Return of the NCAA Celeb Pick Wars

If  I decided to resuscitate the NCAA Pick Wars, it can mean only one thing:  I’m surging.

Again, the results for me are pure luck, because this season I’m doing much better than I did last season, despite spending about 9 hours and 45 minutes less time analyzing the participants.

Basically this season my analysis was confined to browsing Ken Pomeroy’s “strength assessment” bracket and amending the results where I saw fit (I would have done a bit better had I just copied his results, but read on).

Last season I tried my own version of what Pomeroy does, and the results were disappointing (though I can’t remember exactly how I fared).  The season before that I did real well with the same, so I was sure I “cracked the code”.  Not true.

So this season I wanted to see how I would fare doing as I described above.  Well, if Duke comes through in the last relevant result of  the night, I’ll have picked the rounds as follows:

My “Advancers” vs The “National Average”

Round 1: 22 of 32 (69%, exact same as National Average)

Round 2: 9 of  16 (56%, one advance better than Nat Avrg)

Round 3: 6 of 8 (75%, twice the Nat Avrg)

Pomeroy shows fewer upsets than  you thought

There is an Urban Legend growing that this was a real “Bracket Busting” season.  I don’t know if I concur.  There have been some  high profile upsets, such as Kansas losing to Northern Iowa, but if you accept Pomeroy’s evaluation as a true evaluation of team strength, then the NCAA Tournament has had fewer upsets than one would expect.

My estimate, using Pomeroy’s picks from years gone by, is that the stronger team prevails in the NCAA tournament 75% of the time.   If that’s the case, then you’d expect to see Pomeroy’s picks advance as follows:  24 of 32; 9 of 16; 3-4 of 8.  So at this point Pomeroy should have 36 or 37 correct picks.

He actually has 38 advancers (again, I’m assuming Duke right now and it looks shaky).  His rounds went: 24 of 32; 10 of 16; 4 of 8.  So he had one more pick advance in into the Sweet Sixteen than you would predict.

The ESPN “National Average” has not done very well.  The “masses” advanced: 22 of 32; 8 of 16; 4 of 8.  Thus the National Average is 3 below a pure strength assessment.

Here are the NCAA Celebrity Pick Wars, with a description below of  who did well where, and a hunch I had that paid off:

NCAA Celebrity Pick Wars

1. Pomeroy 38 of 56

1.  President Obama 38 of 56

1. Scott Van Pelt 38 of 56

4. TyWill 37 of 56

5. Colin Cowherd 35 of 56

6. National Average 34 of 56

7. Bill Simmons 32 of 56

8. Dick Vitale 31 of 56

9. Joe Lunardi 30 of 56

10. Michelle Beadle 29 of  56

11. Fantasy Matthew Berry 25 of 56

Analyzing the Picking Styles

Here’s an oddity.  No matter how poorly anyone picked, most every bracket advanced at least 3 teams into the Elite Eight, even the ridiculously awful bracket turned in by “Fantasy Football” expert Matthew Berry.  The only bracket I can think of that did not was the one turned in by the “office hot” chick from the ESPN show “SportsNation” Michelle Beadle.

Beadle started alright, tying me in the first round with 22 of 32.  Then the floor collapsed on her.  She somehow advanced only 6 into the Sweet Sixteen, and then 1 into the Elite Eight.

But as I said, 3 advancing into the Elite Eight is the norm.  So if you’ve got a shitty bracket you can’t feel any comfort in the notion “Hey, I’ve got 3 alive”.  That’s how I always used to think.

My Big Round of 16

I was turning in a respectable, but pretty ordinary bracket performance until my stunningly lucky results the last two nights.

Assuming Duke wins, then my two nights would have gone as well as they possibly could have.  Of the 6 possibilities for advancing, I advanced all 6.  The best performance in the Pick Wars by far.  In fact, I can’t remember ever doing anything like that before.  Very lucky.

Looking at the national “who picked whom” breakdown, my winning insight was picking Butler and Baylor to advance to the Elite Eight.  Only 0.2% of people picked both.

The Butler pick I want to emphasize for one reason.  I picked Butler because  I found their undefeated conference record impressive.  But not impressive enough to pick them had it not been for their opponent.  I am unbelievably unimpressed with the style of play employed by Syracuse.  The fact that they play zone almost exclusively is a metaphor for their unwillingness to do the  dirty things that win basketball games.  Thus I went against them and it paid off.

Lessons for your future brackets

The future bracketology lesson from the “Celeb Pick Wars” contest is this.  Unless you are in one of  those  heavily weighted pools  that over encourage upset picking, don’t try to distinguish yourself with wild upsets.  Its not necessary.  Straight NCAA Pools are won at the margins, not by wild upset picks.

Choose accordingly.   Pick a few “painless” upsets in the first round.  In other words, pick against teams you might expect to win that game, but you don’t expect to get far (Vanderbilt should come to mind).  Then in Round Two stay fairly conservative.  But by identify and target the weaker one and two seeds and then try to ride a couple slightly lower seeds past them.  A four or a five if you feel strong, but but all you really need to identify is a couple strong three seed.

Look at the National “who picked whom”.  The highest 4 seed to advance to the Sweet Sixteen — the round a 4 seed should advance to — is Wisconsin at only 8%.   Conservative upsets can pay money.

The way NOT to pick (unless you’re in a really weighted pool) is the way I used to pick and the way Bill Simmons picked this year.   I used to think you should go all out in Round One and just pick upset after upset to make your bracket stand out.  I think Bill Simmons thinks that way.

Simmons obviously knows his college hoops decently well, as his latter round performances show.   But he went for broke in Round One and did extremely poorly, picking 19 of 32.  He then showed his mettle by picking an impressive 10 of 16 in Round Two.  And then he hit the norm with 3 in Round Three.  But by that time his “distinguish yourself with a ton of upsets” strategy buried him too far down.

Conservative picking, identifying strategic upsets and then riding either mildly underseeded teams or eliminating slightly overrated teams is the best way to go.  You just don’t get a “ton” of upsets.  75% of the time the stronger team wins, and that includes what I call “coinflip” upsets like Washington over Marquette.  Big time upsets like Ohio over Georgetown are flukes.  So don’t turn in Matthew Berry “ridiculous upset” brackets if you want to finish high.


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