Bracket Fever -- it infects sports fans every March, and the only cure is a steady diet of college hoops.
With the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament just around the corner, brackets and links will be flying around offices and filling inboxes in the frenzy to predict 63 winners -- or at least enough winners to give you bragging rights over your friends and coworkers.
But do you actually know what you’re doing when picking upsets and advancing favorites along the road to the Final Four? Of course, if you want to base your selections on the color of the teams’ uniforms or how cute their mascots are, be our guest. And if you want to send South Dakota State to the Elite Eight because you visited Mount Rushmore once, or put Harvard in your Final Four because you think SAT scores trump fast-break scores, it’s your lunch money.
Otherwise, before you apply the finishing touches to your unbeatable brackets, take a look at our handy-dandy “Need for Seed” infographic and go to school on some of the trends and outliers that have developed since the NCAA expanded the field to 64 teams in 1985:
If your pool gives you bonus points for picking upsets -- say, 13 points if you correctly pick a No. 13 seed to advance versus just four points for a winning No. 4 seed -- you’re going to want to sprinkle a few strategically chosen upsets throughout your bracket.
But you don’t want to just blindly pick a passel of underdogs in the first round. You need to choose wisely. And keep in mind that the average number of first-round upsets is eight, or 25 percent of the first-round games. The fewest upsets (three in 2000) and most upsets (13 in 2001) came in back-to-back years, so trend-spotting is tough. But if you think recent results matter, there have been 10 first-round upsets in three of the past four years.
When looking for value picks -- lower-seeded teams that have a decent shot at pulling off the first-round shocker -- here are a few matchups to consider:
No. 11 (38 wins) vs. No. 6 (74 wins)
No. 12 (38 wins) vs. No. 5 (74 wins)
In the past three years, No. 11 seeds are 7-5 in the first round, while last year two No. 12 seeds -- VCU and South Florida -- pulled off first-round upsets.
No. 10 (45 wins) vs. No. 7 (67 wins)
No. 13 (24 wins) vs. No. 4 (88 wins)
In 2009 and 2010, six of the eight No. 10 seeds won their first-round games, and the No. 10 seeds swept all four games in 1999. That’s all part of a bigger trend -- in the past 17 years, No. 7 seeds are only 36-32 in the first round. Meanwhile, No. 13 seeds have averaged one win per year over the past 12 tournaments, including two each in 2001 (Kent State over Indiana, Indiana State over Oklahoma) and 2008 (Siena over Vanderbilt, San Diego over Connecticut). That’s some rich bonus action if your crystal ball is accurate.
No. 9 (58 wins) vs. No. 8 (54 wins)
These games have been split 50/50 since 1996, but the No. 9 seeds have a slight advantage overall, so it’s definitely worth considering an upset pick or two here.
If you want to make waves and pin your hopes to some real Cinderella teams, just know what you’re up against. The top three seeds are pretty tough to beat.
No. 14 (16 wins) vs. No. 3 (96 wins)
In the past six years, only one No. 14 seed has advanced to the second round -- Ohio, which beat Georgetown in 2010. Sure, we all remember No. 14 Bucknell knocking off No. 3 Kansas in 2005, but that merely underscores how rare these upsets are.
No. 15 (6 wins) vs. No. 2 (106 wins)
Last year was a banner year for No. 15 teams. After winning only four games in 27 years, Cinderella's slightly prettier cousins pulled off two stunners in 2012. Overall, however, No. 2 seeds are as close to a sure thing as you can get.
For the record, here are the six lowest-seeded teams ever to advance:
• 1991, No. 15 Richmond over No. 2 Syracuse 73-69
• 1993, No. 15 Santa Clara over No. 2 Arizona 64-61
• 1997, No. 15 Coppin State over No. 2 South Carolina 78-65
• 2001, No. 15 Hampton over No. 2 Iowa State 58-57
• 2012, No. 15 Norfolk State over No. 2 Missouri 86-84
• 2012, No. 15 Lehigh over No. 2 Duke 75-70
No. 16 (0 wins) vs. No. 1 (112 wins)
Sure, No. 1 seeds have had a few close calls, but you have to look back more than two decades to find the most recent time a No. 16 seed put a scare into one of the big boys. In 1989, No. 1 Georgetown edged No. 16 Princeton 50-49 in the East Regional, while No. 1 Oklahoma slipped past East Tennessee State 72-71 in the Southeast Regional. And in 1990, No. 16 Murray State took No. 1 Michigan State to overtime before falling 75-71 in the first round of the Southeast Regional bracket. Last year, the four No. 1 seeds won their first-round games by an average of almost 16 points, so tread carefully when deciding whether you think this is the year a No. 16 seed makes history.