Winning a NCAA Tournament bracket pool is all about survival. Yes, you want to pick the right upsets in the first round, but you do not want to get overzealous. The most important part of filling out a bracket is advancement strategy.
It's better to be right about the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight than it is about the 5/12 game.
With the middle of the pack high-major schools receiving a bulk of the at-large bids, there are a bevy of teams you think are good enough to make a deep run, but should be handled with the utmost caution.
Here are the nine teams you shouldn't invest too much in.
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Nine teams seeded No. 5 or higher to stay away from
No. 1 Virginia Cavaliers (South)
First Round Matchup: No. 16 UMBC
Dangerous Potential Matchups: No. 8 Creighton, No. 5 Kentucky, No. 12 Davidson, No. 4 Arizona
Virginia is the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. They are arguably the best team in the country. Do not put them in your Final Four. Why? Pace of play. Virginia is a defense-first team. They say "defense wins championships." They are very wrong.
NCAA Tournament games are made up of a series of runs, bolstered by momentum. Virginia cannot and will not change their glacially slow pace of play. It's the primary reason the Cavaliers were upset by Syracuse in the 2016 Elite Eight despite leading by 14 points with 10 minutes remaining.
The Cavaliers will also be without De'Andre Hunter, who was ruled out of the NCAA Tournament with a broken wrist. Hunter averaged 9.2 ppg in 19.9 mpg.
It's highly unlikely that UMBC becomes the first-ever No. 16 seed to defeat a No. 1 seed, but with a sharpshooting Creighton team likely on deck next, with Arizona and Kentucky possible waiting in the wings, it's hard to see how Virginia has enough firepower to make the Final Four.
No. 1 Xavier Musketeers (West)
First Round Matchup: Play-in Game Winner
Dangerous Potential Matchups: No. 5 Ohio State, No. 12 South Dakota State, No. 4 Gonzaga
I just mentioned how defense doesn't win championships. But you do have to get stops, and as good as Xavier is on offense, they struggle to get stops. Trevon Blueitt could win a game all by himself, and J.P. Macura has the range and intangibles to be a March Madness sensation. Kerem Kanter, brother of NBA center Enes Kanter, is an efficient shooter who can get buckets in a hurry.
But there is a reason that 14 teams are ranked higher than the fourth No. 1 overall seed according to KenPom. Xavier allows their opponents to get to the foul line far too often. The NCAA Tournament is the last place you want to give your opponent a chance to score points with the clock stopped.
Yes, you can put Xavier in the second weekend, but pay heed after that.
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No. 2 North Carolina Tar Heels (West)
First Round Matchup: No. 15 Lipscomb
Dangerous Potential Matchups: No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 10 Providence, No. 3 Michigan, No. 11 San Diego State
This might be a bit of a stretch, but hear me out. North Carolina has a really tricky bracket. Yes, they should beat Lipscomb, but the Bison play a very odd, very slow style of play, which could junk up all of North Carolina's moment. After that, they could either face a Providence team that can score in bunches of bunches or a Texas A&M team that while wildly disappointing this season, has one of the best rosters in the country. If they survive the first weekend, they could get Houston and Rob Gray, one of the best scorers in the country, Michigan — a team that just knows how to win in a tournament setting — or San Diego State — and team that drags its opponents into the deepest of the deep waters.
Also, who is North Carolina's go-to player? Is it Joel Barry? It should be, but I don't know if he is. Is it Theo Pinson? It could be, and he;s played very well recently, but the jury is still out.
The West region could go any of a number of ways. Take plenty of time before choosing North Carolina to advance to the Final Four. Things could get weird.
No. 2 Purdue Boilermakers (East)
First Round Matchup: No. 15 Cal State Fullerton
Dangerous Potential Matchups: No. 10 Butler, No. 3 Texas Tech, No. 1 Villanova
Purdue has a very good path to the Final Four. The East Region features a plethora of highly seeded teams that could get bounced early. Purdue has the best big man in the region in 7-2 center Isaac Haas, but the key to success in March Madness is experience and guard play. The Boilermakers are experienced, but their backcourt is not too terribly dynamic. Creating extra opportunities is not their forte.
