Before filling out a pay-for-play NCAA Tournament bracket, a couple of guidelines:
— Do demand extra credit for nailing an upset.
— Don’t blindly glom onto teams on winning streaks.
Anybody that sniffed out No. 11 seed USC over No. 6 SMU in the first round last year or No. 7 South Carolina over No. 2 Duke in the second round or No. 11 Xavier over No. 2 Arizona in the third round or No. 3 Oregon over No. 1 Kansas in the fourth round should be rewarded with more than “nice pick” uttered through clenched teeth by somebody who sided with favorite after favorite.
Before buying into the popular theory that the winner of a postseason conference tournament is on a roll, consider that Kentucky was the only one of the winners of the major conference tournaments that got as far as the Elite Eight in 2017:
ACC, Duke, a 2 seed, won one game.
Big 12, Iowa State, a 5 seed, won one game.
Big East, Villanova, a 1 seed, won two games.
Big Ten, Michigan, a 7 seed, won two games.
Pac 12, Arizona, a 2 seed, won two games.
Need more evidence? South Carolina, Xavier, and Florida reached the Elite Eight even though they were identified by experts as trending in the wrong direction prior to the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Gamecocks and the Musketeers were pretty much dismissed by those supposedly in the know.
Erratic at best on offense, South Carolina finished third in the SEC, losing five of its last eight regular-season games, and opened the conference tournament by losing to Alabama. Along comes the NCAA and the Gamecocks win their first four, including 88-81 over Duke, when the starters made 23-of-49 from the field.
Meanwhile, Xavier lost six in a row near the end of the regular season and finished seventh in the Big East at 9-9 before winning twice in the conference tournament.
Florida lost two of its last three during the regular season and opened the SEC Tournament with a loss to Vanderbilt.
Nowhere in that review is there a clue about which teams will wreck an NCAA bracket this week.
Standard fare in college basketball, otherwise inexplicable results will turn on confounding shooting stats. For example, in the second half of Alabama’s victory over league co-champion Auburn last week, Collin Sexton scored 21 vs. Auburn’s 22. Sexton made 4-of-5 3s and Auburn, the most prolific 3-point shooting team in the conference, hit 1-of-14.
Five seeds Michigan and Providence won the Big Ten tournament and reached the Big East finals, but preferred bracket picks are teams that had season-long success — Purdue and Michigan State rather than Michigan, and Xavier over Providence, which defeated Xavier and lost to Villanova in overtime. SEC teams are the exception. Auburn has lost three of five since Anfernee McLemore suffered a season-ending injury and tournament winner Kentucky seems to have figured out the team concept.
The Wildcats, Tennessee, and Florida could win as many as three, but that is about the limit for SEC representatives.
As for Arkansas, the Razorbacks should handle Butler on Friday, but Daryl Macon and Jaylen Barford must combine for 30 or more to have a chance against likely second-round opponent Purdue. Daniel Gafford scored in double figures in four of five games prior to Saturday, but is not polished offensively, and is unlikely to tally more than 15 or so. Both guards are capable of 20-plus.
Any positive scenario for Arkansas or any team is meaningless if an opponent shoots as well as Tennessee did in the first half on Saturday, making 19 of 25, including 7 of 8 3s.
To help prepare for nonsensical tournament results, note:
— In the America East championship game, University of Maryland, Baltimore County had lost 23 straight to Vermont, including by 15 and 28 this year, until a 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds remaining.
— The top eight seeds, plus Arizona, Michigan State, and Gonzaga — all legitimate championship contenders — have lost 60 games.
Sports Columnist Harry King can be reached at: email@example.com