College Hoops Barometer: The NCAA Tournament Gospel

College Hoops Barometer: The NCAA Tournament Gospel

This article is part of our College Hoops Barometer series.

What's the best part of writing about college basketball?  March Madness.  What's the worst part of writing about college basketball?  Predicting March Madness.  Everyone wants advice in March.  "You watch all year, you must have some incredible insights!"  The truth is, I don't always even win the bracket pool among my neighbors or law school friends.  Let's be honest; your boss who couldn't name one player on Alabama or pick Drew Timme out of a lineup has a better shot at winning.

That's what the Madness brings; you're bombarded with statistics, formulas, diagrams, depth charts and "gut feelings".  And, after all that time spent crunching numbers and doing research, your spouse who picked the games by color ends up with a better bracket than you.  Or your four-year-old son picks No. 16 UMBC to beat No. 1 Virginia.  Yes, that actually happened.

But fear not, my friends.  There is hope for us yet.  All hail, "The NCAA Tournament Gospel".  The following five rules have been passed down foe eons.  These tenets have been collected over the years, revised, tweaked and edited.  They highlight my strategies and theories on picking a successful bracket.  I don't always pick the Final Four correctly, but when I do, these are my guidelines.  Behold, the Commandments of Madness.

1. I'm begging you; please do not pick all four No. 1 seeds to make it to the Final Four.  First of all, how is that fun?  Secondly, the numbers do not back up that "strategy" anyway.  The only year since seeding began in 1979 that four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four was 2008. In fact, three No. 1 seeds have made it just four times in the same year in the modern era.  Last year, only one of the four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four.

2. If you don't like a higher-seeded squad, pick it to go out as soon as reasonably possible. So, if you don't believe in, say, Houston, pick the Cougars to lose once they get past the No. 16 seed.  You'll be the only one who picks that game correctly, and even if it's an incorrect selection, you wouldn't have had Houston going that far anyway.

3. There are no bragging rights for picking a No. 10 over a No. 7 seed, or a No. 9 over a No. 8 seed. These are not upsets. All those teams are basically even. Take bigger risks!  Even the 11-6 matchup is starting to not feel like an upset anymore.  And forget about 12-5, which will be explored in the next rule.

4. While we're on the subject of upsets, pick at least one 12-5 trap game.  Last year, two No. 12 seeds dispatched of No. 5 seeds.  Since the expansion of the tournament, the No. 12 seed wins about 35% of the time versus the No. 5 seed.  In other words, at least one No. 12 seed should triumph in 2023.  The gap between conferences appears to be shrinking.  Soon you're going to need to pick that Cinderella darling seeded 13 or lower to truly be able to pat yourself on the back for an upset.

5. Pick at least one seed lower than a 10 to make the Sweet 16.  Maybe two.  In 2022, a staggering four double-digit seeds made the Sweet 16, including the magical run of St. Peter's to the Elite 8 as a No. 15 seed.  Miami also made the Elite 8 as a No. 10 seed.  Besides, I'd rather pick the games by which mascot would win in a fight than pick all favorites.

Now that you're primed to fill out that winning bracket, let's take a more in-depth look at the regions.

MIDWEST REGION

Houston lost the AAC Tournament Championship to Memphis, but still managed to snag the top seed in the Midwest.  This seems like the region most likely to be turned upside down, given the fact that Houston did not play in a power conference, Drake will be a chic No. 12 pick to beat No. 5 Miami, and Texas A&M is wildly under-seeded.  That potential second-round matchup between in-state rivals Texas and Texas A&M could be a doozy.  Xavier is an intriguing squad at No. 3 in this region, as is No. 4 Indiana.  The Musketeers are one of the most unselfish teams in the country, though the loss of center Zach Freemantle does take some luster off of them.  Meanwhile, the Hoosiers have Trayce Jackson-Davis, but he will need some help if Indiana is to advance.  That being said, it would not be surprising for either of those programs to get hot and make the Elite 8, or perhaps even the Final Four.

SOUTH REGION

Alabama is the cream of the crop here, and as long as Brandon Miller is on the court, the Tide should roll.  Several big-name schools could be primed to be upset here.  No. 3 Baylor has lost four of six games heading into the tourney and has been crushed in the paint this season.  Meanwhile, No. 4 Virginia has had massive issues scoring the ball this season, and that will not be helped by the broken hand suffered by Ben Vander Plas.

