March Madness is here…

Productivity is down.  Sick days are being used.  Lunches are being extended.  H1N1?  Nope – March Madness is upon us again! 

I look forward to this glorious time of year because picking the games is something I’ve actually gotten quite good at.  Now, I don’t want to call myself an expert…ok, yes I do.  At least one person has spent at least 5 seconds (I hope) trying to figure out what my keys to success are.  Against my better judgement, I have chosen to share those secrets with you, oh sportypolitics readers.  I do believe that, if followed, these simple rules will vault you to the top of your pool and bring you all the glory that comes with defeating your co-workers, friends or family.  I have divided the rules into two categories – the obvious and the not-so obvious.


  1. Pick at least one 12 seed in the first round – Since 1989, only two tournaments have concluded without a number 12 seed winning at least one game.  Why?  Well, 12 seeds are often the lowest seed that at-large teams will get.  What does that mean? Well, in all likelihood these are often very good teams from smaller conferences that are less valued by the selection committee.  And they are often matched up against “reputation” teams – a team that has had a glorious past but an iffy season (paging Michigan State).  So it boils down to a really good team from a under-represented conference versus a so-so team from one of the big conferences.  It’s no wonder David tends to win!  That being said, this year there is no obvious 12 seed victory but, forced to choose, I think UTEP and New Mexico State are the most likely winners.
  2. Cinderella – When I wrote a similar column back in 2004, I made the point that you could always be safe in picking Gonzaga to win at least one, and usually two games.  Well, my friends, the world has gotten more complicated and Gonzaga is no longer the lock it once was.  But, despite this, in all liklihood there will be a lower-seeded team that will make it to the sweet 16 (at least)  Finding that team is a sure fire way to vault to the top of the standings.  So who is it this year?  In 21 of the last 24 years, at least one #4 seed has fallen in the first round, so 13 seeds are a good place to start. With that in mind, I believe that Purdue is the most vulnerable 4 seed and Siena is really playing well right now.  So, if you want to find and support a Cinderella, I think Siena is your best bet.
  3. At least one (and probably two) 1 seeds will make the final four: Since 1985, each final four except one has featured at least one top seed.  That being said, top seeds rarely face off in the championship game.  So take them to the final four, but it is fairly likely that a 2 or 3 seed will be in the finals.  That’s one of the crazy things about this tournament…upsets are much more common in the early rounds than they are at the end.  And, despite frantic finishes and cinderella stories, the top seeded teams often are the ones left standing.

Ok, now for the less obvious:

  1. 8 vs 9 games will not be close…and in fact the 9 seed often wins: I don’t know why.  But they do.  So, when in doubt, pick the 9 seed.
  2. Forget record, look at RPI:  I’m not sure exactly sure how they compute it, but what I do know is that the lower the number the better the team. So if I’m not sure about a game, I always look at the RPI. When Stanford beats the Jersey City Tigers it looks like any other win in the team’s record. The RPI will see right through that fluff scheduling though.
  3. Look at the last 15 games: Maybe this is obvious, but momentum is key.  When in doubt, err on the side of the hot team.
  4. Look at where the games are being played: A west coast team playing their first round games on the east coast is not a good thing.  Teams getting ‘home’ games late in the tourney is a huge advantage. 
  5. The hometown rule: If a team from your hometown or the school you go to is ranked as a 12 seed or better you are required to pick them to win at least one game. If they are below that threshold you are not so required. This is a very serious rule, and if you follow it properly you will prosper.

And, finally, my strategy: Each year I pick one lower seeded team (3-5 seed) and take them all the way to the final four.  My theory is that, especially in larger pools, most people will have similar picks.  On the years I’ve nailed the ‘magic’ team (Maryland, Villanova) I have won my pools fairly easily.  Of course, you could play it safe and, if you do that, I hope you enjoy the middle of the pack.  Now, I’m not going to share my team right now but I will post it on Thursday  once the games start.

Good luck picking and enjoy the tourney!


Posted on March 16, 2010, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Ben:
    RPI factors in 3 components: winning percentage (25%), strength of schedule (50%) and opponent’s strength of schedule (25%). The formula also gives more weight to road wins.

    I’m looking forward to reading your picks!

  2. While reading through these tips, I thought I would add a few things for anyone crazy enough to take Ben’s advice on March Madness (or anything for that matter):

    Its usually a good idea to cater your picks to the pool you are entering based on size and scoring. For small pools and especially 1-on-1 bets, staying conservative can be the key to victory. Let the other person make the mistakes and you can reap the benefits. For larger pools and/or pools that reward picking upsets, feel free to go nuts (but not too nuts). These types of pools are when Ben’s tips are especially handy.

    Nice advice overall, Ben. I am sure you will do great in your pools… its just too bad you wont finish ahead of me!

  3. Great tips! Now, let’s just see if I can get them to work for me! lol

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