Simple rules for creating the perfect NCAA tourney bracket
The Grand Introduction
FOX Sports South takes a history-based look at the keys to creating the perfect NCAA tournament bracket. The mythology of the perfect bracket reached its peak last year, when billionaire Warren Buffett and Quicken Loans joined forces for an ambitious contest, offering $1 billion to a letter-perfect prognosticator. Turns out nobody won, and for good reason: The odds of posting a flawless bracket -- including the NCAA title game on April 6 -- are something in the neighborhood 1.2 quintillion to 1. But that doesn't mean striving for perfection is a total waste of time. Here are 10 tips to help you do the unthinkable: Nail every pick of the 2015 NCAA tourney.
Tip #1: Don't get cute with 16-seeds
In 1985, the first year of an expanded 64-team field, top-seeded Michigan trailed No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson by 10 points midway through the second half -- without a shot clock -- before rallying for a four-point victory. After watching FDU's near-miss that Friday, it seemed inevitable a No. 1 would fall in the Round of 64 sometime that century. Thirty years later, the NCAA tourney appears no closer to history involving the 1-vs.-16 matchup. Sure, top dogs like Duke (1986 vs. Mississippi Valley State), Georgetown (1989 vs. Princeton), Oklahoma (1989 vs. East Tennessee State), Michigan State (1990 vs. Murray State), Purdue (1996 vs. Western Carolina) and Kansas (2002 vs. Holy Cross) were all given legitimate scares, but only one of the six powerhouses required overtime to win (MSU). (Photos: Spruce Derden/Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
Tip #2: Always consider First Four teams for the Sweet 16
For four straight years, a First Four graduate has, at the minimum, advanced to the Round of 32: Tennessee in 2014 (Sweet 16), La Salle in 2013 (Sweet 16), South Florida in 2012 (Round of 32) and, of course, VCU's run to the Final Four in 2011 (eventually falling to Butler). For bracket afficionados, that should be enough motivation to self-scout the 11-seed winners from Tuesday (Ole Miss) and Wednesday (presumbly Dayton ... playing on its home court). (Photos: Rick Osentoski/Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)
Tip #3: NCAA history seldom rewards 4-seeds in the tourney
In 1978, the NCAA tournament adopted an odd form of regional seeding, essentially separating automatic berths (conference champions) from at-large schools. A year later, the seeding process was modified to the current system we know and love today. Since 1979, only one 4-seed has captured the national title -- Arizona in 1997; and that Wildcats team, led by Miles Simon and freshman Michael Bibby, became the first program in NCAA history to knock off three No. 1 seeds (Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky). On the flip side, the 4s were the only seed to reach the Sweet 16 in all four regions last year. (Photos: Evan Pike/Bob Donnan/Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports)
Tip #4: Respect the 'pod' advantage in the Round of 32
Since the 'pod' system was created in 2002, allowing the best teams to play closer to home on opening weekend, the top 4 seeds are a staggering 41-2 inside their home state (including Maryland in Washington, D.C.) for the first game -- with two notable exceptions. No. 14 Mercer upending No. 3 Duke in Raleigh, N.C. last March ... and three years ago, 15th-seeded Lehigh toppling No. 2 Duke in Greensboro. It's one of the few black marks on Mike Krzyzewski's decorated tournament resume (four national titles).
