We are now less than 24 hours from the NCAA Tournament tipping off (I guess by technicality it already tipped off, but who actually watches play-in games?) which means that like thousands of Americans across the country, you’re scrambling to fill out your bracket. Scrambling to figure out which school will pull off a massive upset, which double-digit seed will make the second weekend, and which round the Kansas Jayhawks will suffer their next disastrous upset.
Oh, March. This truly is the best time of year.
Thankfully, that’s why I’m here. While I won’t give you any money-back guarantees with selections (mainly because I have no money to give you) what I can do is give you all the random information I’ve stored in my brain these last few months watching college hoops. Again, none of the information guarantees anything. But hey, at least you’ll be informed when you fill out your bracket, right?
So what do you need to know as you put the finishing touches on this year’s bracket? Here are 25 things to consider as you put the finishing touches on that bracket.
1) The North Carolina Tar Heels open their NCAA Tournament Friday in Charlotte against Lipscomb. The Tar Heels are 33-1 in NCAA Tournament games played in the state of North Carolina, and 11-0 in games played in Charlotte. Again, I’m not telling you how to fill out your bracket. But picking the Tar Heels to get upset this weekend probably isn’t your smartest move.
2) Some saw San Diego State as a “surprise” winner of the Mountain West Tournament – but if you followed them closely this year, they’re really not. The Aztecs went 19-10 during the regular season, but of their 10 losses, seven came when senior point guard was either out or severely limited by injury. But when he was in the lineup? San Diego State beat Nevada twice, Gonzaga, Georgia and a handful of other quality teams. They also swept through the Mountain West Conference Tournament, and should be a trendy upset pick in Round 1 this weekend.
3) Nevada has become a trendy lower seed that many think will make a deep run, but beware: The Wolf Pack have been ravaged by injuries over the course of the season. Eric Musselman’s club is down to just seven scholarship players and actually had to bring over two players from the football team, just so they could run full practices. With that said, if Nevada can avoid foul trouble, they can still very much make a deep run in the Big Dance.
4) Mick Cronin has made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament just once in his 11 years as a head coach, making him the biggest talker, relative to small tournament success, of anyone in college basketball. Out of curiosity, I wonder how many times Kentucky, Indiana and Louisville have made it past the first weekend during that stretch?
5) I mentioned Kansas’ NCAA Tournament struggles at the top of the article, and that’s a little bit unfair for a program with a national championship, title game appearance and three more Elite Eight’s over the last decade. What’s indisputable however, is that when Self does lose, it’s usually in the second game of an NCAA Tournament weekend, when he has less time to prepare his team. Of Self’s last eight NCAA Tourney losses, seven have come in the second game of the weekend, meaning either the second round, Elite Eight or national championship game.
6) Bob Huggins is the anti-Bill Self: His teams are great on short rest but not nearly as good when a team has a full week to prepare for them. Huggins’ last four NCAA Tournament losses have either come in the first round of the NCAA Tournament or in the Sweet 16, when the opposition has plenty of time to game-plan.
7) It seems like virtually overnight Jay Wright went from “coach that can’t win the big one” to one of the most respected names in the sport. In his defense, a national championship tends to do that for a guy. Still, the simple reality is that as great as that championship was a few years ago, it was the exception for Jay Wright, not the rule. Get this, outside of the one NCAA title run, Villanova hasn’t made it past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2009. Nine years! They’ve lost twice in the second round as a one-seed, in 2015 to NC State and last year to Wisconsin.
Kind of a crazy stat I came across today: Outside of their national championship run in 2016 – which admittedly, was an incredible run – Villanova hasn't advanced out of the first weekend of any other NCAA Tournament since 2009. 2009!!!
— Aaron Torres (@Aaron_Torres) March 14, 2018
8) It’s a similar deal with Shaka Smart. When Smart made the 2011 Final Four at VCU, he was hailed as the next, great coach in the sport. Unfortunately it hasn’t really worked out that way. Since that 2011 run, Smart has won just two NCAA Tournament games total and never made it out of the second round.
9) We all remember Butler’s back-to-back NCAA title game appearances in 2010 and 2011, but what most don’t realize is that they’ve been really good in the last couple tournaments as well. In each of the last three years, Butler has won at least one NCAA Tournament game, advancing to the Sweet 16 last year. Unfortunately all those runs were with Chris Holtmann as a head coach. This year’s coach, LaVall Jordan has never coached an NCAA Tournament game.
