March Madness

Tips for Filling out your NCAA Tournament Bracket

It’s that time of the year. In my opinion, the best time of the year in the sports world. The pairings have been announced, brackets are being printed as I write, and casual pools entered with plenty of money at stake. But how to fill out your bracket? Maybe you’re a basketball fan, maybe you’re not. Neither guarantees success or failure with your bracket, and besides, it totally depends on the year anyway.

At the risk of jinxing myself, I’ve had some success in recent years, even come out ahead financially a few times in pools. Here are a few loose rules I follow when filling out a bracket:

1. Don’t obsess over it. During the regular season, I watch my team—Notre Dame—almost exclusively. I check scores for other big games. Conference Tournament week, I watch as much as possible to see who’s peaking and who is falling, which key players are injured, etc. Beyond that, I do not do much “research.” I once heard Skip Bayless lament over how much research he did for a particular game, and how it led him to believe there was no way one particular team could win. Of course that team won. You can’t explain that. If things always went like they were supposed to, number one seeds would always end up in the Final Four. That certainly happens every once in a while, but most years it doesn’t.

2. Pay attention to trends and injuries, especially late in the season. It’s not on common for a team to peak too early, look great or even unbeatable early on, only to get bounced early in the tournament. I have my eye on Michigan this year as a potential to do just that.

3. Know some tournament history and coach records of success and failure. Tom Izzo (Michigan State), Mike Kryzewski (Duke), Billy Donovan (Florida), Brad Stevens (Butler), Shaka Smart (Virginia Commonwealth), Thad Matta (Ohio State) Rick Pitino (Louisville), and Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) often advance deep into the tournament. Bo Ryan (Wisconsin) seems like a perennially Sweet 16 kind of guy, which is no small feat. For whatever reasons, Jamie Dixon (Pittsburgh) and Mike Brey (Notre Dame) have not fared all that well in the tournament. Coaches like Mark Few (Gonzaga), Bill Self (Kansas), Roy Williams (North Carolina) and Jay Wright (Villanova) are a little more difficult to predict because it has gone both ways: deep runs and early exits.

4. Respect both talent and experience; both can win in the tournament. In terms of experience this year, Butler, Florida, and Louisville stick out to me. Talent-wise, you’ve got to respect the heck out of a team like Indiana.

5. Pay attention to match-ups. What styles do various teams play? Do they get out and run a lot? Do they rebound well? How tall are they? Do they rely on one star are on balanced scoring? Do they play slower, low-possession games? Do they play man or zone defense? Do they win in close games or blowouts? I don’t pick a champion until I see a bracket because match-ups matter so much.

6. Pick some upsets, but don’t go crazy. What makes this tournament so fun is the Cinderella stories, but the higher seed still wins most of the time. Balance is good. Don’t pick all number one seeds to the Final Four, but pick at least one or two.

7. Make your team lose early. This rule does come from a lot of past heartache with Notre Dame. They always get my hopes up and then crush them with an early loss. But by knocking them out early, my judgement becomes more objective. And now, if they “ruin my bracket,” it will be a good thing, not a bad thing.

8. Most of all, go with your gut. Malcolm Gladwell has written an excellent book about this. It was my gut that told me in 2010 that Butler was a Final Four team. Now admittedly sometimes our instincts fail us. But that’s part of both the fun and frustration of this thing.

In case you’re wondering, here are my picks for this year’s tournament, on the record. Final Four: Louisville, Ohio State, VCU, and Indiana. In the final, I have Louisville over Indiana in a close one. Feel free to track me as the tournament progresses!

TCC Listens in as ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and Seth Greenberg Discuss March Madness

This past Thursday, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi and college-basketball analyst Seth Greenberg made themselves available for questions from the media about “March Madness,” the upcoming NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament. The games will begin on Tuesday, March 19.

One of the disappointments in college basketball seemingly all year has been the Kentucky Wildcats, which won the 2012 NCAA Championship, but then lost its whole starting five to the NBA draft. This year’s team went 21-11, including an embarrassing 64-48 loss to Vanderbilt in the SEC Tournament. Lunardi said on the call that it would be close, and that he thought Kentucky would get into the NCAA Tournament, but then he changed his mind after the Vanderbilt loss.

