds and you will be disappointed. Someone you are comparing brackets with will hit on some or maybe even most of the upsets, leaving your bracket in the dust by the time the first weekend is completed.

    If there is one thing March Madness has taught us over the years, it's that no one is safe on the first few days of the tournament. Well, except for the No. 1 seeds. They never lose to the No. 16 seeds ... right?

Don't: Go Too Crazy with Your Upset Picks

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    Duke fans are sure to follow the Blue Devils wherever the team goes, especially when it isn't far.
    Duke fans are sure to follow the Blue Devils wherever the team goes, especially when it isn't far.Lance King/Getty Images

    OK, so you know you need to pick some upsets.

    But here's another key tip: Don't go overboard with the upset picks. Duke, for instance, is not likely to bow out early again this year, especially because they are a No. 1 seed playing close to home. That means it'll bring fans with it as well.

    Plus, these aren't your 2013-14 Blue Devils. This year's team is better, may have the best player in the nation in freshman Jahlil Okafor and is clicking on all cylinders offensively.

    Some amateur bracketologists outthink themselves and get way to upset-happy in the early rounds. You've got to strike the right balance. The fact is that most of the favorites will indeed win their early games ... just not all of them.

Do: Pick at Least 1 No. 12 Seed to Beat a No. 5

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    Stephen F. Austin, a No. 12 seed, knocked off fifth-seeded VCU in last year's Round of 64.
    Stephen F. Austin, a No. 12 seed, knocked off fifth-seeded VCU in last year's Round of 64.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    At least one No. 12 seed is going to beat a No. 5 seed in the Round of 64. It happens every year.

    Last year, in fact, it happened in three of four such matchups. No. 12 Stephen F. Austin knocked off No.5 VCU, 77-75, in the South region; No. 12 Harvard beat No. 5 Cincinnati, 61-57, in the East; and No. 12 North Dakota State beat Oklahoma, 80-75, in the West.

    The only No. 5 seed to win its opening tournament game was Saint Louis, which barely edged out North Carolina State, 83-80, in overtime.

    Since 1985, the No. 12 seeds have knocked off the No. 5s a total of 44 times. So count on it and just make sure you pick the right No. 12s as winners.

Don't: Pick Only No. 1 Seeds to Advance to the Final Four

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    Wichita State was unbeaten and a No. 1 seed last year, but then ran into Kentucky in the third round.
    Wichita State was unbeaten and a No. 1 seed last year, but then ran into Kentucky in the third round.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Pick No.1 seeds to advance to the Final Four at your own risk.

    Since the current seeding system was introduced in 1979, only once have all four No. 1 seeds made it to the Final Four. That was in 2008, when Kansas beat Memphis in the national championship game and Mario Chalmers' three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left in regulation forced overtime. The other two No. 1 seeds who made it to the Final Four that year were UCLA and North Carolina.

    Last year, however, three of the four No. 1 seeds failed to make it there.

    Wichita State, No. 1 seed in the Midwest, lost in the Round of 32 to No. 8 seed Kentucky. Was that really an upset? Or should an experienced bracketeer have seen it coming from two rounds away?

    In the East, Virginia lost to No. 4 seed Michigan State in the Sweet 16. Again, how huge of an upset is that when Tom Izzo's track record in NCAA tournament play is so well documented? In 17 years, his Michigan State teams have gone 42-16 in the NCAAs, made it to six Final Fours and won one championship.

    And in the West last year, No. 1 seed Arizona lost to No. 2 seed Wisconsin by a single point in overtime in the Elite Eight.

    The bottom line is that Florida was the only No. 1 seed last year to make it to the Final Four, where the Gators lost to eventual national champ UConn in the semifinals. So buyers of No. 1 seeds making it to the Final Four or winning it all, beware.

Do: Pay Attention to the Last 10 Games

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    Coach Bob Huggins' West Virginia team is not carrying much positive momentum into the tournament.
    Coach Bob Huggins' West Virginia team is not carrying much positive momentum into the tournament.Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    There are so many statistics that can be thrown out the proverbial window when it comes to deciphering a bracket.

