The calendar says March, and that means it’s almost time to kick off one of the best sporting events there is, the NCAA tournament. Whether you’re a diehard college hoops fan, a casual observer who gets excited for the upsets, elite matchups and the crowning of a champion, or an NBA-only basketball fan, college basketball’s signature event has something for you to get excited about. There’s nothing in sports quite like filling out your bracket and testing your prognostication skills.
While technology has largely changed the way we fill out those brackets, I’m a bit old school and prefer holding a physical bracket in front off me and scratching out the winners with the feel of pen on paper, tracking my performance as the tournament moves along. Thus, I highly recommend taking advantage of a Printable 2018 March Madness Bracket. It’s more personal and engaging than simply clicking through a bracket online, even if that’s what you’ll have to do to prove your knowledge to the world.
Okay, but what do you do once you have that empty bracket sitting in front of you? As pretty as that clean bracket – and the potential for glory that it represents for both you and your team – looks, it can be overwhelming. Where do you start?
You don’t want to be the person that simply picks the favorites all the way through, plus that’s no fun anyway. But you also don’t want to be the person on the other end of the spectrum that gets too cute with too much reliance on upsets. Chances are, only a few of those upsets will come to fruition, and you don’t want to blow your bracket to smithereens on the first day. The key is to blend the two, identify potential upsets and select two or three to pick and hope the underdog comes through.
I recommend doing practice runs before submitting those picks, and here we’ll give you some things to think about as you start to work through things. TSFJ will have a full tournament primer for you later this week to help refine those brackets and get you everything you need for an informed viewing of the tournament, but first we’ll start with some things to build the general structure of your bracket.
If you like offense…
The object of the game is to put the ball in the basket, and if you want to rely on teams that excel at that most basic tenet of the game these squads are for you.
Villanova has a historically efficient offense this season, with six players who score in double figures. Nearly every player in the rotation is a threat from beyond the arc, while Jalen Brunson is one of the best guards in the country at posting up, giving the Wildcats a unique ability to invert their offense. ‘Nova is incredibly unselfish resulting in an incredible ability to consistently get open shots.
While the Blue Devils have been getting a lot of attention for their recent defensive improvement, the offense is still the bread and butter. Marvin Bagley III has been a monster all season long. When Grayson Allen gets it going Duke can go to another level. Duke is also lethal on the offensive glass. The Blue Devils have ranked in the top three in offensive efficiency all season and can score with the best of them.
Carsen Edwards averages 18.5 points per game and has become a legitimate go-to player. Not many teams in the country have the size to deal with 7’2” Isaac Haas, who chips in 14.9 PPG and forces teams to get creative on both ends of the floor. Dakota Mathias knocks down 46% of his threes while adding 12.4 PPG, and Vincent Edwards contributes 14.5.
The Tar Heels have been a bit under the radar while suffering ten losses this season. But they are the defending champions and the offense can hum. Luke Maye (17.2 PPG) and Joel Berry II (17.1) give North Carolina a formidable inside-outside punch. The Heels have also been impressive on the offensive glass, leading to extra opportunities and easy buckets.
Looking for some lower seeds who fit the offensive profile? Consider 11-seed Arizona State and 12-seed Davidson.
But defense wins championships
If you’re more a ‘defense wins championships’ type of person, consider leaning on these squads.
Any discussion of defense in college basketball starts with the Cavaliers. Virginia’s pack line defense has been the standard in college hoops for years, and 2017-18 was no different. The Cavaliers allowed a paltry 53.4 points per game this season. Want to know how many teams cracked the 70-point mark against Virginia this season? None. This is a ‘take your will’ type of defense.
The Bearcats get lost in the hoopla surrounding the Virginia defense, but they are equally as frustrating as evidenced by their 57.2 points per game allowed. Cincy ranks in the top ten in both 2-pt and 3-pt field goal percentage, while forcing turnovers on 22.3% of opponent’s possessions. Cincinnati has been under the radar all season long, but there is little room for error when taking on the Bearcats.
The Wolverines’ run to the Big Ten championship has thrust them into the spotlight, and they have become a trendy Final Four pick. The defense has spurred the emergence. Their 63.5 points allowed is good for eighth in the country, and Zavier Simpson harassed and harangued every player the opposition put in front of him in the Big Ten tournament.
Lower seeds with high level defensive makeup: 11-seed Syracuse (we don’t recommend trusting the Orange), 12-seed New Mexico State, and 6-seed Houston.
Maybe you prefer to trust next-level talent…
Perhaps in a win-or-go-home situation you would rather place your trust in players who are on their way to the NBA. We’re all aware of the top-level talent on teams like Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas. But where is some of the other future NBA talent lurking?
The Wildcats, who opened the season No. 2 in the country, spent much of the season recovering from an 0-3 trip to the Bahamas in November. Constant distractions surrounding the FBI probe into college basketball didn’t help. But that early season ranking was awarded for a reason, and ‘Zona righted the ship on the way to Pac-12 regular season and tournament championships. Freshman Deandre Ayton (20.3 points, 11.5 rebounds) very well may be the top pick in June’s NBA Draft, and could be just the difference maker Arizona needs to make some noise.
Freshman guard Collin Sexton is electric and is on his way to being a top 10 pick in June. He has carried Alabama with his 19 points per game while his passing game is laced with flair. Sexton has the ability to win a game on his own. He almost carried the Crimson Tide to a victory playing 3 on 5 for more than ten minutes.
If you’ve paid any sort of attention to this college basketball season, you’ve heard about the exploits of Trae Young. The freshman took the country by storm, leading the nation in both points (27.4) and assists (8.8). His ability to score from pretty much anywhere on the court has led to Steph Curry comparisons, and his capability to put the ball in the basket himself or get his teammates in a position to do so makes him extra dangerous. A 4-10 finish to the season for Oklahoma has quelled some of the hype, but Young can still make things happen.
A few others to keep an eye on include Mo Bamba at Texas and Michael Porter Jr. at Missouri, who just returned to action after missing the entire season.
Now you have some preliminary information to start working through those brackets with. TSFJ will drop the in-depth primer on the tourney that will include more detailed looks at each region, potential Final Four threats outside of the top 12 seeds, double-digit seeds to watch, and of course, our picks for the Final Four and national championship.
Josh Naso aka The Silver Fox has a love for all things sports that borders on disorder. Here, he aims to share his thoughts on and passion for those sports with you.