The NCAA tournament tips-off Tuesday evening with the first-half of the First Four matchups, which means America is madly scrambling to complete their tournament brackets in office pools that involve absolutely no money whatsoever.
While America has plenty of college basketball diehards, if you are like me, you watched a decent amount of your favorite school, but did not take the time to watch a lot of other games. I watched a good number of UNLV basketball games (when they were not banished to CBS Sports Network), and then I probably watched more college basketball during conference championship weekend than I had the entire season.
That being said, I will still be submitting brackets this year. I like to tell myself that knowing less keeps me from out-thinking myself, but that is really just so I don't feel like I'd be better off lighting cash on fire.
As someone who is not completely up to speed on NCAA basketball this season, I had to figure out the best ways to cram as much information into my head while maintaining some measure of efficiency. After all, I cannot learn everything there is to know about 68 NCAA tournament teams in a few days.
My first step was checking out what the incomparable Nate Silver had to say about the tournament. Although Silver now focuses on politics, his previous life as a baseball stats guy keeps the sports world on his radar. Over at FiveThirtyEight, Nate put together a forecast of the 2013 NCAA Tournament, providing probabilities of advancement at each level for every team. The methodology for his forecast is a little too complicated to explain to people looking for quick information, but if you want to learn more, head HERE.
My next step is a personal preference: Ken Pomeroy's college basketball ratings. Although the Pomeroy ratings factor into Nate Silver's forecast, Pomeroy's website spells out some of the details that make-up his own ratings. There are numerous other systems out there, but Pomeroy happens to be a personal preference of mine.
While these are both helpful, I cannot simply pick who is ranked higher in the Pomeroy ratings or who has the highest percentages in Silver's forecast. Upsets happen, and I need to figure out which upsets to pick. While getting the National Champion and Final Four are helpful in winning your pool, nailing some of the upsets are what can separate you from the pack. We do not have a 2012 Kentucky in this year's tournament, as nobody seems set to pull away from everybody else, thus there's potential for serious madness in March, and that means you need to consider all your options.
This is where we run into trouble. If you search Google for "NCAA bracket tips", you get 35,900,000 results.
Where do you even begin? Personally, I view it as enough of a grab-bag that I'm just going to reach my hand in and go with sites or people I know. A simple one for people that are novices to the tournament would be New Jersey gambling columnist John Brennan's article about picking the bracket with zero NCAA basketball knowledge.
Alabama.com provides nine tips that cover a lot of the obvious stuff, while NBCSports.com has their own ten tips. If you want to really overboard with random tips, USA Today offers such gems as, "Since 1991, the winning coach's first name has had either three or four letters." It's like science.
What do I take from all of the advice floating around the Internet? This is a crazy year for college basketball. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that it has been a topsy-turvy college basketball season, with teams in and out and up and down in the rankings. If there was ever a year to get a little nutty with upset predictions, this is it.
Here are pertinent tips to consider in looking at some historical tendencies. Some are obvious, some a little less so.
The No. 5 vs. No. 12 cliche: This is the most popular upset prediction each year, even though 6 vs. 11 and 7 vs. 10 create more opportunities for upsets. That being said, grabbing a pair of 5 vs. 12 upsets is a chance to score some quick early points over your competitors.
Deeper upsets: Look through the No. 13 and No. 14 seeds. While the upsets do not happen frequently, it is worth grabbing one such potential upset from the group. There is generally one team in this group that has been underseeded, and they often are facing a No. 3 or No. 4 seed that has been overseeded. This year, Davidson has all the makings of the big upset winner.
No. 1 all weekend long: The top seed never loses its opener and generally does not lose that next game against the No. 8 or No. 9 seed. Push your top seed into the Round of 32 without a second thought.
Flipping coins: When it comes to the No. 8 vs. No. 9 games, don't hurt yourself overthinking it. Flip a coin and move on.
Final Four options: You do not want all four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four, as that has only happened once since 1979. However, you do want at least one, and probably two, of the top seeds getting to Atlanta.
As for my own bracket? Some notable aspects:
Cinderellas: I have a decent amount of chalk in the Elite 8, but I think we could be in store for surprises the first weekend in the East. I have Bucknell knocking off Butler and Davidson beating Marquette to set up a double-digit Round of 32 matchup. I also have the winner of Middle Tennessee State and Saint Mary's knocking off Memphis and Michigan State to give us two double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16.
I do like the 11s: The No. 6 vs. No. 11 game is always an intriguing one for upset picks. The potential matchup with No. 3 is not an easy one, but the upset possibilities are tantalizing. I really think whichever team wins the Middle Tennessee State-Saint Mary's matchup will claim victory over Memphis and Michigan State. This is the kind of hunch that usually results in the destruction of my bracket.
Homer bias: I love my UNLV Runnin' Rebels, and do think they can beat Cal in their opener. However, a small bit of research for my own personal info reveals Syracuse to be a solid zone team. UNLV struggles against zone defenses, and this could lead to a whole lot of trouble against the Orange.
Mountain West bias: As a UNLV fan, I get a chance to see the rest of the Mountain West in action. It is safe to say this influenced my decision to place the New Mexico Lobos in the Final Four. While they strike me as an under-seeded team, they also appear to have benefited from the easiest of the four regions.
Louisville vs. Florida championship game: I have the two top teams from Ken Pomeroy's ratings, as well as two of the top three in Nate Silver's forecast. Upsets could blow this up, but when I don't have a season-long knowledge-base, I will go with the numbers for the end-game. And so, we see the teacher face the student, as Rick Pitino cuts down the nets with a win over Billy Donovan and the Gators.
What are your random tidbits of advice to follow for March Madness?