We're just a few days away from what many consider (myself included) the official start of the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. However, this year the NCAA bracket professors have implemented a new 68-team syllabus (field), which takes effect (tips off) Tuesday and Wednesday night in Dayton, OH., that reduces college basketball fans' study time for the big take-home final.
See back in my day, the March Madness professors gave us three and a half days to break down a 64-team bracket. That was an adequate amount of time to find your Cinderella team, first-round sleepers, Final Four contenders and do it a dozen more times before you were 50-percent sure the winning bracket was in your hands. The pool is no longer a contest, it's just peasants paying a tariff to the king of Bracketology.
But since this year's tournament does have some meaningful seeds (No. 11s and 12s) playing day(s) before Thursday's 12:15 p.m. tip-off, most brackets will need to be handed in before Tuesday's work day. So, if you're struggling to finalize that perfect bracket, let me help you out with a few (15) rules that helped me fill out my NCAA bracket in time. At the end, you'll find out the SB Nation New York 2011 March Madness predictions.
Rule 1: All No. 1 and 2 seeds advance past the first two rounds, but one (see Rule 10).
I am just playing the odds here because most of us know that in round one a No. 1 has never lost to a No. 16 and the odds of a No. 15 beatiing a No. 2 are as good as you winning your bracket pool. Meaning: (No. 1-seeded) Ohio State, (1) Duke, (1) Kansas, (1) Pittsburgh, (2) North Carolina, (2) San Diego St., (2) Notre Dame and (2) Florida move to the round of 32.
Rule 2: Never pick against the Big East Conference in the first round.
I did a little research for this piece (trust me, very little) and found out that in the past four years the Big East is 19-9 (67.8) in first-round games. Now, I understand that those odds are just a bit better than a coin flip, but if you toss out the off-year, which was last season when the Big East lost four of its eight first-round contests, the Big East is 14-5 (73.7) in the previous three seasons. I'll take those odds and that means: (9) Villanova, (5) West Virginia, (11) Marquette, (3) Syracuse, (6) Cincinnati, (3) UConn, (4) Louisville, (6) Georgetown and (6) St. John's advance to the third round.
Rule 3: Big-name coaches never lose in the first round.
I don't have a listed criteria of what a big-name coach is, but I am pretty sure Michigan State's Tom Izzo and Kentucky's John Calipari are just that. What are their records in the first round? I have no clue. I just know I never pick against top-tier coaches which means: Spartans (10)and Wildcats (4) advance to play the weekend.
Rule 4: Big-name players never lose in the first round.
Again, I don't know what the criteria of a big-name player or what their record is in the first round, but I'm positive that the nation's leading scorer, Jimmer Fredette, won't lose in the first round. BYU (3)takes on St. John's (6) in the second round.
Rule 5: Split the four No. 5-No. 12 games 50/50.
In 20 of the past 22 years, a No. 12 has knocked off a No. 5 (yes, another researched fact). So, if you're in need of an upset always make sure to pencil at least two of these in (I say two because the winner advances to play a No. 1 seed. So, even if you're wrong it probably won't hurt you past round three). I like (12) Memphis and (12) Richmond to keep this tradition alive.
Rule 6: Never pick against Purdue (3) or Temple (7) in the first round.
I don't know why I've made this a rule for my brackets, but it just seems this strategy always works out. (Once again, if you wanted scientific strategy you've clicked on the wrong prediction article.)
Rule 7: Coin-flip games (No. 8-9, 7-10 or 6-11 contests) should be picked by your fiance, girlfriend or non-college basketball friend.
My fiance decided that: (7) Washington, (8) Michigan, (5) Kansas St., (8) Butler, (7) Texas A&M and (8) UNLV are winning. That's good enough for me.
Rule 8: Always pick a Sweet 16 Cinderella
There's always one shocking team that wins two games and enters the second week as the feel-good story. Last year, it was (9) Northern Iowa, (12) Cornell and (10) St. Mary's (CA). This year, I am saying No. 13-seeded Oakland (MI) is knocking off (4) Texas and then (12) Memphis in the second round.
This means by default, the other three No. 4 seeds (Louisville, Wisconsin and Kentucky) make the Sweet 16.
Rule 9: Scout for bracket karma.
How Florida received a No. 2 seed, I'll never understand. Bracket karma bites the Gators when Izzo and Co. earn a Sweet 16 trip.
Rule 10: Hot teams make it past the first week.
UConn (5) won five games in five days to win the Big East Tournament title, while UNC (2) just had its nine-game winning streak snapped by Duke (1) in the ACC Tournament Finale -- both teams will turn Sweet 16.
Rule 11: Pick your favorite team to advance one game further than you think.
Because if they advance and you don't pick them, you'll be angry with yourself. Conclusion: Syracuse (3) to the Elite Eight.
Rule 12: Look for an over-looked, mid-seeded squad to make an Elite Eight run.
Last year, Tennessee (6) and Butler (5) made a run. This year, it's going to be Georgetown (6) and St. John's (6) .
Rule 13: If you'd like to vacation at the school's location then they deserve a Elite Eight trip.
This is the only reason I could justify having San Diego State (2) winning three games.
Rule 14: The best and most talented teams win.
In my "expert" opinion, Ohio State (1) , Pittsburgh (1) and Duke (1) have been the best overall squads all season. So, ink them into the NCAA Final Four, April 2-4, in Houston, TX.
Rule 15: Stick to your guns.
If you like a team(s) then don't go back and forth on whether or not to advance them. Just advance them! You'll feel good about it when they win and still feel (somewhat) good about yourself when they lose.
A couple of weeks ago, I stated that Pitt and Louisville were the Big East's top Final Four contenders. So, Louisville (4) earns the last Final Four spot.
This rule also applies to picking the National Championship Game, which I think will feature the two best teams in the nation -- Ohio St. and Pittsburgh. And, all season I've just liked how good the Panthers were in the Big East Conference.
Head coach Jamie Dixon. Say hello to your first National title, 70-68.