Let the Madness Begin

Tips to Bracket Supremacy 

By Kristoffer Pedlar

Dayton upsets Syracuse | Photo by Chad Cooper

Dayton upsets Syracuse | Photo by Chad Cooper

Finding the words to describe what March Madness means to the world of basketball is next to impossible. It’s a one of a kind tournament that starts with 68 teams and ends up at 16 by the end of the first weekend. Hearts are broken, 18-year-olds become household names, 0.8 seconds become an eternity, bands play, crowds rush the court, heroes are made, champions fall, moments are etched into folklore forever, and crazy amounts of money are wagered (and mostly lost). Eventually, a champion is crowned, but not before a kinetic bloodbath occurs leaving 67 other teams and their fans crushed in its wake and fans of the sport around the globe are left catching their breath. 

Every March the sports world stops for four weeks. For the basketball fan, not only in America but all over the world, it is Christmas, New Year’s, and the Super Bowl all rolled into one. March Madness is a time when we all become heavily invested in teams and players we don’t always have any attachment to as we sit back and enjoy the nutty ride that is the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. March Madness. 

Even in Canada, the world stops for March Madness. People fill out their brackets and try to accomplish something no has ever done: predicting the entirety of the tournament. 

And maybe that is part of the mystique that surrounds this tournament.

No one has ever been able to predict the outcome exactly. Often the so-called experts are able to come up with the final winner, but never has anyone perfectly predicted the road the champion took to get there. No algorithm, no magic wand, psychic or scientist has been able to crack the code. The odds against you are so gargantuan that Warren Buffet even offers up a cool billion dollars to anyone that can successfully predict the entire tournament right. 

But like Steven Tyler reminds us “life is a journey, not a destination” and this journey is one that is always thrilling. 

So regardless of whether your bracket gets busted right away or stays relatively intact for most of the tournament, the thrilling action you’re about to enjoy will be worth all of Warren Buffet’s billions. You’re about to see the best basketball on the planet in a very short amount of time. Enjoy the ride; it only comes once a year. 

If you do decide to fill out a bracket for fun, bragging rights or a legit chance to win the billion dollar prize, here are some tips from someone who has gathered up information over the last 30 some odd years of watching this tournament unfold. 

Syracuse vs Western Michigan | Photo by Chad Cooper

Syracuse vs Western Michigan | Photo by Chad Cooper

Take the favourites deep in your bracket - Hey, what could go wrong? Almost every year, at least one number 1 seed makes the final four. Often it’s more than that. Not one single number 1 seed has ever lost in the first round and very rarely does one lose in the second round either. According to stats from the University of Illinois it is almost four times more likely that at least one number 1 seed will be in the final four than it is that there will be none. If nothing else you’ll likely outlast most of your friends who try to predict the “crazy surprise upset of the year”. 

Last year, despite all the “crazy upsets”, the final game was played between a number 1 seed and a number 2 seed. So while upsets are very likely to happen, the end results will probably involve one or two of the favourites. 

Math is on your side here and that’s a good thing. 

Bet on the classic upsets - It seems like every year a 10 seed beats a 7, or a 12 beats a 5. It’s probably going to happen again this year. There are going to be other upsets too, I mean last year two 13 seeds won in the first round, and it is definitely in the first couple of days of the tournament when these upsets are most likely to happen. History has shown the 10 vs 7 and 12 vs 5 matchup is the most likely place to find an early upset. 

At some point a number 1 is going to fall. It is highly improbable that all four number 1 seeds will make it all the way through their region. It’s very likely to be in the Elite Eight where someone will be sending one of the top seeds home. So plan your bracket accordingly. Don’t pick a number 1 seed to fall in the first weekend. It almost never happens and isn’t likely to this year either. Go with history. Even if the history of top teams losing in this tournament looks like a chaotic mess, go with upsets that have prevailed over time. 

