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A completely flawless guide to March Madness picks

It's near impossible to predict what college kids playing in an amateur basketball league will do, but we're here to help. Enjoy the madness!

Welcome to our completely flawless guide to picking the winners in the March Madness tournament. Or, if we’re being honest: “One idiot’s guide to picking games, played by teenagers, so there may actually be some flaws.”

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Whatever the stakes of the pool you’re joining, just remember you’re trying to predict what hormone-addled college kids playing in an amateur basketball league will do. Could you predict what you’d do day-to-day as a teenager? Or what the mood and behavior of, possibly, your own teenagers will do from moment to moment?

And we’re picking through a bracket of 64-plus teams full of teenagers, in a spotlight on national TV, and trying to sort how they’ll perform with lots of other stuff going on — girls, friends, parents, social media, maybe parties (even though college kids would never party or drink underage when there is a big exam or game coming up).

All that said, let’s pick some games!

Some background on our methods

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In order to make things a little easier on you, and streamline the process, we did some research into what well-known “experts” think and consolidated them so it’s easier to digest. That way, you don’t have to read every single column, or decide if you like Jay Bilas’s picks or Pat Forde’s.

For instance, No. 13 South Dakota State was picked as a Cinderella by multiple experts that expect them to topple No. 4 Providence. That makes it a nice pick as an upset special, unless you’re the type of person that wants to go against what others think. Then, well Providence is your pick! Whatever way you think, there’s a nugget in there for you!

Still, we’re not here to comb game by game and tell you who to pick in your office pool (or whatever other means you’re going about this).

But let’s just start with some house rules, some insights, and even some educated guesses for predicting the completely unpredictable.

  1. Find consistency. Which teams have the least fluctuation in their performance from game to game? Rather, they score within a range and outscore teams by a steady margin without a high standard deviation.
  2. Strength of schedule. Who played tough teams, and won? Who played easy teams, and won? There’s a big difference there.
  3. Who’s hot? A team that went 10-1 in November is a lot different from a team that is winning now. Wins now mean momentum, which might not mean a lot in sports, but it can with unpredictable teenagers.
  4. Who has the best player(s)? Sometimes, it’s that simple. The best player steps up and wins big games. The team with multiple studs? They’re going deep.
  5. Bypassing adversity. Let’s just say Michigan isn’t our example here, what with their fiery coach, a former NBA player, acting like an amateur, yet needing to lead amateurs though a tough field of multiple games against far more composed coaches.
  6. DON’T go with your gut. Who cares what school you went to? What team you want to root for. Sure, make those picks, but know that you’re lowering your odds to win with bias affecting your choices.

On to the experts!

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Round 1 upset specials:

