I’m from the Meisterblog and I’m Here to Help; Brackets Made Simple 4
OK, it’s crunch time again. You have mere hours to fill out a bracket and you have no idea what to do or who to choose. Well, like government, I’m here to help. When I started this blog, most people (and by most people I largely mean me) thought it wouldn’t last a year. And to be fair, it really didn’t. This is my fourth post in the last two years. But this is now year four of the Meisterblog performing this vital community service for you, the loyal reader. And by “you,” I mean “hi mom.”
There are a million ways to pick a bracket. You can pick by favorite color or by cute coaches or by the preferred food of a state or region (I have a sneaking suspicion that that one is in the group somewhere). Or, if you have access and are super smart, you can use IBM’s Watson to crunch numbers and select your bracket (honestly, if you have the access and are super smart, I recommend it).
Well, I don’t have access to Watson and I’m not super smart. And while you may be super smart, you probably don’t have Watson access either. So I have focused in this space on methods that are replicable by the common man. Think of it as the bracket selection equivalent making hot dogs instead of beef Wellington.
We’ll start, as always with the ones that make sense.
We are deeply disappointed to pass along news of the demise of the Wall Street Journal Blindfold Brackets. They were easily the most fun as they gave you the opportunity to look at a graphic representation of a team’s abilities and select between teams named “Wombats” and “Screwdrivers.” I’m sad to see them go. And it leaves us one method short this year. We’re left with the two most common analytics and the most boring bracket on earth.
Higher Seeds – 2nd last year
This is as easy as it gets and is perfect for the office bracket player who knows nothing about college basketball and doesn’t want to. In that respect, it will also work for Colin Cowherd. You simply pick the team with the lower number next to its name in the margin. It gets a little tricky in the Final Four, but those teams ARE seeded. So if you haven’t followed along, this year that order is Kentucky, Villanova, Wisconsin, Duke, so you end up with a Kentucky-Villanova final and Kentucky winning it all.
Pros: You always select the allegedly better team. People will only make fun of you for a lack of originality and not for picking some of the teams that will come up later in this post. Kentucky wins.
Cons: So, so, so very boring.
RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) – 5th last year
This is probably the oldest and most widely used of the now multiple basketball analytics out there. The true analytics junkies pretty much summarily dismiss it. But you know who doesn’t dismiss it? The NCAA Selection Committee, that’s who. Most of the bracket seeds mirror the RPI this year, although there are a few oddities. For example Duke (RPI 6) is a 1-seed when it should be a 2, while Kansas (a laughable RP 3) is a 2-seed and should be a 1. Also, Wichita (RPI 17) – who the committee sort of shafted when they entered the Tournament undefeated a year ago only to draw Kentucky in the second round — is horribly underseeded as a 7 (should be a 4 or 5). There are others, maybe nobody as bad off as Buffalo (RPI 28) who is seeded 12 when they should be a 7. In fact there is only a four-place spread between Buffalo and the 5-seed they face, West Virginia. It’s one of the reasons so many people will pick Buffalo over WVU in the first round.
This year, choosing the team with the higher RPI predicts only one upset in the first round (Davidson over Iowa) and only two more (Northern Iowa over Louisville and Utah over Georgetown) in the rest of the Tournament.
Pros: You have a semi-impartial metric helping you pick the better team in each game. Kentucky wins again.
Cons: Barely any upsets, so not a lot to get really excited about.
The Kenpom rankings are named after their founder Ken Pomeroy and are the darling of the analytics crowd. They have a lot of columns with really confusing headers and I’m really bad at math, so I don’t understand anything about them. But I can count from 1 to about 112, so I can place them in this bracket. Kenpom ALSO has Wichita (Kenpom 13) as a terrible seed (7, should be 3 or 4). Kenpom REALLY loves Texas, defying other rankings and anybody who has had the experience of watching Texas play. The Longhorns are ranked 20 by Kenpom, which should make them a 5 seed, but the Committee has them in as an 11 (a LOT of people didn’t think Texas should be in the field at all). Maryland (Kenpom 33) is seeded too high at 4 according to Kenpom and should be an 8 or 9.
Like RPI, Kenpom only indicated one upset in the first round, but it’s not Davidson over Iowa. Kenpom has Ohio State (21) over VCU (27). It also has three No. 2 seeds reaching the Final Four, with Kentucky as the only 1-seed to make it to Indianapolis. It picks two other upsets in the Midwest region – West Virginia over Maryland and Notre Dame over Kansas.
Pros: You’re again picking good teams on every line. You have a few more upsets to brag about.
Cons: Still kind of boring.
And that does it for analytics. Well, you could do a BPI bracket, or you could join us and just think it’s cute that ESPN keeps pushing that one. (Note: I apparently did a BPI bracket last year. It outperformed RPI and Kenpom). So that brings us to the desperate and silly.
