NCAA Bracket Guide

I hope that this is able to give you a different guide to building out your brackets.  Along the way we will be looking to repeat what was a really good bracket last year (and honestly has been for me for many years) in terms of bets daily along the way.  I did a bet the board style last year where we picked a bet from every single game along the way and finished way up through the end of the tournament — including having the right winner all along in Baylor.

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So look for the Bet log to come along with the DFS analysis for each slate along the road to the Final Four.  And as we get into the tournament, some of what I initially write up here will definitely change.  It could be injuries, it could be picks that I get wrong and have to adjust on, etc.  But one thing which hopefully is going to remain along the way is our core beliefs about the tournament and the teams as we move forward and as you build out your bracket you have to do that first.

Here is the process I go through each year when building my bracket(s) and no I don’t enter 50 different bracket combinations and I ultimately will wind up having the same core teams advancing to the elite 8 in most cases.

 

Step #1:  Guess the Theme of the Tournament

It has been my belief for over a month now that you will need a strong interior big to advance in the tournament and that is most definitely a contrarian take.  I don’t do well in brackets by ignoring the “guards win in March” idea, but that is only true on the opening weekend this year.

What is going to be required to advance deep is quality big man play.  There are too many teams with quality bigs for a team to make it through 5 wins to the Championship game without a big man playing extremely well.

Step #2:   Assess the quality of conferences

I will try to identify each conference between Buy, Hold and Sell categories.  A Buy is a conference which I believe is really good and in many cases under-rated in terms of seeding.  A Sell is obviously a conference which I feel has too many teams in the tournament or is not as good as the public perception on them.  And then a Hold is simply everyone else.

The conferences which we want to Buy are the ones that we want to bank upon going further and also how we want to find ourselves leaning when we get down to a coin toss selection.   The sells are ones which we will certainly not sweat if we do not have them moving far along the way, but I do want to caution a sell on a conference doesn’t mean that ONE team cannot move far from that conference.

Here are the conferences, teams and my view on each of them going into the tournament.

Conference Bids Teams Ranking
Big Ten 9 Purdue, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Rutgers, Indiana Sell
Big East 6 Villanova, Providence, UCONN, Seton Hall, Creighton, Marquette Hold
Big 12 6 Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech, Texas, TCU, Iowa State Buy
SEC 6 Auburn, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, LSU Buy
ACC 5 Duke, North Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame Sell
Mountain West 4 Colorado State, San Diego State, Boise State, Wyoming Buy
Pac-12 3 Arizona, UCLA, USC Hold
West Coast Conference 3 Gonzaga

Saint Marys, San Francisco

Hold
American 2 Houston, Memphis Sell
Atlantic 10 2 Davidson, Richmond Hold
Everyone Else Has 1 Bid

Let’s start first with the Sells

The Big Ten

… Once again the Big Ten leads off our sells because they just aren’t as good as America and the Press wants us to think they are.  The Big 10 is the equivalent of the SEC in Football for those who do not know when it comes to power rankings and things of that nature (not the talent/coaches, lord no).

The theme in this conference is star player.  Each team has one player who can most definitely showcase them all the way to the Final 4, but the chances of that happening on multiple teams is very slim.

Purdue, a 3 seed, was supposed to be one of the best teams in the country and they failed to show that mental dominance that they should have had with the talent on their roster.  They are the top ranked team out of a conference with 9 teams in.  That should tell you everything you need to know.

Wisconsin is here mostly on brand name and like Purdue they have a star who can lead them through multiple games but I’m sorry, I love the Wisconsin program, this isn’t one of their better teams.

Illinois has arguably the most overated set of guards in the country and a big man who at this point should have 40 and 20 every time he steps on a college floor.

Iowa still cannot and does not play defense.

Ohio State is a 9 seed team if I ever saw one.  Michigan State is probably playing their best ball at the right time and for that reason I won’t bash them but the roster is bad.  Michigan sucks.  Rutgers isn’t the same team they were early in the year when they stole some games and Indiana?  C’mon.

ACC

… This one shouldn’t require much explanation.  Duke has proven that they aren’t what everyone thinks they are and it’s because they are a team of undefined stars and undefined role players.  Coach K has taken the approach of just roll it out there and hope it works and when it doesn’t yell at the refs and tell the coaching staff that this is their disaster now.

