Underdogs POWER 5
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WHETHER IT’S A BRACKET POOL FOR YOUR OFFICE, FAMILY POOL FOR FUN OR BRAGGING RIGHTS AMONG YOUR BUDDIES, HERE ARE TIPS THAT WILL GIVE YOU A BETTER SHOT AT VICTORY. BY JOHN TRANCHINA Once reserved for just stat freaks and die-hard basketball fans, the phenomenon of March Madness bracket pools has gradually become a time-honored tradition for millions of people every year. The truth is, you don’t have to know a lot about college basketball to accurately predict how the annual NCAA tournament will play out. In fact, as many so-called experts will tell you, sometimes too much knowledge is a detriment. It’s easy to overthink it and often, that’s not necessary. College basketball’s championship derby is an entertaining blast — complete with thrilling upsets and buzzer beaters — but it’s increasingly become a pressurized, almost compulsory endeavor, as hardcore fans and newcomers crunch data, consult athletic friends, and cluelessly guess to select the winners of a tournament that concludes April 2 at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Each year, about 50 million people take part in online, office and “friendly” pools, filling out brackets and predicting how NCAA men’s basketball teams will fare with cash or bragging rights on the line. There’s no basketball spectacle quite like it, and no shared event that brings a workplace closer together, other than free doughnuts. The NCAA Tournament comes around every year, which is great
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for those of us who believe it to be the greatest postseason event in sports — the first two days of which are particularly dramatic and exciting. But the reliability of this annual phenomenon comes with a downside — your boss knows that at best you’re going to slack off more than usual during these two days, and at worst you’ll be calling in “sick” at some point. Never mind that you’ve entered for the last 10 years, have had your bracket obliterated after the first weekend every time, and sworn you would never again waste time and effort on such a fool’s errand. This is your year, because you’ve learned from your mistakes and will do things differently this time around. Not sure about how to fill out a bracket for your pool? Fear not. Even the most respected college basketball experts can have a hard time figuring out which teams are destined for the Final Four. Luckily, years of trial and error have provided a rough blueprint for bracket success. With a combination of mathematics, a general understanding of bracket etiquette and a bit of research into tournaments past, even a novice has a chance at dancing their way into the Final Four alongside their Cinderella pick. Here are some things to consider that can help you do better in your pool this year.
PICK SOME UPSETS, DON’T JUST PICK THE HIGHER SEED
The first point is, when you’re dealing with the middle seeds, especially the 8-9 and 7-10 games, even the 6-11 seeds, there’s not a whole lot separating those pretty good, mid-range squads. There are always upsets in the early rounds, with double-digit seed teams advancing to the Sweet 16 almost every year. Last year, 11 seed Xavier played Cinderella, reaching the Elite Eight. But don’t go crazy picking a 16 seed to upset a 1 seed. That is almost a virtual certainty not to happen. It’s also extremely rare for a 15 seed to defeat a 2, or for a 14 to beat 3. You really can’t risk picking that, because everyone else in your pool will pick the 2 or 3 to win and if they do, and especially if they go deep in the tournament like many will likely predict, you will lose valuable points. If one of those monumental upsets does happen, don’t worry too much, because everyone else will also have picked it wrong, and it won’t cost you much lost ground.
And when deciding between the top four seeds in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight rounds, don’t just pick the top seeds. If you look back, every year, 2, 3 and 4 seeds (or higher) have reached the Final Four. Last year, it was 7 seed South Carolina and 3 seed Oregon. Only once (2008) have all four top seeds made the Final Four in the same year. Still, count on at least one, probably two, 1 seeds getting that far. Plus, what’s the fun in just picking all No. 1s? That’s like going to England and eating frozen fish sticks.
PICK POWER 5 CONFERENCE TEAMS OVER MID-MAJORS
It used to be that the general rule was to pick the teams from the elite, so-called Power 5 Conferences (which includes the Big East in basketball, even though that makes six) whenever they faced a team from one of the midmajor conferences, because they were used to facing better competition. The last several years, though, that really hasn’t been as true, as top talent further spreads out across the