Tips for picking a winning bracket from Badger Bracketology

These tips for winning your March Madness bracket pool is reblogged from Punk Rock Operations Research.

1 Ignore RPI, use math based rankings instead to take strength of schedule into account.

Ken Massey has a rankings clearinghouse here: I’m happy to say that I’m the only women contributor to this list :) My rankings are posted there and can be found here.

2 Pay attention to the seeds

The seeds matter because they determine a team’s path to the Final Four. Some seeds generate more upsets than others, such as 7-10 seeds and 5-12 seeds. Historically, 6-11 seeds go the longest before facing a 1 or 2 seed. Teams with an 8 seed face a tough Round-of-64 opponent and have to face a 1 seed next (sorry Badgers).

However, there are plenty of upsets. The Final Four has been composed of all 1 seeds only once. See BracketOdds at Illinois for more information on how the seeds have fared.

Having said that, the committee doesn’t always get it right. There are Some teams like SMU, Wichita State, and Xavier are underseeded and are poised to upset. Also, Villanova is the overall #1 seed and has a 15% chance of winning the entire tournament, which is low, meaning that there isn’t a strong favorite this year.

3 Don’t pick Kansas to win it all

Be strategic. The point is NOT to maximize your points, it’s to get more points than your opponents. I’ve been getting in the habit of picking my Final Four first and filling in the rest later.  You can pick the eventual winner (say, Villanova) and still lose your pool if everyone else picks Villanova. FiveThirtyEight estimates that Villanova has a 15% chance of winning the tournament, meaning that another team is probably going to win.

One way to be strategic is to pick an undervalued top team to win the tournament. For example, last year Kansas was selected as the overall winner in 27% of brackets on ESPN and in 62% of Final Fours) despite having an overall 19% chance of winning (538). On the other hand, UNC was selected as the overall winner in 8% of brackets (with a 15% win probability). Getting UNC right last year helped vault past those who picked Kansas.

4 It’s random

The way brackets are scored means that randomness rules. It’s easy to forget that a good process does not guarantee the best outcome in any give year. A good process yields better outcomes on average but your mileage may vary any given year (at least that what I tell myself when I don’t win my pool!)

Small pools are better if you have a good process. The more people in a pool, the higher chance that someone will accidentally make a good bracket with a bad process. It’s like stormtroopers shooting at a target. They’re terrible, but if they take enough shots they’ll hit the target once. 

For more reading:

NCAA men’s Division I basketball rankings on Selection Sunday, March 12, 2017

Here are my Selection Sunday rankings.  These are final after all games have been finished. I posted the full ranking under the “NCAA BB rankings” tab. I’m happy to say that Wisconsin has re-entered the top 25!

  1. Gonzaga
  2. Villanova
  3. Kentucky
  4. SMU
  5. Wichita St
  6. Arizona
  7. UCLA
  8. Duke
  9. Cincinnati
  10. Oregon
  11. MTSU
  12. North Carolina
  13. St Marys CA
  14. West Virginia
  15. Kansas
  16. Nevada
  17. Purdue
  18. Vermont
  19. UNC Wilmington
  20. Michigan
  21. Florida St
  22. VA Commonwealth
  23. Notre Dame
  24. Bucknell
  25. Wisconsin

Here are the final B1G rankings:

17 Purdue
20 Michigan
25 Wisconsin
41 Northwestern
43 Minnesota
54 Maryland
78 Indiana
87 Michigan St
121 Iowa
130 Illinois
141 Ohio St
176 Penn St
187 Rutgers
242 Nebraska



NCAA men’s Division I basketball rankings, March 6, 2017

Here are this week’s rankings.  The full ranking is under the “NCAA BB rankings” tab.

1 Gonzaga
2 Villanova
4 Wichita St
5 Kansas
6 Kentucky
8 Cincinnati
9 Purdue
10 North Carolina
11 Oregon
12 Arizona
13 St Marys CA
14 West Virginia
15 Florida
17 Baylor
18 Florida St
19 Louisville
20 Monmouth NJ
21 Duke
22 UNC Wilmington
23 VA Commonwealth
24 Butler
25 Vermont

Here are the B1G teams, ranked.

9 Purdue
30 Wisconsin
37 Maryland
39 Minnesota
43 Michigan
45 Northwestern
85 Indiana
93 Iowa
94 Michigan St
106 Illinois
114 Ohio St
182 Penn St
202 Rutgers
230 Nebraska