Ordinarily, the rule when filling out brackets is that the First Four games in Dayton should be ignored because those teams are all incapable of winning a game when the “real” tournament starts on Thursday.
Welcome to 2018, where two of the last three teams picked for this tournament not only will win their opening round games — but will then go on to win more games later in the week, and therefore should be showing up on billions of the gazillions of brackets that will be filled out in the coming days by people who will try to line their pockets by winning all those $5 and $10 bills that coworkers happily deposited into the office NCAA Tournament pool.
America, you need to know about St. Bonaventure and Syracuse.
Many people did not think they merited spots in this field. They are wrong. The Bonnies are seriously underseeded and should not be going to Dayton. The Orange — not to make this argument too scientific — lost a bunch of games to a bunch of teams that are really good.
It’s finding the upset winners that will either make you or break you in NCAA bracket pools. When Syracuse and St. Bonaventure are still playing this weekend, those wins will help you have bragging rights in the office for the next 52 weeks. Because — spoiler alert — in the end, the higher seeds will be the last teams standing.
A year ago in this space, we told you that North Carolina would win the national championship, so clearly the information contained here is guaranteed to help you win your pool. (We also told you that Vermont was going to the Sweet 16, so take all of this with many grains of salt.)
Before we begin, take note that over the 20 years, there have been some undeniable trends on the way to determining the NCAA champion.
• They all have fewer than 10 losses entering the tournament.
• They all have at least 26 wins entering the tournament. (There is one exception to this rule, that being Syracuse in 2003.)
• The West Coast is not the best coast: No team from a western state has won the title since Arizona in 1997. The westernmost champ in the last 20 years was Kansas in 2008.
• Finally, don’t be ranked No. 1 going into the tournament. Sadly, that means we have to eliminate Virginia. Which this year, makes absolutely no sense.
And now, we must answer some burning questions.
• Will all four No. 1 seeds make it to the Final Four? Nope. It’s only happened once, in 2008.
• Will all four No. 1 seeds lose before the Final Four? Again, nope. That’s only happened three times — 1980, 2006 and 2011.
• Will a longshot make the Final Four? In each of the last five seasons, one team seeded No. 7 or higher has gotten there. But this year, won’t happen.
• Should I pick the higher seed in every game? Don’t. Nobody likes that person.
So without further ado … the picks.
FIRST ROUND WINNERS: Virginia, Kansas State, Kentucky, Arizona, Miami, Tennessee, Texas, Cincinnati. Nary an upset to be found, with the exception of Texas over Nevada and Kansas State over Creighton. Kentucky and Arizona will have to work for their wins. Miami could struggle, but Lonnie Walker IV will get one win from what’ll almost certainly be his lone NCAA appearance.
SECOND ROUND: Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Cincinnati. Mild upset with Kentucky over Arizona, but that’s not really an upset.
REGIONAL SEMIFINAL: Virginia over Kentucky, Tennessee over Cincinnati.
REGIONAL FINAL: Virginia over Tennessee.
FIRST ROUND: Villanova, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, St. Bonaventure (yes, saying the Bonnies will beat UCLA and then Florida), Texas Tech, Butler, Purdue.
SECOND ROUND: Villanova (in a very scary game), West Virginia, St. Bonaventure, Purdue.
REGIONAL SEMIFINAL: Villanova over West Virginia, Purdue over St. Bonaventure.
REGIONAL FINAL: Villanova over Purdue.
FIRST ROUND: Kansas, N.C. State, New Mexico State, Charleston, Syracuse (winning a play-in game first, then topping TCU), Michigan State, Oklahoma, Duke.
SECOND ROUND: Kansas, New Mexico State, Michigan State, Duke.
REGIONAL SEMIFINAL: Kansas over New Mexico State, Duke over Michigan State.
REGIONAL FINAL: Duke over Kansas.
FIRST ROUND: Xavier, Missouri, South Dakota State, Gonzaga, San Diego State, Michigan, Providence, North Carolina. Yes, this means the 10, 11 and 12 seeds all advance.
SECOND ROUND: Xavier, Gonzaga, Michigan, North Carolina. Top four seeds, restoring order.
REGIONAL SEMIFINAL: Gonzaga over Xavier, North Carolina over Michigan.
REGIONAL FINAL: North Carolina over Gonzaga, in a rematch of the 2017 title game.
This sends three ACC teams and a Big East team to the Final Four.
Virginia will beat North Carolina.
Villanova will beat Duke.
V for Victory. V for Villanova. Jay Wright will get his second national championship in three seasons.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynoldsap.org