Brackets, Baby

For the first time in years I didn't fill out a bracket immediately after they were published. I will probably do 40. Invariably, I'll be able to say I predicted every game correctly, of course by the same token I'll also have gotten it wrong more times than right. I focus on the positive though, not the negative. I knew a guy that used to only buy 1 powerball ticket, because as he would say if I bought two, even if I won, I'd also lose. That's actually a pretty good point... but back to the brackets.

Some rules to live by in filling out your bracket.
1. There are no rules.

That was quick. Like spotting patterns in the stock market once you see a trend it bucks itself. 5s always lose to a 12 seed. Last year every 5 won. 1s and 2s never lose a first round game. The little Spiders of the University of Richmond were the first to upend a 2 seed when they beat Syracuse and that has since happenend three more times. So now the rule is 1 seeds are invulnerable. Well, a couple of years ago Albany almost took out UConn, in the year of the midmajor. In that same year, the truism "mid-majors can't make the final four anymore" was overturned, by the improbable George Mason Patriots.

It's only a matter of time before a one seed falls. Will it be this year? In women's basketball it's already happened. And the answer is... well that women's basketball. Except the seperation between the really good teams, 1 seeds and the like, is arguably much greater than it is in men's basketball. So we are overdue.

For those that bet the games some rules to help you out.

1. There are no rules.

That was quick as well. Used to be a pretty simple formula that would win you money through the first two weekends of the tournament. Bet the dogs round one. Bet the favorites round two. Bet the dogs in the 3rd round. After that the favorite-dogs are about 50/50. Unfortunately, they aren't just printing money at the casinos or at your neighborhood bookies. The lines are tighter and more on the money then ever. I would tend to agree with this strategy for a logical viewpoint, but I think you are better off considering each game uniquely.

In the regular season if a line looks too good to be true it usually was, which is another rule that is worthless come tourney time. Many of those times, those games were more crooked than a tennis match involving two russians or an ice-dancing contest with an all french panel of judges. The fix would invariably shown to be in--just five years later. Or there are injuries the rest of the world knows about that you don't like, the starting point guard O'Ded on NyQuil the night before.

HOWEVER, in the tournament, as of yet in the modern era, there has never been a fixed game that anyone knows about. If you do your research, and there are no injuries or latent storylines, then you can at least feel safe the game isn't fixed. There are some juicy lines out there especially if you do your research. Is Georgetown 18.5 points better than UMBC? I'd advise looking into that little known team nobody is talking about.

Alright enough with the gambling. Wait, what else and I going to talk about on a poker blog. Once upon a time I took a four team parlay (sucker bet) with all the number 1s covering, even though they never cover (remember go opposite of a rule), and they all covered. Well, I tried it the next couple of years running and beside one case of almost losing all four, which I started to cheer for after losing the first two, I never even got a fourth game sweat. Still, it's due to hit again, also, it's brainless, and it will give you something to root for during the likely 30 point blowouts those games will be (remember 1 seeds never lose).

Back to the soft-gambling, picking brackets. There are some conventional wisdoms that always turn out to be untruths. Again, somebody is trying to make a rule. Guess what, in a paragraph I'm going to contradict this, but bare with me for now. Teams that got slighted in seeds always overachieve is a popular theory. Actually it's just the opposite. This years test case will be Indiana who got screwed with 8 seed and possibly face UNC in the second round (1s never lose right?). As much as UNC would rather not face Indiana, which two weeks ago you'd say would only happen in a regional final, don't be surprised if Indiana comes out and lays an egg vs. Arkansas.

BTW, one March rule, (though it will probably be bucked this year), is bet the NIT. Take any team that felt they should have been in the NCAA and got shafted, and then bet against them. Bet them all. If there are four, one will cover and three will lose outright--which is a nice score for you. Until, the market self-corrects, this is the current immutable law. Didn't I just violate my only rule--there are no rules. Except it's the NIT, so remember for the NCAA there are no rules.

It used to be the talking heads would pick the same Cinderellas and the real ones would come from nowhere. So the rule was ignore what they say. Then the past couple of years, teams like Winthrop actually won when everybody picked them to. Who is everybody salivating over? Well, they like 3 seeded Xavier to go deep (and I do depending on Drew Lavender's health) and Davidson who beat nobody but played a lot of somebodies and played them tough.

Three years ago, I would have crossed Davidson off the list immediately upon discovering they are this years unofficial sweetheart but now I don't know. Which brings me to my final team. Whoever I pick in the Gonzaga game: pick opposite. Me and a friend of mine in DC are Gonzaga's bitches. We wanted to make up T-Shirt's for March Madness that said, "I'm Gonzaga's Bitch," because every year I pick them they choke. Every year I don't they win.

Oddly, people are saying they struggle as a low seed and succeed as a high seed. This sounds pretty close to a rule. So you should do opposite, unless I do, because whatever I do they'll do opposite. They are a seven seed this year. Which means you should pick them to lose... unless I do.

Okay... finally some real tips you can use. If you are in a small pool. Pick conservatively. Most years cinderellas don't make it to the second weekend and certainly not the second game of the second weekend. If you are playing a small field, no need to get crazy. Pick a team 1-4 seeded to win it all and pick low seeds in your final four. When it doubt go with the higher seed.

If you are in a big pool, this strategy is less effective, but be a little daring. Like poker in a huge field, you take some risks to amass some chips, because you are going to need them. If there are 500 in the pool, 200 of them are going to do conservative, and odds are one of their conservative will be slightly better than yours. So your best chance to win a nice chunk of change is to take some risks. If the risk hits you are going are going to be sitting pretty. Who cares if you are 499 out of 500 for three years running, the year you hit, you are taking all the cheese. And the real money like in poker is for coming in first.

Participate in a tournament that uses a site that rewards the biggest price for a perfect bracket. You won't hit it... but if lightning strikes you want be cursing yourself either. I'm doing a bracket on Yahoo, which rewards 5 million for the perfect one. If you want to join email me.

Anyway, good luck.


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