Lunardi projected Gonzaga, Indiana, Louisville, and Duke as #1 seeds. Kansas was his next best bet if one of the other teams don’t perform well

Kentucky are the prime example of a team using "one and done" players.

Kentucky are the prime example of a team using “one and done” players.

in their conference tournament. Indiana’s spot, he said, was maybe the most protected because they won “the best league in the country” outright. Of that group, Duke’s conference-tournament effort (losing to Maryland on Friday) was the most disappointing, but that isn’t to say that they still won’t receive a #1 seed.

Questions on the conference call ranged from specifics about regional teams around the United States to the macro state of college basketball. There has been a growing perception, particularly this year, that the quality of the college men’s basketball game is down.

This theory stems from the amount of “one-and-done” players leaving early for the NBA (with Kentucky as a case-in-point), lower-shooting percentages from players over the course of a season, the amount of lower-scoring and low-possession games, and the lack of truly elite, clear favourites going into the tournament. Lunardi even joked about making a rule that teams should get eliminated from NCAA-Tournament contention if they failed to score 50 points in a conference-tournament game.

But Greenberg in particular staunchly resisted the idea that the quality of the game is down. “I think it’s good for college basketball,” he said. “The concern over the one-and-done thing is so overblown. I don’t think the game’s in shambles. Scoring is down because scouting is just so sophisticated.”

Are all the best college players already in the NBA?

The month of March is the outstanding time in the basketball calendar.  Although the sport domestically might be winding down, often anti-climactic-ly (not really a word, at least MS word doesn’t think so), the  pinnacle of the American basketball calendar, the NCAA tournament, is taking place.

In April 2010, the NCAA announced a $10.8 billion, 14 year deal which gave television, internet and wireless rights to CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting Inc.  Unsurprisingly, CBS earns most of its revenue through advertising sales.  Last month, CBS announced that its profits had risen by 31% for the fourth quarter of 2011 despite a dip in advertising sales.  It was helped by political advertising, the syndication of the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation series as well as the success of Homeland (the popularity of which I don’t really get), which is shown on Showtime, it’s not-quite-HBO-but-almost cable channel.

It is fair to say that March Madness more than pays for itself.  In addition to the notional, but irritating, subscription charge that now applies to online streaming, over the course of the 2010 tournament, CBS drew in $613.8 million in advertising sales revenue.  In 2008, the tournament which ended with Kansas defeating Memphis 75-68, it brought a record $643.2 million to the CBS coffers.  So, although $10.8 billion might be only marginally higher than the GDP of Mali (according to CIA estimates for 2011), it is fair to say that CBS will do quite well out of the deal.

Others who are highly sensitive to a positive March performance are the college players themselves.  While consistent play throughout the season is what attracts professional teams to them, the desire to perform when it really matters – to be seen as “clutch” – is also crucial.


Kentucky: NCAA Champions 2012



One college star who has seen his stock severely limited by consistent mediocrity, particularly during this seasons’  tournemant, is North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes.  In 2009, Barnes held a press conference to announce that he would move from his Iowa home to Chapel Hill to pursue his basketball dreams at the alma mater of Michael Jordan.  This is fairly common among elite High School players; most basketball fans in the United States, particularly post-Lebron, are aware of these kids before they even sign with a college and, if you happen to be a fan of one of the elite college basketball teams, it’s fair to say that you will have more than a passing interest in the outcome of the press conference for a player who may attend your school.  The problem was, with Barnes at least, that he subjected the viewing public to something akin to his own version of “The Decision”.  “As I reflect on the recruiting process, I’d like to share a few points,” Barnes began, with the logos of Iowa State, UCLA, UNC, Duke, Kansas and Oklahoma in front of him.  Many players choose simply to have caps from each school in front of them, before putting on the hat which represents the school they have chosen.

“Today, I’m proud to announce the school I will attend in the fall of 2010 will be the coach I’m going to Skype…”

All this from a seventeen year old.


Harrison Barnes's version of "the decision"


When the light blue (they call it “tar heel blue” in the US) clad figures appeared on screen, UNC fans rejoiced at yet another high profile recruit joining their basketball programme, but there was something unsettling about someone so young having the audacity to create such a spectacle.

