Wednesday, March 14, 2007

For those of you who plan to drop off the face of the planet the next four days, in deep immersion in college basketball, here's a bit of arcana for you: John McCain's personal brackets. His Final Four are the four Number One seeds, and he picks the higher seed in almost every game. For a conventional pool, that's not a bad strategy, since it assures the player of consistent results throughout the NCAA's, with an almost absolute certainty that at least one of your teams will get to the Final Four. It discounts the first round, when most of the upsets occur, to almost complete insignificance, while boosting the later rounds, when form begins to reassert itself, and number one and two seeds tally the lion's share of points.

In a small pool, then, McCain stands a good chance of finishing in the money, although there has never been a tournament in which all four Number One seeds made it to the Final Four. Even in the sort of mega-pool he's engaging in, he will likely finish in the top half, although with many thousands of people participating, the odds that at least one player will correctly pick all four Final Four teams are almost certain. Some "maverick."

Which is one of the reasons why most sophisticated pools don't operate in that fashion; in order to reflect the wild, random nature of March Madness, a player who picks only the favorites shouldn't be allowed to reap the benefits over those who seek out the upsets that make the event so unique. In the pool which I participate, the first round is apportioned by seeding, not by the number of correct guesses. If you pick a 12-seed to beat a 5, you get 12 points. If you think Kansas is going to squeak by Niagra on Friday, you get one. People who correctly pick upsets benefit, although the real key is nailing the 8-9 and 7-10 games. After the first round, the scoring is proportional and based on successful guess, which is S.O.P. in most pools.


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