Naturally, then, I'm really high on several of the underdogs here.  Certainly No. 13 Furman and No. 14 UC-Santa Barbara, but also No. 10 Utah State and No. 11 NC State.  I believe that either the Aggies or the Wolfpack will find their way to the Sweet 16.

WEST REGION

A couple of weeks ago, I would have had UCLA penciled in here as a shoe-in for the Final Four.  Since then, the Bruins have suffered several a couple of key injuries that suddenly casts a little bit of doubt.  Junior Jaylen Clark will miss the remainder of the season due to an Achilles injury.  The Bruins may miss his defense even more than his 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds per contest.  Meanwhile, big man Adem Bona missed the Pac-12 Championship loss to Arizona due to a shoulder injury.  Bona is expected to return for the NCAA Tournament, but it remains to be seen if he will be bothered by the ailment.  The Bruins were not exactly the greatest rebounding team in the country even before both players were hurt. A potential Gonzaga-UCLA rematch lurks in the Sweet 16 as well.

That leaves defending champion Kansas with a fairly easy path to the Elite 8.  VCU is a No. 12 seed that could possibly make some noise; the Rams enter the NCAA tourney on a nine-game winning streak, having won seven of those contests by double-digits.  Opponent Saint Mary's went toe-to-toe with Gonzaga this season, but ultimately could not defeat its nemesis down the stretch.  The Gaels could be vulnerable in this classic trap game.

EAST REGION

Duke is going to be an extremely chic pick to make the Final Four, even as a No. 5 seed.  The Blue Devils seem to have found their footing late in the season, winning nine-straight games heading into the Big Dance.  Duke showed during the ACC Tournament that they can win in a variety of ways; the Blue Devils outscored Miami 85-78 in the semifinals, then stymied Virginia in a low-scoring slobber knocker 59-49 in the ACC Final.

No. 1 Purdue has Zach Edey but could have to contend with Memphis in the second round.  The Tigers upset Houston in the AAC Tournament Championship, and Kendric Davis of Memphis would be a difficult task for the Boilermakers' inconsistent guards.  Marquette won the Big East, but the No. 2 Golden Eagles could have an equally difficult task getting through to the Sweet 16 even.  The committee did them no favors in a second-round matchup with battle-tested, major-conference foes in the form of either Michigan State or USC.

FINAL FOUR

Picking upsets correctly -- and bragging about it to anyone within earshot -- is one of the proudest traditions of March Madness.  However, I will leave you with one last bit of advice when picking your Final Four and ultimately, your National Champion.  While it is true that all four No. 1 seeds have only advanced to the Final Four in the same year once, a staggering 65% of all National Champions since the tournament expanded have been No. 1 seeds.  More specifically, 24 of the 37 winners were No. 1 seeds.  A No. 1 seed has cut down the nets in five-straight NCAA Tournaments.  Moreover, 33 of 37 winners were either No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 seeds.  In the last 25 years, only No. 7 Connecticut in 2014 won it all as a seed lower than No. 3.  So while I wholeheartedly encourage upsets in the early rounds, the best strategy for picking the 2023 National Champions may be to stick with the higher seeds.

No. 1 seeds Alabama and Kansas seem to have the easier paths as compared to fellow No. 1's Houston and Purdue.  I'll be picking the Tide to come out of the South, and the Jayhawks to dispatch of Gonzaga in the Elite 8 in the West.  The Duke narrative is going to take on a life of its own, but the fact remains that the Blue Devils are playing their best basketball right now, they have the bodies to throw at Zach Edey of Purdue, and none of the other seeds in the East are particularly scary.  I like Duke to take on Alabama in one National Semifinal, with Kansas to battle Texas in the other National Semifinal.  This would be a nightmare matchup for the Jayhawks; Kansas lost its last two games against the Longhorns by a combined 36 points.  History will repeat itself, leaving an Alabama-Texas National Championship Game that would have appeared more likely on the gridiron than the hardwood when the season began.  I have Alabama cutting down the nets in Houston, keeping with the theme of a No. 1 seed taking home the crown.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jesse Siegel
Siegel covers college football, college basketball and minor league baseball for RotoWire. He was named College Sports Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association.
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