Brackets, brackets, brackets. Everybody’s a college basketball fan in March, and we all love our brackets. Some of us fill out one sheet, others do two, three or more. These days, many do them online and let the computer take the place of the pool leader and the copy machine. The NCAA Men’s Division I College Basketball Tournament, which begins this week, was made for friendly wagers. Maybe it wasn’t planned that way, but it sure has worked out as such.
When filling out our brackets, we strategize on how to pick teams we’ve never heard of. We struggle with picking top teams and trying to pick upsets. Every year, they say, a No. 12 seed will take out a No. 5 in the first round. But which one will it be? How many No. 1 seeds will make the Final Four? It’s tough to make up one’s mind. Like most years, there are many questions. What happens in early March during the final week of the regular season, as well as into the conference tournaments, will shed some light. From there, it’s anyone’s guess.
The playing field has been pretty level this year, with a number of teams bouncing in and out of the top ten. Villanova, Virginia and Michigan State have been consistently near the top of the rankings throughout much of the season, including the more competitive second half. When Selection Sunday goes down March 11 on CBS, they all will likely be No. 1 seeds in three of the four brackets. The fourth top seed is up for grabs, with teams like Purdue, Xavier or even Texas Tech getting a shot, unless one of those programs takes a tumble in early March. Beyond that, Duke’s stock could rise or fall, along with that of Gonzaga, Auburn, Ohio State and Cincinnati.
The second tier of top teams is even more confusing, because we’ve seen both good and bad from them throughout the season. St. Mary’s looked great in the WCC, even beating Gonzaga during a hot stretch in January and February. Then they got smoked in a rematch with the Zags and continued to slide afterwards. North Carolina’s stock began rising after they knocked off Duke in early February, and the defending NCAA champs will be a tough out even if they are not a top seed. The same could be said for Clemson, who joins UNC, Duke and Villanova out of the ACC.
So, who will be the bracket-busters this year? And will the top seeds live up to their billing? The science of bracketology is not an easy one, but it’s one NCAA fans, new and old, try to master every March.