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Mar 132015

The traditional NCAA bracket entry is scored in progressive powers of two, such that each round offers 32 points. First round games are worth 1 point, second round 2, etc., and the final game is worth 32.

The leverage of the championship game – worth 32 points out of a possible 192 – is why so many entries pick the overall favorite. This year that favorite will be Kentucky. I predict your pool, if it uses traditional scoring, will have over 40% of the entries picking Kentucky as the champ.

The problem with picking the overall favorite yourself is it is what is known as a “crowded trade.” You already know nearly half the other entries are picking Kentucky. So whether you win the pool, with Kentucky as your champ, is a different matter from whether Kentucky wins the tournament. If Kentucky wins, your pool’s champ will probably be determined by a handful of early round games.

The corollary to this is that if you’re confident in your picking ability, you SHOULD pick Kentucky, because you expect other entries to have worse records than yours in the earlier rounds.

I prefer to look for low hanging fruit in terms of strong teams being underpicked by fans in pools. I predict schools like Virginia, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Villanova will all be underrepresented in pool entries to win it all relative to their probability of winning the whole tournament. Imagine you’re the only one in your pool who picks Wisconsin – that’s a wide margin of error for any earlier round games that you missed. Compare that to if you pick Kentucky – your early round picks had better be nearly perfect.

Scoring method matters. Some pools score rounds in a linearly increasing sequence (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6); in this case the final game counts for a mere 6 out of 120 points. Some pools now use Fibonacci (1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13); here the final is worth only 13 out of 137. In both cases, getting the champ wrong hurts you less than it does in a traditional power-two pool, so you can afford to take more chances.

 Posted by on March 13, 2015 at 4:05 pm