If you're like 99% of the adult population in America, you're working on your NCAA bracket this week (due by Noon ET on Thursday). And if you get it just right, there might even be some money in it for you. Here are five rules for picking your bracket that will give you an advantage over anyone who hasn't read this:
Number 1: Don't trust the SEC.
Only three SEC teams made the Big Dance this year and only two of them were even worthy (Miss. St. won the SEC tourney to "earn" an automatic bid). Expect all three SEC teams to go out in the first round. MSU is terrible and lost to just about every out of conference opponent they faced. Tennessee has a nice out of conference win against Marquette, but that's it. They lost to Gonzaga twice, Temple, Kansas and Memphis. In conference, UT struggled against the "better" teams like Kentucky, LSU and Auburn. And LSU's out of conference schedule was a joke. The "big" win was against a mediocre Wash. St. team. They lost to Texas A&M, Utah and Xavier. Pathetic.
The SEC is terrible. I wish there was a stronger way to state this.
Number 2: Trust the Big East
They've been the strongest conference in college basketball all year long. There's a reason 9 Big East teams were ranked going into the conference schedule. It's because the Big East generally beat up on other conferences. Georgetown and Notre Dame were top 10 teams before they started facing other Big East teams.
Here's a look at some Big East out of conference wins:
Pittsburgh: Florida St., Siena
UCONN: Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Michigan
Syracuse: Memphis, Kansas, Florida
The Big East team I actually worry about is Louisville. Perhaps they figured out how to flip a switch because they were pretty bad early in the season with losses to Western Kentucky, Minnesota and UNLV. They're hot now, though, so it's hard to bet against them.
Number 3: The Hilltoppers are ready for an upset
They've already gotten a signature win over Louisville this year and have also tested themselves against teams like Georgia, Florida St. and Mississippi St. They won't be intimidated by Illinois. And the Illini will likely be without their best perimeter defender which is good news for guard-heavy Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers three guards all average more than 12 ppg and hit more than 36% of their 3-point shots. Illinois' only chance is to slow down the game and use their 7-footer. It won't work.
Number 4: Utah will not be upset by Arizona
Listen to the oddsmakers and a Wildcats win in this game wouldn't actually be an upset. For the life of me, I can't figure out why anyone would expect the Wildcats to win. They are far and away the worst at large team in the Big Dance. It took a win over a terrible Stanford team to close the regular season just to get to .500 in a relatively weak Pac 10. They were 11-8 on Jan. 21st and closed the season losing 5 out of 6. A seven game winning streak over mostly mediocre teams saved their season. The Utes' Luke Nevill will neutralize the Wildcats' best weapon, Jordan Hill. And Arizona will go home.
Number 5: The four #1 seeds won't make the Final Four, but they'll all be close
It's a lock. All four #1 seeds will make the Elite Eight. The bumps they'll encounter aren't nearly big enough to stop them. The only possible upset is Wake over Louisville. Other than that, it's a cakewalk.
The Final Four is a different story, however. Louisville faces a tough matchup with Michigan St. (the only legitimate Big 10 threat in the tourney). Pitt faces a tough matchup with Duke or even Nova, who beat Pitt by 10 in the regular season. UConn will be the most popular pick to fail because they have a run-in with Memphis planned. And I wouldn't want to be UNC looking at a matchup with Player of the Year Blake Griffin and Oklahoma or maybe even a strong Syracuse squad.
If you're looking for a repeat of last year's chalk, you'll be disappointed. I can't tell you which #1 (or #1s) will fail to get there (after all, I'm facing some of you in bracket challenges), but I can tell you the chalk ain't happening!