It's the middle of March, which means there's only one thing on most people's minds, brackets. Our sponsor for this post has extended that from the basketball court to Facebook with the Allstate "BFF Brackets" game, which takes your top 64 Facebook friends (culled with an actual algorithm based on interaction) and seeds them in four regions, just like with the real tourney. From there your friends advance through the brackets with the corresponding seeds in the real tournament, until one is left standing. At which point you and that friend are entered in a sweepstakes to win a trip to New Orleans. If you're a Facebook user, you can check out Allstate BFF Brackets here.
In terms of the actual bracket...WOW is there a lot of controversy and discussion right now. Naturally, as SB Nation's certifiable bracketologist, there were several things I would have done differently than the selection committee, though I won't argue with their at-large choices too much, as there was truly not a huge difference among the last few at-large candidates, they all had their issues. I'm refuse to dwell on the negative, as it makes sense that a group of 10 will come up with some different ideas than a single mind. Instead, I'm going to point out a few things about the existing bracket that jump out to me that can use to your advantage in making picks. Follow me after the jump.
1) Think about taking Tuesday and Wednesday's at-large First Four winners in their Second Round games.
The victor between Clemson and UAB Tuesday night will take on West Virginia Thursday afternoon. The Mountaineers last played in the Big East Second Round on Wednesday. Things are even worse for Georgetown, who also lost on Wednesday in New York, as they face a nine-and-a-half day layoff before their game against either USC or VCU on Friday night.
Now, an eight or nine-day gaps between games may not seem quite as massive as the month that often falls between a final regular season contest and bowl game in football, but when you're used to the grind of two or three Big East games a week, there's reason for concern. Sure, the Opening Round winners may be a bit tired from their game and travel to their Second/Third Round site, but at least they won't be dealing with a week or more's worth of rust.
2) The addition of the First Four may create a nightmare for at least one No. 4 seed.
Thanks to the addition of three new at-larges, at least one team that would have been a 12 seed in previous Tournaments had to drop down to the 13 line this season. That's not good for a vulnerable four seed. In my picks over at SB Nation, I took two 13-over-4 upsets. The most likely is Belmont, the most likely 12 candidate of the four No. 13s, a veteran team that is efficient offensively and limits mistakes, two characteristics that will make life difficult for Wisconsin. My second choice is Oakland over Texas, as the Golden Grizzlies have the size inside, thanks to the presence of legit NBA prospect Keith Benson, to trouble the Longhorns.
3) Pick teams you feel are underseeded and against those you feel are overseeded.
Even though I feel Texas should have been a two, they're an exception to this principle because of their matchup. Instead, I'm going to focus on the Longhorns' Big 12 rivals Missouri, a team I had pegged in the 8 or 9 range, but who ended up as one of the final at-large picks. The Tigers happen to face Cincinnati, who may be overseeded on the six line. Not only that the Tigers' play a more uptempo game than the Bearcats, averaging a whopping eight possessions more a contest than Mick Cronin's team. The only thing that concerns me about Mizzou is the rumor that head coach Mike Anderson may leave the team after the Tournament to take over at Arkansas, where he was a longtime assistant to the great Nolan Richardson. That prospect may put the Tigers off their game.
4) Don't go all chalk in terms of your Final Four.
In my opinion, Duke and Kansas have the easiest paths to Houston, though I said the same thing about the Jayhawks last year. The biggest obstacles for the Blue Devils are a San Diego State team with suspect guard play, a Connecticut squad that may run out of gas at some point, and a Texas Longhorns group that has suspect coaching and a rough opening game. As for Kansas, a meeting with a Louisville team that's not nearly deep enough could await in the Sweet 16, while flawed Notre Dame or Purdue are the most likely Regional Final opponents.
You could focus on Ohio State, placed in a region with three teams that have picked up their games late in the season, Kentucky, Syracuse and North Carolina, but I feel the Buckeyes are strong enough, and those three flawed and inconsistent enough, for the chalk to hold in the East. So, Pittsburgh, a team that's yet to reach the Final Four, which will always be questioned until it does, is the default choice. Making it easy are some potentially rough opponents for the Panthers in the top half of the Southeast draw, the winner of Butler-Old Dominion in this weekend's Third Round, and either Kansas St. Wildcats or Wisconsin (or Belmont, based on my pick below) at next week's Regional Semifinals. An early Pitt exit would open the door for K-State, No. 2 seed Florida, or three seed BYU to make it to Houston.
My final three pieces of advice for your bracket exploits: 1) Don't overthink things. Remember that your first instinct is right 80-90 percent of the time. 2) Have fun. 3) Don't let any bracket failures ruin the best time of the year!
Now get cracking!