Print and Go Back ESPN.com: 2011 (RBR Pickem) [Print without images]

Sunday, March 13, 2011
Think upsets in the early rounds

By Brian Gramling
Special to ESPN.com

So how do you win 2011 Round-by-Round Pick 'em? Well, the first rule is not to be chalky. This game encourages you to be daring, because after all, you're picking each game on its own, with no worries about how it impacts the bracket. That means if your upset pick doesn't come through, you'll still be alive the next round to try again. And if you pick against a team and get burned, you still have the ability to ride that team for the remainder of the tournament, if you choose.

Last year's tournament was perfect for this game. There were 10 first-round upsets (according to seeds) in the Round of 64, six upsets in the Round of 32, and four teams not seeded No. 1 or No. 2 reached the Elite Eight. Butler and Michigan State (both No. 5 seeds) would have earned a total of 30 points (2+4+6+8+10) and 20 points (2+4+6+8), respectively, while champion Duke earned only 21 points (1+2+3+4+5+6) for its six victories. Sticking with last year's tournament, the total possible points an entrant could have received was as follows:

62 points for Round of 64 winners
56 points for Round of 32 winners
33 points for Sweet 16 winners
24 points for Elite Eight winners
15 points for Final Four winners
6 points for championship game winner
196 points total

Even if you add in this year's First Four winners -- the four games played on Tuesday and Wednesday -- earning a total of four points, based on last year's results, 59 percent of the points in this entire game were tallied by the end of the first weekend of play.

Going back 10 years (starting with the 2001 tourney), there has been an average of 18 upsets per tournament, with eight coming in the Round of 64. These should be your baseline minimum number of upsets picked in this game, but I recommend taking a few more chances. As far as the first week of tourney play is concerned, here are some places to look.

• A No. 2 seed hasn't lost its first game since 2001, but only once in the past 14 tournaments have all No. 2 seeds reached the Sweet 16. My advice would be to pick two No. 2 seeds to lose their second game, especially if the opponent is a No. 10 seed (such as Saint Mary's last season), which gets six points for a victory in the Round of 32. The two No. 10 seeds that should get their chance to knock off a No. 2 are Michigan State and Penn State. I would probably also pick against North Carolina here after their shaky ACC tournament with two close wins followed by Sunday's blowout loss.

• The No. 3 seed has made just as many Sweet 16 appearances as the No. 2 seed in the past 10 years (25), but it's worth the gamble to select at least one No. 14 seed. When 14th-seeded Ohio beat third-seeded Georgetown last year, the Bobcats earned four points, which is more than the other three No. 3 seed winners combined, which got one point each for a total of three. BYU is probably the most vulnerable of the No. 3 seeds with Brandon Davies not playing.

• A No. 4 seed has suffered a Round-of-64 defeat four times in the past three tournaments, including Vanderbilt last year to No. 13 Murray State. Like the 3/14 matchups, this pairing also warrants at least two upset picks for the 13-seed, which gets four points for a win in that round.

• No. 5 seeds have more Sweet 16 berths (17) than the No. 4s (14) in the past 10 tournaments, including Final Four participants Michigan State and Butler from last year. But the No. 5 seed is a measly 17-11 versus the No. 12 seed in the past seven tournaments, so I advise to go heavy on the No. 12s, especially red-hot Richmond (11-1 in their past 12 games) and grossly underseeded Utah State, which is 30-3 and has been ranked in the top 25 in the coaches' poll since Jan. 24. Also note that eight 12-seeds have made Sweet 16 appearances in the past 10 years, so don't be afraid of them in the Round of 32, either.

• The No. 6 seed is only 12-8 versus the No. 11 since 2006, so there are opportunities here, as well. But don't look to ride too many 6/11 winners in the Round of 32, based on their 15-25 record (37.5 percent) spanning the past 10 years.

• You may be surprised to know that the No. 7 seed is a paltry 2-6 against the No. 10 seed in the past two tournaments, so when in doubt, play the 10. And exactly like the 6/11 winner, this 7/10 winner is also 15-25 in the Round of 32 over the past decade, which is why I advocated selecting against a couple of No. 2 seeds on Saturday and Sunday earlier in the column.

• The 8-versus-9 matchup remains a total coin flip with the 9-seed carrying a slight 21-19 edge in the past 10 years. My advice is to pick all No. 9s, to give you six points if they split the four games. If you pick all 8s and a split occurs, you get only four points.

• One final nugget to store away for the Round of 32, should the situation present itself: Dating back to 1999, when a double-digit seed faces a team seeded sixth or worse in the Round of 32, the better seed is a perfect 9-0.

So, remember to pick plenty of upsets and don't forget to make your picks for the Round of 32 on Saturday morning. Have fun and good luck!

Brian Gramling is a fantasy baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com.