DEYOUNG: Brackets busted

Tribune writers discuss their NCAA tournament picks
Matt DeYoung
Mar 19, 2014

So you want to win a billion dollars by picking the perfect NCAA Tournament bracket. Who couldn’t use a cool billion bucks? That’s some serious discretionary income.

But before you start scribbling in random schools on your bracket, you should do what I do and spend some time researching tournament trends. If you do, you’ll learn that:

• While there are few certainties in life, there are a few sure bets when it comes to the NCAA Tourney, including this — 16 seeds don’t win. Ever. And the games usually aren’t close. Over the past six tourneys, the No. 1 seeds have won their opening-round games by an average of 25 points.

• I refuse to watch the First Four games — I thought they were called play-in games. But don’t sleep on those teams that reach the tournament — LaSalle reached the Sweet 16 in 2013, and VCU rode the March Madness tidal wave all the way to the Final Four back in 2011.

• While everyone loves this year’s 4 seeds, only one 4 seed has won a national championship since 1979.

• Only once since 1979 — the first year of the modern-day seeding for the NCAA Tournament — has all four No. 1 seeds reached the Final Four. And since 1993, the top four seeds have all advanced to the regional finals just six times.

• That doesn’t mean you should pick all your top seeds to lose — a No. 1 seeds has won the tournament 57 percent of the time.

• And my personal favorite — from 2009 to 2013, 39 double-digit seeds earned victories in the Round of 64 ­— an average of 7.8 upsets per year.

It’s that last little nugget of golden information that I bank on when filling out my bracket each year.

Everyone knows that at least one 12 seed will upset a 5 seed each year, so I pick at least two of the 12 seeds, to cover my bases.

And while I’m at it, I might as well pick a 14 to beat a 2, and an occasional 13 to top a 4. After all, unless I like the favored team, I’m rooting for the upset when I settle down in front of the flat screen with a plate full of Buffalo Wild Wings. Why not pick those teams to win?

The problem is, those upsets that I crave don’t happen often enough, and when Iowa State beats North Carolina Central and Syracuse holds off Western Michigan, my bracket is quickly busted.

Fortunately, I go into it realizing that I’m not going to fill out the perfect bracket, so I try to have fun with it. I pick upsets. If everyone else is high on a team — see Michigan State and Kentucky and Oklahoma State — I pick them to lose.

My biggest flaw is that I pick with my heart, not my head. It’s hard enough to predict what will happen when you follow “expert” advise.

With all that said, here’s a glance at my bracket, which probably won’t win a billion dollars, but could put me at the top of our office pool:

• National Champion: Florida. I’m not a big Florida fan, but I’m going with a trend here. Last year, for Spring Break, we visited Kentucky, and spent the weekend of the Final Four in Louisville, which just happened to win the national title. Any guesses where we’re going for Spring Break this year?

• Final Four: Florida, North Carolina, San Diego State, Michigan. Like I said, I pick with my heart, not my head. As a Michigan fan, I’ve gotta pick Michigan to make a run. I’m always a San Diego State slappy, and for some reason, I’ve got a hunch that North Carolina is going to catch fire over the next two weeks.

• Biggest upset: Western Michigan University over Syracuse. The ‘Cuse is slumping, and as a WMU grad, I’ve got to go with my alma mater. My senior year at Western, the Broncos made the Big Dance as an 11 seed and beat Clemson. I’m banking on it again. My other upset special is S.F. Austin over VCU.

• Dumbest pick: Harvard over Michigan State. This one’s for all my Spartans’ friends out there — oh, wait, I don’t have any. But if I did, I’d be rubbing their noses in it after Tommy Amaker’s Bulldogs stunned the Spartans.

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