How to Fill Out Brackets and Win Your Office Pool

Most of you could care less about college basketball until a bracket is stuck on your desk each March. How do you fill it out? I've developed a database of all college players at www.valueaddbasketball.com that received great reviews from ESPN and Sports Illustrated and projected future All-Americans, and I've met with NBA teams to help guide their draft picks. And picking a good bracket is harder than both of those things - so keep it simple while you fill yours out.

Start with one fundamental question. Do you mainly want to have fun watching the games and have a respectable showing? If so, it is very easy. Pick the better seed, except if you have a team or two you really like -- then pick them. It is agonizing to choose between rooting for a team you've always loved and the one you need to score another point in your bracket, so have fun, and if you pick almost all favorites you will finish as one of the better people in your pool even though you will not win.

Now if you really want to go for a win, then you should consider the seven factors below, or just wait until I give you a nice table of all seven factors later this evening and pick from them. But beware, when you start gambling going for the win you also risk crashing to the bottom of the pool. Yes it is true that it is likely that one 13-seed, one 12-seed, one 11-seed and one 10-seed will all win in the opening round. However, the person who picks them all to lose will finish ahead of most people who pick one of each to lose because the odds are they will pick the wrong one and then get at least two of four losses.

If you are still going for it, all of the following will be done for you in an easy cheat sheet on a follow-up post:

1. BEST TEAM. The most important factor is to pick the best team. You will do very well to either pick the lower seed, or go to a website like www.kenpom.com that ranks every team, or even look at Las Vegas odds and start with the assumption that the better team will win unless some of the other factors below are really strong.

2. HOTTEST TEAM. Next, look at which teams were hot at the end of the season. Later this evening I post a table that gives each team a grade in each of these categories, and Louisville is the A++ team right now in the country based on how much each team has improved in the final month. If you are curious about a given team, go to www.kenpom.com and look to see how their ranking has gone up-or-down since February 15 based on the ranking that appears by each game date.

3. HEALTHIEST TEAM. In a separate piece on injuries, I list the 17 players who were a part of their tournament team's success this season but are now injured or gone. Brigham Young was hurt the most, while Kansas could lose early without their star center Joel Embiid or go all the way with him back to make them the toughest team to pick this year. On the flip side Michigan State has been injured and is now finally healthy, making them a pick to win it all by most ESPN analysts.

4. NEED THREE STARS. Al McGuire said it took three-and-a-half stars to win a championship. We look for teams with three players who can dominate, because teams that make it this far can shut down one or two. Picking the "half star," or the unselfish good player that keeps the rest going is tougher. A deep bench is not as important in the tournament because the top players play more minutes. If you go to the Value Add Team Page and type "top3" in the search field, you will see the team's listed by who has the best trios - and it could be a very good year for the new American Athletic Conference. The teams with the best trio are; 1) Louisville, 2) Cincinnati, 3) Oklahoma State, 4) UCLA, 5) Kansas (if Embiid is healthy) and 6) UConn. (American Athletic Conference teams in bold).

5. NBA TALENT. I did a study a few years ago and most teams that make the Final Four have had at least three future NBA stars. At some point when things get tough, the best athletes just take over. The only problem with this one is sometimes the future NBA prospects are already thinking about the draft and they are just playing out the tournament. If you go to the Value Add database, any NBA player has his position listed to the far right. Most teams do not have any NBA prospects, but Kentucky usually has even reserves that will go to the NBA.

6. GOOD, EXPERIENCED GUARDS. If your best two players are senior point guards, you have a better chance than if you are relying on a freshman forward. This is one to watch when you have a smaller school trying to pull an upset, and they have players who know how to control tempo and keep the ball away from a few NBA prospects on the other team. By clicking on the Value Add database here you can search by a team and it will list the best player first. While positions are not listed unless they are an NBA prospect, if you see that some of their best few players are seniors or juniors (SR or JR) and shorter players, then experienced guards are a key to their team.

7. HOME COURT. Teams are not allowed to play home games in the tournament, but some games are much more friendly than others. San Diego State could certainly win a couple of games in Anaheim to go to the Final Four. You can look at your bracket to see where each team will play and look for a potentially enthusiastic - or hostile - crowd along their path.

And most of all, have fun. Someone will win who made a few illogical picks that contradict all of this!



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