I took a break from the health care debate this week, and let's be frank it's not a debate anymore. It's a wrestling match among Democrats to see who can outlast the president's demagoguery. Obama is leading the lemings over the cliff, apparently trying to one-up Bernie Madoff with his budget tricks and promises of utopian wealth. It's a march to madness, fascism, bankruptcy, and who knows what else. Fortunately, the basketball March Madness is here, and it's just the distraction I need to keep from blowing a gasket. After all, the outcome in Washington is out of my hands. At least for the next few days. So while I will pray for our elected leaders to do the right thing, which is governing based on the will of the governed, I will be rooting for Texas to pull their season back together and make some noise this weekend in the NCAA tourney (note: I won't hold my breath for either).
Here are some tricks and tips I've learned over the years that will help you win your bracket. Although I don't always win my office pools, these certainly keep me competitive every year. And yes, I'm posting them now that the tournament has started so that my friends and family can't get a leg up on me. At least not this year.
1) Advance all number 1 seeds to the Elite Eight. Period. Do not be tempted by the siren song of the dark horse 8 or 4 seed. It rarely happens, and it will cost you more points to be wrong than you gain by being right.
2) Don't trust the tournament seeding. It's based on travel logistics and spreading conference teams out so they don't play each other early more than it is on the actual talent or record of the team.
3) Look for overrated seeds (especially 3 through 6) from major conferences and underrated seeds (10 through 13) regardless of conference. But don't pick too many upsets. Thirteen of the sweet sixteen are likely to be seeded 1 through 4.
4) Beware Cinderella's Cinderella. Past darlings of the tournament often lose to midmajors trying to become the new darlings of the tournament. Midnight comes and the glass slipper must be passed.
5) Defensive efficiency is the most important statistical category for judging tournament success. Teams that play suffocating defense always keep the game close and usually frustrate higher rated opponents into taking poor shots and turning the ball over. In fact, no team outside of the top 25 in this category has made the final four in the past 20 seasons.
6) Coaching helps, especially guys who have been there before, but never count out teams with star athletes.
7) Pay attention to home court. Especially teams that have to travel all the way across the country. Steer away from West Coast teams who have East Coast tipoffs before 1 pm (it doesn't sound early, but during the season games are usually played at night).
8) The tournament champion is almost always a one seed. Pick a two or three to win it all with prejudice, and never ever pick any seed worse than that.
9) Regular season championships usually mean more than conference tournament championships. Teams that exhaust too much energy in their conference tourney often run out of gas come the real thing.
10) Late season losses don't have any correlation with tournament success, but late season losing streaks might.
10.5) The ACC is always overrated. Don't ask me why.
As far as my predictions this year, I have to go with the chalk and take Kansas. They are playing at a higher level than almost every other team. After that, I like Syracuse and West Virginia, followed by Duke. That's my final four. I am also singling out Baylor as an athletic team than can do some damage, although I wish they played better defense. Cinderellas I'm putting in the sweet sixteen this year are Washington (11) and Xavier (6). I'm also high on BYU (7) but their game against Kansas State is going to come down to the wire. Finally, I'm taking Old Dominion (11) over Notre Dame and Murray State (13) over Vanderbilt (4) as first round upsets. UTEP (12) is really dangerous on defense and isn't a bad Cinderella pick, although I'm personally taking the favorite Butler. Cornell (12) is also dangerous, before the seeding I liked them a lot, but I have backed off since they got a bad first round matchup with the defensive-minded Temple Owls.