Two Guides to Filling Out Your Bracket

Choosing the correct teams in your NCAA pool is easy, provided you have the proper background information.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Don’t let those scary sports fans scare you when it comes to making proper NCAA picks. There really isn’t much to it. They’re just trying to get inside your head. There isn’t even any such thing as “Bracketology”.

Feel better? Good. Let’s get started. I assume you have your bracket, printed summary and schedules for all 65 teams, rankings by Ratings Percentage Index, Pomeroy Ratings, Strength of Schedule Ratings, conference ratings, individual player plus-minus ratings, and a detailed breakdown of each individual coaching strategy by offensive and defensive tendencies. Good. Now our preparation can begin.

Prior to Noon on Thursday, you’re going to want to go back and watch the game tapes for each of the top 8 seeds in each bracket. This is a bit of a shortcut, of course, as it means you only have to watch all 32 games for 32 teams, rather than 65. You’re going to want to take off work to do this, of course, and give up on sleep. But no worries- many of the top eight seeds played each other! So when you watch both Pitt/Connecticut matchups, you’re killing two birds with one stone!

Now that you’ve seen all the major teams play all games (taking care to watch selected games of seeds 9-16, of course), we can break down the individual bracket. Let’s start in the Midwest. Now obviously, if you match Louisville guard Andre McGee against the other backup guards in the Midwest Region, McGee’s 1.5 defensive rebounds per game immediately jump out at you. (There’s a reason Louisville got a 1 seed.) And of course you’ll be tempted to pick Utah because of reserve forward Kim Tille’s 83.3% free throw percentage- but you MUST NOT overlook his 2.7 fouls per game, an Achilles Heel even Morgan Grim and his 0.1 steals per contest can’t be expect to overcome.

In the West, I hardly need to point out the stunning ratio of points off of turnovers to missed free throws Connecticut has (I mean, you saw the games!)- but be careful of 13-seed Mississippi State’s ability to score points in bunches from the 10:00 minute mark to the 5:00 minute mark of the second half. It could be the downfall of the Washington Huskies.

For the East winner, while it is worth keeping in mind that lower seeds don’t tend to make the Final Four- but you know exactly how many teams went 3-1 in the eastern time zone, including a win over Louisville? Yes, just one, Minnesota. And where are they playing? Philadelphia, PA- a good three hours ahead of Pacific Time. Remember how impressed you were by Minnesota’s ability to shut down Virginia’s interior passing game? Exactly.

The easiest bracket, as you know, is the South. Syracuse is in the bracket, so all you need to do is find a team that shoots better than 43% from three-point range against a 2-3 zone. I’ll let you have the fun of finding which team it is. That’s right! Gonzaga! But then, you knew you were picking the Zags to go deep into the tournament the moment you saw Gonzaga hold South Carolina-Upstate’s Gabor Boros to a paltry two assists.

The key questions in the Final Four are, will Connecticut’s Gavin Edwards play 11 minutes, or 12? He averages 11.3. The answer will determine how damaging Samardo Samuels’ inability to make a three-point basket all season will loom for Louisville. As for Minnesota, their chances depend on a combination of forcing the officials to confront Gonzaga guard Jeremy Pargo over his 1.6 uncalled carries of the ball per contest, while Gonzaga can sink Ralph Sampson III and Minnesota by simply forcing Sampson’s shot attempts to be from at least five but no more than eight feet from the basket. I’d tell you the answer, but you obviously know exactly which of these factors prevail, assuming you watched the games of February 28.

So the next time the guy in the cubicle next to you tries to make it seem like picking NCAA Tournament winners is tough, just smile knowingly. He may be the bigger sports fan, but you just took all the shortcuts–and his money, too.

Is Basketball the one with the big round ball you aren’t supposed to kick?

MOLLY SCHOEMANN: I must admit, I was a little worried about filling in a bracket for the National Somethingball Championship Thing. But actually, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be! It only took me a few minutes, and I’m told the fun will last a lifetime, which is about as long as your average college basketball game lasts, as far as I’m concerned. And not a fun lifetime, either. A lifetime spent feeling cold and hungry. A lifetime spent wearing wet pants.

But some people care. This is for those people, even though we probably wouldn’t be friends if we actually met. Here are my extremely well-researched and educated picks for the 2009 NCAA Bracket of Basketball Sport Playing:

Easty Like Sunday Morning

There are a lot of good teams in the East for sure. Many of them are overly tall—but they carry it well, and they know how to dress. I’m expecting big things from Pittsburgh, because folks owe me there. They know who they are and they know what they did. The Tennessee Volunteers are slated to do pretty well if enough of them show up this time. And who’s up for some steamy Longhorn on Gopher action? The fire and ice of Texas vs. Minnesota may not be appropriate for young viewers.

Midwest Shmidwest

The Cardinals are predicted to do a mighty victory dance on the bald noggins of the Morehead St. Eagles. I mean, have you SEEN the look on that Cardinal’s face? He has TEETH. He looks like he could cut a bitch, whereas the wussy Morehead Eagle just kind of struts around like he’s the BMOC. We’ll see about that, Eagle. We’ll just see. Meanwhile, fans have trouble even looking at the Utah “Runnin’ Utes” because they sound like some kind of unfortunate infection. Speaking of which, someone needs to put Arizona in its place, but no one can—it’s too big. Boston College is expected to do their best, so that even if they don’t win, they’ll know deep down inside that they tried. That’s what’s important!

Best Western

Watch out, Purdue Boilermakers! Don’t quit your day jobs. My vote is for the California Golden Bears, because they’re unstoppable at being cuddly. Also, blondes in the animal kingdom also have more fun. Still, I’d like to see the Northern Iowa Panthers go home with something, since they have to go home to Northern Iowa. The CSU Northridge Matadors should get points for chutzpah. Maybe someday they will play the Chicago Bulls. It seems only fair.

Going South

The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks are pretty good at cutting trees, but can they cut balls? The jury is still out. The Akron Zips and the Illinois Fightin’ Illini are in a dead heat for worst team name—but if they combine forces and become the Illikron Fightin’ Zips, they have a chance at signing a record deal as a Ska-Core band. As a North Carolina resident, I’ve got a feeling the Tarheels are going to have a great season from overhearing people talking about it in the breakroom at work. The Tarheels have a star player named Ty Lawson. I know this because he is on our state dollar bill.

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