NCAA Brackets 2014: Do's and Don'ts for Filling out Your March Madness Bracket

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 16, 2014

NCAA Brackets 2014: Do's and Don'ts for Filling out Your March Madness Bracket

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    Tony Ding/Associated Press

    March Madness has officially begun! Before you go filling out a bracket that gets ripped to shreds by the end of the first day of the 2014 NCAA tournament, we've got some tips for you to consider.

    In the 2005 film Wedding Crashers, Christopher Walken's character said, "We have no way of knowing what lays ahead for us in the future. All we can do is use the information at hand to make the best decision possible."

    You're not going to pick a perfect bracket. Deal with it. Even if you filled out 10,000 brackets in 100 consecutive seasons, your odds of one day picking a perfect bracket are slightly better than one in 923 billion.

    But using both historical trends and present data as a guideline, you might get lucky enough to win your bracket pool.

    With that in mind, here are some do's and don'ts to consider while you labor over your bracket for the next few days.

Do: Pick a Good Number of Early Upsets

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    In four of the past five tournaments, there has been an upset in precisely 10 of the 32 second-round games.

    Coincidence? Maybe. Either way, 10 upsets is a pretty good number to aim for. If you have less than six or more than 14, it might not be a bad idea to second guess some of those coin-flip decisions.

    That 10 does include No. 9 seeds beating No. 8 seeds, so don't go crazy. But even if you think every No. 9 and No. 10 seed is going to win their first game, you should still pick a handful of significant upsets over the first two days of the tournament.

    In the subsequent round, the number of upsets has ranged from one to six over the past five years, so it's a bit more sporadic. There have been at least three double-digit seeds in the Sweet 16 in four consecutive seasons, though, so don't be afraid to ride a couple No. 11 and No. 12 seeds into the second weekend.

    Basically, try not to have a bracket covered in chalk.

Don't: Pick Any No. 16 Seeds to Win a Game

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    Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

    Even if you really, truly believe that this is the year a No. 16 seed finally beats a No. 1 seed, you only have a 25 percent chance of picking the right one.

    I don't care if you graduated Magna Cum Laude from Coastal Carolina and spend your spare weekends tutoring struggling Chanticleers. It would just be irresponsible to pick the Big South champion to win anything other than a play-in game.

    Feel free to root for No. 16 seeds to win a game, though. Hardly anyone had Florida Gulf Coast winning any games last year, but "Dunk City" was still arguably the best story of the entire tournament. If the team you picked to win the national championship is the one that loses to a No. 16 seed, that would be about as memorable as actually picking the unprecedented upset.

    If you're really not confident about one of the No. 1 seeds, pick that team to lose to either the No. 8 or No. 9 seed in its region.

    Speaking of which...

Do: Pick Exactly 2 No. 1 and No. 2 Seeds to Lose Before Sweet 16

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    Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports

    This is one of those "It's so crazy, it might work" statistics.

    In 10 of the past 13 tournaments, exactly two of the eight No. 1 and No. 2 seeds failed to reach the Sweet 16.

    That's weird, right? I have no rationale for why that continues to happen, but it's a pretty significant trend at this point.

    For the record, I'm not necessarily endorsing Wichita State as one of those two teams that loses way too early. But based on the way people were arguing for and against the Shockers as a No. 1 seed, it's a pretty safe assumption that they'll be one of the more popular teams picked to be on the receiving end of a big upset.

    On the flip side of this coinin case you're the type to overdo it with the upsetsmake sure you're picking six of the top eight teams to make the Sweet 16. The last time three or more failed to win at least two games was in 2004.

Don't: Fill out Your Bracket as It's Being Announced

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    Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

    It's too late for this warning, but something to keep in your hip pocket for next March.

    First impressions are everything. When I go to a restaurant, I spend 90 percent of my time with the menu trying to convince myself that something else might taste better than the first meal I picked out.

    It's the same when you're filling out your bracket. If you immediately decided that Saint Louis got an incredible draw and is a great pick for the Elite Eight, it's going to take a lot of evidence to convince yourself otherwise.

    Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it's a bad thing. But gut calls only work once. After that, you're just second-, third- and fourth-guessing yourself.

    It takes a lot of discipline to watch the selection show and not immediately start running through the potential Sweet 16 pairings in your head, but practice makes perfect.

Do: Research the Teams Before Making Your Picks

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    Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    There's no worse feeling than picking a team that is getting blown out and having the broadcast flash up a graphic that makes you say, "Well if I would have known that, I wouldn't have picked them!"

    Leave no stone unturned.

    We don't have the sabermetrics that baseball has, but there are a lot of data points out there to consider.

    Maybe you pick a No. 12 seed to win a few games because of an incredible rebounding margin in a sub-region of teams that barely even know how to crash the glass. Or perhaps you shy away from picking a team that gets the bulk of its points from two-point field goals because it's playing against a team near the top of the country in block percentage.

    These are the statistical nuggets that could be the difference between winning your pool and finishing in the middle of the pack.

    There's one statistic, though, that you might as well pretend doesn't even exist...

Don't: Pay Any Attention to 3-Point Shooting

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    Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

    Shooting percentage on three-point field goals is the most frustratingly unreliable statistic in basketball.

    Last year, Montana was one of the best three-point shooting teams in the country. The Grizzlies hit 38.5 percent of their attempted triples over the course of the season.

    In the second round, they drew Syracuse. How do you beat the Orange's 2-3 zone? Three-point shooting, of course!

    Naturally, Montana shot 4-of-31 from three-point range and scored just 34 points in what ended up being the biggest blowout of the entire tournament.

    Meanwhile, Louisville entered the tournament as one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country, shot 31.6 percent from long range in the first five games and then made 8 out of 16 in the national championship.

