March Madness is upon us. The tournament begins this evening with the First Four and continues with four straight days chock full of games Thursday-Sunday. You’re probably filling out a bracket with visions of money dancing in your head. (You can get involved with our bracket challenge by signing up here)
Here are 5 tips to try and help you fill your bracket out.
1) Coaching matters – If you’ve followed the NCAA Tournament over the years you’ll notice that some coaches are better than others at getting the most out of their available talent come March. Tom Izzo, John Calipari, Rick Pitino are great examples of this. Scott Drew, Jamie Dixon are the opposite. They haven’t done the best job over the years of getting their team into the next round. Keep this in mind when looking at matchups. If it’s close, the coaching factor can swing it in one team’s favor over the other.
However, don’t just dismiss a team because of their coach. Mike Brey from Notre Dame is a perfect example of a guy who struggled in the tournament at first, but he’s now led Notre Dame to back-to-back Elite Eight appearances. Times change, coaches do too.
2) Playing styles matter – Remember Syracuse’s run to the Final Four last season? The Orange stunned the college basketball world after barely making it into the tournament and went on a run of hot play. The reason? Their signature zone defense. It’s a bear to prepare for during the regular season when teams know it’s coming with three or four days of preparation time. In a tournament setting with just a day to get ready for? Good luck. Syracuse was left out of this year’s dance, but teams like Louisville and West Virginia (high pressure, trapping style), or Virginia (pack line defense) are difficult to prep for. If they make it past their first round matchups, they could get on a roll.
3) Beware the one man wrecking crew – Shabazz Napier. Kemba Walker. Anthony Davis. Stephen Curry. This rule goes for both big name programs that may be seeded slightly lower than normal, and for mid to low-major schools that have a prolific scorer on the roster. One player can take over a game or multiple games in March Madness. Some candidates for this category? Winthrop’s Keon Johnson (22.5 PPG, 40.6% 3PT), East Tennessee State’s TJ Cromer (19.1 PPG, 40.4% 3PT), Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans (19.0 PPG, 6.2 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.8 SPG) and SMU’s Semi Ojeleye (18.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 42.8% 3PT) all qualify here.
4) Experience – This matters mainly in first round games pitting a senior-laden, mid to low major against a freshman led power school. Last year’s best example was Stephen F. Austin over West Virginia. The Mountaineers relied on one senior (Jaysean Paige) and a lot of sophomores and juniors. The Lumberjacks meanwhile had a one man wrecking crew (Thomas Walkup) and four other seniors in the starting five. That makes a difference.
5) Don’t get too upset happy – After considering the previous four factors, make your picks. But, keep in mind that in the tournament, while upsets happen, they aren’t consistent year to year. Upsets happen. 12 v. 5 has been particularly vulnerable in recent years. That doesn’t mean pick every 12 seed or every 13 seed. The four factors above this one play key roles in deciding whether upsets will or won’t happen. Cinderella runs are fun, but VCU or George Mason to the Final Four doesn’t happen every year.