This is supposed to be the NCAA Tournament of chaos, parity and upsets. That's what happens when there isn't a dominant team(s). And so, you've probably been staring at your bracket with more dread than filling out a tax return.
Well, so have I.
My alma mater, Kansas, is a trendy pick to reach the Final Four -- but the Jayhawks also lost three straight games, including one to a TCU team that is in the running for the worst team the Big 12 has ever produced.
Indiana was the best team in the best conference during the regular season -- but the Hoosiers have lost three of their last six.
And no one can seem to agree on just how good Gonzaga actually is.
There is only one certainty in this, the year of uncertainty: No one has any idea to expect. But here are a few road signs to help you through the process.
Beware the pushovers
I'm going nowhere near Georgetown based solely on its underachieving history. Of course, track records can be tricky because team identities are so fluid, but in some cases they're pretty revealing (I'd put myself in the Final Four before I would Pitt or Vanderbilt). In their last four NCAA tournament appearances, the Hoyas haven't made it out of the second round. Worse: They were a three-seed or better in three of those appearances.
Ohio State advanced to the Final Four last year, but this year's group doesn't get enough scoring from guys not named Deshaun Thomas. Give me Notre Dame or Iowa State knocking off the Buckeyes in the second round. Sorry, Big Ten fans.
Rosters over reputation
You know that talent-laden team that hasn't seemed to get the wins it deserves? That's North Carolina State this year. In a similar position a year ago, with a similar roster, the Wolfpack came within a play or two of advancing to the Elite Eight. The pieces are there for another run.
There may not be a team less appealing to watch than the Wisconsin Badgers. But the Badgers are tested, having played Creighton, Florida and Marquette in nonconference, and that grinding style of play often keeps them in games this time of year.
But the real threat to make a deep, under-the-radar run is Saint Louis. They have the emotion factor, playing in honor of their former coach, the late Rick Majerus, and the Billikens have been ruthless defensively this season -- just ask fast-paced Virginia Commonwealth. SLU is a school many people will gloss over because they haven't made weekly appearances on ESPN. Don't make that mistake.
When in doubt, think coaches
In March, the guy with the clipboard is just as important as the guys on the floor. Put some serious thought into picking Florida to make a little run this year. Gator coach Billy Donovan has gotten his team to the Elite Eight or beyond in four of his last five tournament appearances.
That also means riding the coattails of Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, which will more often than not drag you at least to the Sweet 16.
And stay away from Memphis. The talent is there to beat anyone, but coach Josh Pastner is 0-2 in the Big Dance.
Live by the three
Looking for an upset pick you can hold over your friends' heads? Might want to bank on a team raining threes.
Your best bets: Iowa State makes more three-pointers per game than any team in the country, and Creighton isn't far behind. Those teams have been inconsistent this year, but if they're hitting from deep -- and they have hit from deep at times this year -- they'll be driving Cinderella's carriage.
Your patience to this point will be rewarded with my finest tournament advice, the one I saved for those who stuck around: Pick the teams with your favorite mascot. Isn't that the strategy that normally wins your pool anyway?
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