ISU vs BU | Photo by Max Goldberg

ISU vs BU | Photo by Max Goldberg

Read a variety of publications and go with much of what the “experts” pick - Growing up in Toronto, the only time my dad or I ever bought a copy of USA Today was the day of the NCAA tournament to help us fill out our brackets. This is not to suggest USA Today is the only publication to trust (it led me to disaster many times) but it’s a good one. 

The experts have their finger on the pulse of the entire NCAA and are more likely to be able to pick out those obvious upsets. They’ll know which 10s are going to beat which 7s, they know which 12 seed has a chance at the Sweet Sixteen, and which 8 seed could take an entire region. So go with some of the picks that show up in multiple publications. If USA Today, the New York Times, ESPN and The Toronto Star are all picking the same #13 seed to beat a #4 – go with it. They don’t get paid the money they do to make careless mistakes. They are experts in the game and have followed it way more than you. 

Trust them, but don’t follow their word to a letter, as no expert has been able to accurately select every winner either. Statistically though, they tend to be right more often than not. 

Schools you recognize - Every year Kentucky is in the tournament, Kansas, Duke, Michigan, Arizona, North Carolina and Louisville too. Pick the teams that you’ve heard of. They’re probably going to do well more often than not. 

It’s even better if you know who their coach is; they’re probably pretty good. Patino, Krzyzewski, Calipari, Roy Williams, Bo Ryan, and Tom Izzo are all household names in college hoops. Even if you have no idea who these coaches are, you’d likely recognize them. There’s a reason for that: they’re good. Go with the coaches you know. 

When I was in junior high it was cool to wear hats and shirts with the Michigan Wolverines or the Georgetown Hoyas logo on them. The Tar Heels have been cool since the days of Michael Jordan. These teams have a pedigree and are recognized around the world for a reason.  If you aren’t sure who to take in a tough second or third round matchup – take the team you recognize. Last year, other than S.F. Austin, Little Rock and maybe Yale, the big wins came from schools that had all been there before. The Elite Eight were all big name schools that have historically done well in the tournament. While Syracuse may have seemed like a surprise to many to be in the Final 4 last year, it is a school with a rich history in this tournament. 

If all else fails, take the teams you recognize.  

Also there are are certain schools that always seem to beat someone they’re not supposed to, schools that for some reason get over looked every year and end up with lower seeds than they should have. Teams like George Mason, VCU, Boston College, and Weber State seem to always upset their first or second round opponent to the surprise of no one. Also there is usually an ivy league school who makes it through in the first or second round. Yale, Princeton, Harvard have all had tournament moments. Bet on one of them. History knows stuff. 

Syracuse defeats Western Michigan | Photo by Chad Cooper

Syracuse defeats Western Michigan | Photo by Chad Cooper

Flip a Coin - If all else fails flip a coin. You’ll probably do a lot better than you think. Growing up my dad would always get his co-workers to fill out a bracket and compare it to the ones we filled out at home. Each of them had varying degrees of knowledge on the sport, but one of his co-workers famously (at least in our house) used a coin to select the teams. While he ended up with some embarrassing mistakes every now and then, he also had some glorious upset picks over the years and his success rate was a lot higher than you’d imagine. He also used it to select Wrestlemania winners in the late 80’s with a much lower success rate, but I digress. 

If you’re stuck on a certain matchup or you can’t make up your mind on taking the upset or not – flip a coin. The first two rounds of this tournament are a metaphor for a coin flip, why not take it to the next level and use an actual coin to decide some of your bracket. 

Note: I do not endorse using a coin to pick the entire tournament, but then again no one has ever got it completely right. Maybe it’s secretly the best strategy. 

March madness didn’t get its name by mistake, it truly is absolute madness, but it’s a glorious time of year for hoops fans all over the globe. With no true routeing interest, it’s also a chance to sit back and enjoy some legit sports magic and some of the best competition you’ll ever see. Even if you’re not a fan of NCAA basketball or you feel you can’t watch because you don’t know the players or the teams, do yourself a favour and watch a few games, you’ll be hooked. 

You’re welcome, basketball fans.