SEC Country offers a tongue-in-cheek, history-based look at the Six Keys To Creating A Perfect NCAA Tournament Bracket.
The mythology of the perfect bracket was greatly enhanced two years ago, amid the news of billionaire Warren Buffett and Quicken Loans joining forces for a one-of-its-kind contest, rewarding the author of a perfect bracket with a super-sized check for $1 billion.
(That’s ‘billion’ with a B.)
Can you imagine underwriting the rules/restrictions for such a contest? This must have been a lot of fun for the in-house lawyers working for Buffett and Quicken Loans — knowing full well the prize would never be earned.
In fact, according to ESPN, contest participants have something like a 9.2-quintillion-to-1 shot of conceiving the perfect bracket, while other mathematicians quantify the odds at something like 128-billion-to-1.
Either way, it’s an impossible task, prompting Slate.com to offer this mind-blowing analogy from two years ago:
“If all 317 million people in the U.S. filled out a bracket at random, you could run the contest for 290 million years, and there’d still be a 99-percent chance that no one had ever won.”
KEY #1: Don’t overthink the 1 vs. 16 matchup
In 1985, the first year of an expanded 64-team NCAA field, top-seeded Michigan trailed Fairleigh Dickinson (part of this year’s First Four) by 10 points midway through the second half — without a shot clock — before rallying for a four-point victory.
After watching FDU’s near-miss that Friday night in Dayton, Ohio, it seemed inevitable that a No. 1 would fall to a 16 in the Round of 64.
However, 31 years later, the specter of a 16-seed shocker appears more remote than ever. Sure, top dogs like Duke (1986 vs. Mississippi Valley State), Georgetown (1989 vs. Princeton — above), Oklahoma (1989 vs. East Tennessee State), Michigan State (1990 vs. Murray State), Purdue (1996 vs. Western Carolina) and Kansas (2002 vs. Holy Cross) were all given legitimate scares, but only one of these traditional powers required overtime to win (Michigan State).
As such, of the last six NCAA tournaments, spanning 24 1-vs-16 matchups, the average victory margin stands at 21.0 points.
KEY #2: Consider First Four teams for the Sweet 16
For five straight years, a First Four graduate has — at the minimum — advanced to the Round of 32: Dayton in 2015 (Sweet 16), Tennessee in 2014 (Sweet 16), LaSalle in 2013 (Sweet 16), South Florida in 2012 (Round of 32) and the 2011 VCU team’s incredible run to the Final Four.
For aspiring bracket savants, this should be enough motivation to self-scout the marquee Dayton games for Tuesday (Vanderbilt vs. Wichita State) and Wednesday (Michigan vs. Tulsa).
KEY #3: Final Four history seldom rewards the 4-seed
In 1978, the NCAA tournament approved an odd form of regional seeding, essentially separating automatic berths (conference champions) from at-large schools. A year later, the seeding process was modified to the system we know and love today.
Since 1979, only one 4-seed has captured the national title (1997 Arizona), and that Wildcats squad, led by Miles Simon and freshman extraordinaire Mike Bibby, became the first program in NCAA history to knock off three No. 1 seeds (Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky).
Why are mentioning this? Well, some pundits have Kentucky (East), Iowa State (Midwest) and/or Duke (West) advancing to the Final Four (and beyond) — which helps explain how parity-driven this college season has been.
KEY #4: Ignore the 5-seed for national-title consideration
Referencing the 37-year period of the NCAA tournament’s modern-day seeding system, a 5-seed has never won the national championship. That doesn’t bode well for Maryland (South), Baylor (West), Purdue (Midwest) or Indiana (East) — this year’s crop of 5-seeds.
What’s more, no back-end seed (9 through 16) has ever claimed a national title … meaning there’s no point in earmarking the likes of Northern Iowa, Vanderbilt (sorry, Commodores friends), Iona, Michigan, Tulsa, Chattanooga, Stony Brook or Gonzaga for the national crown.
KEY #5: Respect the ‘pod’ advantage
Since the NCAA “pod” system was created in 2002, allowing the best teams to play closer to home on opening weekend, the top-4 seeds are a staggering 45-2 when playing in their home state/area for the first game (including Maryland in Washington D.C.) — with the notable Coach K exceptions of 15th-seeded Lehigh toppling No. 2 Duke in 2012 (Greensboro, N.C.) … and No. 14 Mercer upending No. 3 Duke in 2014 (Raleigh, N.C.).
KEY #6: Regional nightmares usually come in threes
At least one region has been torn asunder by blockbuster upsets in five of the last seven NCAA tournaments:
**For 2009, 2011 and 2012, the 11-13 seeds of the same region pulled off coinciding shockers.
**For 2013, the West region’s 12-14 seeds (Ole Miss, LaSalle, Harvard) were all giant killers on opening weekend.
**For 2014, three double-digit seeds from the South region (Stanford, Dayton, Stephen F. Austin) advanced to the Round of 32.
**And for 2014, three 12-seeds (Stephen F. Austin, Harvard, North Dakota State) upended a 5.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.