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How to Win the Bracket Tournament

Over 60 games played in just over three weeks, with the best playing the best all across the country and the unpredictable outcomes that ensue. Our infatuation with the NCAA Tournament is expressed in this nation's favorite office competition: The March Madness Office Pool.

But the notion that you're better off blindly selecting teams to help you fill out your bracket is a fallacy. There are trends that help predict outcomes and there are common characteristics among great, as well as dreadful, Tournament teams. Here now, a 12-point plan to help you get the edge on your Office Pool competition.

Follow the steps below to help you win the bracket tournament:

1. Throw out the Polls. From here on-out, we deal in hard numbers and not perception. So forget who's ranked No. 1 by the AP or who's not getting enough respect in the Coach's Poll. What matters now is: what good teams did you play, how did you play against them and where did you play them? Hey, the No. 1 ranked team heading into March Madness has won just 3 of the last 20 NCAA Tournaments and only one time since 1966 have the top 3 ranked teams all made the Final Four.

2. Print out your bracket. You can find Tournament brackets just about anywhere: online, in newspapers and church bulletins. You can also try online brackets; visit Sportbet.com

3. Read In-Depth Team Scouting Reports. Who the heck are the Bucknell Bison? Well, we've put the hours in researching and grading teams so you don't have to. Now why let that go to waste? What you'll find is all 65 teams graded out on a scale of 1-10 in each of 10 distinct categories that are pivotal in predicting how well a team will perform at March Madness. We compile the ten scores, add or subtract Bonus Points and come to a final score for you to use when comparing teams.

4. Pick your Champion. With team grades on screen nd March Madness Bracket in hand, it's time to pick your Champion. Since you get progressively more points awarded to you for every game you get right as the tournament progresses, this will be your most important decision. As fired up as we all get for the opening weekend, whether you win or lose will depend entirely on how your picks perform on the final weekend. And although you've got to go with your gut on this, there are few hard facts to consider when picking your team:

1. 14 of the last 16 Champions have been either a 1- or 2-seed.
2. At least one 1-seed has made it to the Final Four each of the last 24 years.
3. Not since 1979 have two teams met in the Title Game having never been there before.

5. Super Size Me. Here's the one newcomer to the strategy this season: Just 1 National Champion since 1979 (Maryland, 2002) has NOT featured at least one McDonald's All-American on its roster. That's one that Gonzaga backers may want to chew on since the Bulldogs don't have a Fry Guy. The following teams DO, however, have at least one guy on their roster who was named a McDonald's High School All-American:

Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, California, Detroit, Duke, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, LSU, Maryland, Memphis, Michigan, Michigan State, NC State, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Syracuse, Texas, UCLA, UConn, Wake Forest, Washington, Wisconsin and Villanova.

6. Find your Final Four Sleeper. Now that you have established the conservative reality of the Final Four, it's time to pick the one lesser-rated team that will make the Final Four. We're not talking about double-digit seeds here; the lowest seed to ever make the Final Four was a No. 11 and after that a few No. 8's, we're talking about a No. 3 or above seed who will break through to the Final weekend. Consider:

  • At least one 3 or higher-seed has made it to the Final Four in every year but one since 1979.

7. These go to 11. Now you got 1-seed and 3+ seed, what to do with the other two spots in the Final Four? Again, stay conservative. Consider:

  • Only once in the last 13 years has the combined sum of the four seed-numbers exceeded 11. In 2005, it hit right on 11.

You got a 1. Now add your other seed's number to that. Subtract that number from 11; now how much do you have left over? If you picked a 1-seed and a 4-seed, you've got 6 left over to work with. With your remaining two Final Four picks, you can take (2) No. 3 seeds, take (1) No. 2 seed and either a 1-, 2-, 3- or 4-seed or take (1) No. 1 seed and either a 1-, 2-, 3-, 4- or 5-seed.

Remember when we told you to throw out the polls? Well, there is one you should hold onto: the second AP poll in February. According to ESPN.com's Pat Forde, just three teams in the last 17 years that were unranked by the AP in the second week of February have made the Final Four. What's more, just three other teams ranked lower than No. 17 were able to make it to the final weekend. So what 17 teams form this magic group in 2008?

8. Find Your Power Conference. One Conference traditionally separates itself from the pack by placing several of its teams in the later rounds.

  1. In the past 7 NCAA Tournaments, one conference has placed two teams in the Final Four.
  2. In 5 of the last 6 NCAA Tournaments, one conference has placed three teams in the Elite 8.
  3. In 8 of the last 11 NCAA Tournaments, one conference has placed four teams in the Sweet 16.

9. Pick your Cinderellas.Now that you've got your Final Four teams, it's time to have some fun with the earlier rounds! Obviously, you don't want to accidentally eliminate one of your four Final teams, so fill in the bracket backwards to make sure you have each of the four winning all of their games in the prior four rounds.

While the earlier games don't count for as many points, it's still a great feeling when you pick a few upsets that no one saw. How many Cinderellas should you pick? Here's a good guide:

  1. Only one time in the last 21 years have at least (2) 12- or higher seeds FAILED to advance to the Second Round.
  2. The majority of the time, at least (3) 12- or higher seeds advance to the Second Round.

OK, what about the Sweet 16? Only one time in the past 21 seasons has a double-digit seed NOT made it to the second weekend.

10-seeds are a great place to start: 13 No. 10 seeds have made the Sweet 16 since 1997 and at least one in every Tournament. By comparison, Seeds 7, 8 and 9 have combined for just 11 Sweet 16 appearances in that same span of time.

And if you want a deep sleeper go back to those pesky 12-seeds. One 12-seed has made the Sweet 16 in 5 of the last 7 NCAA Tournaments; the same amount of times that 7- and 8-seeds have, while just one 9-seed has made it.

Here's some other general rules to follow...

10. A less talented, but more experienced team will usually beat a more talented, but less experienced team. You can't put a price on experience. And no matter how skilled a team is, without the experience of having played:

  1. On such a huge stage.
  2. With such little rest between games and traveling.
  3. Against teams they've never heard of.
  4. In cities if they've never been to.

A highly seeded and amazing young team can get swallowed up and spit out by March Madness before the first day of the Tournament is even half-done. These players are human beings and their games are susceptible to being disrupted by these outside forces.

11. Pick "Professional" teams that play as well on the road as they do at home. For all but the top seeds, who get to play in arenas closest to their home-base, every game you play in the NCAA Basketball Tournament is a road game. No hometown fans packing the arena, no home cooking, no sleeping in your own bed and knowing the way to the arena like the back of your hand.

Everyone has to play in unfamiliar territory, sleep in hotel rooms, travel at ungodly hours and deal with getting tickets and transportation for friends and relatives. So how well did a team fare under these conditions during the regular season? Did they enter hostile ground and take it to the opposition? Execute their game plan and play with blinders on? Or did they cower at the sight of thousands of unwelcoming fans? Play like they just wanted to get the game over with and count the minutes until their bus returned home?

12. If a team always plays good teams and beats most of them, they won't skip a beat when it comes to the Tournament. With the exception of a few, every team in the NCAA Basketball Tournament is a good team and most are great. If a team is used to play great teams week-in and week-out with little time to prepare between big games, then they'll have no problem with the brutal demands of the Tournament.




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