Columnists, Sports

Coast to Coast: How to avoid shame in bracket season

Forward Zion Williamson and Duke men’s basketball are one of the four teams that are seeded No. 1 in the NCAA March Madness tournament. /COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

With all due respect to Andy Williams, this is the most wonderful time of the year. In March, we don’t get lame presents and snuggle by chestnuts roasting on an open fire. We make brackets and watch college basketball game after college basketball game, hoping our picks are right.

There are no boring family Christmas parties or stale six-year-old candy canes to suck on. Nope, it’s just you, a TV, maybe somewhere to sit and four scintillating days of do-or-die games.

And every year, you tell yourself that this is going to be the one. This year, you are going to have the best bracket on the block, and it won’t even be close.

Well, unfortunately, that will never happen. But what you can do is avoid humiliation. With a few simple pointers, you might not have the all-glorious bracket fresh off the printing press from the copy room in heaven, but you won’t be the loser who picks games based off your favorite color or which teams have the cutest mascots. Do you think this is a time for horsing around?

Focus the most on first-round games

Although first-round games matter the least in terms of points, they are ever so important when it comes to bragging rights. Everyone watches on that first Thursday and Friday of the tournament. If you can pull out a 26-6 or better in those first two days, you’re golden. Don’t be afraid to pick a handful of upsets and most if not all of the top seeds.

If you start sinking below that 20-games-right mark, it’s over. Now you’re the one who barely sniffed .500 in the 2019 bracket pool. Everyone will call you 500 sniffer. That’s a nickname you want to avoid. Trust me.

Pick a top seed to win it all

Don’t even think about going for any team lower than a No. 2 seed to win the entire tournament. Even if some Cinderella team does pull it off, do you really think you’re going to be the one with the golden ticket? You won’t find the glass slipper. Instead, you’ll be the one with hot pink crocs filled with eight pounds of sand.

History isn’t an ally, either. Ever since the tournament expanded in 1985 to 64 teams, only 10 teams seeded No. 3 or lower have won the whole thing. But sure, pick that No. 8 seed to go all the way, and enjoy all the laughing and pointing that comes in your direction.

There is no such thing as too many brackets

The more lottery tickets you buy, the better chance you have at winning. That’s just a fact. If you only make one bracket, the odds are you will be doing laps in an Olympic-size swimming pool of your own tears by the end of the second day.

So make a few extra brackets just in case Plan A turns into Plan Hey, My Bracket Looks Like A Three-Year-Old Scribbled In The Winners With Red Crayon. Have a few brackets in your back pocket for when things inevitably go south.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Put some eggs in the North Carolina basket. Sprinkle a few into Virginia’s nice wickerwork box. Diversify the field as much as you can.

Pay attention to the location of the game

This step usually gets overlooked when picking games, but it might be the most important factor. In college basketball, the crowd makes a huge difference. No other sport has such energetic fans packed like sardines into indoor stadiums.

If you have trouble picking a game, look to see if one team has a significant advantage in a location. For example, in the West Region, one seed Gonzaga is the only top seed actually from the western part of the country.

All of their games in that region would be played in Salt Lake City, Utah, or California in San Jose or Anaheim. The Zags will have a significant advantage in fan support.

You know what they say in real estate school: location, location, and if all else fails, then location. The same thing goes in bracket school.

When in doubt, go with your gut

At the end of the day, whomever you pick in your bracket(s) will probably not matter too much. Although it can be very easy to get caught up in the hoopla, not many people really care about the upset you picked to go to the Sweet 16 or who is in your Final Four.

We have all met the person who updates you on how great their bracket is doing. It’s the same person who asks you if you watched the game last night just to tell you they still have all their Final Four teams left and how very sorry they are to hear your champion lost in the first round to some team from the SWAC.

So whenever bracket season comes around, pick up what your gut is putting down. Unless your gut is a bandwagon Duke fan. At that point, things have gone way past the point of return.

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