Tips for picking your NCAA brackets

there's gold to be found in top 15 teams, power conferences

broberts@herald-leader.comMarch 15, 2010 

Everyone has their own method for filling out an NCAA Tournament bracket. Some flip coins, others decide which mascot would win in a fight, and many spend hours breaking down Elite Eight matchups that will never take place. In the end, we're lucky to finish 42nd in our office pool. But it sure is a fun ride. To help you along, here are 16 suggestions divided into four tiers — or four regions, to get in the NCAA spirit — to think about when picking your winners:

Sure Thing Region

■ Most of your friends and family members will have at least one bracket with Kentucky going all the way. So if you want to mix it up, don't pick the Cats. You're not jinxing them, I promise.

■ At least three of your Final Four teams should be from the power conferences. The only time since 1983 that two teams from outside the big six conferences advanced to the Final Four was 1990, when UNLV and Arkansas both made it. The Razorbacks joined the SEC one year later.

■ Stay inside The Associated Press top 15 for both of your national title game contenders. In the last 20 years, only Indiana in 2002 has advanced to the title game despite entering the tournament outside the AP's top 15.

■ The national champion will have either won a share of its conference championship or its conference tournament. In the last 20 NCAA Tournaments, the only team that failed to do one or the other was Arizona in 1997, when there was no Pac-10 Tournament.

More Than Likely Region

■ Pencil in all four No. 1 seeds for at least two wins. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the No. 1 seeds have won 88 percent of their second-round games.

■ Bet against the favorite. The No. 1 team in the RPI has won the title only twice since 1991. The No. 1 team in the AP poll has won only three times since 1982.

■ If you like a mid-major, go ahead and send them as far as the Elite Eight. Only once in the past 15 tournaments has the Elite Eight consisted entirely of teams from the six BCS conferences. That's good news for the likes of Butler, New Mexico, Gonzaga, BYU and Temple. The only time since 1994 a little guy didn't make it to the final eight? It was last season.

■ Give a new guy a chance. There has been at least once coach making his Final Four debut in every tournament but one since 1985. Rick Pitino, Dean Smith, Roy Williams and Steve Fisher had all been there before in 1993.

Worth a Shot Region

■ Take a 12 seed in the first round. At least one of them has picked off a 5 seed in eight of the last nine tournaments, and the No. 12 seeds have a 16-20 first-round record in that span.

■ Write your own Cinderella story. A double-digit seed has been to the Sweet 16 in every tournament but one since 1995. In 10 of those 14 tourneys, multiple teams with a 10 seed or higher have gone to the tournament's second week. Choose your own 10, 11 or 12 seed before the tournament starts so you don't have to jump on the bandwagon later.

■ Pick a No. 2 seed and send them packing. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, there have only been four times that all four No. 2s made it to the Sweet 16. It's only happened once since 1996.

■ If you want to break the mold and find the wise-guy pick to win it all, go right ahead. Non-No. 1 seeds have won 10 of the past 25 tournaments. It might be worth the risk.

Don't Even Try It Region

■ A No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 seed. In 100 tries. So just forget about it.

■ While we're on the subject, only four No. 15 seeds have ever won a first-round game. It hasn't happened since 2001, and there's no reason to think that streak will end this year.

■ Don't go to extremes with your No. 1 seeds. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams, only once has either no No. 1 seed made the Final Four (2006) or all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four (2008). Find a nice mix and move on.

■ Don't pick Duke to win it all. If you're right, no one in your office will like you.

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