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Following these bracket-picking trends is sheer Madness

The madness in March Madness inevitably surfaces when, after producing an NCAA tournament bracket through NASA-quality calculations, you get smoked in your office pool by someone who chose a champion because of the school's colors.

This person likes blue, and you're seeing red.

But before you put this year's picks in ink — and then pencil in a mid-April date for your annual anger management session — perhaps you should take one shining moment to consider this:

All but one of the last 13 NCAA Division I men's basketball champions have in fact had a shade of blue among their school colors. Not the same blue, mind you, but blue just the same.

The outlier was Louisville in 2013. The Cardinals' school colors include black, which might be mistaken for navy blue (or even what Connecticut calls "national flag blue").

Now you might want to dismiss things that seem — and perhaps even are — silly. But it's also ridiculous to look for predictable consistency from adrenalized men in their late teens and early 20s.

Setting aside the "First Four" play-in games, the main bracket has had 64 teams and four regionals each year since 1985. That's a total of 128 regionals, each with 16 seeded teams.

Only 15 times have all eight higher seeds in a given regional survived even the first round, despite the fact no No. 1 seed has lost to a No. 16.

Only once in that time has the better seed won each of the 15 games in a regional. That was in 1985, when the East held to perfect form in delivering Georgetown to the Final Four, whereupon Patrick Ewing and company were tripped up in the national championship game by Villanova, a No. 8 seed, the lowest ever to win the title.

Everybody knows No. 1 seeds will do well. Everyone also knows some No. 1 seeds will stumble.

Top seeds have won 19 of the last 32 titles, and only twice since 1985 — in 2006 and 2011 — have no top seeds reached the Final Four. Yet only once since '85, in 2008, did all the top seeds made it to the national semifinals.

So expect something to go awry, and from at least a statistical standpoint, there are key places in the seedings that might betray weaknesses.

Sixth sense: There have been 28 round-of-64 games pitting a No. 6 seed versus a No. 11 in the last seven years, and it has been a virtual coin flip. The higher and lower seeds each have won 14. Only once in that stretch, in 2004, did all the No. 6s advance.

Three and out: Over 13 tournaments beginning with 2000, No. 3 seeds did what you would expect in their openers, taking 49 of 52 matchups with 14th seeds, including a six-year 23-1 run. That ended in 2012, and since then at least one No. 14 has played giant killer each year. Stephen F. Austin's ouster of West Virginia last year was the fifth first-round upset of a No. 3 in the last 16 opportunities.

Four and against: At least one 13th seed has knocked off a No. 4 in seven of the last nine tournaments and 19 of the last 26. Another strike against putting a lot of faith in No. 4 seeds is that, since 1985, fourth seeds have reached the title game and won it no more often than No. 8 seeds.

Running start: Each year since the NCAA expanded its field to 68 teams in 2011 through four play-in games, one of the four schools to emerge from that preliminary round has pulled off a first-round upset in the tournament proper. Two teams — Tennessee in 2014 and La Salle in 2013 — got as far as the Sweet 16. No. 11 seed VCU advanced all the way to the Final Four in 2011.

Even allowing for the fact it's necessary to pick the right underdog, that's all standard fodder for the hard-core bracketeer.

It's up to you whether it's useful to examine oddball, sometimes contradictory trends that may or may not be the difference between a golden bracket suitable for framing and a furiously wadded and hurled ball of paper after the wrong team won ... again.

This isn't an endorsement of the value of any of these trends, just an identification of them and a reminder the whole stupid blue-school-color thing probably didn't occur to you until a few paragraphs ago.

Call of the wily: Look to play-by-play assignments when they come out. Ahead of the Final Four, CBS has sent lead announcer Jim Nantz to work at least two of the eventual champion's regional or subregional games six of the last eight years.

Spring forward: Eighteen of the last 19 NCAA champs have come from the Eastern time zone.

The road to the Final Four: In 11 of the last 15 title games, the school with the campus farthest from the Final Four site — per Google Maps — has won the championship.

But in a route: This year's Final Four in Glendale, Ariz., will be the first played outside the Eastern or Central time zones since 1995 and just the fourth since expansion of the tournament in 1985. In those three previous title games — UCLA-Arkansas in Seattle in '95, UNLV-Duke in Denver in '90 and Michigan-Seton Hall in Seattle in '89 — the westernmost campus celebrated victory.

Letter men: Five of the last six teams to win the NCAA championship have been coached by men whose first names began with a letter in the first half of the alphabet (A-M). Three of those — Villanova's Jay Wright in '16, Kentucky's John Calipari in '12 and Connecticut's Jim Calhoun in '11 — began with J.

So do you pick UCLA because it's on the West Coast and the Bruins wear blue? Or do you spurn the Bruins for being on the West Coast and for coach Steve Alford's first name beginning with S?

Well, if nothing else, it will be good to see the old gang in anger management again.

philrosenthal@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @phil_rosenthal

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