Looking for some help filling out a bracket? Here are some historical trends that can help guide at least a few decisions for your office pool.
DO plan on North Carolina winning both games in Raleigh. When the Tar Heels don’t have to leave the state during the NCAA tournament, they usually win and win big. North Carolina is 14-0 under Roy Williams in the NCAA tournament at a variety of in-state venues (Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh and Winston-Salem), and only one of those victories was decided by less than 10 points. Going back further, the Tar Heels have won their last 27 NCAA games in North Carolina, with the last loss coming in 1979.
DON’T bank on Duke winning anything out west. It is extremely hard to find much of anything at which the Blue Devils haven’t enjoyed tremendous success under coach Mike Krzyzewski, but thriving in postseason games on the West Coast qualifies. Duke is 1-5 in NCAA tournament contests in the Pacific time zone, with the most recent losses coming in 2003 (against Kansas) and 2011 (against Arizona). Both of those games were in Anaheim, Calif., which happens to be the site of this year’s West regional.
DO pick Gonzaga to win at least one game. The Bulldogs are like clockwork, having won their NCAA tournament opener in seven consecutive seasons. In addition, Gonzaga has won its opener in four of its last five trips as a double-digit seed, including as a No. 11 seed against St. John’s in 2011. The West Coast Conference champions are the No. 11 seed in the Midwest and could easily knock off Seton Hall out in Denver. One warning on the Zags: Last year was the first time since 2009 they won another game after their opener.
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DON’T ever bet against Tom Izzo in Michigan State’s second game at a site. The Spartans coach is as masterful at the 48-hour turnaround as anyone in college basketball. Michigan State is 21-4 under Izzo in the second game at a site (round of 32, regional final, national title game), with two of the losses coming against North Carolina. This is hardly welcome news for Virginia, which could find itself playing the Spartans in the postseason for the third consecutive year, this time in a regional final. Michigan State beat Virginia last year in the round of 32.
DO be wary of surprise conference tournament champions. There are teams that get hot in a conference tournament and keep rolling, like the Kemba Walker-led Connecticut that won a national title in 2011. But consider Iowa (2001), Maryland (2004), Syracuse (2006), Pittsburgh (2008) and Florida State (2012) among the teams that sputtered by the end of the first weekend in recent memory after conference title runs. Both Connecticut and Seton Hall could fall into that category in this tournament.
DON’T pick Maryland to flame out in the first round. The Terrapins are historically one of the surest bets in the round of 64, having won 11 consecutive NCAA tournament openers. Much of that was due to Hall of Fame coach Gary Williams, who was on the sideline for 10 of those games. But Mark Turgeon owns an excellent first-round history as well, going 5-1 in the round of 64. After that, things get less certain; Turgeon’s teams at Wichita State, Texas A&M and Maryland are 1-4 all-time in the round of 32. The Terps have also lost their last five round of 32 games and have not escaped the first weekend since 2003.
DO pick a play-in winner to claim at least one more game. Since the field expanded to 68 teams in 2011, a play-in winner has won at least one more game every season. Virginia Commonwealth made the Final Four in 2011; South Florida knocked off Temple in 2012; La Salle reached the second weekend in 2013; Tennessee did the same in 2014 (with two wins in Raleigh); and Dayton handled Providence last year. This year’s best candidate to do the same? Quite possibly Wichita State, which has about as much tournament experience on its roster as anyone in the field.
DON’T get cute and pick a No. 15 seed to win a game. Everyone is well aware that No. 16 seeds are 0-124 (and counting) against No. 1 seeds since 1985, so there’s substantial reason to avoid going for a truly wild upset. But No. 15 seeds are just 7-117 against No. 2 seeds, and only one of them (2013 Florida Gulf Coast) has ever advanced out of the first weekend. Upsets can and do happen (2012 Lehigh and Norfolk State spring to mind), but they remain an exception.
DO count on an Atlantic 10 team winning multiple games. In each of the past eight tournaments, an A-10 team has managed to win at least two games. Granted, Xavier was responsible for some of that run, and the streak was only extended last year because Dayton had to get through a play-in game against Boise State before knocking off Providence. But there are worthy candidates this year, most especially a deep Saint Joseph’s team built around veterans such as DeAndre’ Bembry and Isaiah Miles. The Hawks get Cincinnati in the first round, with Oregon likely waiting two days later in Spokane.
DON’T forget to pick at least one 5/12 upset. In the 31 tournaments since the field expanded to 64 in 1985, only four times have all four No. 5 seeds survived their opening games. One of them was last year, but never over the last three decades has that happened in consecutive seasons. A few of the No. 5 seeds appear vulnerable, including Indiana against a Chattanooga bunch that beat Dayton, Georgia and Illinois. Arkansas-Little Rock, which plays at a deliberate pace and is in the top 20 nationally in turnovers forced on a per-possession basis, has a serious shot to upend Purdue.