This time of year, everyone is a college basketball expert. Everywhere you look, there are talking heads that know exactly what your picks should be within your pool.
I am no expert.
I just love college basketball. I watch way too much college basketball. I will watch even more of it this weekend as the tournament begins and most of my life falls by the wayside (I plan on having the CBS basketball song stuck in my head until mid-April).
Since everyone is an expert, and everyone has their own pool, I am going to provide my advice for how to strategically succeed in your office/family/friends pool.
I believe there are three major strategies when it comes to NCAA brackets.
Play it like a fan:
Most seasons, I can sleep easy knowing the UCLA Bruins are going to be in the tournament. Without fail, I will place them way above their skill level and have them sitting in the Final Four each year they make the dance. This is what it means to be a fan. I can watch at home rooting for my squad to do well, and as they advance, so too does my bracket.
I am partial to Pac-12 teams and while filling out my bracket like a fan, I make sure to advance schools from the west coast even against higher seeds. The years that I have won my pools have been years that my favorite squad played beyond everyone else’s expectations.
This strategy does not always work out for a win in your pool, but it is the most satisfying feeling if/when it does. If you keep most of your upset picks within the 8/9 and 7/10 field, you may stand a chance at the end of the day. Obviously, playing it like a fan is much safer if you are rooting for a perennial winning squad like Kentucky and not a perennial low seed like Belmont.
Play it safe:
Watching ESPN this morning, most of the experts have picked one seeds to make it to the Final Four. No shit. The best teams in the country have the benefit of playing closer to home against easy matchups for the first weekend. It follows that one seeds are more likely to advance within the tournament.
If you want to play it safe within your pool, pick the higher seeds. Throw in a handful of upset picks in the early rounds but don’t get too crazy. If you simply want to accumulate points and make it deep within your pool, selecting the safe picks will keep you on the leaderboard.
I believe that when you play it safe, you need to be a bit heavy on the early upset picks in 7/10 matchups like Gonzaga Vs. West Virginia or second round games like Baylor Vs. UNLV (if Colorado advances I am going to be shocked). This is the only way to win your pool when you play it safe. You have to assume that some folks are going to fill out their brackets as safe as possible and just racking points for every higher seed win all the way to the Final Four.
Play reckless, to win it:
Forget everything you know about college basketball. The word Duke shouldn’t mean tradition of winning and solid coaching. Kentucky should just be another southern state you’ve never visited.
When you play reckless, you are playing to win it. Many folks call this bracket their “upset bracket” and throw an extra $5 entry into their pools just for fun. Aside from playing like a fan, this is my favorite strategy during tournament time (and since there are only 2 teams from the Pac-12 this year, I am going to be REALLY reckless with my picks).
Playing reckless means you are often picking the underdog and letting things like reputation and ranking go the wayside. However, there are smart ways to be reckless.
I rely heavily on reading up on RPI and how teams have played down the stretch while I am making my upset picks. Teams like Vanderbilt and Florida State are great examples of dark horse candidates to jack up everyone’s brackets this year. They are playing great ball when it matters most, now.
I don’t believe this is the perfect strategy to place third in your pool. In fact, playing it reckless is a long shot to win the whole damn pool. But again, if you pick a super upset heavy bracket, and things work out, you ARE going to win you pool.
Overall my advice is simple. Go with what you like. You are the damn expert this time of year. Screw the talking heads, forget what the statistics tell you, and pick with your gut/heart/flip of a coin. You can play it like a fan, play it safe, or just be reckless and hope you win it out right. At the end of the day, you are getting to enjoy the greatest three weeks of sports in America and giving yourself a reason to watch games while you should be doing productive things at work.