Guide to Winning Your Office Pool

Philip Matthews —  Wednesday, March 20, 2013 — 3 Comments

According to DePaul mathematics professor Jeff Bergen (via Yahoo! Sports), the odds of someone in the U.S. predicting a perfect bracket if he or she knows basketball (whatever that means) is 1-in-128 billion.

How in the world he came up with this number is way beyond my realm of understanding, but it does lead me to one response: in the words of my good pal Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber, “Sooo you’re telling me there’s a chance?”

That’s right. There is a chance indeed. And who’s to say this feat isn’t attainable by one of us? Even if that’s a stretch (1-in-128 billion), winning that office pool and bragging rights for the year will definitely suffice as a consolation prize. After all you should shoot for the moon. If you miss, then you’ll still land amongst the stars.

Alas, here are just the tricks you need to bring home the coveted office trophy this year. Who knows, mix and match these tidbits correctly and you might just stumble upon something that has a 1-in-128 billion chance of happening.

First of all, some generalities:

Trust your instincts. If you want to do research, then do it. But don’t do too much. Over-thinking and over-analyzing is your enemy. If you’re feeling a particular upset, then go for it. If it proves true, it’ll give you a deep sense of satisfaction that will help heal the wound if you happen to lose your pool. There’s nothing worse than picking a correct Cinderella and chickening out at the last second. Yes, I’ve done this more than I like to remember.

Ignore the past. I’m not saying Davidson, Butler, or VCU won’t make deep runs in this year’s tournament, but I’m not saying they will either. These are completely different teams than those whom were made famous in past tourneys and should be analyzed as such.

4 < Winner < 1. Pick more than one number one-seeded team to be in the Final Four, but less than four. All four number one-seeded teams have only made the Final Four once in 2008. Meanwhile, all number one-seeded teams have failed to make the Final Four just 3 times: 1980, 2006, and 2011. So pick your two or three favorite #1 seeds, and roll with them making it to Atlanta.

Work backwards. Sure the bulk of the fun lies in the madness of the first two rounds, but the vast majority of the pools will be won as the games gain importance. Focus on your Final Four teams, then work backwards and choose your upsets wisely. You won’t win your pool in the first two rounds, but you sure can lose it.

Let’s look at some numbers and see if we can’t work through this equation together.

  • A top three seeded team has won 18 of the past 21 titles. One title has been won by a number four, six, and eighth-seeded team. We’ll play the percentages, so seeds 4 through 16 are out. Good start; we’re down to 12 possible teams cutting down the nets.
  • Jerseys matter. Maybe there is some method to the madness of your sister’s bracket based on her favorite uniforms always beating yours based on basketball expertise. 14 of the last 16 national champs, and 54 of the last 60 final four teams have worn either Nike or Jordan uniforms. This includes Georgetown, Gonzaga, Marquette, Miami, New Mexico, Ohio State, Florida, Duke, and Mich. State. This means top seeds Kansas, Louisville, and Indiana are out. Let’s just hope this isn’t Adidas’ year– a risk we’re willing to take. This puts our number of possible champions at nine.
  • Experience matters. Coaches with past Final Four experience have won 12 of the past 13 national championships and 22 of the past 27 titles. This excludes Mark Few of Gonzaga, Steve Alford of New Mexico, and Buzz Williams of Marquette. We’re down to six– Georgetown, Miami, OSU, Florida, Duke, and Michigan State.
  • Champs go streaking. Wait what? Every Final Four team of the past six years had a winning streak of at least eight games prior to the NCAA tournament. Marquette and Michigan State are the only top 4 seeded teams without such a streak this season; in other words, see ya Tom Izzo and Sparty.
  • Avoid one and done’s in conference tournaments. Since 1985, no team has ever won the title after going one and done in their conference tournament. Duke and Marquette did the latter this season. Duke’s out.
  • Champions play offense and defense. We know defense wins championships, but offense helps a little as well. The past 10 champions have finished in the top 20 of kenpom.com’s offense and defense efficiency ratings. This includes Louisville, Gonzaga, Indiana, Florida, Ohio State, and Pitt this season. So Georgetown and Miami’s chances are done.

 

This narrows down the National Champions to be either the Ohio State Buckeyes or the Florida Gators. At this point, you’ve probably already won your bracket pool, but let’s not settle. I would say the Gators because surely they would eat a Buckeye (a tree, or leaf, or whatever), but further research shows that Gators are indeed carnivores and eat meat, so that rules out that possibility.

In conclusion, it seems best to either let your Aunt Brenda pick the winner or flip a coin– you can’t go wrong with either.

Now that you have your champion, continue to peruse through these tidbits of stats and wisdom and fill in your bracket until your sixth sense tells you it’s perfect. Or just blindly fill out your bracket, listen to no advice whatsoever, and use no common sense, and you’ll be just as likely to win your pool or scratch perfection.

Welcome to March. Let the Madness begin.

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Philip Matthews

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philipmatthews5@gmail.com @philipdmatthews

3 responses to Guide to Winning Your Office Pool

  1. 

    Phil, love the research you’ve done here. I wish I read these tips before filling out my bracket. I just posted an update on my bracket and it’s not pretty. How’s your bracket doing?

    • 

      Thank ya sir. I wish I would have followed my own advice a little more actually. Just checked yours out– mine looks strikingly similar actually.

  2. 

    Fun article! I won my office pool several years ago. The deal was you got three brackets for five, let’s say pretzels. I filled out one bracket based on research, one on crazy things like colors and mascots and the third on seeding with a touch of instinct. The bracket that won was the bracket based on ranking and instinct. I didn’t have all four top seeds in the final four (some teams I just hate or like for no apparent reason and call it instinct), but it was a year of few upsets, so I got lucky in a different way. The good part was I now own lifetime bragging rights in my house for being the only person to win a pool, the bad part was not everyone who played contributed all their pretzels, so I was shorted. Poor sports!

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