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March Madness Pool


It’s almost time for the biggest show in basketball: March Madness—otherwise know as the NCAA basketball tournament—when hoop fans are madder than the March Hare.

The best teams in the men’s and women’s games will soon be selected to participate in a tournament, which culminates in crowning the champions for both genders. Connecticut fans hope this year will result in a 12th National Championship for the UConn women while those in Massachusetts and New York will be cheering for their own personal favorites and alma maters.

But let’s cut to the chase. The true beauty—and real fun—of March Madness is the annual office pool. People put up five, ten or twenty bucks (okay, maybe more) to be a part them, whether they know anything about college basketball or not.

It is estimated that several billion dollars changes hands in these pools. You can hardly go anywhere during March without being asked if you want to be part of the action. Most are pretty basic setups in which participants try to pick the winner of each game.

Some are pools that incorporate the point spread into the equation and others are called “knockout” pools, where you pick one team (you can pick that team only once during the tournament) to advance through each round.

I’ve tried various means of winning these pools. I’ve studied long and hard to determine which team will come out on top. I’ve winged it and just played hunches. I’ve played only favorites and played only underdogs. And I have chosen teams I simply liked.

While there is no one successful approach to win the cash, there are a few tips from experts that might keep in you in the game until the Final Four and National Championship game.

Sports scribe Larry Olmstead interviewed noted Las Vegas prognosticator, Jay Rood, who said that when filling out brackets you should not let the seed number influence you. There are many times when a 10th seed is favored over a seventh. Fifth seed and 12th seed match-ups have proved very dangerous for the fifth seeds. Just because a team is seeded higher doesn’t mean the lower-seeded team can’t put up a good fight and win the game.

According to a Davidson University study, 76 percent of all NCAA Tournament upsets are by 10, 11 or 12 seeds (not counting the 8 versus 9 games). Citing the study Jay Solomon of CBS Sports advised bettors to look for talented double-digit seeds that underperformed in the regular season and/or have good matchups.

And Chris Taylor wrote for Reuters that, while everyone loves a Cinderella story, do not bet on it. According to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign computer science professor Sheldon Jacobson, teams ranked 13th, 14th, 15th or 16th average between one and two wins a year in the first round.

Jacobson told Taylor that he does not care which teams are stepping onto the basketball court. All he cares about is seeding because, to a large extent, placement predicts how a team will fare. For fairly consistent upsets, look at 5-versus-12 matchups, or the 6-versus-11.

Many office pools are heavily weighted towards those who pick the ultimate champion, so much so that they are almost impossible to win without doing so. Smart money says choose a top seed as your national champ.

Here are my words of wisdom:

• Look for one of lower seeds in the first round to pull off an upset. These could be champions of small conferences that don’t get enough credit or national coverage and are chomping at the bit to knock off one of the big teams. But even if they win, you should still dump them in later rounds. It isn’t likely that these teams will carry the momentum forward and pull off another upset two days later (although it can happen).

• Pick at least two or three of the number one or two seeds to go all the way to the Final Four. It usually happens that way and it’s a safe bet. You just have to choose the right ones. Bet that top teams that are playing their best are going farther into the tournament.

• Conversely, stay away from teams—no matter where they are seeded—that limp into the tournament. They may win a game, but there are clues that something isn’t right with the team’s chemistry and they won’t be able to sustain a long run.

• Find out which teams have more seniors and juniors in the rotation. These are seasoned clubs (usually from smaller conferences where players stay four years) that will hold up under pressure.

• Most of the glamour schools these days, i.e. Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina and the like, have “one and done” players who play one season of college ball and then head to the NBA. They are good but may be ripe for an upset somewhere along the line. But if a big-name school or top seed does have older, veteran players along with the kids, pick ’em. They have talent and experience.

• In the end, luck plays a vital role in winning the office pool. There’s always the person who winds up with the money who picked teams based on their nicknames or uniform colors.

• Hmmm…I might try that this year.