How to fill out those brackets

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The sports world and the world of pop culture clash very rarely — but the NCAA Tournament is one of those times. It’s just so darn easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all, so once a year, I allow myself a chance to impart some wisdom after more than 20 years of filling out tournament brackets. It’s always fun to fill them out — especially in the PopRox bracket challenge, click on “join a group,” enter the group ID# (26876) and the password “poprox.”

Even if you haven’t watched a basketball game all year, aside from the office Christmas party, it’s the one thing that can and does bring an entire workplace together for a couple weeks as everybody watches their brackets to see if their $10 has been well-spent. It makes the guy running the pool the most popular guy in the office for a couple days, even if it’s being run by the IT guy who never talks to anyone for the rest of the year.

Most of the time, the champ in the office wins by pure luck. That doesn’t mean you can’t follow some easy rules when you’re wading through your bracket. And just in case you’re not pumped up for the tournament …

Never pick a first-round upset unless you believe the upsetee was going to lose its second-round game anyway. We all love picking underdogs. Even though most of the world has never seen the lower-seeded teams play basketball this year, people read/hear somewhere that Wofford has a good chance of upsetting Wisconsin in the first round. The chances of that happening are about 5 percent, but it could happen. You can’t expect it to happen, but it could happen. So you go ahead and pick it so you can possibly tell your friends “See! Told ya!” But you’re completely screwed if Wisconsin makes a run and goes to the Final Four. At that point, you can pretty much tear up your brackets because you’re not winning. Those first-round upsets aren’t worth many points in any tournament challenge format, so picking them for the sake of picking them doesn’t make much sense unless you’re reasonably sure the team you’re picking them to beat isn’t making a long run in the tournament. That being said, there are some potential upsets sitting out there for the taking, and if tournament history has taught us anything, a few things are bound to happen based on tournament history:

A 12 seed will likely make the Sweet 16 since it’s happened 17 times in the last 24 years. This year’s best candidate is UTEP, which tore through Conference USA and has a somewhat favorable draw, especially when …

A 13 seed will beat a 4 seed. It’s happened 21 times in the last 24 years. We’re looking right at you, Vanderbilt. Murray State is a 30-win team and Vandy looked lost over the last two weeks. The popular pick is for Siena to beat Purdue, but that’s why I don’t like it. Because it’s popular.

A 2 seed will lose early. In the last 25 tournaments, a 2 seed has failed to make the Sweet 16 36 times. It didn’t happen last year, so we’re due. West Virginia fits every upset bill of the tournament: Griping coach with a history of faltering early in the tournament as a high seed, surprise conference tournament winner, rely too much on 3s. I’d be more comfortable picking them to get ousted pretty quickly if they had a tougher second-round match-up, but I’ve already talked myself into them falling pretty early.

Never pick a 15 or 16 seed under any circumstances. You’re basically giving points away. It’s the most interesting pool of 16 seeds in quite some time — Winthrop upset Notre Dame in the 2007 tournament, Vermont beat Syracuse in 2005 — but none of them are going to win. Or at least he odds say they won’t since it’s never happened before. Plus, those 1 seeds are most likely going to be making the Sweet 16, so it’s just not worth picking a 16 seed — even though it’s fun. As for the 2 seeds, It’s happened four times, but not since 2001.

just because he looks like a doofus is no reason to pick notre dame

just because he looks like a doofus is no reason to pick notre dame

Never pick a team seeded higher than fifth go to the Final Four. Since 1990, a team seeded sixth or worse has made the Final Four exactly four times — and there were fluke explanations for all of them. You might be the biggest Notre Dame fan in the world and gotten caught up in the team’s late-season run. But as a six-seed, history has shown the Irish have little-to-no chance to make the Final Four. There’s no sense in completely blowing up your bracket just because you think Luke Harangody has funny hair.

Never get caught up in the Team of the Moment hype. Every year, there is one team that people love as a “sleeper.” That team is described with phrases like, “They’re gonna do some damage” and “I really like their draw.” It’s usually seeded around 3 or 4 and the bandwagon can’t fill up fast enough. That team inevitably falls on its face. Say hello to this year’s Team of the Moment, the Baylor Bears! For some reason, everyone and their brother, sister, cousin and dog loves this team that hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since before the Korean War and still has the stink of one of the worst scandals in college basketball history. I wouldn’t pick them to lose to Sam Houston State — but I certainly don’t feel very comfortable taking them into the Sweet 16.

Always pick a 1 seed to win the whole thing. There’s a reason these teams are seeded where they are, and the 1 seeds have proven over the last five months that they’re the four best college basketball teams in the country. A 1 seed has won the tournament 14 of the last 18 years and picking the correct champion is always worth the most points in any office pool. You may be winning a tournament pool heading into the Final Four by scoring some upsets, but if you have Pitt winning the whole thing and your closest opponent has Kansas, guess who has the advantage?

Back to links tomorrow.

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