The NCAA tournament field is set, so now the only thing left to do is act like you’ve been following mid-major scores all year and prepare to dominate your office pool.
This year has a prohibitive favourite for bookmakers and Canadians as Mississauga, Ont., native R.J. Barrett leads the top-seeded Duke Blue Devils. Duke is a favourite for a reason as its starting five boasts four freshmen that are future NBA Lottery picks. But picking Duke is like buying a lottery ticket because you’ll need to pretty much nail every other pick in your bracket to win since so many people will be writing in Duke’s name last when they fill out their bracket.
Duke is the No. 1 overall seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. Since overall seeding began in 2004, only three of the top-ranked teams went on to win the national title. Those teams were Louisville in 2013 (later vacated), Kentucky in 2012 and Florida in 2007.
Need some insight as you’re gambling away your disposable income? Here are some things to keep in mind when filling out your bracket, whether or not you have the Dukies winning it all.
Favour the favourites
Upset specials are fun but it’s more prudent to fill out chalk for the first round of the tournament. Here’s how higher seeds have fared historically in the opening round.
1 vs. 16 – 135-1 (.993)
2 vs. 15 – 128-8 (.941)
3 vs. 14 – 115-21 (.846)
4 vs. 13 – 108-28 (.794)
5 vs. 12 – 89-47 (.654)
6 vs. 11 – 85-51 (.625)
7 vs. 10 – 84-52 (.618)
8 vs. 9 – 68-68 (.500)
Don’t bet on 12s over 5s
A vogue upset pick every year is 12 seeds upsetting five seeds. A 12 as a Cinderella is overrated. The 12 seeds are 16-24 in the last 10 years in the tournament. In the last four years, the 12 seeds have only three wins.
Instead concentrate on 11s over 6s
If you want a double-digit bracket buster, look lower on the seed line to 11. The 11 seeds have 18 tournament wins in the last four years. In the last three years, 11 seeds have won eight of their matchups versus six seeds. That wasn’t a one-year anomaly. Last season, Loyola and Syracuse made it to the Sweet 16 as 11 seeds. In the last five years alone, seven 11 seeds have reached the Sweet 16. Belmont over Temple and Arizona State (assuming they beat St. John’s in the play-in game) over Buffalo are the greatest chance for upsets.
Bet on a 1 seed
Don’t overthink it. The No. 1 seeds are ranked that way for a reason. Since seeding began in 1979, 22 of the eventual champions were one seeds. That includes 10 of the last 14. Two seeds have won the tournament seven times, three seeds have won it five times and a four seed has won it only once. Teams seeded five or higher have won the tournament a combined five times.
Is this Gonzaga’s year?
What No. 1 could beat Duke you ask? Don’t sleep on Gonzaga. The Zags are the only team to beat Duke at full strength. The win over the Blue Devils is the program’s first win over an AP No. 1 team. The Bulldogs have won all 16 West Coast Conference games by 10-plus points.
Terrific Two seeds
Don’t be shy to bet high on two seeds as they all have a strong case to have been the final one seed. The two seeds, Michigan State, Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan, have 113 combined wins this season, which is the second-most entering the tournament since seeding began. They have 34 combined Final Four appearances, led by Kentucky with 17. Each coach leading a two seed has 20-plus NCAA tournament wins, paced by Tom Izzo with 48. Michigan State is comfortable in this spot as this is their third time as the two seed under Izzo. John Calipari has 28 NCAA tournament wins and his Kentucky Wildcats have the highest upside. Kentucky was ranked as high as second in the nation this year.
Midwest Blue Blood Monsters
The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds best equipped to battle with Duke physically are both in the Midwest — the toughest region in the bracket boasting 18 combined titles. North Carolina is the top seed in the Midwest and is a No. 1 for the 17th time, the most ever. All three of Roy Williams’ titles have come as a top seed. In the last two months, they have only lost to Virginia and Duke, who are both No. 1 seeds. Kentucky has five wins against AP top 25 teams, which is the most they’ve had in the regular season since 2014-15. Calipari has made four Final Fours at Kentucky. In six of their last eight trips, the Wildcats have gone to the Elite 8 or better.
Caution with the Defending Champions
If you want to pencil in the reigning national champion, just remember that Villanova lost four players in the 2018 NBA draft. This season, they fell out of the AP poll for the first time since 2013 after a loss to Furman. Then Villanova won the Big East regular season and tournament championship. They are probably under-seeded as a six seed in the South and their path isn’t tough, but no defending champion has made it back to the Sweet 16 since the Florida Gators won back-to-back titles in 2006-07.
Don’t bet on Green
Don’t buy the hype around Michigan State. Yes, some feel Michigan State should have been a No. 1 seed. But the Spartans have lost to Indiana (twice) and Illinois, teams who didn’t make the tournament. In two of the last three years MSU, has lost to a double-digit seed, once to a 15 seed. They haven’t even got out of the first weekend since they last went to the Final Four in 2015. More importantly, their junior forward Kyle Ahrens suffered a left foot injury in the Big Ten tournament and might be out for the entire tournament after he left the court on a stretcher.
It’s not prudent to pick a high seed to win it all but one will likely come close. In the last six years, there have been seven teams seeded seventh or lower that made it to the Final Four. Last year it was Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean. Nevada and Utah State could very well be the team to single-handedly make or break your bracket.
Which double-digit seed can make noise?
If anyone can pull the 12 over five upset it’s New Mexico State. They are deep enough to play a power conference opponent, as they routinely play 13 guys. They’re also hot, having won 19 in a row — the second longest active streak in the NCAA. What will keep them around and give them the chance to pull off an upset is the ability to tip the scales by rebounding and creating extra possessions. The Aggies are top 10 in defensive rebounding and offensive rebounding.