Your guide to choosing the perfect NCAA bracket

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo watches second-half action on Sunday, March 13, 2016, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. (Kirthmon F. Dozier/Detroit Free Press/TNS)

By Dan Escalona

Tweet: College basketball columnist @danescalona77 gives you some tips for your #NCAA bracket

At long last, March Madness has arrived. It comes as the perfect antidote to any frustration caused by primary season. If you need any last-minute assistance in creating the “perfect” bracket, just check out my brief guide to the NCAA tournament.

The Upset Specials

Expecting to see a handful of mid-majors cause havoc is all but a NCAA tournament formality at this point. Same thing goes for this season, yet even more so given the parity. It’s hard to pin down just three mid-majors that pose the biggest danger, but let’s give it a shot.

Chattanooga: Back in November, many on this campus were shocked when Illinois lost to the Mocs. Maybe they shouldn’t have been so surprised. Along with Illinois, Chattanooga also defeated Georgia and fellow tournament team Dayton on the road.

They have already proved they can beat teams from power conferences, so what indication do we have that this won’t continue in the tournament? The Mocs will get this chance against Indiana — a team that cannot take Chattanooga lightly.

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    Stephen F. Austin: If you can mentally prepare yourself for the wildest tournament game imaginable, you better watch the Lumberjacks take on West Virginia on Friday. The Lumberjacks model themselves after the Mountaineers’ use of the full-court press to frustrate opponents into a barrage of turnovers.

    SFA is the nation’s top team in forced turnovers, with West Virginia sitting right behind. Scott Nagy’s squad have a chance to beat the Mountaineers at their own game. Whatever the outcome, the Lumberjacks promise to be one of the tournament’s most entertaining teams.

    Yale: The Bulldogs are looking to follow the example set in recent tournaments by Ivy League rival Harvard. This is Yale’s first tournament appearance since 1962, which ends up being a de facto home game down the road in Providence, Rhode Island, against Baylor.

    Yale is an elite offensive and defensive rebounding team. This gives the Bulldogs a chance to stay close with most teams in the country. Those 5-12 matchups are dangerous for the higher seed, and the Bears might just find out why.

    The Sleepers

    The second ensemble of characters we’ve grown accustomed to each March are those surprise squads hailing from Power Five conferences. In the past, Michigan State is typically been cast in this role. These teams have a knack of causing their own brand of bracket mayhem. These are the teams we often forget about as the iconic programs steal most of the attention.

    Purdue: The Boilermakers were only one or two better possessions away from fending off Michigan State for the Big Ten Tournament title. Either way, Purdue was one of the Big Ten’s most consistent teams on both ends of the floor.

    Rebounding has been the team’s strength all season, and that is something that can carry this Boilermaker squad to the Sweet 16 and beyond.

    Purdue held tough with Michigan State all season, including a victory over them earlier this season. They can easily defeat an over-seeded Virginia to set up a matchup with — you guessed it — the Spartans.

    Seton Hall: The Pirates were just one of the many teams cheated on Selection Sunday. Even after winning the Big East Tournament, Seton Hall was awarded a cheap gift of a No. 6 seed with a first-round matchup against Gonzaga followed by potential matchups against Utah and Michigan State.

    Yet, Seton Hall must be given props for winning the conference tournament in one of the nation’s best conferences. The Pirates are led by one of the season’s breakout stars in Isaiah Whitehead, who leads the team in assists and points per game.

    Expect Whitehead to become a household name and NBA draft prospect following this tournament. His play might even carry the Pirates to the Sweet 16.

    The Favorites

    The usual suspects are back in action once again. At their best, these teams can beat and dominate any other team in the country. If you’re tempted to pick an upset, don’t do it against these three.

    Michigan State: The biggest selection controversy this year involved the seeding of the Spartans. I tend to agree here; Michigan State, by virtue of their Big Ten tournament championship, deserved to be one of the top four seeds.

    Then again, is there really a difference between being the second seed versus the first seed? Definitely not for Tom Izzo, and this controversy will only motivate his team further.

    With the possible exception of Kansas, the Spartans enter the tournament as the country’s hottest team. Michigan State has won nine in a row (and 14 of its last 15), reminding the country that the closer the calendar turns to March, the tougher the Spartans become.

    Of course, does anyone really expect Michigan State to fizzle out prior to at least the Elite Eight? Yeah, I thought so.

    Kansas: This season’s Jayhawks, unlike previous teams, is built for a sustained championship run, not a quick, sour exit stage right. This squad is not constructed around a future NBA star but a collection of well-engineered, interconnected gears. Given the way Kansas ended the season, this model is working to perfection for Bill Self.

    This is one of the more balanced Jayhawk attacks in some time with Perry Ellis on the inside and the guard play of Wayne Selden, Frank Mason and Devonte Graham. The Jayhawks are also the second-best three-point shooting team in the country.

    Expect Kansas to run roughshod on its way to yet another Final Four appearance.

    Oklahoma: There are few teams in the tournament that boast a star player dominant enough to carry them to a national championship. Oklahoma — with Buddy Hield — is that team.

    Hield is in the national player of the year conversation and will presumably be a sought-after lottery pick. Averaging 25 points per game, Hield makes the Sooners extremely formidable against any opponent.

    Oklahoma is more than just Hield but they will likely only go as far as his scoring can take them. At the very least, expect two Big 12 teams competing for the Final Four.


    All this advice should be taken with a grain of salt as half of the above teams listed might be gone after the first weekend. Again, a torn-up bracket is probably the best symbolism one can find about just how unpredictable this time of year can be.

    Dan is a Senior in media.

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