Rodger Sherman, The Ringer

No. 13 South Dakota State vs. No. 4 Providence

No. 14 Colgate vs. No. 3 Wisconsin

No. 15 St. Peter’s vs. No. 2 Kentucky

Pat Forde, Sports Illustrated

No. 10 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 7 Ohio State

No. 9 Creighton vs. No. 8 San Diego State

No. 13 South Dakota State vs. No. 4 Providence

No. 10 Miami vs. No. 7 USC

Seth Davis, The Athletic

No. 11 Rutgers vs. No. 6 Alabama

No. 10 Davidson vs. No. 7 Michigan State

No. 13 Chattanooga vs. No. 4 Illinois

No. 10 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 7 Ohio State

No. 9 Creighton vs. No. 8 San Diego State

No. 10 Miami vs. No. 7 USC

Matt Norlander, CBS Sports

No. 13 Vermont vs. No. 4 Arkansas

No. 9 Marquette vs. No. 8 North Carolina

No. 12 Indiana vs. No. No. 5 Saint Mary’s

No. 11 Virginia Tech vs. No. 6 Texas

No. 13 South Dakota State vs. No. 4 Providence

No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 6 Colorado State

No. 12 UAB vs. No. 5 Houston

No. 9 TCU vs. No. 8 Seton Hall

Jay Bilas, ESPN

No. 13 Vermont vs. No. 4 Arkansas

No. 11 Rutgers vs. No. 6 Alabama

No. 11 Virginia Tech vs. No. 6 Texas

No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 6 Colorado State

No. 10 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 7 Ohio State

No. 9 Creighton vs. No. 8 San Diego State

No. 13 South Dakota State vs. No. 4 Providence

No. 11 Iowa State vs. No. 6 LSU

No. 10 Miami vs. No. 7 USC

Dick Vitale, ESPN

No. 10 Davidson vs. No. 7 Michigan State

No. 9 Memphis vs. No. 8 Boise State

No. 12 UAB vs. No. 5 Houston

No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 6 Colorado State

No. 10 Loyola Chicago vs. No. 7 Ohio State

No. 9 Creighton vs. No. 8 San Diego State

No. 13 South Dakota State vs. No.4 Providence

No. 10 Miami vs. No. 7 USC

Where is the consensus?

during the second round game of NCAA Basketball Tournament at BMO Harris Bradley Center on March 20, 2014 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Based on the research of these and a few other experts, here are the upset picks for the first round backed by multiple folks, and a small snippet on why according to experts from a variety of outlets.

No. 13 South Dakota State over No. 4 Providence

Bilas: “They are the best shooting team in the country. … The problem will be South Dakota State’s scoring and shooting. Providence prides itself on taking away 3s and forcing you into tough 2s. But I smell an upset here. And it is worth the risk…”

Sherman: “Is picking South Dakota State to win as a no. 13 seed even an upset? While the bracket seedings would indicate as much, other measures suggest this game is really more like a coin flip.

“South Dakota State is drastically underseeded. … On the flip side, Providence is significantly worse than your average no. 4 seed.”

No. 10 Loyola Chicago over No. 7 Ohio State

Davis: “Picking Loyola Chicago over Ohio State was easy. The Buckeyes suffered a slew of injuries and lost four of their last five games. The Ramblers got 6’1″ junior guard Marquise Kennedy back from an eight-game absence and steamrolled through the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. The one weakness Loyola Chicago has is lack of size up front, but Ohio State doesn’t have the personnel to exploit that.”

No. 9 Creighton over No. 8 San Diego State

Forde: “Creighton has cranked up the defense and slowed the pace, with 7’1” sophomore center Ryan Kalkbrenner being named the Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

“(SDSU) remain ugly offensively … (and) underperformed as a trendy No. 6 seed last year.”

No. 13 Vermont over No. 4 Arkansas

Bilas: “(Vermont) is an elite passing and cutting team that makes smart use of jump stops and shot fakes and can hurt you in a variety of ways.

“This is a huge upset, but one worth risking. Vermont is very good, and Arkansas doesn’t shoot well. Should Arkansas overwhelm Vermont with its athleticism? Yes. But, that is what upsets are about.”

Nailing your upset picks in the first round is the key to winning your tournament challenge. Because if you pick a team to win in round one and they lose, you’ll be wrong on much of the action in the following rounds as well.

Pick upsets early, and as the tournament progresses, stick with the higher seeds, because more often than not the teams that make the Elite Eight and Final Four are seeded highly.

Enioy the madness!


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Habeab Kurdi
You could say Habeab is bit like Roy Kent — here, there, every-f’ing-where. Immersed in journalism for 20 years now, he writes about life — from sports to profiles, beer to food, film, coffee, music, and more. Hailing from Austin, Texas, he now resides in the gorgeous seaside city of Gdynia, Poland. Not one to take things too seriously, other than his craft, BB has worked in brewing and serving beer, roasting and pouring coffee, and in Austin’s finest gin distillery among myriad other things. A graduate of the University of Texas, he once worked for the Chicago Sun-Times and Austin American-Statesman when newspapers were still a thing, then dabbled in social media and marketing. If there is water, he will swim there — from the freezing seas of Copenhagen and Gdynia, to the warm waters in Texas and Thailand.