Brackets Made Simple 2
A year ago in this blog’s infancy, as a public service I chose to lay out a number of ways for people to choose their NCAA Tournament brackets without listening to a bunch of talking heads break down brackets and without doing a lot of work on their own. That process turned out to be a lot of work for me, but because I’m just that kind of guy, I have undertaken to do it all again.
And just like last year, I have paired four reasonably scientific ways of selecting a champion with three sheets of pure nonsense. As anybody who has ever produced an NCAA Tournament bracket for a competition of any kind knows, the nonsense brackets are damn near as likely to win as the scientific ones, just ask the new person in your office from some unknown country who has never seen a game before but filled one out just to fit in who won your office pool last year.
With that in mind, here we go for Brackets Made Simple 2! First the “scientific.”
Use Wall Street Journal Blindfold Brackets
I don’t know how long they’ve been doing it, but I discovered the Wall Street Journal Blindfold Brackets a year ago. The way it works is simple. WSJ assigns a value to each team in six categories. It gives those ratings to you in infographic form with a short descriptive sentence of the team and a range that it could be seeded in and then lets your eyes pick who the stronger team is from there. The results end up being fascinating. This year, that led me to seven first-round wins by double digit seeds with Davidson (14) pulling the biggest upset. I ended up with South Dakota State and Bucknell in the Sweet 16. But the Elite 8 ended up being all 1-4 seeds. It DID put St. Louis in the Final Four (more on this later).
The Blindfold Brackets were disappointing in one way this year though – team names. Last year the team names were all animals; some of them awesome. This year, they were household items. Let me tell you, a Wombats vs. Vampire Bats game is more fun to think about than a Screwdrivers vs. Coffee Tables.
Positives: Fun and fair.
Negatives: At least for this year, no Wombats
Use the RPI
The RPI is a math formula that the Selection Committee uses to select at-large teams and seed teams once they are in the Tournament. It measures a team’s performance and assigns that a number so teams can be evaluated on an allegedly equal footing.
Even with an allegedly hard and fast number to go by, the seeds to the RPI come out dodgy in a couple of places. Belmont is No. 19 in the RPI and was stuck with an 11 seed. Ohio State is 11 in the RPI headed into the Tournament and is a 2 seed. Also, two of the top four seeds aren’t in the top 4 in the RPI in Kansas (5) and Gonzaga (6). In two games – Pittsburgh-Wichita St. and Illinois-Colorado — a team with a worse RPI is seeded better than their opponent.
Negatives: Upsets are hard to come by. Even in Belmont’s case they lose their first-round matchup (I’m not counting the Tuesday/Wednesday games). The only 6 seed they would have beaten is UCLA. Oh and Duke wins. The RPI bracket finished FIFTH of seven options last year. Only mascots and coin toss did worse.
Positives: Duke wins. There can be no positives.
Use the Kenpom Rankings
Kenpom is another math thing. I don’t pretend to understand what it measures. It has something to do with overall strength and I’m told it’s a more predictive metric than the RPI, which tells you what has already happened. You could tell me it measured the relative freezing points of college basketball teams and I’d have no choice but to look at the numbers, shrug and take your word for it. There’s a reason I took my last math class in high school. Regardless, a lot of college basketball people and a ton of writers I respect swear by it.
According to Kenpom, the East Region is the easiest (average ranking is 60.125) and the West is the hardest (41.6875 average). However of the Final Four teams it picks – Louisville, Gonzaga, Florida and Indiana – Indiana out of the Midwest has the easiest route for games played at 66.5 average ranking per team. Florida’s route is the hardest at 44 average ranking.
In Kenpom, No. 7 Pittsburgh it one of the most underseeded teams with an 8 seed. No. 52 Butler is among the most overrated with its 6 seed. Minnesota is an 11 seed with a Kenpom ranking of 23, which is 21 points better than the UCLA team it plays in the first round.
Positives: Because it isn’t used in the selection process, Kenpom can allow for upsets. St. Mary’s would beat Memphis, and of course Minnesota beats UCLA. Although Butler wins their first round game over Bucknell. Interestingly that is the only 6-11 matchup they would win. Kenpom won this experiment last year.
Negatives: Florida wins it all.
Pick the Highest Seed
Negatives: No challenge. No upsets.
Positives: You get a LOT of games right.
And that’s it for “science,” which leaves us with ridiculousness.
There are several different ways to pick your ridiculous bracket if you don’t know college basketball, want to fit in and that’s what you want to go with. A favorite is by color. I’ll leave you to figure out what each team’s colors are and which ones you like best. I have concentrated on three options.
The Coin Toss Bracket
The coin toss app was noticeably heads-centric this year, going on 8- and 5-straight toss runs and ended up coming up heads 42 of 65 times (counting two play-ins that I had to figure out).
