One glance at my freshly filled out NCAA tournament bracket reveals what most bracketologists have been saying for the past two months:
There isn’t a team to beat in the 2013 field.
So I took chances. Several chances.
While it’s never a good idea to get to upset-happy in the real first round, you can best believe there will be some head scratchers in the second batch of games. The line between the haves and the have-nots is much less pronounced than in previous tournaments, and things could open up nicely for bracketeers who hit on the right combination of teams.
It’s the beauty of filling out a bracket. None of us knows what we’re talking about because none of us has seen every single team in the tourney field play. Even for the most ardent followers of college basketball, there is still a little bit of guesswork involved.
Oh, sure, you can call up all the March Madness websites, study up on the trends that have developed over the past month or so, choose your upsets carefully and even go as far as to follow Joe Lunardi on Twitter, but it doesn’t guarantee a pocket full of cash and bragging rights at the end of the month.
So take this advice: Don’t take it all so seriously. Have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to swing for the fences in one or two regions.
For those who don’t remember, things didn’t go entirely well for me in 2012. My bracket’s only claim to credibility was advancing top-seeded Kentucky into the championship game. But alas, the Wildcats were slated to play the Syracuse Orange, who failed to get by Ohio State in the East Regional.
But, thankfully, the slate is wiped clean every year, giving us all renewed confidence that this is the year we finally break through.
Before I get to my pick to win it all, let’s not forget the three most important pieces of any bracket:
- A big upset. It could put you in the driver’s seat early on. Take the Golden bracket, for instance, where I’m picking 14th-seeded Valparaiso to send Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans packing on Thursday. It’s been 15 years since Bryce Drew’s buzzer beater helped Valpo knock out fourth-seeded Ole Miss. Now he’s coaching the Crusaders. OK, I know Izzo is 10-1 in Auburn Hills all-time, but the Spartans struggle to score, and the senior-laden Crusaders are hot, having won 16 of their last 18 games.
- A dark horse. It’s always good to find that one team that showed some good signs down the stretch of putting together a sustained tournament run. I’m not talking about a team like 2011 VCU that went from play-in to Final Four, but a team like 2006 George Mason, a No. 11 seed that beat four higher seeds to make it to the Final Four. My 2013 dark horse? How about the 10th-seeded Iowa State Cyclones beating Ohio State en route to the Elite Eight.
- At least one safe pick in the Final Four. On the off chance that none of your risks has paid off, always include one of the favorites in your Final Four to at least keep you interested on the final weekend. Even in the most wide open of fields, you can still bet on one of the big dogs making it to the national semifinals. In my case, I went with top-seeded Louisville and second-seeded Miami joining a pair of No. 4s, Michigan and Kansas State, in the Final Four.
Don’t be surprised to see the tournament take on the personality of the regular season, where the top teams took turns getting beat in rapid succession. I recall in mid-January when Duke, Michigan and Arizona entered a week with a combined record of 49-0, only to each lose a game.
I’m viewing this tournament the same way. It’s up for grabs, and there are 15 teams that could legitimately walk away with the championship and not surprise me one bit.
So whom am I taking? I’ll answer by saying basketball fans in Austin will get a chance to watch an eventual national champion play at the Erwin Center (you don’t hear that every day around these parts).
Give me Miami over Louisville. The Hurricanes are hungry. They took a huge slight, courtesy of the NCAA, when they weren’t awarded a top seed despite winning the ACC regular-season and tournament titles in the same year. Indiana looms large in the East final, but the U has the fuel, and a signature talent in Shane Larkin, to win its first NCAA title.