Every-Thing Sports

An amateur's guide to picking your NCAA brackets

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Every year around Christmas, ESPN has their commercials for bowl season. One of the jingles says "it's the most wonderful time of the year." It's a play on the Christmas song of the same name. I beg to differ. There is a period of time in the fall when we have NFL and NCAA football in full swing, NBA regular season kicks off, and MLB is in the midst of crowning a new World Series champion. THAT is the most wonderful time of the year!

If there was any time of year that could rival that period of sports awesomeness in the fall, it would be Spring. While NCAA football has spring games that may not be as exciting to anyone outside of hardcore fans of those schools, the NFL has the combine, free agency, then the draft to keep our football taste buds satisfied. MLB is about to kick off its six to seven month quest also. But the real star is the NCAA basketball tournament.

March Madness, as it's commonly referred to, is responsible for billions of dollars of lost production from the American workforce every year. That number continues to grow as more people are growing up in the technology age in which we can stream tournament games, place bets, and pick brackets on our phones.

Most of you will make a bracket to see how you do. Some of you will fill out several brackets in attempts to win a prize or money. I've even seen my wife fill out brackets in a friendly office challenge every year and she doesn't watch NCAA basketball at all! She, like most of you, will go into the process with very little, if any, type of strategy (she literally picked by color one year). I'm going to lay out a part of my strategy and hopefully help you guys win something this year:

Strength of Schedule

Strength of schedule is the most important factor when considering your selections. Iron sharpens iron. Teams that have been battled tested are often able to withstand a huge swings of momentum and battle back to win. They also are ready for high levels of competition. This is why these teams are often selected as higher seeds.

Points Per Game

Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships. A good indicator is how many points per game a team gives up and/or scores. Teams that can play good lockdown defense and can score at a decent clip are more apt to advance in the tournament. Pay closer attention to their conference and higher profile non-conference games because those are the best indicators as to how well that team scores/defends against better competition.

Efficiency Ratings

I was listening to The Blitz as I was formulating my ideas for this article and AJ Hoffman made a point of talking about team efficiency ratings. He specifically cited the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings as a source he uses when looking into these type of stats. I vaguely remember stumbling upon this site one night about a year or so ago when looking for help in determining who should I pick. Analytics are either the devil or a revelation, depending on who you ask. In this case, I find them to be quite the tool in helping pick that one game where you get stuck.

Put it all together

Now of course I use more than just these three factors in my selection process, but these are the ones that are perhaps most critical. I've talked to a few people over the years and they have agreed. Strength of schedule was first because it is widely accepted as the strongest indicator. Scoring offense and defense tells you how well a team can score and/or defend. If they fall short in one area, they're prone to being beat (see #1 seed Virginia last year not being able to score and being upset by #16 seed UMBC). Efficiency ratings will help you when some other indicators may have hidden truths. For example: if a team is 28-3, has a strong strength of schedule, scores 80+ a game and holds opponents to less than 70 a game, but is only a #4 seed or lower, there's a reason for that. This was written to help people who have no clue what they're doing. If you want serious help making picks or winning real money, you should probably follow AJ on his Twitter and his pregame.com pages.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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