Kevin McCune

Well, the NCAA tournament field is set. Powers The Ohio State University, Kansas University, the University of Pittsburgh and Duke University are the no. 1 seeds and the favorites to make the Final Four. Today we’ll fill out our NCAA tourney office pools. We’ll mull over the brackets and try to pick the upsets.

Those of us self-proclaimed sports experts will think we have the upper hand and some inside knowledge because we wasted time in December that could have been spent with friends or studying by instead watching mid-season college basketball games like Duke v. St. Louis University, University of Cincinnati v. Utah Valley University or University of Arizona v. Robert Morris University.

For some, sadly including myself, we watched these games as a form of preparation, scouting and inside knowledge. How does this or that team respond to adversity within a game? How does this or that team respond to an injury to a main guy? How do they move defensively? Do they seem smooth on offense? We watched these seemingly meaningless games in which we knew one team would walk over another and made mental notes and comparisons – all for the tournament.

The truth for all of us sports nerds is that all of that so-called research really means nothing when it comes to tournament time. Bad teams play harder in the tourney and good teams play more on edge and upset alert, so season evaluations don’t matter as much as some think. I mean seriously how many of us had George Mason University in the Final Four a few years ago, or put Dwyane Wade’s Marquette University team in the Final Four for that matter back in 2003 before we knew Dwyane Wade was well, Dwyane Wade.

The bottom line is that it’s all guesswork; everybody has a mom or knows someone who has a mom who has won a tourney pool without watching or taking interest in a single regular season game. Heck, my sister put Marquette in the Final Four back in 2003, not because of Wade, but because she liked the name Marquette and she ended up winning the whole thing. It just goes to prove there’s no exact science when it comes to filling out those brackets. Whether you pick your teams based on who has the prettier uniforms or you just straight copy Dick Vitale’s picks, who’s really got the better strategy?

If you want to win your office pools, however, there are a few strategies you can implement to be successful.

Don’t pick an absurd number of upsets: Some people go into filling out their brackets thinking that if they guess the most number of correct upsets it will help their chances of winning. The opposite, however, is actually true. Unless you have a time machine there’s almost zero percent chance that you’re going to guess every single game right. The favorites are the favorites for a reason; odds are they’re going to win most of the time. So if you don’t get that 12-5 match up upset right, don’t worry because that 12 seed will likely lose in the next round anyway. I’m not saying don’t pick any upsets, if you feel strongly here are there go ahead and pick it, also there’s always upsets in the close 7-10 and 8-9 match-ups because those teams are so close usually in talent level.

Play multiple brackets: This is a good strategy especially for all those games you feel like are a coin flip. I’m not saying put money in for 64 brackets and break yourself, I’m saying pay for two brackets, three at the most. On one bracket put all those coin flip games where you feel stronger about one team, and on the other put the ones you don’t feel as strongly about. It’s kind of like a form of insurance. If you do fill out multiple brackets though, don’t put the same champion on both.

Don’t pick play-in teams to upset: There are now four play-in games and while a pick like 12 seeded University of Alabama-Birmingham who was the Conference USA regular season champ, or Clemson University who made a nice little run in the Atlantic Coast Conference tourney look like a potential good upset pick over West Virginia University, remember that play-in teams are play-in teams for a reason, they’re not expected to do anything, so don’t be cute and give them places on your bracket. If they win, cut your losses for the round because they’re not going to win the whole thing.

Consider match-ups: If you’re a sports nerd like me, sometimes it can be wise to think about match-ups. For instance, Villanova University is a good team, but let’s be honest they have no inside game. If they face a team with a talented inside presence, picking them might not be wise. The No. 1 overall seed Ohio State’s only inside scoring threat is Jared Sullinger so you might think they’ll struggle in the tourney because of it. But then when you look at a few of the other top teams in their bracket like fourth-seeded University of Kentucky and two seed University of North Carolina, they also leave a lot to be desired on the inside.

Don’t carry lower seeds to the Final Four: It’s fun to carry a seven, eight or nine seed to the Final Four or even try to predict an 11 seed like George Mason, but the gamble is nothing but a stupid one. Three out of four Final Four teams is better than two or even one.

In the end these tips may not be beneficial or helpful at all, maybe you would be better served to simply pick the team with the prettier uniform. After all, it’s guesswork.

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