Positives: Think this is ridiculous? The coin picked BOTH 15 over 2 upsets last year.
Negatives: It is ridiculous. It picked all four 15 seeds to win last year. Also picked one 16 seed. And it picked another one this year. Oh, and Duke wins – at least in mine.
Pick Based on Mascots
Again, I was a mascot in college, so I have a soft spot for the oddly dressed, not-quite-cheerleaders whose antics either bring joy or abject terror to kids everywhere, so why not give them a say in things? The principles are somewhat Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock-like, but generally humans defeat small animals, but lose to big ones. Big fierce animals beat big less fierce animals. Poisonous things win a lot. And natural disasters are pretty tough to beat. If no principle applies, pick the higher seed.
The principles occasionally come into conflict. Twice in this tournament animals of the same kind play each other (Memphis vs. Missouri and Cal vs. Montana). In both cases you go to the higher seed. In one case Crusaders (pretty fierce) take on Spartans (very fierce). Spartans move on.
Then there’s this: The New Mexico Lobos (wolves) take on the Belmont Bruins and the North Carolina State Wolfpack takes on the Cal Bears. Who wins? Well, it’s a split. I determined that ONE bear could beat ONE wolf, but that a pack of wolves would probably do the bear in.
It gets even more confusing when Miami (Hurricanes) meets Iowa State (Cyclones) in the championship game. In the Pacific Ocean, Hurricanes ARE Cyclones. However in this case, I think Cyclones refer to Dorothy-Wizard of Oz Cyclones, which I grew up with as tornados. And while tornados are horrific forces of nature, Hurricanes have wind, rain and storm surge and are about 1,000 times bigger. Hurricanes in a rout.
Positives: Kind of fun to think about different mascots fighting each other.
Negatives: None. Mascots are awesome.
Pick Like a Crazed Homer
Normally this would mean picking my favorite teams to meet in the Championship Game with my most favorite team winning. HOWEVER, in this case neither of those teams (Kentucky followed by Xavier) is in the Tournament. Hell, neither of them are even still in the NIT, so we have to drop back to last year’s backup principles none of which make sense, but here goes:
- I am from Kentucky so I like Kentucky teams – Except I don’t like Rick Pitino and I can’t stand Ray Harper (old Great Lakes Valley Conference grudge from my days at Northern Kentucky and his days at Kentucky Wesleyan).
- I am from the Cincinnati area, so I like teams from that area – Except I don’t like Cincinnati. The favored group includes Ohio State.
- I am Catholic, so Catholic schools get an advantage.
- Teams that have somebody on staff I have worked with in the past trump all, so that means Indiana, St. Louis and Boise State go far. Indiana’s SID was my boss and mentor when I was a student worker at NKU. St. Louis assistant Jim Whitesell was the head coach at Lewis University when I worked there.
- Teams with somebody on staff I can’t stand (Louisville, Western Ky. and Akron – same reason as with Western. In fact, current Akron coach Keith Dambrot almost got me killed one year when NKU played at Ashland where he coached at the time).
- Teams that have fired somebody I worked with that I liked. Specifically, Kansas State fired Jim Wooldridge who was the head coach at Texas State-San Marcos when I was an intern there.
- Rivals of my favorite teams or teams that have knocked them out of the Tournament in the past.
This year’s bracket was devoid of the heavy conflicts last year’s had except in the South and with one GLARING exception. The first round of the South bracket is a mess here. There’s the Western Kentucky game, where I pick against a Kentucky team (Harper). Then Akron (Dambrot) gets eliminated. Northewestern State goes through on the basis of me hating Florida. And finally, while I should generally be inclined to take Georgetown as a Catholic school (or at least higher seed), I have decided to go all SEC football fan on them and take Florida Gulf Coast as the Atlantic Sun representative, and just be an A-SUN conference fan since that’s where my beloved NKU Norse play now.
In this format the Championship Game is a truly excruciating experience for me. It will match Indiana SID JD Campbell against St. Louis Assistant Coach Jim Whitesell. Both were an important part in my development as both a professional and a person. It would be awful to see either come that close and come up short, so since I can’t root for a 10-overtime thriller that is eventually declared a tie when Bud Selig jumps in and declares both teams out of pitchers, I’ll give the nod to Indiana.
By the way, in just a few years when NKU completes its Division I transitional period they are going to flat DOMINATE this bracket, whether they are in the field or not.
Positives: You are always rooting FOR something – even if it is rooting vehemently AGAINST something. This bracket came in fourth last year.
Negatives: In this Tournament, I’d have to watch two people I like and respect square off. A lot harder than watching two Catholic schools.
Finally, in the interest of fairness, here is a rough approximation of what I think might happen in the next four weeks.
Enjoy the Tournament!
Want to see how your picks stack up against these methods? Feel free to enter them in my ESPN Bracket Challenge group. The password is “gonorse”.