No matter who’s playing, here are a few helpful strategies for boosting your bracket’s odds of winning. —Samuel Anderson
It’s almost here, fellas. This weekend, the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee will announce the final 68 teams selected to compete in March Madness 2017, and the NCAA tournament will officially tip off the following Tuesday. That means, of course, that your Monday will be consumed with one of America’s favorite pastimes: filling out a bracket and betting ten bucks you’re almost guaranteed to never see again.
Now, every sports fan knows that “bracketology” is an inexact science—after all, there are 147,573,952,589,676,412,928 different possible brackets every year—and correctly predicting a winner is way more about dumb luck than it is skill. But that hasn’t stopped scores of statisticians, college math departments, and soothsayers alike to try and crack the un-crackable code on who will win. Bearing in mind everything we know, here are the best tips for increasing your chances of winning your bracket pool—or at least of avoiding office-wide shame. And if you’re a die-hard sports fan who gets stressed out every time the tourney comes around, here are the 5 Biggest Male Stressors—Conquered!
1. Pick Exactly Two No. 1 Seeds to Reach the Final Four
A website run by the Computer Science department at the University of Illinois has calculated 2017 seed predictions, which offers a general outline for performance expectations this year. It’s a helpful resource, as they’ve analyzed NCAA tournament data over decades.
Bearing in mind the chaos that will ensue, here are a few noteworthy observations: The 8 seed vs. 9 seed matches are essentially coin flips, but you’d be wise keeping most of the 1 through 7 seeds advancing—but not all of them. It’s most likely that only five of the top seven seeds actually move on to the next round. You can see their full breakdown here, but on one thing the Illinois-based researchers are all but certain: you’d be smarter betting on one or two number 1 seeds making it to the Final Four than all of them. “It is over 10 times more likely for a Final Four to contain zero No. 1 seeds that it is to contain four No. 1 seeds,” they write.
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2. Lean on Even More Technology
Anyone can fill out an online bracket blindly, but for a more scientific method, try the “March MATHness” site run by Davidson College’s Mathematics department. It offers you the opportunity to consider all sorts of variables when choosing winners in basically every possible matchup, including how teams perform on the road. If you’ve got the time, it’s worth it. According to Tim Chartier, a Davidson professor and March MATHness creator, his students are known to “finish in the 99th percentile of the ESPN tournament challenge.” If you don’t have the time, here’s a handy tip from Chartier: “The top teams this year for playing in the [championship] appear to be Kansas and Villanova or Villanova and Kentucky, depending on which model you use. Regardless of the model, we do see North Carolina, Kentucky and Florida near the top,” he told us.
3. Ignore the Chaos and Focus Only On Big Games
“The key to winning is to get the end right…who will be in the Final Four or Elite Eight,” says Michael Magazine, PhD, a business professor at the University of Cincinnati. “If you are unsure between two teams, literally flip a coin. Though upsets happen they are hard to predict,” he says. When asked who he saw winning the whole shebang, Magazine offered: “Kansas and UCLA in final with Kansas winning.”
4. Listen to former winners
Poll-based forecasting took a big hit in last year’s election, so if you’re going to take anyone’s advice, it might as well be from someone with a great track record of bracket success. “I like teams with good point guards because I think the ability to control a game and limit turnovers,” former president Obama once told ESPN in 2012. “I’m big on momentum. Whoever is looking hotter at the end of the year, those are the teams I’m more inclined to pick. Other than that it’s all throwing darts.”
As fate would have it, that year Obama correctly predicted two out of the Final Four.
5. If all else fails…
For a cool $99.95, you can pay someone else to make your predictions for you.
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