2012 March Madness Wrap-Up: How Our Expert Brackets And Betting Picks Did This Year (Solid!)
April 4, 2012 - by Tom Federico
Overall, our performance projecting the 2012 NCAA tournament was solid both on the bracket and betting predictions fronts. Although Kentucky beating Kansas for the national championship resulted in different fates for our smaller and larger bracket pool strategies, both approaches were strongly positioned entering the tournament’s final weekend.
When the dust settled, our Best Brackets for small pools performed well enough to snag a first or second place finish in a 10 to 25 person bracket contest. And by racking up 1,360 and 1,370 points in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge contest, respectively, our Best Brackets for 10- and 25-person pools also outperformed other data-driven methods of picking a bracket, including using Jeff Sagarin’s ratings, Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, the LRMC ratings, or ESPN’s BPI ratings to pick winners. These small-pool Best Brackets are the closest thing we have to a “what-we-really-think-will-happen bracket”, so the fact that they performed well is reassuring.
On the betting side, our playable (2- and 3-star) point spread and totals picks notched a 32-17 (65.3%) performance in this year’s tournament. Read on for all the details.
Recap of Our Analysis & Approach
Our opinion heading into the tournament was that the #1 and #2 seeds — with the notable exception of #2 Duke — looked especially strong this year. These opinions were documented in our 2012 Bracket Breakdown, which was available to our BracketBrains subscribers before the tournament kicked off.
As it turned out, three of this year’s Final Four were either #1 or #2 seeds, and overrated Duke went down in the first round. So our analysis was vindicated. Predicting an outcome like this year’s is always more difficult than it may seem; in 2011, for example, not one #1 or #2 seed made the Final Four. This year, all of our Best Brackets got at least two of the Final Four correct, and our Best Brackets for smaller pools got three Final Four picks correct.
On the flip side, the low point of our prognostications was Missouri getting ousted in the first round. We saw the Tigers as a strong team and even liked them as a value underdog to make the final game for very large bracket pools. Luckily, the #1 seed in the same region (Michigan State) also lost early, helping reduce the overall damage to our expert brackets. Wichita State was also a minor choke. We thought they had solid potential to win at least one or two games.
Based on our analysis and ratings, we created computer-optimized bracket strategies for a variety of situations, then fine tuned our Best Brackets with some custom research. These brackets didn’t all agree on their top picks, because optimal bracket strategy varies greatly based on dynamics such as the number of people in a bracket pool and its scoring system.
How Did Our Expert Brackets Do?
Employing our computer optimization technology, we produced a total of 24 Best Brackets and Runner Up Brackets for small and midsize bracket pools (up to 100 people in size). We did this to give our customers more choice; even though we had our favorites (the Best Brackets), other approaches often come close to the simulated performance of the Best Brackets, so we published those brackets too, as our Runner Up brackets.
By our calculations, 10 of these 24 brackets (41.7%) would have placed in the top 10% nationally on ESPN. So even if you had just picked one Best Bracket or Runner Up bracket at random, you would have had four times the odds of the average bracket picker to place in the top 10% of your pool. Anyone can have one lucky bracket, but looking at results across tens of brackets helps to show the real edge that our techniques give.
Our Best Brackets for 10-person and 25-person pools for typical scoring systems (1-2-4-8-16-32 points per round) did very well, both placing in the top 6% nationally on ESPN.com. Both of these brackets correctly picked Kentucky to win it all, and got three of their Final Four picks correct (Kentucky, Kansas, Ohio State). That performance should have been good enough for a first place finish in most 10-person pools, or a second place finish in most 25-person pools. Customer emails we’ve been receiving are confirming that.
Our Best Brackets for midsize pools (50 to 250 people) focused on Ohio State over Kentucky as the NCAA champion pick. Obviously that didn’t pan out, but in terms of winning a midsize pool, these brackets were nicely positioned entering Final Four weekend. Since very few people picked Ohio State to win it all compared to Kentucky, from a numbers standpoint it made more sense to place your bet with the underdog in a midsize pool. And that strategy did us right all the way to the final weekend; heading into this past Saturday we got several emails and comments from customers stating that an Ohio State win would get them prize money in bracket pools up to 500 people in size. It came down to the final seconds against Kansas, in a game that Ohio State controlled for the majority of time, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Our Best Brackets for very large pools (500 to 1000 people) had Ohio State over Missouri in the final. Winning a bracket pool of this size by entering a single bracket sheet is pretty much a crapshoot, and this year was no exception. Since Kentucky, the most popular NCAA champion pick, ended up winning, the winners of very large pools this year have lots of luck to thank, in terms of getting many earlier round games correct. And they probably won by the slimmest of margins. Mathematically, picking the most popular champion to win a huge pool is almost never your best strategy heading into the tournament; so 2012 just wasn’t the year for those playing the odds intelligently.
Best Overall Bracket
The superstar expert bracket of 2012 ended up being our Runner Up (second best) bracket for 10-person pools, which tallied an amazing 1,590 points in ESPN’s bracket contest, beating out 99.9% of America! With that performance, this bracket would have competed for a first place finish in bracket pools as big as 500-1000 people, and absolutely dominated smaller pools. As mentioned above, picking the favorite to win in a large bracket pool isn’t our recommended strategy because so many things have to break your way in order to pick up a win. But this bracket did what it needed to do to make a large-pool victory a reality, getting not only the winner (Kentucky), but also the other finalist (Kansas) and three of the Final Four (Ohio State too), as well as doing some solid early round picking, including a perfect East region. To our customers who played this bracket along with our Best Bracket, nice call!
Our betting predictions didn’t see much value in the Final Four lines, with one exception. Louisville/Kentucky over 136.5 was a three star pick, which missed.
While we would have liked to go out on a better note, losing that last playable pick certainly didn’t tarnish an otherwise superb tournament for our playable (2- and 3-star) ATS and totals picks. In the end, for the entire 2012 NCAA tournament:
- Playable point spread picks went 18-9 (66.7%, +7.4 units)
- Playable totals picks went 14-8 (63.6%, +4.7 units)
- Combined performance was 32-17 (65.3%, +12.1 units)
We’re very happy with that performance, as customers that followed our playable picks should have made a tidy profit.
See You Next Year!
In conclusion, we want to extend a sincere thank you to all of our customers for subscribing to BracketBrains 2012. We hope you saw value in the product and the analysis, and had fun with it too. Especially coming off last year, a crazy tournament which will likely go down in history as an outlier, we’re proud to have customers who trusted our long term track record and kept faith in our data-driven approach.
We appreciate any and all comments and feedback about your experience with BracketBrains 2012 and how we can improve the product next year! Leave a comment below, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.