The Perfect Bracket: A Quest For Glory in the NCAA Tournament
My bracket sucks. But if you’re being honest, so does yours. We all take part in this ritual every year, filling out a bracket and placing our hopes and dreams for riches in the hands of a collection of college kids who can bounce a ball up and down on a hardwood floor better than you and I. Every year it ends the same way, crumpling your bracket into a ball and trying to throw it through the miniature basketball hoop above your garbage bin. You always miss the shot too. Insult to injury.
The problem is this, we only think about filling out this bracket during the few days between Selection Sunday and the first tip in the Round of 64. We don’t analyze our mistakes when the NCAA Tournament is freshest in our heads; instead, we wait and repeat the same mistakes that sunk our bracket the previous year.
Well, not me. Not this time.
I filled out a gimmicky bracket for the Tuesdays With Horry Bracket Pool Extravaganza that you may have seen. But here is my bracket with my real picks.
It might be different from your bracket, but unless yours was perfect, it might as well be the same. Rather than sulking in the wake of another disastrous bracket, I studied this tournament from top to bottom, and the ones that came before it, and put together a collection of rules that are sure to culminate in a perfect bracket. These rules are not only filled with things like statistics and facts that are sure to never steer you wrong, but they’re also filled with heart and “doing it the right way” and other intangibles you’ll need to sculpt the perfect Final Four.
It’s never too early to plan for perfection.
Put Florida into the Elite 8
This rule is simple: if Billy Donovan is the head coach at Florida, advance them to the Elite 8. These guys have now reached the Elite 8 in four straight tournaments. That’s crazy good. They did it as a #1, #2, #3 and #7 seed, so it doesn’t matter what seed they are or how good the team looked in the regular season.
Florida’s track record in the Elite 8 is a little spotty, losing in that round 3-straight years before defeating Dayton this season, only to lose in the next round to eventual champion UConn. What you do with Florida after the Elite 8 is up to you, but make sure you advance them this far.
Death. Taxes. Florida in the Elite 8. It’s that simple.
Don’t study game film, study dance moves
Let’s be honest here about one more thing: you’re not a basketball expert, and neither am I. But do you see those talking heads on your television picking perfect brackets every year? No. The type of people who win your office pool are the people who don’t really know what they’re doing, who pick schools based on where their cousin went on a campus tour that one time and which teams have the hottest players. That person always wins. We all hate this person.
This person isn’t bogged down in the intricacies of Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone or who runs the best pick and roll in the nation, so why should you? But I have the inside track on the intangible that best defines a future tournament champion: dance.
Instead of studying game tape, you should be studying the dance moves to pick the grooviest team this side of Funkytown. Seriously, they don’t call it The Dance for nothing.
That’s Mercer after upsetting Duke in the Round of 64. Those dance moves are killer. Anybody who can move like that can surely dribble his way out of trouble, right? Right. Dances moves equate to tournament success.
The only thing better than sick dances moves is a bodacious dance instructor. That’s Fred Hoiberg, head coach at Iowa State. I don’t have audio for this, but I can only assume he’s rocking some “Play That Funky Music Whiteboy.” If a team’s coach can dance, they’re Sweet 16 bound at worst.
Even the analysts were getting into it. It’s infections. It’s contagious. Believe in the dance. Pick with the dance.
Never trust New Mexico, and be wary of the Mountain West
This is me every year after I watch New Mexico lose its first tournament game. They’ve won the Mountain West Conference Tournament three years in a row, ramped up the hype machine and made me a believer only to crush my dreams by losing to teams like Stanford and Harvard. I don’t know what a Lobo is, but I assume it’s an mythical animal that comes to destroy the hopes and dreams of little children in fairy tales.
I’ll also extend this rule to the Mountain West Conference as a whole. There always seems to be one or two teams from this conference that look good all year but then fall apart in the tournament. Believe in them at your own risk. Maybe you’ll get lucky and ride San Diego State to the Sweet 16 like this year. Maybe you’ll believe too much in UNLV and watch your bracket implode before you can even say, “One Shining Moment.”
Bet on an A-10 school, but not the favorite
I don’t care what Coach K has to say, the Atlantic 10 is legit and don’t bet against them come tournament time. They have the havoc in VCU and stingy defense of Saint Louis and a rotating collection of second tier teams that make the tournament every few years like Saint Joseph’s and Dayton. The A-10 had regular season victories over Virginia, Creighton, New Mexico, and Ole Miss. They’re not quite a Power Conference, but you can’t call them a Mid-Major either.
But every year, it seems the A-10 team that just sneaks into the tournament is the one that makes the deepest run. In 2013, La Salle reached the Sweet 16, upsetting Kansas State and Ole Miss along the way. This season, we had Dayton play its way to the Elite 8.
So this method is simple: find the A-10 team that just snuck into the tournament, the double-digit seed no one is talking about, and jump on their bandwagon early. You’ll look like a genius while everyone’s brackets go up in flames, and you ride the dark horse to glory.
