There are two kinds of people in this sports-fueled universe during the month of March:
a) Those who go through painstaking process to research every imminent and potential matchup for the NCAA Tournament, in hopes of parlaying that passion and knowledge into big money with office pools.
b) Basketball fans who don't have enough time in the day (work, family, sleeping, not watching TV) to memorize all 32 matchups for Thursday and Friday ... let alone predict who'll end up surviving the weekend.
Today's piece satisfies the good people from Group B.
Simply put, it's eight lightning-fast keys to filling out a winning NCAA bracket in 60 seconds or less.
(For those in a super hurry, just read the steps in bold ... and move on from there.)
STEP 1 – AUTOMATICALLY SLIDE THE FOUR #1 SEEDS INTO THE SWEET 16
Since 2011, covering eight different NCAA tournaments, 26 of the 32 No. 1 seeds reached the Sweet 16 stage, without incident.
The quick lesson here: Unless you have an air-tight case for bumping Duke (East), Gonzaga (West), Virginia (South) or North Carolina (Midwest) early in the mix – against the likes of VCU, UCF, Syracuse (always a tough out), Ole Miss, Oklahoma, Washington or Utah State (for my money, the best 8-seed) – it's best to hand out free passes for next weekend's action.
STEP 2 – COMMIT TO ALL FOUR 8-SEEDS ... OR ALL FOUR 9-SEEDS IN ROUND 1
Check this out. Charting the last eight NCAA tourneys, the 8/9 seeds have proffered an even split (2-2) just once during this span (2013).
For the other seven tournaments, the 8-seed enjoyed a 3-1 or 4-0 run five times ... and the 9-seed went 3-1 twice.
Armed with this knowledge, might as well call for a bold sweep at the 8 or 9 spots – unless you're going all-in on a specific matchup.
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STEP 3 – LEAN HEAVILY ON THE HIGHER SEED FOR THE 5/12 AND 7/10 MATCHUPS
Pundits like to brag, without backing their boasts up with hard numbers, about how the 5- and 12-seeds have little talent separation.
However, there's a big distinction between underdogs hanging tough in NCAA tournament games ... and actually producing major upsets during crunch time.
To wit, charting the last five NCAA tourneys (2014-18), the 5- and 7-seeds both own a 14-6 overall record against the lower-seeded challengers in Round 1.
STEP 4 – TAKE CARE OF YOUR SWEET 16 PROJECTIONS AT ALL COST
Obviously, we'd love to proffer perfect picks at every stage. But that's an implausible notion, given the sheer volume of games over the next three weekends (63, excluding the First Four matchups).
As such, it's OK to dream a little smaller ... while maintaining eyes on the prize (winning office pools).
Let's shift the focus to the Sweet 16 round. If you can correctly pick 12 or more of the Sweet 16, you have a viable chance at winning serious office-pool cash.
Here are two quick models for maximizing Sweet 16 picks:
a) Go chalk all the way for Rounds 1 and 2 ... siding with the 1-4 seeds in every case.
b) Don't pick an upset in Round 1 ... unless you have that same school advancing to the Sweet 16.
The rationale here: It's cool to believe that Georgia State can knock off Houston Friday night. But if you're wrong (high probability) ... then you just missed out on three potential points with Houston beating Georgia State, and then being heavy favorites against Iowa State/Ohio State come Sunday afternoon.
In other words, don't compound one mistake by making another in the same sub-bracket.
Go all-in with game-changing picks ... or simply stick with the "chalk" plan during opening weekend. (Chalk is code for always taking the higher-seeded club.)
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STEP 5 – LIFE'S TOO SHORT TO HAVE MULTIPLE 5-SEEDS IN THE ELITE EIGHT
Since 1979, when the NCAA adopted its modern-day seeding system, a No. 5 has never won the national championship.
Also, only three 5-seeds have reached the title game (2000 Florida, 2002 Indiana, 2010 Butler).
On the flip side ... please don't be totally dismissive of 5-seeds reaching the Sweet 16.
Citing the 31 4/5 matchups since 2004, the 4-seed owns a razor-thin lead of 16-15.
STEP 6 – FOCUS ON EXPERIENCED BACKCOURTS OR WING WARRIORS WHEN CHOOSING A CHAMPION
Since 2007, only one low-post talent has captured the Most Outstanding Player during Final Four competition (Kentucky's Anthony Davis in 2012).
Translation: Championships are almost always determined by playmaking guards and perimeter shooters. So, act accordingly when reaching a Final Four consensus.
STEP 7 – KEEP THE PICKS VIRTUALLY THE SAME WHEN SUBMITTING MULTIPLE BRACKETS, MINUS SUBTLE CHANGES
Here's the game plan for this step:
**The selections for Rounds 1, 2 and 3 should remain intact, regardless of how many brackets are submitted.
**For Rounds 4, 5 and 6, if you're feeling supremely confident about the picks, why not just make a cosmetic change toward the end? Something like hedging bets with "Duke" and "Gonzaga" on Final Four Saturday.
For one pool ... let it ride on Duke; and for the other, let Gonzaga get a chance at either North Carolina, Virginia, Houston, Tennessee or Kentucky in the NCAA final.
STEP 8 – EVERY FINAL FOUR PREDICTION SHOULD INCLUDE THREE OF SIX TEAMS
As someone who watches more college hoops than 98 percent of America, I can confidently identify Gonzaga, Duke, North Carolina, Texas Tech, Virginia and Tennessee as the six best teams in the country.
(Sorry, Michigan State and Kentucky.)
In fact, all six schools should reach the Sweet 16 and/or Elite Eight stages; so make sure they're well-represented for Final Four predictions.
One last thing: Since 1979, the first year of the NCAA's modern-day seeding system (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) – spanning 40 seasons – the No. 1 seed has captured 23 national titles ... a championship-success rate of 58 percent.