Tips for filling out a winning bracket

March 11, 2012 

  • Kentucky vs. Western Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday
    Where: LP Field in Nashville
    TV: ESPNews
    Radio: WBUL-FM 98.1; WLAP-AM 630; WWRW-FM 105.5
  • ■ Fans spend on average 75 minutes filling out their brackets — almost as long as a regulation college basketball game. Men spend on average nearly 30 minutes more on their bracket selections than women.

    ■ Fans fill out an average of 4.5 brackets, with 14 percent saying they complete six or more.

    ■ One in seven fans have called in sick to work to watch the NCAA Tournament.

    ■ Seven percent of fans have been in trouble for watching the NCAA Tournament at work.

    ■ Nearly half (47 percent) of people who fill out brackets pick winners based on seeding.

    ■ A majority of men (52 percent) rely on seeding to make their picks, while a majority of women (53 percent) choose their teams randomly.

    ■ Asked which team they'd most like to see win this year's national championship, fans said, in order: Ohio State, Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina.

It's been 14 long years since the University of Kentucky last claimed a national championship. That's 13 straight NCAA Tournaments without the Wildcats as the last team standing, and countless crumpled-up brackets for fans that put faith in them to go all the way. Is this the year UK reclaims its starring role in One Shining Moment? Only time will tell. Before we move forward, let's take a look back at those 13 tournaments with 13 trends you should keep in mind when filling out your bracket.

13. We'll start with the bad news for Kentucky's title hopes: In the last 13 tournaments, only one team entering the Big Dance with The Associated Press No. 1 ranking has won the championship. Duke won the title in 2001 as the nation's top-ranked team, and it hasn't happened since. Last year's No. 1 — Ohio State — fell to Kentucky in the Sweet 16. If you're too superstitious to write "UK" on that final line and are looking for a logical reason not to do it, now you have one.

12. Now some good news for the Cats: 11 of the past 13 champions have gone into the tournament ranked among the nation's top five teams in scoring margin. The two exceptions were last year's UConn team and the 2003 Syracuse squad. The top five teams in scoring margin this year: Kentucky, Ohio State, Wichita State, North Carolina and Missouri. Odds are the national champ is in that bunch.

11. Another obvious but trusty indicator of a title team has been seeding. Don't pick your national champion from outside of the top 12 seeds. No team ranked lower than a No. 3 seed has won it all in the last 13 tournaments, and it's only happened four times in history. The last time was when fourth-seeded Arizona defeated Kentucky for the national title in 1997, Rick Pitino's last game in charge of the Wildcats.

10. It's nice to be a No. 1 seed, but it doesn't guarantee success. Two or fewer top seeds have reached the Final Four in 11 of the last 13 tournaments. Be sure to pencil in a couple of non-No. 1's for that trip to New Orleans. (UK has been a top seed three times since 1998, but didn't make the Final Four in any of those seasons).

9. If you're going to send a No. 2 seed to the Final Four, take a long look at its possible round-of-32 opponent first. At least one No. 2 seed has failed to reach the second week in 12 of the past 13 tournaments. In fact, No. 2 seeds are just 30-for-52 (57 percent) against their 7/10 opponents in that time. Ten No. 2 seeds have reached the Final Four since 1998, and only UConn in 2004 won the national championship. Be wary of letting too much ride on the No. 2s. (That said, UK was a No. 2 seed when it won the title in 1998.)

8. You can almost always count on a mid-major to make a solid run. A team from a conference other than the ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 or SEC has made the Elite Eight in all but one of the last 13 tournaments. The only exception was 2009, which was also John Calipari's last season at mid-major Memphis. Try to find this year's Butler or VCU and send them deep in the tourney.

7. You might feel an obligation to give a little extra consideration to the SEC schools. History says don't do it. The league has sent only 12 teams past the Sweet 16 in the last 13 tournaments. Only three tournaments since 1998 have had more than one SEC squad in the Elite Eight. If you're sending the Cats all the way, it's probably wise to look outside the SEC when filling out your final eight.

6. If you're itching to go out on a limb, pick a double-digit seed and send it to the Sweet 16. That's happened in 12 of the past 13 tournaments, and more than one double-digit seed has made it that far in 10 of those tourneys. Four such teams made it last year, including the 11th-seeded VCU squad that advanced all the way to the Final Four.

5. No. 13 seeds have had some success in the tournament, but don't send them past the second game. While 12 No. 13 seeds have won first-round games in the past 13 tournaments, only two have gone to the Sweet 16. The last to do it was Bradley, which upset Kansas and Pittsburgh in 2006 before finally being taken out by Calipari and Memphis.

4. The No. 12 seeds are a good place to look if you really want to make a splash in the early rounds. At least one No. 12 has advanced to the round of 32 in 11 of the last 13 tournaments, and two or more have done it seven times in that span. The Sweet 16 has included at least one No. 12 seed in nine of the past 13 years.

3. The No. 11 seeds have had similar success, sending at least one team to the round of 32 in 11 of the past 13 tournaments, including each of the past seven. Multiple 11 seeds have won their first game in four of the last six tourneys. It won't hurt to pick at least one this year.

2. The first thing to do when you get your bracket is to put North Carolina and Duke in the Sweet 16. There's a reason their detractors always complain about them getting to start the tournament in their home state: They don't lose on Tobacco Road. Since 1998, UNC and Duke are a combined 26-0 when playing their first two games in the state of North Carolina.

1. The number of NCAA games the Wildcats have played in Kentucky in that time? Zero. Perhaps the opener in Louisville will provide a clean slate for UK, and put an end to the trend of 13 tournaments without the grand prize.

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