Miami and Virginia Tech are scrappy teams who will not get blown out but also are not going to make a deep run.  Sorry all you VT into the Final 4 trendy backers but that is the biggest sheep/donkey bet of the tournament.

North Carolina & Notre Dame????   Win a game?  Sure.  Win 3?  No.

American Conference

… It’s hard to justify a SELL write up on a conference with just two teams, but I felt that this conference had a little bit of an unstable season.

And now for the BUYS

SEC

The best conference in the country.  They have depth, they have elite talent, coaching, size, shooting, defense.  This conference was the most competitive night in and night out.  I do have one upset here but it’s mostly based off a personal narrative.  Otherwise this is a conference which will be a tough out across the board.

Big 12

Once again I am a sucker for the Big 12 and Basketball.  I was down on the conference early and am not as high on Baylor as the public but the rest of the conference has my attention.  The problem with this conference though is that they do not have a ton of strength at the spot which I identified as teams needing to make it to the Final 4 — post play.  But boy this conference can defend the piss out of a dead pig.

Mountain West

And this is my sleeper conference.  These are all quality teams led by the very sneaky and very good Wyoming Cowboys.  They are in the first four and you should be watching Hunter Maldonado as he lights up the tournament starting in the opening round of games.  He is a 5th year 6-7 Senior PG who is turning 23 in a week that averaged 18.4 ppg, 5.8 Reb and 6.3 Asst per game.  And they are the lowest seed of these four teams.  This is a dangerous conference that has two 8 seeds that could really ruin things for people.

Step #3:   Build around your Elite 8

If you want to win your bracket, you need to get the most teams through to the Elite 8.  Not the Final 4, not the first round, the Elite 8.  Because basically if you get to the Elite 8 AND you have the correct winner you are going to be in the drivers seat.

So when you select a team to win, you need to look at the matchups in groups of 4 and not the full 16 team bracket to determine who is going to get to the elite 8.

Here is an example using the top half of the South Region:

Arizona vs Wright St/Bryant, Seton Hall and TCU are one selection of four.  There is zero doubt in my mind that Arizona is coming out of that quadrant.

Houston, UAB, Illinois and Chattanooga are all capable in my mind of advancing out of that quadrant and many will sit here and torment themselves over who to pick between Houston and UAB on that 5/12 line.  But the reality is that no matter who wins that game you will not get more than 3 points in your bracket from them (1 for the first win and 2 for a second win to make it to the Sweet 16 if they get there).  Why?  Because nobody from that group of 4 in my mind is beating Arizona in the Sweet 16.

So Arizona is going to be 7 points into the Elite 8 by picking them alone.

The best that anyone that faces Arizona can give you is 3 points

I am of course assuming your bracket is using traditional scoring which is 1 pt for round of 64, 2 points for round of 32, 4 pts for Sweet 16 win and keeps doubling up to 32 for the Nat Champion.  If you are in a contest which scores differently then smack the Commissioner unless its rewarding for the seed which, honestly, is gimmicky.

So ask yourself between UAB and Chattanooga, can either of them beat the other top seed if they pull off an upset?  Yes, they can, but that’s your real decision in deciding to pick one to upset in the first round and if you DO pick them to upset, why not take them to win both because the key is getting the elite 8 team here and that would be Arizona.

 

Step #4:   Pick your Winner

Gonzaga Logo - LogoDixYou should be locked in on a team who is going to win it all and I will tell you my winner at the end of this article with all the other full picks.

Okay, let’s not wait.

It’s Gonzaga.

Take Gonzaga.

Step #5:   You don’t need all the first round upsets, but take risks.

You will definitely need a 10 or higher advancing into the Sweet 16 and the region which you identify as the most volatile should be where you take one into the Elite 8.

Again, assess where we think there are teams that are going to under-perform or have a really bad match-up potential in the 2nd round or 3rd round and decide to fade them early.

REGION  BREAKDOWNS

WEST REGION

REGION WINNER: 

  • Gonzaga … Despite losing Jalen Suggs this team is just as good and well built to win in the tournament.  Drew Timme isn’t going another year without a Title and the balance that this team has should allow the Freshman Phenom Chet Holmgren to just go out and play without a ton of pressure.   The Zags got a good draw and they should cruise in this region.

Good teams:   

  • Arkansas … This is a team that I would have expected to make a run but being in Gonzaga’s area is going to be a big challenge.  The Razorbacks love to play fast and their star point guard JD Notae will make a name for those who don’t know him in this tournament.   They should give UCONN a ride in the second round and by a ride, I mean an Uber back home.
  • Texas Tech … This is the best defense in the nation who rebounds extremely well and is very efficient on offense.

