Bracket Busting Assertions from March Madness’ Opening Weekend of 2017

You will never create a perfect bracket, but there are some implicit elbow nudges from the first two rounds of 2017 that might help you get a few picks closer next year.

Over 70 million brackets get penned out every year by college basketball enthusiasts, casual fans, and your mom–who swears she did the research. Despite the range of the bracket-filling demographic, no soul can hit on all 63 games required to boast a “perfect bracket.” With calculated odds of 1 in 9.2 quintillion, it comes as no surprise the public has yet to witness such a feat. However, in the valley of broken brackets, subtleties in the early-round surprises and disappointments of 2017’s NCAA tournament help guide the blind fan in their quest towards March greatness.

The selection committee manufactured some turbulence.

The beauty and heart contained in a March Madness upset loses its shine when it comes at the expense of your bracket pool entry at work. In 2017, though, some early exits and missed sleeper picks got a boost from the divine right of the NCAA. Wisconsin’s gritty win against the number one overall seeded Villanova Wildcats only surfaced as a result of a seeding flop. Wisconsin finished second in the Big Ten regular season with a record of 27-9 (12-6 in conference) and defeated Minnesota in the final game before the Big Ten tournament. Minnesota, who finished fourth in the conference, was awarded a five-seed in the big dance despite toting a worse record than the eighth-seeded Badgers of Wisconsin, setting up an unnecessarily divisive Saturday match-up with the reigning NCAA champions. Unfortunately for Minnesota, the five-seeded gift ended up serving as their downfall in the only 12-5 game to finish in favor of the lower seed (because that ball don’t lie).

The location-driven podding by the NCAA kills too many teams that excelled all season. Wichita State, for example, was tagged as a 10-seed despite ranking as high as eight overall in some analytic polls across the country which put not only the Shockers into a perilous situation but also the Dayton Flyers, who were sent home after facing the under-seeded Wichita State squad in the first round. In the round of 32, two-seeded Kentucky pulled the 30-4 team out of Kansas while Duke on the other side of the bracket saw South Carolina, who finished fourth in the SEC, which had the second-fewest tourney bids of all major conferences this year, and ended the regular season with a loss in the first round of their conference tournament to Alabama. Ironically, the Blue Devils still got tripped up by turnovers (because, again, that ball don’t lie).

There are few bracket selection tips available from the NCAA’s gerrymandering. However, the main guide remains to be wary not of the teams that yield unfortunate seeds but of the prospective match-ups with those that have to face them. The real losers of the rigging this year were the Villanovas and the Daytons, not the Wisconsins and the Wichita States. The snubbing will likely continue to plague many brackets yet to come.

Trust the Pac-12 more than their resume tells you to.

Much of the criticism the major conference of the west coast receives seems deserved; the Pac-12 sent only four teams to the NCAA tournament this year, (only one more than the Atlantic-10) and the last team to cut the nets down at the end of the month from the conference was Arizona in 1997. However, the entirety of the Pac-12 survived the round of 64, a feat no other major conference can boast, and went 7-1 over the weekend. Oregon, UCLA, and Arizona lost only 13 games combined during the season, and that excellence carried over into the early stages of the tournament, as all three teams will continue to dance throughout the week. Sure, the strength of schedule isn’t there, but do not fear the power of the seldom beaten Pac-12 squads.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Oregon vs Iona

The hottest teams do not always keep firing in March.

Admittedly, this is a narrative that gets rewritten every year, as many of the early surprises are underscored by teams with impressive records in minor conferences. However, in a year with few shockers, it left much to be desired from the squads that came into the tournament with their guns blazing. 13-seeded Vermont rode a 21-game win-streak into the madness, while SMU suffered their last loss in 2016, but both were shown the door by major conference teams before the weekend began. Even Princeton, who punched their ticket after beginning the year 4-6 and subsequently winning their last 19 regular season games, lost on Thursday against a Notre Dame team that got bested by West Virginia this weekend.

Conversely, some of the teams that dragged their feet into the month came to play when it mattered most. USC, after dropping five of their last eight prior to the tournament and finding themselves down 17 points to Providence in the second half of the First Four round match-up, rallied to make it into the round of 64 and knock off SMU.

This year’s tournament serves as a March Madness heat check, proving the teams that string together wins during the season cannot consistently be the ones that dominate the bracket. The foreign pressure for young players thwarts even teams that appear primed for a deep run. The win column before the tournament gets quickly tossed in the garbage, and the madness ferments atop it.

By: Oscar Rzodkiewicz

@ORzodkiewicz

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