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Brackets Made Simple

March 14, 2012
NCAA Men's Basketball Trophy

Everybody wants to be the one to pick who will raise the NCAA Championship trophy on the first Monday in April.

By sometime mid-Monday morning, I realized that if saw or heard another person “get inside the brackets” and “break them down” for me, I was going to poke my own eyes out and puncture my eardrums. Although, since I decided to start this blog, it seems like I should take part.

I’m sorry. I just can’t, at least not in a traditional way.

First of all, I’ve never really been good at it. ONE TIME in a lifetime of filling out multiple bracket sheets did I ever even come close to winning my pool. I got to the Final Four with my team alive, and if they won, I won the whole sombrero full of peanuts. If they didn’t, I was out completely. Other than that, I’ve never really been close.

Besides my having almost no success in the bracket game, be honest, you don’t even care what anybody tells you about how to fill out a bracket. We all have our own bracket systems. They don’t necessarily work. My all-time favorite was when my younger son who was maybe six at the time, picked American U. to win it all, explaining “after all, dad, we ARE all Americans. And whatever our system is, we are following that system – even if it has NEVER worked. And we’ll do it because the reality is that the tradition of NCAA Tournament Bracket pools is pretty much the once-a-year lottery without tying anybody up in line at the quickie mart. We all have a plan and ONE DAY it will come through for us.

But for those of you who don’t want to be left out of the office excitement and who maybe haven’t come up with a plan, I have compiled seven possibilities for you here. Consider this your opportunity to take part while still just filling in the quick pick box.

You don’t even have to look anything up; I have filled out sample brackets for you. Click on the thumbnails to see how things turn out.

Use the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI)

Fab Melo

The loss of Fab Melo for Syracuse may render
the RPI method kaput.

RPI BracketWhy not? The RPI is one of the factors that the Tournament Selection Committee uses to select and seed the teams. It looks at the overall strength of a team’s schedule and how the team did against that schedule. The idea is that if you pick with the RPI only, you will pick the stronger team in a matchup.
Positives: Picking the stronger team consistently.

Negatives: Almost no upsets. Half the fun of following the Tournament is rooting for upsets in the first two days of games. The RPI (according to Real Time RPI) provides only two “upsets” in the first round and both are on the 8-9 line, so very evenly matched teams anyway. There is also only one non-1 or 2 seed in the Elite 8 (Marqette).

The other big negative is that RPI hasn’t updated since Syracuse announced on Tuesday that Fab Melo had been suspended for the NCAA Tournament and wouldn’t play. And according to RPI, they win it all.

Use the Kenpom Ratings

Kenpom BracketLike RPI, Kenpom is a mathematical formula that ranks teams. It differs from RPI in that it adjusts for a team’s tempo, so it’s a better gauge of HOW they play. It’s all very mathy, and frankly I don’t fully understand it. I just know a lot of people who swear by it.
Positives: Bigger Upsets. Kenpom has two 11 seeds (Texas and NC State) winning games. It also has 10 seed Purdue winning in the first round. It even has First Four participant Cal (assuming a win in their First Four game against South Florida) advancing to the third round over Temple. Kenpom also has fifth-seeded New Mexico as the only non 1-4 seed to reach the Sweet 16.

The biggest positive, however, is that it has Kentucky winning.

Negatives: Are you kidding? Did you not see that it had Kentucky winning? Okay, if I have to find one, it’s still short on the kind of Cinderella stories that make the NCAA Tournament so much fun for fans and non fans alike.

Pick the Higher Seed

Higher Seed BracketWith all the excitement around upsets, you’d think nobody would ever try this. You’d be wrong. At a former job, the one really pretty girl in an office full of men turned in exactly this bracket and won the pool. Keep in mind that this was in an office where every other person on the floor obsessed over the teams, stats and matchups of the NCAA Tournament for two full months leading up to the games. We knew every player’s name; cross checked every stat and had seen every team’s schedule and results more than once. And we all lost to the girl who picked only favorites.
Positives: If you pick the best team in every game, they’re going to win a lot. Kentucky wins.

Negatives: It is boring as hell.

The Blindfold Bracket


Unfortunately there are no teams actually called the Wombats in the Tournament.

Blidfold BracketThe Wall Street Journal rolled this one out this week. It took all the team names away and replaced them with random animal names. Then it rated all the teams for hot streak, experience, height, offense, defense and three-point shooting. You looked at the ratings and clicked the team that looked better. At the end, it told you who you had selected. It was pretty cool. Not sure if it is still functioning since the First Four games are over (they were included), but in case it is, you need to head over there and try it.
Positives: Really cool idea. Takes away your personal team biases.

Negatives: I didn’t pick Kentucky. And I was constantly tempted to pick the Wombats (whoever they were), just because that’s probably the coolest sounding animal name.

And that really is all the sane, rational, grounded in reality options there are, so let’s get to some more non-standard systems:

The Homer Bracket

Homer BracketWe all have reasons we cheer for certain teams. It could be where we went to school, where we grew up, what conference they’re in, whatever. For me, it’s a combination of things.

