An amateur's guide to picking your NCAA brackets
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.
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.