The Art of Bracket-Making

Rupp Arena 

Today begins my favorite weekend in all of sports - the opening weekend of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Four days of dancing, Cinderella, upsets, blowouts and the best basketball of the year.

If you're participating in a bracket challenge, it's likely that your picks are due by noon today. Still stumped on which 12 seed will upset a 5 seed (it's happened every year since 2002!)? Maybe I can help.

I follow college basketball pretty closely throughout the season. Given control of the remote, I'd choose whatever game is on, no matter how big or small the teams or rivalry. When it comes to filling out my bracket, I try to give it a good, educated guess. It's not always easy, but I try researching and somewhat-scientifically choosing a winner. Often, though, it's a total crapshoot. That's what makes it so fun!

There are always a few guidelines for upsets, and I think this will be the year for upsets. I always pick too many, but the regular season provided plenty of examples of big teams losing on the road or getting shocked at home by the underdog. Wanna pick an upset? Here are some guidelines:
  1. A #16 seed has never upset a #1 seed. Ever. Upsets are generally awesome and are what make the tournament so special. A true underdog can take down basketball royalty. However, it's unlikely to be in a #1 vs. #16 game. It's going to happen one day, I'm sure, but I'm not comfortable picking it. (Let's hope that Western Kentucky's Hilltoppers can make this year the year against Kansas!)
  2. The game at the bottom of each region bracket is ripe for upsets. A 15 seed has upset a 2 seed 12 times since 2002. I think every Kentucky fan remembers with glee last year's tournament when #15 Lehigh upset #2 Duke. Who can do it this year? Can Albany bring the upset against Duke? How about Florida Gulf Coast vs. Georgetown?
  3. A solid upset pick is a # 12 over the #5 seed. I've got New Mexico State over Saint Louis and California over UNLV. Who do you have?

When I can't pick with my head, I tend to pick with my heart. This usually results in two brackets - one with Kentucky as the National Champion and one with a more balanced and objective approach. Interestingly, last year, I was confident enough in my "heart" bracket to make it my official one. This year? Yeah, I only have one. :(

I have loyalties and allegiances that often have no rhyme or reason. Here are the things that guide my heart in choosing a bracket. This is totally unscientific.

  1. I choose the team from Kentucky. Unless it's Louisville. That means I correctly picked the Morehead State upset of Louisville in 2011.
  2. I choose the team from the SEC. I may be a Gator Hater, but I can set that aside in the name of conference loyalty.
  3. I choose the team coached by a former Kentucky Wildcat. Let's go Travis Ford and the Oklahoma State Cowboys!
  4. I choose the team playing against Duke, North Carolina or Kansas. Those programs don't need any more wins or to gain any ground on our record.
  5. I choose the Catholic school team over the public or Protestant school team. I learned this one from my mom.
  6. I choose based on the mascot names. The Wichita State Shockers are more likely to get my pick over a team with Bulldogs or some type of boring bird as their mascot. The more creative or descriptive your mascot name, the more likely I am to pick you to win. My nephew has adopted the interesting theory that you should pick based on which mascot would win in a real life cage match. (We taught him well at an early age that Wildcats eat Cardinals!)
As usual, I've planned my work schedule so that you can find me in my living room all day Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday watching hoops. I can't wait for the madness to begin! I might slave over my bracket starting on Selection Sunday, but once that ball is tipped I just want a great tournament, regardless of my picks.