Every-Thing Sports

An amateur's guide to picking your NCAA brackets

NCAA basketball
Getty Images

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.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
It's not time to panic, yet. Composite Getty Image.

This is not a column for fanboys or sugarcoating. To this point in the season the Astros stink like rotten eggs. They stink like Angel Hernandez’s umpiring. They stink like Bill O'Brien's general manager skills. The Astros are a bad team right now. That’s notably different from being a bad team. Their 4-10 record is well-earned and it is definitely possible that the Astros’ run of high quality and annual playoff appearances crashes and burns this season. But it’s laughable to declare so after just 14 games of the 162 scheduled have been played.

Last June the Astros had a lousy window in which they went 3-10. In August they had a 4-8 funk. In September it was a 3-9 stretch of collapse. The 2022 World Series Champions had a 3-8 hiccup in April, and a 2-6 blotch overlapping July and August that included getting swept in a three-game series by the then and now awful Oakland A’s.

Now the Astros are back home (Oh No!) for six games, three vs. the Rangers then three with the Braves. The Rangers lead the American League West but are just 7-6, so despite their cellar-dwelling status, the Astros are just three and a half games out of first. A winning homestand is obviously the goal. No, really. 3-3 would be ok, even though that would just about clinch a losing record heading into May.

Mandatory aside: spectacular weather is the Friday night forecast. Stop being stubborn and lame, Astros. Open the roof! I don’t mean just for the postgame fireworks.

On the mend?

The Astros’ track record of downplaying pitching injuries that turned out to be major certainly causes angst as we await Framber Valdez’s return from a sore elbow. If Valdez ultimately winds up out for months, the Astros’ starting rotation is in deep trouble. Even more so if upon the approaching delayed start to his season, 41-year-old Justin Verlander pitches to his age in terms of results and/or durability. However, if Valdez is ok within a month and JV is solid, those two, and Cristian Javier can stabilize the rotation quite nicely.

The Astros started three guys in the last four games who belong in the minor leagues. It was a sad sign of the times that the Astros were reduced to calling up Blair Henley to make the start Monday in Arlington. Except for Rangers fans and Astros haters, it grew uncomfortable watching Henley give up four hits, walk three, record just one out, and wind up charged with seven earned runs. But it’s not Henley’s fault that he was thrust into a role for which he was utterly unqualified.

Last season at Double-A Corpus Christi, Henley’s earned run average was 5.06. Because of the crummy state of the Astros’ farm system, Henley failed up to Triple-A Sugar Land to start this season. After one not good start for the Space Cowboys, “Hey, go get out big leaguers Blair!” Henley turns 27 next month, he is not a prospect of any note. If he never again pitches in the majors Henley forever carries a 135.00 ERA.

But you know what? It was still a great day for the guy. Even if undeserved, Henley made “The Show.” For one day on the Astros’ 26-man roster, Henley made over four thousand dollars. To make him eligible for call up, the Astros first had to put Henley on their 40-man roster and sign him to a split contract. That means that until/unless the Astros release him, Henley’s AAA salary jumps from approximately $36,000 for the season to over 60K.

Lastly, while Henley’s ERA could remain 135.00 in perpetuity, at least he’s no Fred Bruckbauer. In 1961 Bruckbauer made his big league debut and bade his big league farewell in the same game. He faced four batters, giving up three earned runs on three hits and one walk. Career ERA: Infinity! Bruckbauer is the most recent of the more than a dozen pitchers to retire with the infinity ERA.

Spencer Arrighetti’s debut start went much better. For two innings, before it unraveled in a seven run Royals third. Arrighetti has good stuff, but not great stuff. Control has been an issue for him in the minor leagues. Without better command Arrighetti cannot be a plus starter in the majors.

Then there’s Hunter Brown. We could go decades without seeing another pitcher give up nine runs and 11 hits in two-thirds of an inning as Brown did Thursday. It had never happened in MLB history! To this point, Brown is an overhyped hope. ERA last July: 5.92, August: 6.23, September 1 on: 8.74. Three starts into 2024: 16.43.

Jose Abreu watch

It's still early enough in the season that even just a couple of big games can markedly improve a stat line but Jose Abreu continues to look washed up at the plate. Three hits in 37 at bats (.081 batting average), with the most recent hit a questionable official scoring decision. Manager Joe Espada has already dropped Abreu from fifth in the lineup to sixth, then seventh, then eighth. Two more slots down to go, Joe! Continuing to act like Jon Singleton could be a competent bat in the lineup is just silly though.

Catch the weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week now generally goes up after Sunday’s game (second part released Tuesday, sometimes a third part Wednesday) via YouTube: stone cold stros - YouTubewith the complete audio available via Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome