Posted by: gbake783 | March 12, 2011

End of a Bracket Contest Era

I’ll be watching this year’s NCAA tournament contest with a hint of sadness – it is the first tournament since 1998 that I will not organize my own NCAA Bracket Pick’em contest. Whether I  was living in the dorms, working in Admissions, the BJU Campus Store, or as a youth pastor, I always had lots of people around me who needed a contest. They needed. I provided.

I partially blame the NCAA. For those who don’t know, the NCAA had perfection: 64 teams playing a single-elimination tournament lasting three weeks and culminating in the Final Four. The tournament always began around noon (EST) on Thursday of the third week of March. The rules were simple for my contest: fill out your bracket, put your name on it, and submit it before 12:00 Thursday.

Then the NCAA tried to improve perfection with the introduction of a 65th team. Teams 64 and 65 played the Tuesday night before the tournament began, the winner would qualify themselves to be the sacrificial lamb for one of the champion hopefuls (a #1 seed – one of the best four teams in the country). This 65th team created some confusion. Someone would inevitably ask, “What does Sam Houston St./Winthrop mean?” I initially tried to explain, but then settled on, “Don’t worry. They’re going to lose to Kentucky/Duke/North Carolina/Kansas or whomever else they’re playing next. Just mark the other team. Consider it a free point.”

Now, I confess, I’m degenerate sports fan. And even in my degenerate state, I never watched “the play-in” game. Not even once. And none of my degenerate sports friends did, either.

So, the NCAA thought, “Since nobody watches our current play-in game, let’s create three more.” Seriously. That’s what they did. They took perfection and made it something less than perfect. So, now there’s 4 play-in games, eight teams playing for four seeds: two 16s, a 12, and an 11 (I confess – I had to look it up).

Just for your information, a #1 seed has never, ever, even once lost their opening round game. But now that two teams must win to play the #1 seed, I feel like there’s a really good chance we’ll see a #1 seed lose in that first round before too long.

On top of that, an 11 or 12 can make some noise.

What does that mean for my bracket contest? Brackets should probably be submitted by Tuesday. And that’s too little time, in my opinion. They’re making it too much trouble!

It was so perfect before. The brackets fit on one sheet of paper, one team on each line, and it all started on Thursday. I could explain the concept to a person who knows literally nothing about sports in about two minutes. And there was always at least one newcomer to the bracket pick-em that did very well. Beginner’s luck is a very real thing in bracket pick-em contests.

So, combine the NCAA’s tweaking and my not really working in an office environment, and organizing a contest is just impossible. Unless I make one just between me and Danielle. I might, just for tradition.

Interestingly, I never won my own contest. I got two seconds and a third. And three times I could have won with a good outcome in the Championship game (’01 I had Arizona over Duke – Duke crushed them; ’06 I had UCLA winning it all – they got hammered by Florida in the championship; and ’08 I picked the best bracket of my life – going into the Final Four I would win so long as Kansas did not; Kansas’ Mario Chalmers hit a miracle shot to force overtime and, of course, led KU to victory). Danielle says God prevents me from winning – people would complain that I rigged the contest. I’m pretty sure I can handle that accusation.

I have a system. If you want to pick consistently good brackets, but never win, just follow my system:

1) Focus on the Elite 8. I don’t pick via match-ups initially. I look at the field, decide who my favorite 8 teams are, and pencil them through to the quarter-finals regardless of match-ups. Then I pick based on match-ups from the Elite-8 forward.

2) Avoid picking a name-brand team as your champion. Who are the name brands? Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, and Duke. Duke’s twice because they’re the biggest name brand. See, here’s the deal, even people who know nothing about basketball know Duke. 80% of the field will pick Duke, too. That means you’re going to have to crush the rest of the games to win. All that to say, avoiding a name brand team gives you more margin for error.

3) Conference Tournaments Matter. They give me a good idea of who’s playing well going into the tournament. Whomever wins the ACC, Big East, and Big 12 tournaments, I’ll immediately pencil into the Elite 8.

4) Most importantly: Don’t submit the bracket until right before the deadline. I learned my lesson the hard way. In 1999 I had Minnesota as a surprise Final Four team and submitted my bracket Wednesday night. Well, Wednesday night a bunch of their players got arrested and were kicked off the team. I didn’t find out until it was too late. Minnesota lost their first round game. I finished second-to-last in the contest.

Have fun watching!


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