Buyer beware: 

  • Connecticut … It’s an impossible draw for the Huskies.  They have to go through not the easiest of first round games and then a really hard 2nd and 3rd round to try and make a run.  This is a classic case of too many Mountains to go through so you don’t ride them.
  • Duke … I know the Coach K narrative. I also know the team, not happening.
  • Alabama … Bama could go on a run but they are NOT the same team as last year and I wouldn’t be shocked if they lost to Rutgers or Notre Dame if they shoot poorly and then they get the top Defense in Texas Tech

Sleepers:   

  • None … I anticipate lots of chalk in this region.

EAST REGION

Winner: 

  • Kentucky … They have the big, they have the coach and they have Guards.

Good teams:   

  • Murray State … People know the school because of Ja Morant.  This team is very good and unfortunately they face another good team in San Francisco in the first round and then Kentucky after that.  But honestly if anyone can match-up with Kentucky, I think it’s Murray State.
  • Wyoming … Love Wyoming, but they got a long path being in the First Four.  That said, we always see someone get hot out of the First 4.
  • UCLA … Back for another run, an experienced team who I think blows through their quad.
  • Purdue … Frauds.
  • Texas … Everything sets up for Texas and Purdue to meet in the second round and it might be the best game of the opening weekend.

Buyer beware: 

  • Virginia Tech
  • Baylor

Sleepers:   

  • Marquette
  • Murray State … If anyone is going to beat Kentucky it is Murray State who has a tough first round game themselves vs San Francisco.

SOUTH REGION

Winner:

  • Arizona … Remember UCLA last season?  Here you go, only more talent.

Good teams:   

  • Villanova … Veteran team with an easy first weekend draw and if The Volunteers can get beat they have a very likely Elite 8 path.
  • Colorado State

Buyer beware: 

  • Houston
  • Illinois
  • Ohio State
  • Tennessee … As much as I like the SEC this is one team I am going to buy against.  They had a HOT shooting week in the SEC tournament and I can see them losing to 3 teams they would have to go through in Longwood, Colorado State and Villanova.

Sleepers:   

  • UAB
  • Chattanooga
  • Longwood

MIDWEST REGION

Welcome to the Chaos Bracket…  If any region has a lower seed from it, I would pick this one to be that region.  This is a VERY fragile region.

Winner(s):

  • Auburn … They have the best Pro player in the tournament in Jabari Smith.  They have a really good big man in Walker Kessler.  They have Guards and Wings who can take over a game.  Unfortunately they also have Bruce Pearl.

Good teams:   

  • Sam Diego State … Their last 4 losses were all by 1 point.  They slow the game down to a halt and basically have a roster of kids who have been in school since the Nixon Administration.
  • Richmond … Ditto this roster which is a veteran unit and Jacob Gilyard is going to tear up the Hawkeyes.
  • USC
  • Kansas … They are a #1 for a reason and would be the other team to pick besides Auburn, but there’s gonna be chaos somewhere and it’s in this region.

Buyer beware: 

  • Any top seed honestly.

Sleepers:   

  • San Diego State
  • Richmond
  • USC
  • South Dakota State

FINAL PICKS

Final Four:   Gonzaga, Arizona, Auburn, Kentucky

National Championship:   Gonzaga over Arizona

Most likely Sweet 16 Sleepers:

  • Marquette
  • Wyoming
  • Iowa State
  • South Dakota State
  • San Diego State
  • Chattanooga

Biggest Opening Round Upset

  • Longwood over Tennessee

Look, I am going with my own personal narrative on this one but I also will be frank that Tennessee is the one SEC team I do not trust a ton.

So my Mother passed away about a year ago.  She went to Longwood of all places.  This is their first ever appearance in the tournament.

My Mom’s birthday is March 17th.  That would be the day Longwood is playing.

They’re not losing.

Bracket Tip Reminders

  • Dont force an upset in the first round if you arent considering that team to make it to the Sweet 16 as well.
  • Focus on who will make it to the Elite 8.
  • Focus on who can win more than one way.
  • Lock in on your conferernces

Let’s Dance!

srenner

Founder and CEO for The Daily Ambush. Author or The Dongers Club (MLB), The Ambush (NFL), The Slapshot (NHL) and The Tailgate (CFB).