Building a Better Bracket


By the time you read this, two of my final four teams will probably have lost already, but, as I usually fare pretty well in tourney brackets, I thought I would offer to you that most valuable of peeks into my brain and share my philosophy in picking brackets. This is big deal, now; akin to Colonel Sanders, with his wee beady eyes, telling you the eleven herbs and spices he puts in his chicken (makes you crave it fortnightly). But, in the interests of the improvement of human knowledge, and general progress and whatnot, I offer you Uncle Andy’s secret recipe.

Big-time players win big-time games

Exhibit one for this principle is the final four two years ago. Marquette, led by Dwyane Wade (how good has he turned out to be?) knocks off a good but relatively-starless Kentucky team to get in. Kansas, led by Hinrich and Collison also get there to join Carmelo Anthony’s Syracuse team and T.J. Ford’s Texas squad. If not for a sentimental attachment to Kentucky, I might have picked all four teams; as it was I went 3-for-4. This is my overarching principle, and the one which trumps in close calls. (Last year it also worked pretty well, as Okafor and Gordon led my UConn pick to the title).

So, who are this year’s big-time players? This isn’t always easy to pick, as a talented player isn’t necessarily big-time. Two years ago, Kansas beat an equally-talented Duke team to get in, but Hinrich and Collison’s were battle-tested seniors with a gleam in the eye that led me to pick them over the Dookies. “Clutchness” is clearly a tough thing to quantify, but experience counts for me as well as pulling out close games and a history of beating a good teams. In the end, its a bit of a gut reaction; you know a clutch player when you see it. This year, I’m relying on Chris Paul, Dee Brown and Hakim Warrick to lead their clubs into the final four. My fourth pick, North Carolina, will get there because of their overwhelming talent, but will fail to win it all (which there talent says they should) because of a lack of a big-time player. Felton and McCants should be able to take over any game down the stretch, but they seem to find a way to loose them instead. McCants is the most talented player in the nation, but in his biggest game so far, when Carolina played at Dook, he was non-existent. Felton was a turnover machine in the same game. Thus, though they should win the title, I think they’ll find a way to fumble it away in the end.

It should be noted that a big-time player is not enough by itself. Salim Stoudamire and Fransisco Garcia are two of my favorite players in the tournament this year, but I just don’t think they have enough help to get them very far (that, and Louisville got a terrible draw). But, when it’s a close call, go with the studs.

Hot or not

I also put a great deal of stock into this factor. Some teams peak at the right time, while others come into the tournament out of rhythm. Nolan Richardson always seemed to have his team peaking in March, so you could count on a deep run from the Hogs, while Tubby Smith has had trouble the last couple of years with his team peaking too early. Streaking teams this year include Georgia Tech (how scary are they right now?), Florida, and the other Huskies from Wash U. Teams that would have been better served by the tournament starting in early February include the Jayhawks, Boston College, and the afforementioned Wildcats.

Where’re you from again?Conferences have good and bad seasons, just like players, and that’s important to keep in mind, as 20-10 in the Big 10 may not be the same as in the Big12. This year, that comes into play particularly with the ACC and SEC, which are having they’re best and worst years, respectively, in a long time. The ACC probably deserved 3 number 1 seeds, and could have had four in the final four if Georgia Tech wasn’t in Wake’s bracket. They are head and shoulders above any other conference this year, so you have to give a premium even to their middle-tier schools, like NC State, when you put your bracket together. On the other hand, the SEC is way down this year, and you may have to discount their teams seedings a bit. Be cautious in hitching your wagon to an SEC-school this year. Other trends that seem evident this year are strength from mid-majors like the WCC and MAC, and slight down years for the Big 12, Pac 10 and Big 10 (past Illinois).Don’t get ahead of yourself

Work with matchups. There’s a temptation to come into the tournament with certain pet teams and want to have them go a certain distance, and thus ignore who they’re playing. I’ve fallen into this trap with Kentucky the last couple of years, feeling they were a final four team without really evaluating how they match up with who they’re playing. This year, I felt like Louisville and Florida were Elite Eight teams going in, but they drew brutal second round matchups, so I had to back off on those picks. Likewise, Vermont was my Cinderella sweet 16 pick coming in, but I don’t see how they have any shot against Syracuse.