Purdue ranks 219th in adjusted tempo, and 348th in average possession length on defense. On top of that they rank 228th in defensive turnover possession.
In short, the Boilermakers allow their opponents to create on offense, don't maximize the game clock and struggle to force turnovers. If they aren't hot from beyond the arc and need to dig themselves out of a hole, like in 2016 against Arkansas-Little Rock, Purdue could be headed home early ... again.
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No. 2 Cincinnati Bearcats (South)
First Round Matchup: No. 15 Georgia State
Dangerous Potential Matchups: No. 7 Nevada, No. 3 Tennessee, No. 6 Miami, No. 4 Arizona
This could be the year Cincinnati finally makes it to the Final Four. The Bearcats have had serviceable tournament teams each of the past couple of years. But with the field being way down, 2018 could be the time for Mic Cronin's squad to put it together.
The problem? The South Region is loaded with talent. It's also loaded with teams that can score in bunches. Cincinnati will beat you up, rough you up and take your lunch money. But they may not score 60 points.
Their defensive numbers are spectacular, but who can lead the charge if they get down big? Who can make the big shot? I don't have those answers, and Cincinnati doesn't either.
Also, they play Georgia State in the first round. R.J Hunter isn't there anymore, but his dad Ron Hunter is still on the sidelines and knows a thing or two about pulling off a major upset.
No. 3 Tennessee (South)
First Round Matchup:
Dangerous Potential Matchups:
Tennessee is experienced and very big. You can't find many coaches better than Rick Barnes. But Tennessee is not incredibly talented and while this may just be a random, unconnected March trend, barnes' teams have rarely had a great ammount of NCAA Tournament success relative to their seeds.
Their pod could go any of a number of ways. They could face a No. 14 or a No. 11 seed en route to the second weekend.
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No. 4 Wichita State (East)
First Round Matchup: No. 13 Marshall
Dangerous Potential Matchups: No. 5 West Virginia, No. 12 Murray State, No. 9 Alabama, No. 1 Villanova
Wichita State is typically the team responsible for bouncing a top seed from the tournament. Not this year.
They get Jon Elmore and a Marshall team that wants to create chaos on offense and defense. Wichita State wants no part of that pace. If they do survive Marshall, they could face West Virginia. West Virginia makes Marshall's frenetic pace look like refrigerated honey.
The Shockers have a really good roster with a lot of different types of players. But their path is just way too daunting.
Don't invest in the Shockers.
No. 5 Kentucky Wildcats (South)
First Round Matchup: No. 12 Davidson
Dangerous Potential Matchups: No. 4 Arizona, No. 13 Buffalo, No. 1 Virginia
Kentucky has a ton of talent. But they don't have any experience and they have virtually no outside shooting. They also have to face a Davidson team that is the polar opposite of them in the very first game. Bob McKillop can coach circles around John Calipari, and if Davidson can survive on the glass, I'm not so sure Kentucky has the shooting to keep up.
If Kentucky does survive Davidson, they will we rewarded with No. 4 Arizona or No. 13 Buffalo. The Bulls would be an easier opponent but not a free pass. Arizona would pose a major threat. This is not Kentucky's year.
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No. 5 Clemson (Midwest)
First Round Matchup: No. 12 New Mexico State
Dangerous Potential Matchups: No. 4 Auburn, No. 13 Charleston, No. 9 NC State, No. 1 Kansas
Clemson enters the 2018 NCAA Tournament having lost five of their last eight games and have to face No. 12 New Mexico State, a heavy upset favorite.
Clemson is poor on the offensive glass, isn't great at forcing turnovers and does not maximize pace of play.
They also don't have a real difference-maker on offense. Is Clemson a good basketball team? Sure. But there isn't a lot that stand out about them.
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