The 2018 NCAA tournament is finally here!
March is a dreadfully boring time during the American sports calendar. Pro sports are still weeks away from the playoffs or the start of the regular season.
Thankfully you have March Madness.
It’s a unique event in American sports that captures the casual fan’s attention for a few weeks every year. And if you’re reading this, you’re potentially someone who hasn’t watched a lot of college basketball during the regular season.
That’s totally okay. College basketball fans are thrilled to have you along for the ride of March. And I’m here to help catch you up and give you tips on things to look for and trends to avoid when filling out a bracket.
If you’ve never filled out a bracket before, don’t be intimidated. The person that you least expect usually ends up winning a bracket challenge. It gives everyone something to talk about at work during the next few weeks. And who wants to focus strictly on work? So take some of this advice into account and start making selections. It’s going to be a magical three weeks of basketball.
1. Fill out one bracket and one bracket only. Multiple bracket people are the worst. Take some time to think about your selections. Then ride or die with them during the next few weeks like a real champion. People who brag about having a team going far in “my other bracket” have absolutely zero honor and deserve zero respect. They’re hedging their bets with multiple brackets just to try to impress you during small talk. Totally pathetic.
2. How you actually fill out your bracket is another life decision. You can be like most people and fill out a bracket online. Or you can go old school and fill out your bracket with pen and paper. I always respect people who have a physical copy of their bracket on them to review at a moment’s notice. It shows dedication and a desire to get better.
And people who cross off or highlight each game after its finished? Heroes.
3. Don’t be afraid to make late changes to your bracket. Games don’t tip until Thursday afternoon. You don’t have to lock in your selections until those first tips. Take as much time as you need to review. Frequently check back on College Basketball Talk during the week and read our expanding preview coverage (shameless plug). If any weird injuries go down in practice, you’ll be ready to go. Who knows, with the way this season has been, maybe the FBI’s investigation throws some random information out before the event that changes something. Stay on your toes up until the games begin.
4. Ride with teams you care about. Pick against your enemies. What’s the point of all of this if you can’t cheer for the teams you love while going against the teams you hate? This is supposed to be fun! If you’re a fan of the scrappy underdog mid-major team who might pull off an upset then take it a step further and ride them into the Sweet 16. It’s all about rooting for your teams and having something to believe in.
5. A No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed. Not much else to go over here. Don’t do it.
6. The most popular upset comes from the four No. 5 and No. 12 matchups. One of those No. 12 seeds is definitely going to win. Maybe two or three. And this season’s crop of mid-major teams in the field is pretty strong. South Dakota State has an All-American candidate in big man Mike Daum. New Mexico State knocked off Miami during the season. Do some research on a No. 12 seed that you like and take them into the next round.
7. Don’t mess with No. 6 seeds going deep into the tournament. For whatever reason, a No. 6 seed hasn’t been to the Final Four since 1992. Last year was a bloodbath for No. 6 seeds. Three of them lost in the first round to No. 11 seeds and none of them made the Sweet 16. Beware of the No. 6 seeds.
8. Speaking of No. 11 seeds, watch out for the First Four teams playing in Dayton on Tuesday and Wednesday night. I know, I know — those games don’t feel like they really matter. Most bracket challenges don’t even count them. But Dayton is a great basketball city with a great crowd and one of those No. 11 seeds will likely use that momentum to upset a No. 6 seed in the next round. It happens nearly every year. USC took down SMU last year before scaring Baylor in the Round of 32. When VCU made its memorable Final Four run under Shaka Smart they were a First Four team. Don’t count these teams out.
9. Make sure your national champion has a McDonald’s All-American on the roster. Since 1978, every national champion has had at least one McDonald’s All-American except for two teams: Maryland in 2002 and UConn in 2014. We’ve had 40 years of research that shows that having blue chip talent is still a major part of winning a national title.
10. Find a double-digit seed to take to at least the Sweet 16. Every year a double-digit seed becomes a Cinderella story and makes it to at least the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. So take an underdog and have them win a few games in this thing. Don’t get too crazy and have them going to the Final Four though. Only four double-digit seeds have reached the Final Four since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985. None of them won a national title.
11. Find a No. 1 seed to drop before the Final Four. Don’t just automatically ride the top seeds into San Antonio. That actually did happen at the 2008 Final Four in San Antonio, but that was the first (and only) time four No. 1 seeds made the final weekend. Someone is bound to lose early among the No. 1 seeds. This season in college basketball has also been especially chaotic. Top-ten teams were constantly getting picked off by unranked teams. Be prepared for some wild regions.
12. Don’t be afraid of taking upsets but don’t take too many of them. Find a healthy balance of upsets where you have a lot of favorites advancing but some sleepers in the mix at choice spots. Some people pick a million upsets because they strictly enjoy the rush of cheering for the underdog. Those people also usually have horrible brackets at the end of the event. But, hey, at least they felt the high of proving the haters wrong. That counts for something, right? Hitting on an upset pick is one of the best parts of filling out a bracket. It’s strangely memorable.
13. Look into a conference’s bid total for how a league did during the season. If a conference has a lot of bids, like the ACC, SEC or Big 12, then teams from those leagues have likely won a lot of games against quality competition. They’ve been battle-tested. Teams from conferences with fewer selections might carry more risk since they might not have played a lot against tournament-caliber competition. In other words, the Big Ten and Pac-12 were trash this season. Be cautious of teams from those leagues.
14. Be sure to look into how a team has played the past few weeks. Maybe we call this the “Trae Young Rule”? Casual fans have been hearing about the Oklahoma freshman’s brilliance since December. Young was the leading Player of the Year candidate for a large chunk of the season. Then Oklahoma went on a freefall and nearly missed the NCAA tournament. They went from a top-ten team to a No. 10 seed. The Sooners are 2-8 over their last 10 games. But if you don’t follow college hoops regularly, you might still think they’re a contender. That’s why it’s important to look into a team’s recent schedule. Some teams are surging and others are struggling. Find the trends and follow them.
15. A knowledge of geography can give you some great NCAA tournament tips. Last year, South Carolina was gifted an opportunity to play two games in its home state during the first two rounds. The No. 7 seed Gamecocks had a huge home crowd for each game as they knocked off Marquette and Duke on their way to a surprise Final Four appearance. Check out where a team is playing its games and if it might give a significant homecourt advantage.
16. Don’t take any of this too seriously.
March Madness is supposed to bring people together and give them something fun to focus on for a few weeks every Spring. Watching games with classmates, other alums, family and friends all provides unique and memorable viewing experiences.
Check out some games live. Watch at a crowded bar. Set up multiple screens in your office, or your house, and lose yourself in hours of basketball mayhem. Celebrate the buzzer-beaters and agonize over the close losses that eliminate you from a bracket challenge. Soak every moment in then wait 11 months for all of it to come back again.
The NCAA tournament is the greatest event of the year. Best of luck with your bracket.