Bracketology 101

The madness is upon us.  Welcome to my favorite season, college basketball tournament time.  Really nothing is better than those first two glorious days of nothing but all basketball all the time.  Best two consecutive days in sports, hands down.  And the couple days before that first game are usually my idea of paradise: brackets in hand, picks made, thinking that you hold the golden ticket, right there.  Because anything is possible at that point.  And you are convinced that if miracles happen, they will happen to you, to your team.

But before you get to that point, you have to get in the game.  That means filling out a bracket.  And that means you need to know the basics.  Professor Jenny to the rescue.  Take off those hats, spit out your gum.  Just follow the rules and you will be just fine during this March Madness:

1.  Everyone is going to have an opinion.  Don’t get overwhelmed, create your own opinion.  It’s just as good as theirs.  Plus, no one likes a copycat.

2. Pick at least one 12 seed to beat a 5 seed in the first round.  If you think you’re up to the challenge, pick two—because that’s the resident statistic.  In any given tournament year, half of the 5-12 matchups will be upsets. Now it doesn’t happen every year…I think a couple years back there were NO upsets.  But if you’re going to pick one, that’s the one you should be looking at.

3. 8-9 matchups are complete toss-ups most of the time.  Take the opportunity to mix it up on your different brackets, since most likely, they are just getting fed to a one seed the next round.

4. Miracles happen, but not often.  Careful getting too crazy.  15’s don’t often beat 2’s, though it has happened a few times.  Keep your bracket balanced each round with mostly chalk and no more than 25% upsets.

5. Top seeds usually win.  There is a reason why they are at the top of the rankings, and statistically speaking, a one seed or a two seed is more likely to win by a gigantic margin than even a 3 or 4.  The committee gives them easier paths to the final games and they can conserve their energy early.  Also, you have to think that a team from the top 8 in the nation is more likely to be cutting down the nets in the end.  

6. Chalk will get you to about the top quarter of your league.  I have been running an experiment over the past three years where I do one bracket that is entirely chalk (means you pick all the top seeds no matter what).  It usually gets me pretty far, but never puts me in the running for the top prize in the league.  So if you’re in it to win it, don’t go chalk.  Plus, it’s boring.

7. Leadership and experience count.  Senior leadership, tournament experience and good coaching matters more than you think.  Always give the edge to more seasoned teams and coaches who’ve been to the tournament and been successful before.

8. Physical teams tend to do well the first round.  This is just because they are bigger and can push smaller teams around.  Give the edge to the big guys the first round.

9. Free throw shooting percentages matter in success in the tournament.  So many games come down to fouls at the end and this is how close games are won (and lost)

10. I borrowed this one from my friend Alex: Pick teams with more NBA draft-able players.  If they are going to the NBA, they’re good enough to do a team right in college.

11. Location, location, location: WHERE a team plays in the tournament matters.  In those close games, look to see if one is playing close to home, or is more likely to have a fan base that will travel to the game.  

12. Feel free to pick a team because of their colors, mascot or because your Aunt Sally went there, just know that it’s not doing your bracket justice, regardless of whether you’re correct or not.

13. Look one step ahead.  Try not to make upset picks that could have lasting implications on the rest of your bracket.  Sometimes it’s good to pick upsets in the first couple rounds, then settle down a bit and end with a favorite.

14. If you’re in a league that has people from one region/conference/etc… and affiliate themselves so, keep in mind that their skewed picks should have an impact on what you choose as well.  You can take a risk and go against the grain, but if you want to stay with the pack and pick another time to break apart then keep in mind that a league with a commissioner from Arizona is likely going to pick Arizona to win at least a couple rounds and tend to overestimate Pac-10 teams while hating on direct rivals.  

15.  Look at a team’s tournament history.  Are they a Cinderella year after year?  History has a tendency to repeat itself come March.

Ok, did I lose you yet?

Good.  But I think that’s enough lesson for one day.  More madness coming soon.  

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