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How To Win Your March Madness Pool

Things to remember when filling out your bracket.


Once again, we’ve come to the magical time of year when we all pretend to know a lot about college basketball. It’s sort of like what happens every four years when we all pretend to know a lot about politics – only a lot more fun. I’m no exception – I don’t follow the college regular season all that much – but I do love March Madness. Here are my guidelines for picking a winning bracket.*

*You might be wondering what my qualifications are. Well, I enter two or three bracket challenges every year – and I’ve won two of them in my life. Sure, the first one was when I was 12 years old, and the second was a pool of 13 people, but a win is a win, damn it! Plus, I did research for this. So, yeah, I’d say I’m pretty qualified.

Without further ado:

1.       Do not take any advice from Charlie Sheen.

This is more of a general life rule rather than merely a bracket rule. But really, you ought to see his picks from last year, which he submitted to the Dan Patrick Show. He had Long Island and Akron in the championship game… which would finish in a TIE. I know plenty of people who follow the experts’ brackets to a ‘T’, but Charlie Sheen is not a college basketball expert. If you ever need to know how much a suitcase of cocaine weighs, or the quickest way to sabotage your own career unnecessarily, then Charlie ought to be the Yoda to your Skywalker. If not, then steer clear of advice/forecasts the man makes.

In case you think I’m full of it, here’s the link to his 2011 bracket: http://media.danpatrick.com/celebrity-bracket-challenge-charlie-sheen/


2.       Is your alma mater / favorite school in the tournament?

I realize it’s tough to pick objectively when your school is in The Dance, so here’s a helpful guide for you:

Seed: How far to pick them:


They won’t win. Sorry. Ain’t happening. How small of a college did you go to, anyway?
14-13 Ah, hell, take them in a first round upset. You’d hate to be the one person who didn’t ‘keep the faith’. But end it right there – there’s no way they win 2 games.
12-10 Sweet 16 – crazier things have happened.
9-7 Elite 8 – why not?
6-4 Final Four!



3.       Do you like underdogs?

Are you the type of person to get misty-eyed at the little guy going toe to toe with the big guy? Did you root for David in the classic case of David v. Goliath? Did you punch a hole in your wall when Butler lost to Duke at the buzzer in the 2010 championship game? If you answered yes to two or more of these questions, please pay attention to the following advice. It’s important to pick your spots when choosing underdogs in the NCAA Tournament. Sure, in recent years there have been some great Cinderella stories – but you can’t go choosing them all willy-nilly.

Don’t even bother: 16, 15 and 14 seeds – The records for each since 1985 (when the tournament expanded to 64 teams: 16 seeds: 0-108. 15 seeds: 4-108. 14 seeds: 18-108, and just 3-48 since 2000. Pass on these teams.

Potential for first weekend upsets: 13 and 12 seeds – A 13th seeded team has beaten a 4th seed in 20 of the 27 tournaments since 1985. And 12 seeds have won 12 games since 2008, which ties them with 11th, 10th and 6th seeded teams and exceeds the output of 9 and 7 seeds. Point is, pick an upset from this batch and ride it for a couple rounds. The odds are in your favor.

Getting more to a 50-50 proposition: 11 and 10 seeds – 11 seeds have an up and down history in the tournament. Since 1996, 10th seeded teams, as a group, have won multiple games every year (except for 2007). That’s something 9,8 and 7 seeds can’t say. Does that mean an 11 or a 10 will make a run in the tournament? The deepest a 10 has ever gotten is the Elite 8. VCU (2011) and George Mason (2006) are recent examples of 11 seeds who have made deep runs. Pick one from the batch of 11s and 10s and ride them to the second weekend.

Seriously, just roll the dice: The 9 vs 8 games – No, really. Flip a quarter on the first game, then remember that 4 of the 108 Final Four teams since ’85 were an 8 or a 9 seed. Good for a victory, then they play a 1 seed, and then they go home. Steer clear of any lasting Cinderella picks from these teams.


4.       Do you hate underdogs, and enjoy taking top seeds through much of the tournament?

A)     That’s totally lame.

B)      Have some guts for once in your life.

C)      Statistically speaking, the odds are not at all in your favor. The four #1 seeds have all reached the Final Four once since 1985 (which was in 2008). If you tallied the number of seeds in the Final Four (for instance, four #1s would equal ‘4’, four #2s would equal ‘8’, etc) you’d see an interesting trend in college hoops – the average is slowly climbing higher. Teams with worse seeds have been making it to the Final Four more often in the past few years.



Average Total Number of Final Four Seeds







There are any number of factors that could explain the increasing level of chaos when it comes to the Final Four teams – ‘one and done’ players at elite programs meaning turnover is higher and dynasties are tougher to maintain, the shocking lack of upperclassmen (and thus, experienced players) across college basketball, etc. No matter how you look at it, the trend is clear. Seeding means a little less than it used to, and just because one team has the little ‘3’ next to it, and the opponent has the ‘6’, does not mean the ‘3’ seed is twice as good. The gap between great and good is smaller than it’s ever been – pick accordingly.

5.       So what’s the key to filling out a successful bracket?

Look, I think I’ve been up front about the fact I’m no expert. All I have for you is a little bit of advice – what seems to have worked okay for me in the past. Instead of looking at the bracket as a whole, condense it into parts. Instead of beginning at the top left of the bracket and choosing each game, round by round, pick your champion and work backwards from there. It’s easy to get sidetracked by the cool matchup possibilities. It’s easy to get off on a tangent, remembering that you once vacationed in Arizona and you liked it, so you should pick Arizona to make it really far… but if you’re in a cash bracket (if – er – if gambling were legal, which it isn’t, so you shouldn’t be – er, um, wagering money, uhhh…) and you really want to win, you can’t let that happen to you.

Don’t take the easy road, but don’t get too crazy. Pick your champion, then pick the rest of the regions, sprinkle in some upsets, then sit back and hope like crazy your Final Four teams survive. And above all else, enjoy the fact that the kids themselves will decide the champion of college basketball on the court, in a sudden death playoff, with nary a computer ranking to be found. And relish the fact that the next three weeks will contain more drama than an entire season of college football does. Because that, my friends, is why March is an amazing time of the year – whether you win money off the Madness or not.


Any compensatory monetary earnings gleaned from following the stellar advice found in this column can be sent to my home address, which you can obtain from me by e-mailing me at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com. Happy Bracket Day, everybody!

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