Welcome to the greatest four days of the year. Whether you are a March Madness junkie like myself, or an outsider trying to understand what we all love about this time of year, I genuinely appreciate you checking in. My entire life has been centered around these two weeks from the day I was born. My father was a college basketball coach and I have been filling out brackets since I was three years old. I have been to countless Final Four’s, and have taken this Friday off of school or work ever since I was seven.
One would think that with all of this time and effort, I would be polishing off all of my NCAA Tournament pool trophies. Sadly I have never won a pool, never will. To add insult to injury, my lovely mother won our pool two years ago, #allintheFAMILY.
But I will always sell this as the most enjoyable time of the year for any true sports fan. It is a rare moment in time when it is all about the games, the amateur athletes, and the sheer competition. It’s 6 games to glory with no room for error, legacies being born, and careers ending…all with the single bounce of a ball. The NCAA tournament has the ability to capture the hearts and eyes of anyone in America. Everyone in your work and family will have a bracket, an opinion, and excuses when it all falls apart. That is the beauty, we are all experts and we all have a shot to win, or so we think (I have accepted the fact that I will probably enter 150+ pools in my life and never win one, I am at peace.)
So below are a few things to think about when filling out a bracket and making plans this weekend. Some are based off stats, others consist of some colorful background on what the tournament means to us junkies. Before you read this and before you poo-poo the entire March Madness experience, I dare you to do one thing. Fill out a bracket, even if you don’t know a damn thing, and open yourself up to the energy and excitement that follows. You might be surprised…
1. THE KENTUCKY WILDCATS: The elephant in the room is the Kentucky Wildcats. They are one of the strongest NCAA tournament favorites of all time, coming in at even with the field. Let me repeat that, even with the field. Essentially that means Vegas is giving them a 50% chance to win the entire NCAA tournament. They have no true weakness, run ten deep with future NBA pros, and have experience making deep tournament runs.
Bottom Line: The smart money says pick Kentucky to keep your bracket alive.
2. ENJOY THIS FRIDAY: Enjoy yourself and the holiday that is “Friday of the First Round.” Not only is it a Friday, but if you live in most of this great country, your weather has been pretty crummy for the last few months. Well this is the first day of spring! Enjoy this day however you choose, whether that is watching alone at home in complete control of four TV’s and your computer, out at a local establishment with a huge group of fans, or privately with your closest friends. Everyone will be into it, and it is a day of action and excitement. Plus you get to eat great food, enjoy some drinks, and skip work! (disclaimer: please request work off, don’t pull a Ferris…)
Bottom Line: TGIF! TGIF!
3. IGNORE TIP #1: Yes, Kentucky is the heavy favorite, but we don’t call it March Monotonous, it is MARCH MADNESS! Root for the Cinderellas and the upsets, the shockers and the dreamers. You want mayhem and drama, not predictable and safe. If you are in a pool with more than a few people, go out on a limb and pick a different champ. Most brackets are designed in a traditional format where picking the champion is usually 24-32X more valuable than picking a first round game. If you are one of the few people with the right champion, you are guaranteed a top spot in the bracket and the right to say, “knew it all along.”
Some potential champs who are not a top 5 favorite: Iowa St., Gonzaga, North Carolina, and Oklahoma. I guarantee that if you pick one of these teams you will be on a short list with a potential golden ticket to the top spot in the bracket. (Just don’t call me when they all lose on Thursday!)
Bottom Line: Don’t be afraid to step outside the box.
4. THE MIDWEST WILL SHINE: This NCAA tournament will have a Midwest kind of feel, especially as the rounds go on. I predict that 3 of the 4 final four teams will be from the Midwest, including the big bad Wildcats of Kentucky. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Wisconsin Badgers have arguably their best teams ever entering the tournament (might be skewed by some family chatter in my ear). Also don’t forget all roads lead to Indianapolis for the 2015 Final Four. I highly recommend attending a Final Four, the atmosphere is unparalleled.
Bottom Line: Let the heart of the nation capture yours.
5. PICK A FEW CINDERELLAS: Just don’t fill the bus with them. There is no greater feeling than getting something right AND watching everyone else get it wrong. Hence the appeal of the Cinderella pick and the right to stick your flag in the ground and say, “Had it!” There are a few general rules:
- Never pick a #16 (0 wins in tourney history)
- If you pick a #15, you better have some intel. Despite recent history, it is still very rare for a #15 seed to knock off a #2 (Belmont?)
- Always pick at least one #5 over #12. Generally there are a few of these each year. This is where the David vs. Goliath matchups end and the coin flips begin!
- Always pick a few double-digit seeds to make it into the Sweet Sixteen (#10-#13 seeds)
- Let the clock strike midnight. Sorry Cinderella, but it is very hard for a high seed to make it to the final four. Most journeys end the second weekend. So call it quits, kiss her goodnight, and move on to someone else!
Bottom Line: Know when to send Cinderella home.
6. MORE BRACKET ADVICE:
- Craziest upset will be Eastern Washington #13 over Georgetown #4
- All final four teams will be an odd seed.
- I hate Duke, that is just a fact. (But they look good, real good.)
- Don’t be afraid to roll the dice on your #7 & #11 seeds.
- Stay safe in the West and Midwest, picking mostly favorites.
- Go crazy in the South and East. These are the weaker top seeds and some drama will come from these matchups.
Bottom Line: Follow at your own risk.
7. MAKE A FUN BET: If you do not know much and do not want to waste money, find some friends or a spouse and make a fun bet or two on the outcomes of the tournament. Pick some brackets and have a penalty for the loser. This could be buying dinner or having to do something terribly embarrassing (streaking may be a bit much…)! This way no money is lost but the fun and thrill is still there.
Bottom Line: Find a way to get in on the action.
P.S. Want to fill out a bracket? You have until tomorrow at 11am (CST)