Sports Basketball

March Madness begins

By Torben Rolfsen

In this Tuesday, March 7, 2017, file photo, Mount St. Mary's forward Will Miller, center, celebrates with teammates after beating St. Francis (Pa.) 71-61 in the NCAA college basketball Northeast Conference Tournament championship, in Emmitsburg, Md. With the win, Mount St. Mary's earned an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. The 67-game March Madness basketball tournament begins Tuesday, March 14, with many games taking place during the work day. All of the games will be available online. For many of the early-round games, though, you’ll need a password through your cable or satellite TV subscription. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark, File)

In this Tuesday, March 7, 2017, file photo, Mount St. Mary's forward Will Miller, center, celebrates with teammates after beating St. Francis (Pa.) 71-61 in the NCAA college basketball Northeast Conference Tournament championship, in Emmitsburg, Md. With the win, Mount St. Mary's earned an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. The 67-game March Madness basketball tournament begins Tuesday, March 14, with many games taking place during the work day. All of the games will be available online. For many of the early-round games, though, you’ll need a password through your cable or satellite TV subscription. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark, File)

It’s the opening week of the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.

Also known as March Madness.

That means people across North America are planning five-hour lunches for Thursday and Friday, as well as concocting mysterious ailments to phone in to their employer.

The field of contenders is wide-open this year, with seemingly a dozen teams having a realistic shot of cutting down the nets.

This is making the already intimidating task of filling out a bracket even more difficult than usual.

No one has all the answers, but here are a few things to consider before locking your choices in.

Concentrate on teams that have been hot the last month or two: teams evolve and improve over the course of a season, and teams that were struggling to find their feet before Christmas can be rolling post-Valentine’s Day.

A minor exception to this rule is if there is a small school or mid-major you like. If they played in a sub-standard conference, go back and have a look at their higher profile November/December games to see how they fared against the big boys.

Pick hot-shooting offensive teams. Winning squads shoot well from beyond the 3-point line and (very importantly) at the free-throw line.

Conferences: the Big Ten is down, and champs haven’t recently been coming from there, or the Pac-12 or Big-12.

Focus on the ACC, Big East and SEC (i.e. Kentucky). Stay away from teams that have suffered significant injuries (Oregon, Florida).

Since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, a No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 seed has won the title 28 of 32 times.

If stats and analytics are your thing, a couple of fun web sites to check out are kenpom.com and fivethirtyeight.com.

Predictions (not for gambling purposes):

All times PT

EAST

Final: Villanova over Duke

Best opening game matchup:

No. 8 Wisconsin vs. No. 9 Virginia Tech, Thursday, 9:40 a.m. CBS

MIDWEST

Final: Kansas over Michigan

Best opener:

No. 7 Michigan vs No. 10 Oklahoma State, Friday, 9:15 a.m. CBS

SOUTH

Final: North Carolina over UCLA

Best opener:

No. 7 Dayton vs No. 10 Wichita State, Friday, 4:10 p.m. CBS

WEST

Final: Arizona over Gonzaga

Best opener:

No. 3 Florida State vs No. 14 Florida Gulf Coast, Thursday, 6:20 p.m. TNT

One last piece of info: be careful with your “shock the world” upset brackets: #16 seeds are 0-128 all-time.