Three steps to winning your bracket contest:
Step I: Without doing any research, put pen to paper and write down the schools you believe deserved a higher seed than the selection committee gave them.
Step II: Summon the courage to advance each school, unless it faces a school you just can’t picture it beating.
Here’s a half-dozen schools that deserved higher seeds:
• No. 4 seed Louisville: Ranked No. 5 in the Associated Press poll, which translates to a No. 2 seed. Defending national champion, done in by the dreaded RPI, a system designed to reward schools for assembling difficult schedules first and determining the quality of teams second. Cards ranked 19th in RPI, seven spots behind VCU.
• No. 11 seed Tennessee: Volunteers blasted No. 1 seed Virginia, 87-52, on Dec. 30, but March has been the Vols’ best month. They won their first four March games, all against SEC competition, by an average of 27 points. Their only March loss came by seven points to No. 1 overall seed Florida.
The Vols play at a slow tempo that frustrates opponents. They hit the boards hard at both ends, play strong man-to-man defense, take good shots and have three experienced, talented, big-time players.
Junior Jarnell Stokes and senior Jeronne Maymon, a pair of 6-foot-8, 260-pound rebounding machines, and 6-6 senior Jordan McRae (shoots threes at a .371 clip and is averaging 18.6 points) make Tennessee a tough, tough out.
Iowa will want to run in today’s game between play-in opponents, but the Vols won’t let them.
• No. 4 seed Michigan State: Spartans a popular Final Four pick for a reason. They’re loaded with experienced talent and are healthier than they have been in months.
Worthy of a No. 2 seed, Michigan State is the smart pick to win the East.
• No. 8 seed Kentucky: Crazy statements will abound in March, none wilder than those spoken about John Calipari, a lightning rod of a college basketball coach. Common statement: “He can recruit, but he can’t coach.” Nonsense. His team is the youngest of 351 in Div. I, so the players aren’t always going to look well-coached, because until this year they took most of their advice from AAU coaches. Calipari took Massachusetts and Memphis to the Final Four, facts those who don’t like his personality too eagerly forget. The guy can coach, and although his team is super young, it’s even more talented than it is young.
• No. 7 seed New Mexico: Look for teams that have three really good players — preferably one post, one wing and one point. Center Alex Kirk, a 7-footer, is a good college basketball player, combo guard Kendall Williams really good, power forward Cameron Bairstow great.
Joel Embiid scored 16 second-half points vs. the Lobos to turn a one-point game into a blowout.
Schools seeded ahead of New Mexico not as deserving as Lobos: Saint Louis, a No. 5 seed, and 6-seeds UMass and Baylor.
• No. 9 seed Oklahoma State: Marcus Smart’s incredible hands force turnovers, trigger fast breaks and bring out the best in talented teammates, which could lead to blowouts. At the end of close games, Smart can hurt his team more than help it because of his desire to take big shots, but if Travis Ford can convince his super sophomore to bank more on Markel Brown and Phil Forte, look out.
Step III: Advance Florida, Michigan State, Creighton and Louisville to your Final Four.