By James Summerlin, Sports Editor
Every March, people in schools, offices and dorm rooms line up sheets of paper trying to predict the outcome of one of the craziest tournaments on the planet.
Thousands of contests revolve around picking the brackets. The mission is simple when picking games. From the 64-team field (excluding the play-in games), participants fill in their picks for the winners of the 63 games to be played.
It may sound easy, but the odds of picking the perfect bracket are slim to none. According to Vegas odds makers, the odds of picking every game right — which is going 63 of 63 — is 1 in 35,360,000,000. A person has a better shot at winning the lottery, or is more likely to be mauled by a grizzly bear.
In order to perform well in these contests, a participant must play the odds correctly. The winning brackets take leaps of faith, but they stay close to home on the scientific facts.
So follow these steps when filling out a bracket, or it will be worth less than a counterfeit dollar.
No. 1: Reach for the blue skies
Having no knowledge of basketball should not stop anyone from picking a winning bracket. In picking the tournament champion, keeping an eye for color might actually help. Out of the past 20 champions, 17 teams don the color blue as their primary color.
This is not just a recent phenomenon. College basketball powerhouses usually have blue jerseys. UCLA won 11 titles. Kentucky won seven. North Carolina owns five; Duke has four. Teams such as Kansas, Kentucky and Duke are always a safe bets when picking a bracket.
No. 2: The upset specials
The behavior of the 12-seed tends to surprise many bracketeers. Since 1985, a 12-seeded team has upset a 5-seed team 36 times in the first round of play in the 64-team field. That means it averages out to happen once a year. In the matchups between 1-seeds and 16-seeds, the 16-seed team has never won. Here’s the lesson. Play those odds when filling out a bracket.
No. 3: Cinderella will attend the dance
Since 1979, a team seeded 13 or lower has upset a higher seed 44 times. Teams that have no business winning games in the March tournament find themselves in the mix up to the Sweet 16. One team should make a run to the Sweet 16 with a double-digit seed.
Tip 4: The clock will strike 12 for Cinderella
Underdog tournament runs only go so far. The lowest seed to win the NCAA tournament since 1979 was eighth-seeded Villanova. This game was played before the shot-clock era, so the Villanova game plan was to hold on to the ball as long as possible and to bore the favored Georgetown Hoyas to death. Furthermore, only three teams seeded below 11 have made a Final Four.
Needless to say, a double-digit seed champion won’t happen again soon. Pick a team that actually has a decent chance of winning.
No. 5: ‘One’ fine day
Since 1979, a No. 1 seed has failed to reach the Final Four three times. Teams are 1-seeded for a reason. They proved to the selection committee of their worth. Don’t doubt them.
Despite the last tip, 1-seeds are the best teams, and one of them should end up in the Final Four.
That does not mean it is socially acceptable to pick chalk (that is, to pick based on seeds alone). The 1-seeds have all met in the Final Four once. Odds are they will not meet again soon.
No. 6: Go with your gut, not with your heart
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” This verse obviously does not refer to filling out NCAA brackets, but the point is that a person making decisions with his heart will cloud his judgment when he should be thinking it through.
A participant’s favorite team may be Wofford, but that team probably won’t make it past the first round.
That said, people tend to overthink their brackets. The first draft usually is the best draft. The first instincts tend to serve a person better than a second guess.
With those tips and guidelines, any bracket should should go a long way for the traditional bracketeer.