It was no surprise when, prior to the new season beginning, Barnes gave an interview in The Atlantic magazine which informed us that the former honour student, who had a 3.6 GPA in high school, was staying in school because “the longer you stay in college…the better a brand you build.”

Barnes’s second season at UNC saw him average 17.1 points per game along with 5.2 rebounds.  Not bad statistics compared with the 15.7 PPG and 5.8 RPG he averaged the previous season, when he won ACC rookie of the year honours.  However, when it came to crunch time, Barnes was far from the elite player that UNC needed him to be.  His last two games for the Tar Heels saw him shoot 8 for 30.  He had been criticised for sporadic effort during games; combining the occasional spectacular play with lazy defensive play.  He also struggled as a one-on-one player; something that was sorely evident in UNC’s Elite Eight defeat to Kansas.  Put simply, Barnes could not operate at a high level offensively without injured Kendall Marshall alongside him.  In particular, his inability to beat his man will pose huge problems for him at the professional level where he will encounter more athletic  defenders than those he couldn’t beat at the college level.


Going, going, going, going....


Along with Barnes, UNC will lose senior centre Tyler Zeller, rangy forward John Henson and Marshall, most likely all to the NBA.  Departing (I’m not going to use the word “graduating” here because that’s not true for them all) UNC classes have not always enjoyed great success at NBA level.  The 2005 vintage side saw Marvin Williams, Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants to the NBA.  Williams and Felton remain the NBA, even though the former is widely seen as a less-than-stellar number two overall pick, picked as he was ahead of Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Andrew Bynum, Danny Granger and David Lee.  Similarly, the 2009 class of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green have enjoyed mixed success in their professional careers.


Sean May, 2005 Final Four's most outstanding player


Another individual who has seen his stock collapse over the duration of his college career is Baylor’s Perry Jones III.  Jones has been projected as a lottery pick ever since he was in high school.  Indeed, just over a year ago, if you had looked at one of the various NBA draft sites, you’d have come to the conclusion that the 6′ 10″ Jones was pretty legit; he was a consensus high lottery choice and in many cases the prediction for first overall pick.  Even after what were frankly embarrassing performances in the NCAA tournament, Jones is still the tenth pick on draft express’s website.

Perry Jones: destined to be an NBA flop?


The thing about Jones that intrigues potential employees is that he is effectively a seven footer with the skill to play on the wing.  In a sense, the poor man’s Kevin Durant.


Durant starring for Texas

It has been mooted that Jones simply lacks the work ethic that is necessary to truly succeed.  Hard work outworks talent when talent doesn’t work hard, if you will.  Or, to put it another way, if you don’t get it by the time you’re in college, you never will.

During January, Baylor faced Kansas. Jones jogged through the tunnel and a middle-aged man yelled at him, calling him a “second rounder”.  Baylor lost both of their regular season games with Kansas, although they exacted revenge during the Big 12 championship.  In this particular game, Jones led Baylor with 18 points but was eclipsed by Thomas Robinson, the Jayhawk big pouring in 27 points AND hauling down 14 boards.  Jones only claimed 5 rebounds.  It’s stats like that which have prompted many to call him soft.  Over the season, he averaged 13.5 PPG and 7.4 RPG, which isn’t bad, particularly when you consider Baylor has five players averaging double-figure points per game.  His field goal percentage is a nice round 50% and he even shot just over 30% from the arc.  His 69% free throw success rate, however, will provide fuel for his critics, who have even questioned his decision to attend Baylor.

Jones graduated from Duncanville High School and attracted attention from powerhouse schools such as Kansas and North Carolina.  His decision to attend Baylor raised eyebrows, but ignored the fact that his mother, who lives in Dallas, was battling cardiomyopathy, a serious heart condition which may necessitate a transplant.  Jones’s character in coming through this, not to mention accusations of receiving improper benefits from Baylor (a recent ESPN article on his notes that he was in fact offered money to attend a rival Big 12 school), will undoubtedly stand him in good stead in the future – he has even improved his grades since arriving in Waco (he tweeted his pleasure at achieving a B in one class and was instructed by his followers to “get back in the gym”).

