The Dummy’s Guide to filling out an NCAA Tournament Bracket

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The greatest stretch in sports is here.

The 2017 NCAA Tournament is already dominating American sports talk and the next few weeks will be filled with brackets and upsets.

While many people feel comfortable navigating their way through a bracket and making their own selections, some people are a bit newer to this and need some basic tips and guidance on how to look things over and get things done.

So here’s a look at some basic guidelines to follow so that you at least sound like you’re up to speed on things when you have to get in an awkward discussion with your boss about his alma mater after a meeting. He expects you to know something about Big Ten basketball. You want that promotion, right? You better know something about Big Ten basketball.

We’ll help you get there.

RELATED: Printable NCAA Tournament Bracket

1. Fill out one bracket only. One. Don’t be that person who fills out multiple brackets and brags about “your other bracket” that nobody is interested in. That person is always the worst.

There is no honor in winning a bracket pool if you fill out multiple brackets. This is America and you have to stick with your bad decisions and ride with them until the very end. It’s what we do.

2. Don’t be afraid to make changes to your bracket up until the Thursday afternoon games tip off. You have a few days of analysis to go over and you can take your time sifting through the proper information and filling this thing out. College Basketball Talk and NBCSports.com have plenty have great stuff to go over (shameless plug).

3. Pick the teams you care about and against the teams you can’t stand (to the best of your abilities). If you’re an Ohio State fan, then don’t pick Michigan as you sulk at home without a bid.. If you’re a Northwestern graduate and they’re in the tournament for the first time, then definitely pick them. People understand sports love and hate in ways that translate all boundaries. Stick with those convictions.

4. Pay attention to the news and happenings of college basketball — if only for the week. Prime example last year: Cal lost leading scorer Tyrone Wallace to a broken hand during practice on Wednesday night with their first-round game coming on Friday afternoon. The Bears lost to No. 13 seed Hawaii in the first round. If you pay attention to things like that, it can help sway a late decision.

5. A No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed. We just had to get this out of the way.

RELATED: Power Rankings 1-68 | Duke deserved a No. 1 seed | Committee got bubble right

REGIONAL BREAKDOWNS: East | Midwest | South | West

6. A No. 12 seed always beats a No. 5 seed. Find a No. 12 seed that you feel good about and ride that pick with supreme confidence. In some years, multiple No. 12 seeds beat multiple No. 5 seeds. Throw out a couple of those upsets if you’re feeling it. Get wild with it. This year’s crop of 5/12 games has four scary matchups once again. It’s always among the toughest group of games to gauge.

7. You also need to find a double-digit seed that you feel comfortable riding to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. It happens every year. Maybe it’s the 12 seed you just feel in love with? Or maybe you settle in with a No. 11 seed you feel comfortable with. You could even take both of them and really have some fun with it.

8. Don’t be afraid to pick upsets in general. But also be cautious of picking upset teams to advance too far. Double-digit seeds rarely make the Final Four and they’ve never won a title. If you have one or two going to the Sweet 16 it isn’t crazy at all.

9. Looking into a conference’s bid totals never hurts. The sooner you learn that the ACC was awesome this year and the Big Ten and Pac-12 were trash, the more it will help your bracket.

10. The Rule of 10. Check out how a team has played in their last 10 games. Sometimes it’s easy to spot a team in a freefall. But you can never tell that by simply looking at overall record and seed. On paper, you might think 15-loss Vanderbilt could fall into the category of struggling teams. They’ve actually won seven of nine games entering the NCAA Tournament as one of the hotter teams in the country.

11. Going over game locations never hurts. Good example in this year’s East Region: No. 7 seed South Carolina takes on No. 10 seed Marquette in a pretty even matchup.

Except this game is being played in Greenville, South Carolina. And the Gamecocks have been to one NCAA Tournament since 1998 and haven’t won a game since 1973. Those fans could be a huge boost in a tight game. There are multiple examples of small things like that you can find on the bracket. Put that geography knowledge to use.

12. It’s extremely rare that all four No. 1 seeds make the Final Four. You definitely need to find a top seed and drop them before the games reach Glendale. Which, for 95 percent of you, will mean Gonzaga.

12. For whatever reason, don’t ride with No. 6 seeds. We haven’t seen one reach the Final Four since 1992.

13. Also don’t be scared to take one of the teams from the First Four games (Wake Forest, Kansas State, Providence and USC) and have them advance into at least the Round of 32. It’s happened every year. We’ve even seen teams from the First Four move on to the Sweet 16 and beyond like VCU’s Final Four run. Here’s a hint: one of this year’s teams played in the toughest conference in the country and has an All-American on the roster.

14. If the rules of filling out a bracket get to be too much, just have fun and don’t stress out about it. Part of the joy of March Madness is getting distracted from work or school during the week and getting to watch some basketball.

Picking an upset is a thrilling experience and watching a team you picked advance into the Final Four leaves you with an accomplished feeling.

This is the best time of year. Best of luck to everyone filling out their bracket.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft 3.0 | Early Entry Tracker

As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.