    So, when you find yourself saying things like, "Eastern Kentucky made 39 percent of its three-pointers during the season," make sure to stop yourself before slipping into the "If they get hot from downtown" web of lies.

    Three-point shooting is a total crapshoot once the tournament starts.

Do: Consider the Location and Time of Games

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    Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

    Don't let your opinion be completely swayed by something this trivial, but if you're up in the air on a game, think about when and where it's being played.

    If there's a West Coast team playing an early afternoon game against an East Coast team that traveled roughly 20 feet to get to the arena, maybe shy away from that upset pick.

    Conversely, if there's an East Coast team playing at the end of the night near the Pacific Ocean against a team that dwells in that time zone, it might not be a bad idea to pick the "home" team.

    I've done my fair share of statistical brackets based on proximity to the location where the game is being played, and it's far from a perfect predictive model. But if you've done your research and the game still feels like a coin flip, this is a data point that could be more valuable than an actual flip of the coin.

Don't: Pick Your Favorite Team to Win It All

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    Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    You're already going to be heartbroken when your alma mater or that team you fell in love with when you were five years old gets eliminated from the tournament.

    Don't let that pain turn into a double whammy.

    Even if you're a fan of one of the favorites to win the title, make sure you have them bowing out before the championship game.

    If they win it all and your bracket goes to shambles, so be it. I promise you'll remember your team winning the title longer than you'll remember winning your office pool anyway.

    But if they come up short and you end up getting some jelly beans because you picked a different team to win, hopefully that will help put your troubled heart at ease.

Do: Take Michigan State at Least to the Sweet 16

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    Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

    There are four things in life of which I am certain: death, taxes, quotations will be botched more often than not and Michigan State will make the Sweet 16.

    In his career at the helm of the Spartans, Tom Izzo is 39-15 in the NCAA tournament. They have advanced to the Sweet 16 in 11 of the past 16 tournaments.

    In 10 of those 16 seasons, the Spartans lost fewer than 11 games. They made the Sweet 16 in each of those 10 seasons and made the Final Four in six of them.

    I know I said you need to pick upsets, but this is not the place to get cute. If history means anything, Michigan State essentially has a double-bye to the Sweet 16.

Don't: Put Too Much Stock in Conference Tournaments

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    In 2008, all four representatives in the Final Four were teams that won their respective conference tournaments.

    The following season, none of the Final Four teams won a conference tournament.

    Whether you think that conference tournament success is a gauge to determine how well a team is playing or that it saps the energy of great teams to play on three or four consecutive days, there doesn't seem to be any concrete evidence to defend your theory.

    By all means, try to garner information from the games you've watched over the past several days. If you thought one team looked particularly crisp and another looked hopelessly sloppy and exhausted, pick your bracket accordingly.

    But don't think that winning a conference tournament is some kind of prerequisite for a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

    Several big-name coaches have been outspoken about not caring at all about conference tournaments, John Calipari most notably among them. Before the 2012 SEC tournament, Calipari told reporters, "You're playing three games in three days. It doesn't prepare you for anything." Kentucky lost to Vandy in the SEC tourney final, but went on to win the national title anyway. 

Do: Pay Attention to What Others Are Saying

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Don't pick your bracket based on the deluded late-night rantings of someone live-tweeting their bracket thoughts—shout out to the poor souls who followed me into the bracket standings abyss last year—but don't act like you're going to find some secret formula all by your lonesome, either.

    Avi Wolfman-Arent wrote a lot of excellent stuff for us last year, but his one-two punch of "Do trust the Mountain West conference" and don't pick Florida Gulf Coast should serve as sufficient evidence that nobody gets everything right.

    However, if 40 percent of analysts are picking a particular No. 13 seed to pull off an upset, there must be a reason. You don't need to pick that No. 13 seed, but maybe make sure you don't have the corresponding No. 4 seed advancing to the championship game.

    If you're uncertain about a couple of early games, take a look at the "national bracket" to see if either team seems to be an overwhelming favorite.

    For the first two days of the tournament, it wouldn't hurt to consult the Vegas odds.

    In the end, you're picking your own bracket, but don't be afraid to let some external opinions into your decision-making process.

Don't: Spend the Next 3 Weeks Talking About Your Bracket

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    David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Nobody cares.

    As a rule of thumb, you never talk about fantasy sports or gambling losses.

    But every once in a while, there are even bad beats in poker or fantasy football that would be acceptably anecdotal to a close friend.

    There's never any justifiable reason to discuss your bracket with anyoneespecially before the tournament starts.

    If you want to talk about intriguing pairings, potential matchups or teams that got jobbed by the selection committee, that's perfectly OK.

    But please, on behalf of all of us, never talk about your personal bracket unless you've done something truly spectacular. Going 16-for-16 on the first day is worth bragging about.

    Lamenting about difficult picks or the team you thought about picking but changed your mind at the last second is not.

Do: Pick Both Arizona and Syracuse to the Final Four

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    Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

    This is a re-run of a stat that I researched for the Jan. 27 AP Winners and Losers piece, but it bears repeating.

    Arizona and Syracuse were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the AP poll for eight consecutive weeks in the middle of the season.

    In the past 20 years, that has only happened three times. All six teams involved advanced to the Final Four, and produced the national champion in each of those three years.

    In two of those three years, the two teams faced each other in either the Final Four or the national championshipmeaning those six teams had a combined tournament record of 31-1 against all other teams.

    For all the hair-brained tournament theories and coincidences out there, this one seems to hold up pretty well. After all, in order to stay at the top of the polls for eight straight weeks, it means you've already demonstrated the ability to put together substantial winning streaks.

     

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    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.