Home cooking

If you’re looking for a deep tourney run from a top seed, it helps if they can stay close to home the whole time and get some crowd support. Syracuse used favorable settings two years ago to propel them into the final four on their path to the title. This year, Illinois seems to have a red carpet leading them to a title, as they would go from Indianapolis to Chicago to St. Louis if they keep winning. It also works the other way; the Dookies have a potential matchup with Oklahoma looming in Austin. Much to the chagrin of Teasips (that’s what we call UT folk down here), Sooner fans could invade Austin to give OU a strong home-court advantage over a higher-seeded team.

This message will self destruct in five secondsThat being said, what does anyone really know? My bracket will probably be obliterated by the end of the first weekend, and, you know what? That’s fine with me. That’s why we watch this crazy thing, to see a cinderella pull off the impossible. It’s gonna be sweet! Enjoy!Quick takes

NBA — check out the run the Rockets are on: Last Sunday they hold the Mavericks to about 80 points, then they went on a road trip where they pulled out a tough one against the Sonics, came from behind to beat the Suns by 20, easily beat the Kings, and survived against the Warriors. To celebrate, they came home and beat the Blazers by a brutal 31-point margin. They’re playing as well as anyone right now, and I don’t think anyone wants to see them in the first round of the playoffs. MLB — The Cardinals could win the NL Central by about 10 games. The Cubs gave up a lot of offense and are having injury trouble with their stud pitchers, and it looks like I’m the favorite for the fifth starter spot in Houston, another team which is depleted offensively. The Cards lost a little, but replaced it with Mark Mulder and a whole season of Larry Walker. Yikes! NFL — Keep your eye on the Bears in the NFC North this year. The Vikings lost Randy Moss (and their coach is busy scalping tickets), and the Packers lost two offensive linemen and a safety out of an already terrible secondary. The Lions are still trying to figure out who should throw the ball to their ridiculously studly receivers. If Rex Grossman can stay healthy and Muhsin Muhammed repeats his big year, Lovie Smith could turn that thing around. College Hoops — Bush league, Stan Heath. Just because you couldn’t pull your team together this year is no reason to quit the season early. What message are you sending your players? When the going gets tough, take your ball and go home? Besides, epecially with a young team like the Hogs, you could catch fire in the NIT and lay a foundation for something special next year. Woman’s Volleyball — Logan Tom, you can’t deny your feelings for me any longer. You’re not fooling anyone with this charade.

Happy St. Patty’s day!


7 Responses to “Building a Better Bracket”

  1. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Good stuff, that.

    My only quibble would be that I don’t see anything in your formula about the coach’s track record. My main concern about North Carolina, for instance, isn’t that they lack a Big-Time, go-to player. It’s that Roy Williams has a long track record of producing teams that underachieve. Kansas was almost always loaded with talent, including what the pundits seemed to think were Big-Time players, yet they pretty much always choked, especially in the tournament.

    Do you think the coach’s track record shouldn’t be a factor because it’s really up to the players to win or lose the game, or for some other reason?

  2. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Okay, now you guys have me feeling like crap for having UNC and BC in the finals. Since it will happen only once in my lifetime, I’ll have to remind everyone that I did pick the finals last year: Ga Tech and UConn. Of course, Andy had UConn winning the whole thing and took me down. I don’t think I noticed your picks this year?

    I’ll give you a break, though, for the props you gave the Cards. I know that wasn’t easy for you…

    Hey, in case lawyerin’ doesn’t work out for you, you have a definite future in teaching bracketology!

  3. Michael Lasley Says:

    Thanks for the So I Married an Axe Murderer reference. It made my day.

  4. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Whoops, I don’t read very well. Your Final 4 picks were a part of your column… Sorry.

  5. Terry Austin Says:

    Can’t even remember the last time I filled out a bracket. March is baseball season.

    Speaking of which… Larry Walker’s next “full season” will be his first. Dude is fragile. And, to repeat last week’s mantra…



    A serious, serious downgrade.

    I know you guys are never going to believe that I actually LIKE the Cards. I just don’t think they’re nearly as good as everybody else seems to.

    Juvenal: Latest Dodger news (from my super-secret inside source) — Gagne’s knee is wrecked, he’ll have surgery if the team tanks early; Penny’s nowhere near ready to pitch competitively, his fastball is in Nomoland right now.

  6. Coolhand Says:

    the coaching thing was an oversight, as was a failure to mention the team’s health going in.

    i hope no one used my picks for wagering purposes, as they have turned out pretty lousy. this year seems to be holding even less to form than usual.

  7. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Well, you were right about the SEC tanking early.

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