A lot of people will read our bracket picking guide and say, “Whatever. Winning a bracket pool just comes down to luck anyway. Last year Sally in accounting won the March Madness office pool picking by team colors, and my great grandmother knows more about college basketball than her. Research like this doesn’t mean squat in the end, it’s all a crapshoot anyway.”
We would never argue that winning a bracket pool in any given year doesn’t require luck. It’s ridiculous to imagine anyone, even with the best bracket research at their disposal, being 25 or 50 times better at making picks than all the other people in their pool — in other words, good enough to expect to win a smaller sized pool each and every year.
As a result, paying some money to enter a bracket pool will always be a very risky use of your money. On the grand scale of risk, let’s consider two extremes of what you could do with $25 this month:
Step 5: Think About Hedging Your Bets
With most standard scoring systems, the following two areas of the bracket can play a big role in determining who wins the office pool:
- The games in the final few rounds (all the time)
- The middle seeded early round games (sometimes)
Early round games involving mid-seeded teams (say, 5-seeds through 12-seeds) can be important because there are many of those games, and on account of the voodoo inherent in the NCAA tournament selection process, higher performing teams often hide behind worse seed numbers. So these games often present opportunities to gain a little bit of ground, primarily if you find some good Sweet 16 value picks among this group.
The flip side, though, is that early round victories usually count for very little in most scoring systems. In fact, Round of 64 winners are only worth one measly point in most bracket pools. So there is a limit to the impact great picking can have in early round games. Even if you have the luck of your life and correctly pick six or seven first round upsets, the points you earn will be less than getting one more Final Four pick right.
Step 3: Get Smart About Defining And Picking Upsets
Conventional wisdom regarding upset picking strategy is all over the map. “Always pick a 12 seed over a 5 seed,” right? Not so fast. It’s true that since 1985, an unexpectedly high percentage of 12 seeds have won a Round of 64 game. But that doesn’t mean you should blindly follow the historical trend.
Here’s a quick probability study. Let’s assume that in fact, out of every four games between 5 and 12 seeds, one 12 seed will win. Based on that assumption, if you blindly pick one 12 seed to beat a 5 this year, what is the expected outcome?
- There’s a 25% chance that you choose the right 12 seed to win, and you get all four of the 5 vs. 12 seed games right. As a result, You would earn 4 points in most scoring systems.
- There’s a 75% chance you pick the wrong 12 seed, meaning you only get two of the four 5 vs. 12 games right. As a result, you would earn 2 points in most scoring systems.
You would therefore expect to score 2.5 points on average by following this strategy of randomly guessing one 12 seed to beat a 5 seed.
Step 1: Know Your Enemy
Odds are that you know most, or at least some, of the people in your bracket pool. You know where they live. You know where they hang out. You probably have a sense of which of them are avid followers of college hoops.
These are your enemies.
As with any tactical operation, you’re only as good as your intel. So you need to gather it. Buy your office pool opponents a beer and ask them what teams they like, which they think are the can’t-miss picks. Find out who they think the sleepers are, and especially, what teams they think will go deep in the tourney.
Here at TeamRankings, we’ve been doing NCAA bracket analysis and prediction since 2000. We’re a team of engineers and data scientists who built the most sophisticated NCAA bracket analysis product on the market.
But most importantly, we love basketball and we love to win things. That’s why we love NCAA bracket pools, and why we’ve dedicated over a decade to figuring out how to profit from them.
Because you’re only competing against other people (and not, say, betting games at a Vegas sports book that makes a hefty commission off your action and often stacks the odds in its favor), bracket pools can offer great ROI opportunities. We absolutely consider bracket pools an investment, because we are confident we will come out on top in the long term.
Almost every single March, you can find a college basketball TV analyst talking about the parity in the sport for that given year. Last year was a particularly telling example. Nearly every expert was taking Louisville, but the field was still supposedly “wide open.”
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that these same analysts are still harping on parity again this season. Instead, the surprise is that they are actually right. Parity rules the 2014 NCAA bracket.
Selection Sunday sparks a raging debate among college basketball fans: Which four teams deserve a 1 seed from the NCAA tournament selection committee?
This question, however, begs another one: How much does getting a 1-seed actually matter?
Two weeks ago, we took at the eight team race for a 1-seed this year. 1-seeds historically perform very well in the NCAA tournament, so there is understandably a lot of media and fan focus on — or rather, obsession with — that seed line. After all, 1-seeds are (in theory) the four best teams in the country and have (in theory) the four easiest roads to the Final Four.
Still, NCAA tournament 2-seeds share a fairly similar story. Is all this obsession over 1-seeds justifiable based on past tournament history? And more generally, just how important is seeding overall?
Over the next week, you are going to get bombarded with bracket picking advice by the media, friends, and that random dude next to you at the bar.
Here are five reasons why all that advice is almost certainly worthless:
- It assumes that your strategy should be the same for every type of bracket pool. This is simply absurd, because incorporating factors like your pool size and scoring system into your bracket picking strategy is critical for increasing your odds to win. Not one major media bracket picking article we’ve ever read has showed even a glimmer of understanding that the best picks for a 10-person pool with 1-2-4-8-16-32 scoring and no upset bonus are going to be WAY different than the best picks for a 500-person pool with Round + Seed based scoring and an upset bonus. There is no such thing as a universal “good pick” across all types of bracket pools.
The surprise team in the Big Ten conference this season has been Nebraska. After Sunday’s win over Wisconsin, Nebraska earned the final Big Ten quarterfinal bye as the 4-seed. Who would have thought Ohio State would have to win an opening round game for a chance to play Nebraska in the Big Ten conference bracket?
Seven teams in the Big Ten are in position to potentially get an NCAA tournament bid without winning the conference tourney. Iowa and Minnesota are the two teams out of the seven with work still to be done.
With conference tournaments for the college basketball power conferences starting today, here’s a quick review of our predictions for each one, along with a link to see all teams, seedings, and round by round survival odds:
Our New Ratings, which drive our conference tournament predictions, are high on Duke this year. Vegas futures also favor the Blue Devils to win the ACC tournament this year, but not by as wide a margin of probability. Given that the top four seeds in the ACC bracket are virtual locks to make the NCAA bracket, the side story in this tourney is whether a team like Pittsburgh or Florida State can make a run and lock up an NCAA bid. Interesting fact: 2-seed Syracuse is the top ranked team in the ACC in away games, according to our ratings.