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March Madness Predictions

Bill Stafford | Sports Columnist | 03/23/2011 

The fastest month of the year has come again as everyone feverishly scribbles in their NCAA March Madness brackets. This is one of my favorite times of the year because it’s interesting for me to watch hundreds of thousands of people care so much about something they had very little interest in only a few short weeks before.
All kidding aside, for those of us who take part in the craziness of bracketology, knowledgeable or not, it can be one of the simplest pleasures of our day to see a last second buzzer beater, an underdog upset, or a wicked from-behind victory. Turning on the last seconds of a random college basketball game is one of my favorite things to do and I’m often rewarded with a great finish.
The first ever NCAA championship game was played on March 27, 1939, where after surviving the whopping field of eight teams, Oregon defeated Ohio State in Evanston, Ill., to be crowned the first every NCAA men’s basketball champions. As for dominant champions, the UCLA Bruins have the most championships with 11, Kentucky trails with 7, Indiana and North Carolina each have 5, Duke and Kansas have ended up with 3, and many other teams are tied, winning the championship twice.
Although that info might be useful, if you’re tearing your 2011 bracket apart like me, here are some more specific tips for next year.
First for an easy one, since the field expanded into 64 teams in 1985, no No. 1 seed has ever lost to a 16th seed and which makes No. 1 seeds 104-0 come tourney time. Fifteen seeds have quite a hard time pulling off the No. 2 upset too. In the last four tournaments, 15 seeds are 0-36, which is the largest drought since the expansion in 1985.

For the past two bracket seasons, there have been a total of 10 upsets by seed. The tournament averages eight a year and the most upsets in one tournament was 13 in 2001, and if you got risky in 2000, you were rewarded with only three upsets.
All of that is well and good for the first round which is supposed to be the easy round to predict, right? As we move into the next round, we see that nearly every No. 1 seed has made the Sweet 16 since 1985. Thank you Kansas State last year for destroying my bracket by letting Northern Iowa top you. Even then, however, it was the first top seed not to make the Sweet in six years. The Cinderella teams have lost some gusto, however. From 1997 to 2006, at least one team seeded seventh or worse, but that hasn’t happened in three of the past for years.
If you’ve kept up and made it to the final four and championship game, here is my last advice. Only two times in the history of the tournament has the Final Four been without a No. 1 seed and 27 of the past 40 Final Four games have involved No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. Don’t get too jumpy on the No. 1 seeds however, because one of the most important things to know about picking your Final Four is that only one time in 2008 has the Final Four consisted of all No. 1 seeds, and three out of four in the Final Four has only happened three times.
And now for the big dance, and if you’ve survived this far you should feel fortunate you’re not one of those sorry souls holding out for your NIT bracket predictions. To win this whole thing, a team must win six games in a row, and the last 10 championship teams not only have done that in the regular season, but added two games for an eight-game winning streak somewhere along the way. That seems simple but easily overlooked. Also, no team has ever won the national championship after losing their first round game of their conference tournament, and eight of the last 10 champions have won at least a share of their conference title.
Got all of that now? Predicting the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is serious business, but shouldn’t be taken too seriously. The purpose of is to have fun, and many people with very little knowledge of the tournament predict the games and turn out doing very well, which attracts even more people to this wonderful month we call March Madness.

*Statistics credited to Keith Lipscomb and Chris Fallica of ESPN.