1) Forget Pre-Feburary Games: The best team doesn’t always win a National Championship. The team who plays the best will cut the nets. It’s the reason why the NCAA men’s Division I basketball championship is such a crap-shoot. Sixteen and 15 seeds, who most likely just won the Big Sky, MEAC, or some other uniquely named conference, are riding the biggest high they’ve had all season and you don’t want to be the top seed who gets in their way.
Michigan State has lost to Iowa twice this year. But if the two meet again in the Big 10 championship game, judge the Spartans and Hawkeyes off of that performance, not the December and January games.
2) Bet Strong on Seniors: The 2015 Champion Duke Blue Devils were led by the stellar play of four freshmen last March, but this year’s diaper dandies are weaker and more widespread. John Calipari didn’t reload with as much teenage talent as he usually finds with Kentucky, Duke’s freshman aren’t as dominant as last year’s class, and the best freshman in the country, Ben Simmons of LSU, won’t even make the big dance.
On the other side, this may be the strongest senior class we’ve seen in quite some time. This is the year to bet on a Shabazz Napier-like senior to take over the tourney. No pressure, but I can think of a certain seniors at Michigan State, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia could be the ones to get it done this year.
3) Don’t Live & Die By the Three: Some people call it the Steph Curry effect, and think it’s ruining the game of basketball. But this season’s influx of three-point shooting is giving a few teams false hope. When Villanova takes a shot this year, there is a near 50-50 chance they are shooting a three pointer. Nova shot 31 threes in its loss to Xavier in late February, but the odd thing is they didn’t lose because they had an off game from behind the arch. The Wild Cats actually shot 5 percent better from three in that game compared to their season average.
I’m not saying don’t bet on the teams who shoot the ball well, that would be crazy. I’m saying look at the teams who rely too much on finding the player with the hot hand. It can win you a game or two, but won’t get you to a Final Four.
4) Don’t Bet Against Your Gut: If you think I’m wrong, and you like Villanova to make the Final Four, then don’t let me change your mind. No one has a crystal ball, no one makes a perfect bracket (nearly no one). That includes the experts. Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill may watch more college basketball as anyone all year long. When’s the last time they had a perfect bracket?
You watch college basketball. You know what teams have to do to win games and you know there is no prediction formula. If betting against Tom Izzo seems like a bad idea, don’t do it. If guards are more important to a team’s ability to win in your opinion, then don’t worry about a mismatch in the paint. Just be consistent in your selections so you can call them your picks and not a conjoined experts bracket.
5) The Non-Basketball Tie Breaker: You are going to either have a lot of fun, or a terrible time worrying about if you picked the right upsets next weekend. You will either be the guy everyone hates who brags about that 12 beating a five, or you will be the hater. So find a way to have some fun, especially in the first two rounds. One way to do that is to set a personal tiebreak rule.
Jersey colors, mascots, geographic location, celebrity alumni, or whatever you want. Just make sure it has nothing to do with basketball, or you will be ripping out hair when that would-be Cinderella story is down 20 with two minutes to play.