I grew up on the Cincinnati area – on the good side of the Ohio River. That brought a lot of influences. I have always loved Kentucky basketball, but I also follow Xavier and to a lesser extent Cincinnati. I was a big Ohio State football fan growing up, so they are in the mix too. I am Catholic, so when in doubt, root for the Catholic school. I also used to work in college athletics, so I worked with a few coaches and staff people at schools in the Tournament. Beyond that, I hold grudges. Those are the things you need to know as you look at the bracket. I picked every Kentucky team. I picked Cincinnati teams and Ohio State. I picked teams where I had great experiences working for and with people at those schools and I punished schools that either fired people I liked or that broke my heart.  If no factors existed, I took the higher seed.


Cincinnati -- from the good side of the River.

The Second (really first) Round was easy. Only a couple of games really posed problems. Notre Dame and Xavier matched two Catholic schools I follow regularly. Xavier moves on, based on my bigger Musketeers fandom and proximity to my boyhood home.  Ohio State plays a Catholic school, but we go with the favored team over religion in that one. Two upsets get picked in the first round. I take Virginia over Florida because for whatever reason, I just can’t stand the Gators. I blame Joakim Noah. I also took Southern Miss over Kansas State. The Wildcats once fired Jim Wooldridge as their head coach. Coach Wooldridge had been at Southwest Texas State when I was there as an intern and treated me better than I deserved. Their impudence cannot be forgiven.

The round of 32 was a breeze, only the St. Mary’s-Detroit game matched conflicting teams (both Catholic), so the higher seeded Gaels move on.

It gets trickier as the funnel narrows. The round of 16 matches St. Louis (Catholic) with Louisville, Cincinnati and Ohio State, Catholic schools Georgetown and St. Mary’s and Kentucky and Indiana. In a stunner, St. Louis advances over Louisville. I’m not a Rick Pitino fan, but primarily St. Louis assistant coach Jim Whitesell was at a school that I worked at and also treated me better than I deserved. The Billikins roll on. Cincy-Ohio State goes to Ohio State based on my Xavier fandom. Proximity can only carry the Bearcats so far before I remember the rivalry. St. Mary’s gets past Georgetown on the basis of having never beaten Kentucky in the Final Four. Kentucky-Indiana shouldn’t be a problem, but Indiana SID J.D. Campbell hired me in his office and to do radio games at NKU when I was in college and gave my life a direction it had lacked mightily to that point. I could never repay all I owe to him. And I really want him to experience a Final Four, unfortunately I just can’t make it be at Kentucky’s expense. I blame the Committee.

Boyhood favorites take over from there with Kentucky and Ohio State meeting in the National Championship game and Kentucky taking the title.
Positives: You are ALWAYS rooting for a team for a good reason.

Negatives: Again, Kentucky wins. No negatives.

The Mascot Bracket

Syracuse Orange


Mascot BracketI was a mascot for a while in college, so I have a soft spot for the creatures.  This one is easy. Just pick the tougher sounding mascot. It’s only a problem if you have no idea what either mascot is (Indiana-New Mexico State) or two of the same mascots meet up (Missouri-Memphis). Basically, natural disasters trump almost everything. So Iowa State (Cyclones) and Alabama (Tide) do well here.  The Iowa State title run gets derailed, however, by the Detroit Titans, because I saw Clash of the Titans and think the Titans can either start or stop natural disasters. I get confused.

There was only one game that was hard to call and again it was Xavier Notre Dame. Notre Dame advances this time because they have Fighting in their name and, well, weren’t the Three Musketeers French? Not very intimidating.
Positives:  Easy and really kind of fun

Negatives: The top-seeded Syracuse Orange do not have a very tough mascot.

The Coin Toss Bracket

Coin Toss BracketWhat can it hurt? It can’t honestly be any worse than I usually do in these things. So I flipped a 2000 South Carolina quarter for all 63 games. Heads, top line advances. Tails, bottom line goes through.

I don’t think the South Carolina quarter is properly weighted. It was completely upset happy. It picked 20 in the first round, including the first 16 over 1 seed game in history. Oddly, it picked the one that — given the Fab Melo situation — could maybe happen. It also picked all 15 seeds to win in the second round.  UNC was the last 1 seed out in the Elite 8.
Positives: No thought at all to anything. Perfect for me.

Negatives: In this case, a completely ludicrous final matching Murray State and St. Bonaventure. So, no chance of winning.

And that’s it. All of the brackets have been added to the bracket challenge being run by my friends at the Elitist Jerk Sports Information Collective. You can follow along to see which one ends up the best. Or you can enter your own. I also encourage you to check out their site. Good, fun writing by a lot of smart people.

Hopefully, this will give you what you need to be successful or just have fun with your office pool this year.

And I just couldn’t help myself. Here is my best guess at what might actually happen.


  1. Just realized only I can see my bracket selections in this format until the tournament starts. I’ll try to come up with another way to post them as soon as I can. Damn.

  2. Alright, NOW you can see who I ended up picking. Just click the thumbnails.

  3. Jim Kelsey permalink

    I like all of these. I realized long ago that I don’t know nearly as much about who’s going to win as I would like to think I do. Other bracket strategies to try: pick the team you want to win the LEAST (ensures that, regardless of the outcome, you’ll have something to be happy about); which school has the most famous alumni; prettiest cheerleaders; most NBA players, etc., but those last few require research — and who wants to do that?

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