NCAA Brackets 2019: 10 Dos and Don'ts for Making Your Picks
If you're like a lot of people, you're just now turning your attention to college basketball. It has a devoted regular-season following, but for most people, the NCAA tournament is the college basketball season.
That being the case, there are some things you need to know as you fill out your bracket. You need to know about LSU's coaching situation and Kansas State's injuries. You need to know about the 12-5 upset, you need to know about Virginia and you should make yourself aware of Markus Howard.
Winning your bracket pool requires knowledge and discipline. So follow these dos and don'ts, and you'll avoid making any big mistakes.
Do: Beware of Virginia
Famously, Virginia last year became the first No. 1 seed ever to lose its opening NCAA tournament game. It was highly embarrassing but also a total fluke from a historical perspective. No. 1 seeds fell to 135-1 in first-round games that night.
But if you've followed Virginia at all the last few years, you know it wasn't totally fluky. The Cavaliers roll off incredible regular-season records, but they lost in the first round last year and the second round the year before that.
Virginia hasn't made the Final Four under Tony Bennett. The Cavaliers sometimes find themselves in a battle against a more athletic team, and they don't respond so well.
Once again this year, Virginia has a team that defends in swarms and has shooters all over the floor. But there is still a monkey on this team's back.
Don't: Forget About Baylor
You wouldn't know it just by looking at Baylor's record, but Scott Drew did one of the best coaching jobs in the country this year.
The Bears got a lot better as the season progressed, so when you see them as a No. 9 seed, you aren't getting the full picture. Baylor lost to Texas Southern, Wichita State, Ole Miss and Stephen F. Austin in the nonconference season and started Big 12 play 1-2.
But the Bears managed to finish fourth in the league, and as always, they have a good zone defense that is not easy to prepare for on short notice.
Do: Consider a 14-over-3 Upset
A 14th seed over a 3 is major Cinderella territory, but there's a Cinderella every year, and you can gain a huge advantage in your bracket by hitting the right one.
That being the case, No. 14 seeds are a good place to look. They have beaten No. 3 seeds four times in the last five years and have pushed them to the final minute on a handful of other occasions. The third seed still almost always has an athletic advantage, but it's the Nos. 12, 13 and 14 seeds that really show how much the gap between the haves and have nots in college basketball has shrunk over the last couple of generations.
A team that gets a No. 3 seed is a very high-quality team that will always be expected to beat the 14th seed by a comfortable margin. But this is a common upset nonetheless.
Don't: Forget What's Going on with LSU
You're looking at that bracket and you see a 3 next to LSU's name and get a certain impression.
And it's true that LSU is an extremely athletic team that has had a great season. Or was having one until the head coach got suspended.
Will Wade got caught on a wiretap in a conversation that sounded an awful lot like it was about paying players. LSU immediately suspended him indefinitely, and that's where he remains today.
You never know how a team might respond to something like that. Maybe the Tigers will play angry and come together in solidarity like in the movies. Maybe they'll succumb to the distraction. But it's something to keep in mind as you make the big decisions.
Do: Be Aware of Markus Howard
Markus Howard hasn't gotten a ton of mainstream attention, so it can be easy to miss that Marquette has a guard who averages 25 points per game. He shoots 41 percent from the three-point line, 89 percent at the free-throw line and has range well beyond the NBA line.
He's hit 45 points twice this season. Once against Kansas State and another time against Buffalo, who are a No. 4 seed and a No. 6 seed, respectively. So Howard is well-versed in lighting up the scoreboard against quality opponents.
This should make for must-see TV in his first-round matchup against Murray State's sophomore star Ja Morant. While Morant is an NBA draft darling, Howard's Marquette team is the higher seed for a reason, and an opening-game battle with another electric scorer could set the tone for a big tournament run for the junior guard.
Take all this into account before picking Marquette to go down in a No. 12 vs. No. 5 upset.
Don't: Pick a No. 16 Seed to Win
Look, just because this happened last year doesn't mean it's going to happen again anytime soon. UMBC's upset of Virginia proved it is possible for a No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed.
Despite that historic upset, 16th-seeded teams remain...1-135 in NCAA tournament games.
It is generally true that the gap between the top teams and the smaller-conference teams is less substantial than it was 20 or 30 years ago, but there remains a large gulf between the size and talent of a 16th seed and a 1. The 16-1 upset will happen again someday—maybe even this year—but it's still not a great bet.
Do: Believe in Zion
If, like a lot of people, you're just now tuning in to the college basketball season, you might be wondering if this Zion you keep hearing about is actually living up to the hype.
Let this be your reassurance that he most certainly is.
Duke has a major flaw, which is its outside shooting, but Duke also has a player unlike any we've ever seen. That's not to say Williamson is the greatest college basketball player we've seen, but he's the only one who has ever enjoyed this particular combination of power, speed, agility, explosiveness and sheer size. This guy is shooting 69 percent from the field.
Think about that.
There's always a chance Williamson could have a bad game, but if he did, it would be the second one he's had all year. He's about as sure a thing as you can hope to have in this tournament.
Don't: Overlook Michigan's Bad Shooting
There are times Michigan looks like the best team in the country. The Wolverines are deep, experienced, tough and they have one of the best coaches in the game.
But as Michigan State demonstrated three times this year, you can beat these guys with 60 or 70 points.
Michigan shoots 45 percent from the field and 35 percent from the three-point line. Those aren't awful numbers—they're both sixth in the Big Ten—but that kind of shooting tends to become a big problem in NCAA tournament games.
To get to the Final Four, the Wolverines will probably have to shoot it better than they have all year.
Do: Pick a 12 over a 5
The 12-5 upset is an NCAA tournament trope at this point. Anybody dispensing bracket advice who doesn't mention that No. 12 seeds beat No. 5 seeds way more often than the seeding would make you think does not have your best interests at heart.
It didn't happen last year, but it usually happens once, and there have been recent years in which it's happened two and three times.
A 12th seed over a fifth seed looks like a major upset on paper, but here's the thing: No. 12 seeds tend to be veteran teams from mid-major conferences that are having great years, and No. 5 seeds tend to be mildly discombobulated major-conference teams who are having up-and-down seasons. It's a good recipe for an upset in a single-elimination tournament.
This year's most interesting No. 12 seed is Oregon, which lost 12 games during the regular season but won the Pac-12 tournament, perhaps indicating the Ducks have figured out how to play without injured star Bol Bol.