The best week of the year is finally here! This is the reason why we ponder the impact of high-school All-Americans, the importance of having a smart/veteran coach, and exactly how many different “Wildcats” can make the Final 4. For those of you who need some last-minute bracket advice grounded in historical facts/trends, see below for our Sweetest 16 Suggestions. For the rest of you, enjoy the madness!!
TIP #1: No team that lost its opening game in its conference tournament has ever gone on to win the NCAA title that same year.
STRATEGY: The extra few days of rest have not proven helpful in the past so take a long hard look at TCU (2-PT OT loss to Kansas State in Big 12 tourney quarterfinals) before penciling them in as your champ.
TIP #2: Since 1979 only 2 national champions did not have a McDonald’s All-American on their roster (2002 Maryland/2014 UConn).
STRATEGY: A coach who cannot recruit the best high school players usually fails to win it all so beware of picking Purdue/Xavier to go all the way.
TIP #3: The last coach to win a title in his very 1st year as coach at a school was Tubby Smith at Kentucky in 1998.
STRATEGY: History is not on the side of Butler (LaVall Jordan)/Missouri (Cuonzo Martin).
TIP#4: Since UNLV won it all in 1990, 26 of the past 27 champs have come from a power-conference (except for UConn in 2014): ACC (10), SEC (6), Big East (6), Pac-12 (2), Big 12 (1), Big 10 (1).
STRATEGY: You might want to think twice before picking anyone from the A-10/WCC to win it all.
TIP #5: Only 3 coaches with 4 or fewer prior tournament appearances have won the title since 1985 (Steve Fisher/Tom Izzo/Kevin Ollie).
STRATEGY: Teams like Clemson (Brad Brownell has 4 prior tourney appearances)/Florida (Mike White has 1 prior tourney appearance) might need a little more seasoning before they can win it all.
TIP #6: Each champ since 2002 had a strength of schedule that was among the top-75 in the nation.
STRATEGY: You have to play the best to learn how to beat the best you might want to stay away from Houston (#82)/St. Bonaventure (#88).
TIP #7: Murray State has played in the most NCAA tournaments (15) without ever making the Sweet 16.
STRATEGY: The Racers have also not been a #12 seed in a while so maybe this is the year they break the streak.
TIP #8: There are 6 active coaches who have won at least 70% of their NCAA tournament games (minimum 5 wins).
STRATEGY: Do not expect Mike Krzyzewski of Duke (76.5%)/John Calipari of Kentucky (75%) to be catching an early flight home.
TIP #9: There are 3 teams who have won at least 90% of their games in the round of 64 (minimum 5 games).
STRATEGY: Kansas (32-2)/North Carolina (29-1) are near-automatic.
TIP #10: There are 8 teams who have won at least 75% of their games in the round of 32 (minimum 5 games).
STRATEGY: Arizona (18-4) is looking good vs. the Davidson-Kentucky winner if they can get by Buffalo, but the TCU-play-in winner better pray for a miracle if they have to face Michigan State (17-5).
TIP #11: There are 8 teams who have won at least 75% of their Sweet 16 games (minimum 5 games).
STRATEGY: Michigan (12-2)/Florida (9-2) have played great in their Sweet 16 games so North Carolina/Purdue should not rest on their higher-seeded laurels.
TIP #12: There are 9 teams who have won at least 70% of their Elite 8 games (minimum 5 games).
STRATEGY: Ohio State has won 11 of its 15 Elite 8 games (73.3%) so keep an eye on them if they can make it to the 2nd Sunday.
TIP #13: There are 6 teams who have won at least 70% of their Final 4 games (minimum 5 games).
STRATEGY: Kentucky is 12-5 in the Final 4 so if you pick them to survive the South Region then you might want to pick them to get all the way to the title game.
TIP #14: There are 11 teams who have won at least 83% of their NCAA tournament games in their home state (minimum 5 games).
STRATEGY: How pissed is Houston (5-0 in the state of Texas) that they are playing in Wichita instead of Dallas?!
TIP #15: There are 10 teams who are undefeated in their NCAA tournament games in a specific state (minimum 5 games).
STRATEGY: Duke could not be happier to be playing in Pittsburgh (6-0 in the state of Pennsylvania).
TIP #16: There are 11 teams who have won at least 67% of their NCAA tournament games as an at-large team (minimum 5 games).
STRATEGY: Do not sleep on North Carolina because even though they did not win the ACC tourney they still have a terrific track record when they do not get an automatic bid (64-25).