    For instance, no one really knows if a great three-point shooter in one conference can translate it to the tournament, where perhaps he faces an opponent—and a defense—he hasn't seen yet. Can mid-majors really measure up to teams from bigger conferences, no matter their seeds? Sometimes, yes, and sometimes, no. But most of their in-conference stats mean little or nothing.

    But there is one indicator that is a tell-tale sign. If a team is playing poorly coming into the tournament, it's likely to continue playing poorly. Conversely, if a team is playing well, it's likely to continue playing well. As a general rule, the last 10 games leading up to the tourney are a pretty good gauge of which teams may be in trouble heading in and which are poised to make a deep run.

    Take West Virginia, for instance. Coach Bob Huggins' team has lost three of its last four games, including one to another NCAA tournament team in Baylor in the first round of the Big 12 tournament. Or Utah, which lost three of its last five regular-season contests and then got upset by Oregon in the Pac-12 tourney.

    Bottom line: Teams like these no doubt deserve to be in the tourney based on their earlier body of work, but they're likely headed for an early exit.

Don't: Pick Gonzaga to Advance Past the Sweet 16

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    Gonzaga has made a habit of making the Sweet 16 and then going home.
    Gonzaga has made a habit of making the Sweet 16 and then going home.USA TODAY Sports

    Gonzaga is a great story every year.

    For a mid-major program in an improving but second-tier West Coast Conference, coach Mark Few's teams do some amazingly impressive things year after year after year. This year is no different. Despite two late losses to stain an otherwise stellar regular season, Gonzaga again won its conference tournament and comes into the NCAA tournament as a high seed.

    And the Bulldogs likely will win one or maybe two games. But that's it.

    For all the regular-season success Gonzaga has had, it has never advanced past the Elite Eight in the NCAAs and hasn't been past the Sweet 16 since Few replaced Dan Monson as coach for the 1999-00 season (one year after Monson guided the team to the Elite Eight). Few's teams have reached the Sweet 16 four times in his 15 seasons, but they have never been able to move beyond that and likely won't this time around, either.

Do: Pick with Your Head, Not Your Heart

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    Use your head. Picking with your heart will lead to nothing but heartbreak.
    Use your head. Picking with your heart will lead to nothing but heartbreak.Associated Press

    So you attended Coastal Carolina and you're pretty pumped about them making the NCAA tournament.

    Congratulations.

    Now put those emotions aside when you fill out your bracket. There is no place for it and your team may have had a nice season, but it's about to end (unless, of course, you're in one of those pools where the First Four games count. Your team might have a chance to win one of those).

    Bottom line: Pick these games with your head, not your heart. It's that simple.

Don't: Look for Kentucky or Wisconsin to Lose, Until They Play Each Other

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    Kentucky ended the regular season 31-0 and obviously is not done yet.
    Kentucky ended the regular season 31-0 and obviously is not done yet.James Crisp/Associated Press

    Everybody likes Kentucky, and what's not to like?

    The Wildcats soared through the regular season unbeaten and have been ranked No. 1 in the nation all year. They appear to be the one favorite, the one No. 1 seed, that's a lock for the Final Four and probably even the championship game.

    Right?

    Hold on. Wisconsin might have something to say about it. The veteran Badgers, led by senior Frank Kaminsky, might be the one team that can beat Kentucky even when the Wildcats are playing well, which they usually are.

    The Badgers are a seasoned group with big-game experience. Last year, Wisconsin, then a No. 2 seed, knocked off No. 1 seed Arizona in the Elite Eight to reach the Final Four.

    If they are in fact the team with the best chance to eliminate Kentucky, we won't be able to see it until the Final Four. These two teams might very well be the best two in the tournament and would make for a wonderful matchup in Indianapolis.

    Joe Menzer has written six books, including one about college basketball entitled "Four Corners," and now writes about college basketball and other sports for Bleacher Report while also working for FoxSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @OneMenz.