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Tourney Pick’Em 101

Brad Evans
Yahoo Sports

For years your ears have been bombarded by a foreign language spewed by sports junkies congregating in the office. When the calendar flips to March, talk of “brackets,” “seeds” and “Cinderellas” around copy machines and water coolers will be inescapable. Badgered repeatedly by the hoop heads to participate in their cutthroat tournament game, you – outwardly, a diligent worker dedicated to fattening the company’s bottom line but internally yearning for much, much more – have historically stiff-armed their advancements. After all, conformity is a threat to your work ethic and individuality.

However, this time each year you notice productivity around the office slips dramatically. Important meetings are skipped. Lunch rules are stretched. And unresolved TPS reports collect dust.

Enough is enough. You too want to stick it to the man. More importantly, you want to silence the annoying, self-proclaimed experts at their own little game … If you’re an inexperienced bracketeer with hopes of dominating the office pool, this is a primer designed to bring you up to speed on the basic terminology and tips that encompass the NCAA tournament.

Lace up your Chucks.

BRACKET BASICS

To get familiarized with the proper hardwood lingo, below are common words and phrases associated with the greatest sports event on the planet. Consider each a bold-faced textbook definition. Have a highlighter handy.

What is the NCAA Basketball Tournament?
The tournament, nicknamed the “Big Dance,” is a single elimination postseason playoff between 68 Division I college teams. Games are played round-by-round over a three week period until a single champion is crowned. Round 1, dubbed the “First Four” (code for, “you probably would’ve have played more games in the NIT”), features four teams, two from high-major and two from mid-major conferences. The winners of those games are slotted into positions ranging anywhere from the No. 9 to No. 16 seeds, establishing the traditional 64-team bracket (Note: Round 1 games will NOT be scored in this year’s Tourney Pick ‘Em). From that point on, each winner advances onto the following round, whittling the field down. After Round 2, 32 teams remain; Round 3, 16 teams (dubbed the Sweet 16); Round 4, eight teams (Elite Eight); Round 5, four teams (Final Four) and Round 6, two teams (Championship).

What is March Madness?
This phrase – coined by H.V. Porter, an official with the Illinois High School Association in the late 1930s – references the excitement, passion and general zaniness the tournament creates. Upsets, buzzer beaters and raucous crowds typically ensue. Submit to the “Madness” and you’ll surely relish every riveting second.

How is the tournament field selected?
The process of selecting who plays in the tournament is both arbitrary and explicit. Teams earn berths two different ways: 1) By winning its conference tournament, an automatic berth (31 teams punch tickets this way); 2) By being handpicked by the selection committee, an at-large bid. How the latter is determined is very complex. Think of a lengthy crossword puzzle without an answer key. Committee members scrutinize schools based on a variety of factors: RPI ranking (Ratings Percentage Index), strength of schedule, conference record, road/neutral court wins, end-of-season level of play, etc. Other extreme factors such as major injuries to notable players and coaching absences are also taken into account. Suffice it to say, it’s a complicated process. For more info, feel free to thumb through the thoroughly confusing NCAA’s principles and procedures manual. Calculus will seem like a walk in the park.

What is “seeding?”
A seed is the position where a team is slotted within a bracket. It has nothing to do with horticulture. Each region (four in total) houses teams seeded 1 (perceived best) to 16 (worst). In Round 1, the highest seeded teams are matched up with the lowest seeded team possible (e.g. 1 plays 16, 2-15, 3-14, 4-13, etc.). As the Committee puts it, the top priority for seeding is “to achieve reasonable competitive balance in each region of the bracket.” Generally speaking, teams from smaller conferences, often called mid-majors, are ranked lower than teams from high-major or power conferences (i.e. ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 etc.).

How do I devour the competition in the Yahoo! DiGiorno’s Tourney Pick ‘Em?
Signing up and participating in this year’s Tourney Pick ‘Em is easier than throwing a pepperoni pie into the oven. First, sign into your Yahoo! account. If you don’t have one, start here. Second, create a free entry within the game. Be creative. Give it a flashy, playful name (e.g. Anthony Davis’ Unabrow). Third, select the winner of each game round-by-round by simply clicking on the school’s name. Remember, however, Round 1 or play-in games will not be counted. That’s it.

TIP-INS – A PIZZA BOX FULL OF COMMON STRATEGIES

Now that you’ve graduated from dancing school, it’s time to smack down the competition. Below are five tips chock-full of pertinent info that could help you buy a seemingly endless supply of frozen pizzas … with boneless wyngz! Dee-Lish!

1. Top dogs don’t necessarily pack the most vicious bite
Since the tournament expanded to its current capacity in 1985, only 41.7-percent of No. 1 seeds have advanced to the Final Four. During that span, only once have all four top seeds made it to the Mecca of college hoops (2008). Yes, elite squads have more favorable odds of making a deep run, but sage players aim for variety when penciling in a team on the bracket line. Typically, the Final Four will feature two No. 1s and two lower seeded teams from the 2-4 range. Last season’s Final Four featured one No. 3 (UConn), a No. 4 (Kentucky), a No. 8 (Butler) and, for only the third time ever, a No. 11 (VCU).

2. Don’t fall in love with too many Cinderellas
Selecting upsets is a bragging exercise. Everyone wants to boast to their buddies that they had the stones to pick a team from the Southland Conference. But becoming enamored with an abundance of underdogs can bloody your bracket in a hurry. Shocker specials do and will happen, but not nearly as often as many would lead you to believe. However, last year’s wild tournament was one of the few exceptions. According to BracketScience.com, roughly 14-percent of top seeds per season are bounced early on average. But because of Butler and VCU’s slewing of Goliaths last March, an astounding 20.6-percent of higher seeds were bitten by the upset bug. Obviously, don’t pick by the book. Just be mindful that small schools only occasionally upend regional favorites from power conferences, especially over multiple rounds. Here’s a breakdown of the Round 1 winning percentage for teams seeded No. 11 or lower since 1985 (Note: 11s and 12s are the most likely to wear a glass slipper):

No. 11s (36-72, 33.3%); No. 12s (36-72, 33.3%); No. 13s (23-85, 21.3%); No. 14s (16-92, 14.8%); No. 15s (4-104, 3.7%); No. 16s (0-108, 0%)

3. Heads or tails? Flip a coin matchups
The NCAA selection committee most seasons does a masterful job matching close-seeded teams of similar skill levels. As a result, 8-9 and often 7-10 games are highly competitive crapshoots. In the modern tourney era, No. 9s have had a slight advantage, winning 52.8 percent of its matchups. Conversely, No. 10s have won only 39.8 percent of the time.

4. Hit the books
Upon graduation, you may have vowed never to enter another classroom, physically or virtually, again. But research favors the champion. In this age of endless convenience, accessing vital information is just one click away. Immersing yourself in columns/videos on Yahoo! Sports/Rivals is the first step for success. For the advanced, numbers-rich sites like BracketScience.com and KenPom.com are also invaluable resources. Pools can be won accidentally, but increasing your knowledge on the subject matter only enhances your chances.

5. Defense wins championships … most of the time
Of all the attributes a team possesses, defense is the greatest factor in predicting a team’s potential tournament success. Schools which force turnovers, guard the glass and generally frustrate opponents are almost always in a game, regardless of how good/bad it may be performing offensively. According to the ridiculously addictive site KenPom.com, only last year’s VCU team is the only school to reach the Final Four with a ranking of 40-plus in defensive efficiency. When in doubt, use the data located here to determine who should advance on your sheet.