I thought about writing a full preview of the bracket, complete with match-up breakdowns and identifying the most likely contenders. Upon researching however, I found that everything I planned to include is already out there for consumption; I would not be adding any value by piling on with yet another opinion. Instead, the goal of this preview is to provide a guide on how to set up your bracket to put it in position to win an office pool. Will this guarantee that your bracket will win? Absolutely not. The idea is to get out of your own way and focus on the important aspect of the bracket: identify teams which are most likely to advance. I have a few rules I like to keep in mind when filling out a bracket, and I only go against them when I have a really good reason for it.
- First, set up your bracket with the 1 seeds advancing to the Sweet 16 and the 2,3, and 4 seeds advancing to round 2. Historically, these seeds have had at least an 80% success rate in these games, and there is a considerable drop-off from the 4 seed to 5 seed in round 1. If you have a good reason to go against a couple of these, go for it. Otherwise leave these as they are and move on.
- Protect the king. Think of each round of the bracket like a group of chess pieces. The king is the most important; you must protect it at all costs. This is your eventual champion, and it is important to not voluntarily drop a potential champion in the first weekend. Historically, there is a 91% chance that the eventual champion is a 1,2,3 or 4 seed, which is why the first rule is to keep all of them at least one round. Similarly, think of all the latest rounds as the more valuable chess pieces and the 1-win teams as pawns. Upsets are fun to pick, but if you only have that team getting to the round of 32 at the expense of a team that could make a deep run it isn’t worth it.
- A coach shouldn’t be picked to go more than 2 rounds further than their current best round. For example, if a coach has never taken a team to a Final Four, his current team should not be picked as a national champion. Similarly, if this is a coach’s first tournament appearance, his team should not be picked beyond the 2nd round (ignore play-in games). This is not a cover-all-scenarios rule; there certainly have been exceptions. But in general, it’s a good idea to keep a coach’s track record in tournaments in mind.
- Be aware of recent injuries to key players. If a team has gone through most/all of the regular season with injuries, then this can be ignored as we have a good sense of what that team is already. A player who has been sidelined since early February or later should be factored in.
- Superstar players can take over a game. Look at the list of Naismith semifinalists and all-conference 1st team players from the power conferences. Teams with multiple players on these lists are more likely to advance than teams with no players on these lists.
- Veteran players with tournament experience. Teams with a lot of players who have played in tournament games will tend to perform more consistently to or even above their expectations. The first-timers are more likely to falter under the brighter lights.
- High win percentage away from home. Teams that struggled on the road or at neutral sites during the season won’t all of a sudden figure it out at tournament time.
- Capability to blow out teams. If a team struggled to put away bad teams during the season, they are ripe for an upset in the tournament. Look for upsets of teams who weren’t able to crush anybody during the regular season.
- Strong record in close games. The tournament is full of them, so pick teams who tend to fare well in a tight match-up.
Metrics are important, but I’d tend to shy away from them unless they have a proven success rate over time. If you have something that you think is time-proof, test it out on the Algebracket over multiple years.
I’ll post my own bracket as soon as it is complete. Good luck out there!