Coin Toss – 8th last year
Likely the least effective way to pick a bracket. Your results will be different from mine, so I won’t belabor them, but I can give you the method I used. I went division by division on each side of the bracket, so that I finished the Midwest and the West and then moved on to the East and South. Heads was always the top team in the bracket (not always the higher seed). Again this year I was too lazy to actually flip a coin, so I used an iPhone app. It turns out this is a deeply flawed approach, as to get a 1-seed into the Final four, you have to flip heads on their turn four straight times. It’s a coin so there’s a 50-50 shot of tossing heads. So over four rounds that a…a…well, it’s not likely.
Pros: Mindless. Fast.
Cons: Hard for a 1-seed to reach Final Four. Wildly inaccurate historically.
Mascots – 7th last year
Like favorite colors, there are a lot of ways to do this one. You can pick your favorite animal, or the cutest animal or whatever. I imagine every game as a mascot battle with the stronger one winning. I give extra consideration to a mascot’s ability to use a weapon or magic or mystical powers. I have generally given a lot of credit to natural disasters; however, the thought occurred to me that animals and people survive those all the time. Also, there are no natural disasters in the field this year. So you end up with an equation like this: Prince of Darkness>Fierce Animal>Fierce Human>Regular Human>Regular Animal. Again, keep in mind that weapon wielding humans get bonus points. That’s how the Hampton Pirates, knock off the Kentucky Wildcats as well as everyone else and reach the Final Four, because Pirates are terrifying (if there were ever a Clown mascot, they would win going away).
A few thoughts on how this year’s bracket shaped up:
The Louisville Cardinals vs. UC Irvine Anteaters matchup has to be the matchup between the two least intimidating mascots.
- Both the Boise State Broncos and the Dayton Flyers would knock off the Providence Friars, so they move on regardless.
- Albany are the Great Danes, which are huge animals; however, Sooners were pioneer settlers and I don’t think they’d have any trouble with Scooby Doo.
- Utah Utes vs. Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks is maybe the toughest human matchup since I’ve been doing these.
- Eastern Washington beats Georgetown because nobody knows what a Hoya is.
- UAB is a damn dragon. That’s tough to beat.
In the end though, Duke (not surprisingly) is repped by the Prince of Darkness, so the Blue Devils knock off the Dragons in the Elite 8 and roll to a title.
Homer Bracket – 2014 Champion
It’s hard to believe this was the best performer last year, because it’s 100% based on irrational forces – fandom, personal friendships and blind hatred. Again, your bracket may be different, but here’s how mine works:
Favored Teams (in order):
Kentucky – favorite team
- Xavier – second favorite team in the field
- Indiana – friend and mentor JD Campbell is their SID. I owe more to him than I owe to probably any human on the planet other than my parents.
- St. John’s – Assistant Coach Jim Whitesell was the Head Coach at Lewis University when I was the SID there and he was great to me.
- Ohio State – residual from my football fandom
- Notre Dame – also residual from my football fandom
- UCLA – they treated us great when we practiced there on a trip to the west coast with Lewis
- Catholic schools – because I’m Catholic
Unfavored Teams (in order):
- Louisville – Kentucky’s most hated rival
- Duke – the 1992 Elite 8 game and Christian Laettner
- Cincinnati – Hated rival of Xavier and held the ball all game for a 24-11 final against Kentucky in 1983
- Arkansas – Budding most hated SEC rival of Kentucky
- Arizona – Beat Kentucky in the 1997 NCAA Championship Game, robbing Kentucky of possibly three consecutive national championships. Also, Miles Simon is the western Christian Laettner
- West Virginia – Beat Kentucky in 2010 Elite 8, denying John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson a Final Four trip.
- North Carolina – Beat Kentucky in 1995 Elite 8 and just because
- Michigan State – Beat Kentucky in 2005 Elite 8
- Virginia – Stole Ralph Sampson from Kentucky
- Georgetown – Beat Kentucky in the 1984 Final Four
Pros: You end up with all kinds of crazy upsets, like Buffalo over Maryland, Harvard over North Carolina, Texas Southern (GO MIKE DAVIS!) over Arizona, Eastern Washington over Georgetown. You NEVER end up cheering against a team you like.
Cons: You better like a lot of really good teams or you’re out on Day 1.
My Picks – 2nd last year
You could always just steal my picks, although I don’t recommend it. I don’t recall ever having won money in a pool of any kind. Like anybody who does this sort of thing I’ve picked upsets here and there (and maybe too many) – Wichita St. over Kansas, Arkansas over North Carolina, Arizona over Wisconsin on one side of the bracket, and Northern Iowa over Louisville, Virginia over Villanova (only an upset because Villanova was ridiculously given a 1-seed) and Iowa State over Gonzaga on the other.
Pros: If you pick a lot of winning teams, you get a strong sense of accomplishment.
Cons: If you don’t know anything about college basketball, you may not do well. Looking at you again, Colin Cowherd.
If you’d like follow along or pick a bracket of your own to see how you match up, you can join this ESPN Tournament Challenge Group.
Now, get your picks in on time and enjoy the best month of the year. Good Luck, and GO CATS!