Perry Jones in high school

However, given the amount of money that he is likely to earn in the next couple of years, it will be his performances on the court which will continue to draw the most public attention.  The fact that he still sits towards the top of the 2012 draft boards emphasises just how weak this draft class is going to be.  Players can enter the draft and withdraw their names, provided it is done before a set date, this year June 18th, and they don’t hire an agent.  Jones may yet return for a third year at Baylor, but he will do so in the knowledge that his stock, from a professional point of view, might not rise much higher.  If he wants to earn big money, he may need to leave Waco this summer and try his hand in the NBA, particularly if he can earn the guaranteed money of a first round pick.


The list of players who could potentially still be in college is astounding, particularly when you look at those who should still be in college, rather than wasting their time at the end of an NBA bench, just waiting to be waived, is amazing.

Of course, to balance this, one must also consider the players who stayed too long in college, to the extent that it damaged their professional prospects.  While one might question how good Jones, or Austin Rivers, or any of the Kentucky team that has just won the national championship, might be at the professional level, there are those who perhaps could have already gone to the NBA and now see their stock dwindling: Mason Plumlee at Duke being a prime example of this.

The list of players who would still have college eligibility left (and lets not forget that Kevin Love, an established NBA star by this stage, was only scheduled to graduate this summer just past) includes:

Alec Burks, Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight, Kemba Walker and Derrick Williams from last years draft; John Wall, Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins, Xavier Henry and Eric Bledsoe from the year before; Tyreke Evans, DeMar DeRozan and Jrue Holiday from the year before could all still be playing college basketball.  Of course, one only needs to review the reaction to Kentucky big man, and projected number one overall pick, Anthony Davis landing awkwardly on his knee to understand why these guys all wanted to play in the NBA.  They are not trained, or prepared to do anything else.  If basketball doesn’t work out for them, there are not a whole lot of options.


But that doesn’t mean we can’t lament their absence from the college basketball scene.

Bracket banter: win an exclusive t-shirt from TCC

It’s that time of the year again – March Madness! This year The Courtside Collective, in association with ESPN, has created a tournament challenge. The process is simple [Editor: easy-peesey). Join our tournament group online at, fill in your bracket and follow all the coverage of the ‘big dance’ online at It’s a lot of fun and anyone can get involved. The teams are ranked 1-16 within their regions. You simply select which team you think will win throughout each round until you have a Final Four (See Obama’s selections below), National Finals selection (two teams), and finally an overall winner [Editor: My heart is with Syracuse but my head says Ohio State].

The winner of our group will take home an ESPN Goodie Bag as well as an exclusive TCC t-shirt.

Want more? Join the ESPN America tournament challenge for the chance to win a brand new portable basketball hoop! Click here to find out more.

Please note: The deadline is Thursday 15h March, 3pm! Get your bracket in now for a chance to win!


President Obama Fills Out Men’s & Women’s Brackets in ESPN Exclusive

President Barack Obama filled out his bracket predictions for the 2012 NCAA Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments today exclusively with

The President is predicting a Men’s Final Four of Kentucky, Ohio State, Missouri and North Carolina, and a Women’s Final Four of Baylor, St. John’s, UConn and Notre Dame. ESPN will present all 63 games from the NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Championship for the 10th consecutive year from March 17-April 3.

President Obama’s Final Four Selections:

Men’s: Kentucky, Ohio State, Missouri and North Carolina
Women’s: Baylor, St. John’s, UConn and Notre Dame


Tournament Challenge History

In 2011, the Men’s Tournament Challenge game was the most popular bracket game in the USA with more than 5.9 million brackets, breaking the previous record high of 4.8 million brackets set in 2010 by 24 percent.  President Obama’s 2011 men’s bracket ranked 746,086 overall, placing him in the 87.4th percentile.  While he didn’t predict any of the Final Four teams in the previous two years, he correctly picked North Carolina to win the National Championship in 2009.  President Obama placed in the 77.09th percentile of his women’s bracket entry last year.

Both the Men’s Tournament Challenge and Women’s Tournament Challenge games return for their 15th seasons and are free for fans to submit up to ten entries on Participants complete and submit a bracket of forecasted tournament game outcomes and points are awarded for each correct pick, with point values increasing as the tournaments progress.

Outside of the U.S., ESPN International has exclusive multimedia and syndication rights to the Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments.  ESPN television networks and broadband services are the home for live television and streaming coverage of tournaments, bringing the passion and pageantry of U.S. college sports to hundreds of millions of homes in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

Source: ESPN