Sheer Madness

fiorenza_bracketThis is March Madness, the time when just about anybody can be a seer, a critic, and an erstwhile college basketball fan. It’s all about the teams, the crazy pace, the atmosphere, and yes indeed, the brackets. I myself fill out no less than four brackets each year. Last year I even picked the eventual champion but I ended up fifth in that bracket challenge because I had none of the other Final Four teams. That’s the glory of the Madness, that just picking the eventual champion may not be enough. But it’s a start.

I was introduced to Final Four brackets eight years ago when I was working at a high school and all of the other teachers were in on one. I wanted in too, even though I knew absolutely nothing about college basketball, so I asked another teacher friend if I should do it. She told me she knew probably less than me, I laughed, and I have been hooked ever since. At first I pretty much only picked teams I was familiar with because of their national popularity, like Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Maryland, but that quickly killed me. I knew I had to figure out another system or I was going to keep losing money to those who had plans.

That’s when I developed what I call the “eye” for picking upsets, because that’s where the real skill lies. It’s easy for someone to pick Florida to win its side of the bracket, but when you go with Southern Illinois, that takes cojones. The skill is in knowing the teams just enough to be able to figure out both legitimate upset “victims” and possible upset “victors.” Like last year, I took Wichita State to the Elite Eight when absolutely no one else in my bracket challenge believed. Or if you had the foresight to predict that Marquette wouldn’t be an upset victim.

The simplest bracket selection is to take all the top seeds in any matchup and see what happens. The problem with that is that there usually are upsets along the way, or even without upsets, some of those first round 8-9 matchups are almost coin flips, and 9s have had better times against 8s recently anyway. So start with that if you’re looking to make inroads. Here are some ideas to go with a relatively generic bracket that could pay dividends:

  • Pick all #1 seeds to advance to the Final Four
  • Pick only one #1 seed to advance to the Championship Game
  • Pick all #9 seeds to beat #8 seeds in the first round
  • Ride the hot hands going into the tournament (i.e. New Mexico)
  • Beware the “cold” teams (i.e. Syracuse)
  • Look for the “Cinderella” teams (don’t count out Providence)
  • Don’t listen to what anyone else says
  • Trust your instincts

That’s the biggest key, to listen to your instincts. They have served me well over the years. And never second-guess yourself because of what other people say or what teams they’re going with. Someone has to win your Bracket Challenge, and for it to be you, you have to be able to take some risk that others won’t be willing to take. It means nothing if you’re fifth, so why not take those chances with the opportunity to be number one?

The selection show is tonight, and I will be watching and doing those calculations in my head. I very well might not pick all #1 seeds to advance to the Final Four this year, just because if Louisville isn’t a #1 seed I would go with them instead. They are one of the hottest teams right now entering the tournament. Those are the things you have to weigh yourself. After the selection show I will be posting my own preliminary bracket.

The Fantasy Ace

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