10) Don’t let Clemson’s third place in the ACC fool you: They took advantage of a wildly easy schedule to get there. In an unbalanced ACC, the Tigers only played Duke, Louisville and Virginia once each, while beating Boston College and Georgia Tech (who finished 11th and 12th in the league respectively) twice. I don’t think it’d shock anyone to see the Tigers lose in Round 1 to New Mexico State.
11) Speaking of New Mexico State, check out this crazy stat: This will be their third NCAA Tournament appearance in four years, and they’ve done it under three different coaches. New Mexico State is quietly one of the most consistent programs in all of college basketball.
12) Davidson has been getting buzz as a potential team that can pull an upset, in large part because head coach Bob McKillop has “been here before.” Unfortunately the narrative that McKillop is some great NCAA Tournament coach is flat out wrong. Outside of one, magical run with Stephen Curry in 2008, McKillop has never won a single NCAA Tournament game.
13) If you’re looking to make some money off the tournament, Michigan might just be your best bet. The Wolverines had the best record Against the Spread of any NCAA Tournament team, finishing 22-11-1 against the number overall.
14) Many have questioned why Oklahoma is in the NCAA Tournament at all, and well, to be blunt, it’s a question worth asking. Want the craziest stat you’ll find this March? Oklahoma hasn’t won a game away from home – road or neutral – since December. Yes, you read that correctly. They haven’t won a single game in the calendar year of 2018 away from Norman, Oklahoma. And I doubt that changes this week.
15) This isn’t really an “NCAA Tournament fact” per se, but worth noting: USC had the highest RPI (33) of any team to ever not make the Big Dance. The Trojans deserve to be in the NCAA Tournament.
16) Same with Middle Tennessee State. Keep in mind that in a year in which the committee supposedly “valued” wins away from home, the Blue Raiders had the most road wins in all of college basketball (12). Yet they still somehow got left out, while Oklahoma – who again, hasn’t won a road or neutral site game since December – is in. What a time to be alive, huh?
17) South Dakota State’s Mike Daum averaged 23.8 points per game this season, the second highest total of any NCAA Tournament player (only Trae Young scored more). And for those who are thinking “Yeah, but he did it against weak competition” keep in mind that Daum put up 21 against Kansas, 26 against Ole Miss and 31 against Wichita State earlier this season. Kid can flat out play. He can also do enough to lead to an upset against Ohio State on Thursday.
18) Worth noting: Marshall attempted the second most three-pointers of any team in the NCAA Tournament, trailing only Villanova. The Thundering Herd jacked up 963 on the season, which is an average of roughly 28 per game. They made an average of over 10 per game. That shouldn’t be a surprise considering that Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni is the brother of Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni.
19) Speaking of Marshall, want a reason to tag them as an upset pick? Their game against Wichita State tips off at 10:30 a.m. local time in San Diego on Friday morning. How focused do you think the Shockers will really be for this one?
20) At one point, Auburn was a trendy pick to make a deep tourney run, but that excitement seems to have died down, especially as the Tigers have struggled with injuries. An injury to sophomore forward Anfernee McLeMore was an especially big killer, as Auburn has lost three of five games without him since he suffered a season-ending injury. The Tigers were 23-4 with him in the lineup.
21) Texas A&M has been the classic “Jekyll & Hyde” team, but maybe it’s best they get away from College Station for a little while. This is a team whose best wins virtually all either came on a neutral court or road venue, beating Auburn, West Virginia, USC, Oklahoma State and Penn State away from home this season.
22) How good is Texas Tech coach Chris Beard? This is a guy who was coaching at some DII school called Angelo State just three years ago. No, I’m not making that up. Since then he led Arkansas-Little Rock to an NCAA Tournament in 2016 (and an upset of Purdue in the process) and then moved onto Texas Tech before last season. If Texas Tech makes a deep run, he could be the breakout star of this year’s Big Dance.
23) A year ago, many wondered if Gonzaga would ever break through to a Final Four, now it’s worth asking if they can do it twice in two seasons. The Zags enter the tournament with the nation’s longest winning streak at 14 games, and with a veteran backcourt, and three future pros in the frontcourt, they’re a team perfectly built for a deep March run.
24) With three senior starters who have played in two straight NCAA Tournaments, Seton Hall had the buzz of a team that could make a deep tournament run just a few weeks ago. Unfortunately that buzz fizzled quickly after the Pirates went just 6-8 down the stretch.
25) This isn’t something that anyone reading this site needs to know, but is worth repeating here. For all the talk from some national media outlets that John Calipari “hasn’t won enough” in the NCAA Tournament, remember that in eight NCAA Tournaments since he got to Kentucky, the Wildcats have made six Elite Eights, four Final Fours, two national championship games and won a title. To which I ask: If Cal isn’t winning enough, who is?