March is finally here and so too is the greatest tournament in sports. Not only is the tournament perfect in every way, it’s highly interactive as it makes filling out your bracket arguably the most fun activity in the sports calendar.
If you’re in an office pool, you probably need help filling out the best bracket you can. I’m not exactly an expert, but I pretend to be, and I can help you with some general tips.
1. Guards and defense win
This is the true key to winning your bracket: teams with consistent guard play and elite defense tend show up in the tournament. Guards are vital because experienced, dynamic guard players are required for teams to have the consistency to overcome all the ups and downs of a tournament run. Defense is key because no matter how well a team’s offense is doing, if they play destructive defense, their games will likely be close enough for them to overcome any setback.
The teams that fit this key most are Virginia (1), Villanova (1), Cincinnati (2), Michigan State (3), Tennessee (3), West Virginia (5) and Miami (6).
2. Nail your 5/12 upsets
As you may have noticed from brackets in years past, correctly predicting 5/12 games can make or break your chances at winning your office pool. At least one 12-seed has won a game for the past 10 years. In 2013 and 2014, three 12-seeds won in the first round. These upsets will absolutely happen, so you should figure out why it occurs so you can predict what will happen in your bracket.
The simple reason, it seems, is that 5-seeds are good enough to get a solid seed, but sketchy enough to be that low. Clemson, on the one hand, navigated the ACC well enough to build a good resume, but they’ve been out of sync recently and have struggled accordingly. 12-seeds, on the other hand, are usually among the best mid-majors and are often disciplined, experienced and talented enough to knock off an inconsistent team or two. Just look at 28-5 New Mexico State, Clemson’s opponent, who ran through the WAC thanks to Zach Lofton and Jemerrio Jones destroying everything in their path. They have big game experience as they have wins over tournament teams Davidson and Miami, plus a near upset of USC.
Davidson over Kentucky and South Dakota State over Ohio State are also enticing.
3. Find an underdog and roll with them
There’s no fun in picking the higher seed to win every game. If you’re just playing the odds and picking the safe bet to bring in that money, you are super lame. It’s called March Madness for a reason — anything can happen and nothing should surprise you. Cinderellas make the sport magical and it’s surreal to adopt them as your favorite team for a weekend or two. If you correctly pick them in your tournament, that would be unforgettable.
It’s just about impossible to predict who the Cinderella would be, but there are ways to better your odds. The best strategy is to go with a high-powered offense, preferably one with a superstar, because those teams can catch fire and knock off anyone in their way. In this tournament, that would be teams like Florida (6), Rhode Island (7), Seton Hall (8), Oklahoma (10), Providence (10) and New Mexico State (12). Also, maybe Arizona State (11).
4. Arizona will lose in the Elite Eight
Seeing sweaty Sean Miller lose in the Elite Eight is my favorite college basketball tradition. No matter how close Miller gets, he can never achieve the impossible. He couldn’t do it with his best team of Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and T.J. McConnell. If he can’t do it with Deandre Ayton, Allonzo Trier, Parker Jackson-Cartwright and Rawle Alkins, it’s hard to see if Miller will ever break through.
5. No one wants to hear about your bracket
This isn’t exactly a tip on how to win your bracket, but it is a tip on how to be bearable for the next three weeks. If you pick you pick Michigan to make the Final Four and they lose in the first round, I’m sorry, but no one cares. If you pick that Cinderella and have an incredible time rooting for them, that’s cool, but your coworkers can’t sympathize with your excitement. It’s always difficult to swallow your tongue when there’s so much to talk about, but sometimes you have to sacrifice for your community.