Trust ESPN’s BPI (whatever that is)
What does BPI stand for? What does is calculate? How is it different from RPI? These are all questions that are not important. All you really need to know is this: the brainiacs at ESPN hate when other guys have advanced metrics, so they love creating their own. This is their way of comparing the strength of college basketball teams when they play such different schedules.
(Sidebar: Can we create a BPI for the NBA and NFL as well? Seriously, why don’t we have some sort of number so we can that a qualitative dumb on teams that sneak into the playoffs by playing in a cruddy conference? Did you know the Charlotte Bobcats already clinched a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference? With a losing record? Someone get Nate Silver on this pronto.)
Anyway, you don’t need to know what this number means, all you need to know is that it works. Here are the last three teams that were rated highest in the BPI ranks heading into the tournament: Kentucky (2012), Louisville (2013), Arizona (2014). The first two teams on that list won the National Championship their given year, and Arizona was a failed buzzer beater away from the Final Four. This number isn’t the answer to who will win the whole thing, but it’s a good indicator of what No. 1 seed will make a run, especially to at least the Elite 8.
This number was created by people smarter than you and I. Trust them. Trust the BPI.
Pick the Ivy League school to win at least one game
Speaking of guys smarter than you and I, this one is simple. If a team is filled with players who have a higher GPA than their points-per-game, pick that team to win at least one game. They might not be the most athletically gifted, but they understand trajectories, they can use a protractor, and they will outsmart their opponent. At least in the first round.
At some point, God-given athleticism will trump book smarts, but that won’t happen until the Round of 32. Advance your Ivy League schools. Your future bosses thank you now.
Believe in college basketball’s most talented player
It should sound obvious, but every tournament, the country’s most talented player always shines, so bet on him putting his team on his back, so there should also be a little bit of room for you to jump on as well.
That’s why it should be no surprise that Andrew Wiggins and the Kansas Jayhawks made the finals. No, sorry, I mean, we shouldn’t be surprised the Jabari Parker led Duke to the… Nope, third time’s the charm. Doug McDermott and the Creighton Bluejays!
Actually, this tournament we saw Shabazz Napier do his best Kemba Walker impression and carry those UConn Huskies to glory. There’s always that guy. I guess the real challenge is figuring out who that guy is.
Hitch your wagon to a team full of lottery picks
Were we really crazy enough to think a team filled with lottery picks couldn’t make the Finals? Kentucky is filled with one-and-done players who are about to be drafted by teams like the Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz. These guys are athletics freaks and they will win.
So the formula is simple, for every lottery pick a team has, you advance that school one round. Kansas had Andrew Wiggins (Joel Embiid was hurt and didn’t play), so you advance Kansas one round. Kentucky had five guys that have the NBA tank-a-thon in full gear this season, so you have to assume they can win five games.
Believe in this formula. It’s science.
Believe in karma
Karma will always come back to bite you. But with the season on the line, the NCAA Tournament is the last chance for karma to get back at teams that truly have it coming to them. Coach K puts down the A10 as he lobbies for NC State to make the tournament and sure enough the Wolf Pack met Saint Louis, who hail from the A10, and lost.
Ohio State has done its best to dodge fellow Ohio school Dayton in its yearly schedule. They meet in the tournament and the Flyers get the tournament started with an upset of the Buckeyes and reign destruction over the ageless wonder Aaron Craft.
Karma. Believe in it or else it’s coming for your bracket.
Never pick Duke
There are two types of people in this world: people who hate Duke basketball, and people who went to school at Duke.
Now, if you’re a Duke fan, you most likely stopped reading this. You know what? Good riddance. Dukes fans already have Coach K, and Cameron Crazies, and five-star recruits. The last thing they need is my advice on a perfect bracket too.
But seriously, never pick Duke. If you only listen to one piece of advice in this column, it’s this rule. Pick against Duke. Pick against them in the first round. Hell, if your bracket pool has really funky rules, bet against them even making the tournament.
Here’s why: you don’t want Duke to win. So why pick them to do well? Pick against them, even if you think they have a good team. This way, you will either be correct and get to gloat to all your Duke friends or Duke will destroy your bracket and you will have a greater reason to hate Duke. It’s a win-in.
Root against your bracket
Have you finished filling out your bracket? Good. Now give it to the intern at your office that’s stuck running the pool and never think about it again.
March Madness is too awesome so you to be moping around, mad at the world when the team you picked to win it all lost in the Round of 64 to some school you never heard of. You should be rooting for those schools. You should revel in the chaos that is March Madness.
So follow these rules, fill out that perfect bracket and never think of it again. Because, it’s never going to be perfect, you’re never going to win that pool, so just enjoy the unbelievable roller coaster of emotion that is buzzer beaters, half court heaves, and upsets no one in their right mind would predict. March Madness is perfect because it’s unpredictable, so don’t worry about your perfect bracket. Root for chaos not your bracket.
Plus, Nate Silver probably has a better system anyway.
That’s probably why office pools exist. It all comes down to what most ladies do to win every year–the cutest school colors or nicknames.