Tip #5: Respect '1' as a prime number
Since 1979, the first year of the NCAA's modern-day seeding system (1, 2, 3, 4, etc.) -- spanning 36 seasons -- the No. 1 seed has captured 20 national championships ... a success rate of 56 percent during that span. The rest of the championship tally, seed-wise, breaks down like this: #2 (six national titles), #3 (five), #4 (one), #6 (two), #7 (one, last year with Connecticut) and #8 (one, Villanova in 1985). (Photos: Assorted Images)
Tip #6: Not all No. 1 seeds are created equal
Four No. 1 seeds have reached the same Final Four only once since 1979 -- 2008 with Memphis, North Carolina, UCLA and eventual champion Kansas. In fact, since 1993, all four top seeds for a particular year have collectively advanced to the regional final just six times -- (1993, 2001, 2003, 2007-09). (Photos: Mark Dolejs/Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)
Tip #7: Ignore all 5-seeds as 'national champion' options
Since the modern-day seeding system was put into place, a No. 5 seed has never won a national championship. That doesn't bode well for West Virginia (Midwest -- Jevon Carter, right), Arkansas (West -- Bobby Portis, left), Northern Iowa (East -- Seth Tuttle, middle) and Utah (South). What's more, no back-end seed (Nos. 9-16) has ever won the NCAA title, either ... meaning there's no point in earmarking the likes of San Diego State, LSU, Ohio State, UC-Irvine, Harvard or Stephen F. Austin for the championship. (Photos: Don McPeak/Jeffrey Becker/Scott Sewell-USA TODAY Sports)
Tip #8: Big upsets usually occur in the same region
A particular region has been torn asunder by blockbuster upsets in five of the last six NCAA tourneys. For 2009, 2011 and 2012, the 11-13 seeds of the same region pulled off coinciding shockers. In 2013, the West region's 12, 13 and 14 seeds (Ole Miss, La Salle, Harvard) were giant-killers for a day. And last season, the double-digit seeds (headlined by Dayton, Stanford, Harvard) collectively notched nine tourney victories. In fact, 11-seed Tennessee faced 14-seed Mercer (which toppled Duke -- above) in the Round of 32. (Photos: Nelson Chenault/David Butler II/Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports)
Tip #9: Don't fall in love with 2-seed Kansas after Friday
Yes, the Jayhawks (7-5 in their last 12 outings) claimed the Big 12 regular-season title and deserve props for playing the nation's toughest schedule this season. But this is hardly a vintage Kansas squad -- as evidenced by the two blowout defeats, one to Kentucky (by 32) and another to Temple (by 25), during the non-conference slate. Here are the two primary reasons for ultimately doubting the Jayhawks' passage into the Sweet 16: 1) Freshman big man Cliff Alexander (far right) has been ruled out for the postseason (eligibility concerns). 2) The NCAA tournament committee has paved the way for a Kansas-Wichita State showdown on Sunday afternoon -- and the Shockers have been dying for a piece of the in-state Jayhawks for a long time.
Tip #10: Let history be your guide with 5 vs. 12 matchups
Charting the last 25 years (1989-2013), the No. 5 seeds have swept the 12s during the Round of 64 just twice -- 2000 and 2007. This is good news for Buffalo and its famous head coach Bobby Hurley (above). The MAC-champion Bulls (23-9 overall), who own the 12-seed in the Midwest Region, will not be intimidated in their Friday clash with 5-seed West Virginia. Before conference play began, Buffalo endured competitive losses to Kentucky and Wisconsin -- arguably the two biggest bets for the national championship.
Tip #11: Book Wichita State, Utah, Xavier for the Sweet 16
All three programs have their share of major pluses, including Utah, which might have the nation's most underrated star-in-waiting -- guard Delon Wright (center -- 18 points per game in his last seven outings ... including six games of 50-percent-or-higher shooting). It also helps that only Indiana, Kansas (Wichita State foes), Mississippi, Baylor (Xavier foes), Stephen F. Austin and Georgetown (Utah foes) block the paths to regional glory. (Photos: Scott Rovak/Godofredo Vasquez/Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
BRACKET PICKS: Kentucky, Purdue, Buffalo, Maryland, Texas, Notre Dame, Wichita State, Kansas (Round of 64); Kentucky, Maryland, Notre Dame, Wichita State (Round of 32); Kentucky, Wichita State (Sweet 16); Kentucky (Regional champ)
BRACKET PICKS: Wisconsin, Oregon, Arkansas, North Carolina, Xavier, Baylor, VCU, Arizona (Round of 64); Wisconsin, North Carolina, Xavier, Arizona (Round of 32); Wisconsin, Arizona (Sweet 16); Arizona (Regional champ)
BRACKET PICKS: Villanova, LSU, Northern Iowa, Louisville, Providence, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Virginia (Round of 64); Villanova, Louisville, Oklahoma, Virginia (Round of 32); Villanova, Virginia (Sweet 16); Villanova (Regional champ)
BRACKET PICKS: Duke, San Diego State, Utah, Eastern Washington, SMU, Iowa State, Iowa, Gonzaga (Round of 64); Duke, Utah, Iowa State, Gonzaga (Round of 32); Utah, Gonzaga (Sweet 16); Gonzaga (Regional champ)
National Semifinals (Indianapolis)
FINAL FOUR PICKS: Gonzaga over Villanova (Semifinal #1) ... Kentucky over Arizona (Semifinal #2) ... Kentucky over Gonzaga (National championship) -- (Photos: Kyle Terada/Mark Zerof/Brad Penner/James Snook-USA TODAY Sports)