Ready, Set, Fill in Your Brackets!!

Final Four
The Final Four is the destination for just four of hundreds of college teams.

Is this the season a number one seed finally loses to a 16th-seed? Who will be that #2 seed that gets knocked off first? Will the Big Ten represent itself the way the many think it will? Is the Pac-12 really that weak? Which Mid-Major will be the one that makes a run? Will it be more than one Mid-Major?

These are just a few of the many questions you and many others are asking as you fill out your brackets. There’s a good chance that you’ve already filled out a bracket and will more than likely make several changes to it over the next three days and hey, who could blame you? There just isn’t a dominant team in college basketball anymore and we can chalk that up to several reasons but the fact of the matter is, it’s a wide-open field.

Let me give you a few things to consider while you give the pen and pencil a workout this week.

1. Always pick a 12-5 upset. For a reason very few of us can really understand, very few times since the tournament expanded to 64 teams back in the 1980’s has there not been an upset in this part of the bracket. This year your choices are… 5 Oklahoma State vs 12 Oregon, 5 Wisconsin vs 12 Ole Miss, 5 VCU vs 12 Akron, 5 UNLV vs 12 Cal.

Wish I could tell you there’s a gimme there but there isn’t. Two to really keep an eye are the OSU/Oregon match-up. The Ducks won the Pac-12 and are a 12 seed? That will be significant motivation. The other one is UNLV/Cal. The Golden Bears have finished strong this season and will not be an easy out for a good UNLV team.

Keith Appling
Can Appling and the Spartans make yet another Final Four appearance?

2. The Big Ten is Overrated. If you’re buying into ‘the Big Ten will get two teams to the Final Four’ talk then let me assure you it’s not happening. It’s been a great conference all season but they are lacking the one thing the Big Ten never should and that’s toughness. Michigan is 6-6 in their last 12 and they do not play enough defense or rebound well enough. Wisconsin just can’t score enough to be a threat.

Illinois and Minnesota have lacked consistency throughout the year and even one-seeded Indiana struggles when they play tough, in-your-face defensive teams (i.e. Wisconsin). Michigan State rarely lacks toughness under Tom Izzo, but does the team have enough play-makers? The other team of course is Big Ten Tournament Champ Ohio State who can defend and play up tempo or in the half court. Take your pick of Sparty, IU or the Buckeyes because I can see one but no more than that getting to the Final Four.

3. Pick a Mid-Major for a Final Four Berth. If you really want to, go ahead and pencil in Gonzaga for the Final Four. As a one-seed, they have a fairly easy road in my opinion and are they really even a ‘mid-major’ any longer? No confidence in the ‘Zags? I can see Creighton, St. Louis, VCU (again) or Wichita State each making a solid run deep into the tournament. Whatever you do, pencil one in for sure.

4. Guard Play is Crucial. If you’re really struggling over a couple of teams to advance, then take a long look at guard play. The game of basketball no longer runs through the post as it once did. Look for teams with solid guards who can defend, attack the basket and pull up and hit the long-range jumper. Teams like Butler, North Carolina and Louisville have such players.

Obviously there is no 100% certain way of nailing your bracket, but there are things to look for and trends to follow. Make sure you take your time and keep the white-out handy. Or your keyboard.