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Monson: A painless way to fill out your NCAA brackets

Published March 19, 2014 10:00 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Filling out NCAA Tournament brackets can be a complicated deal.

Can be. Doesn't have to be.

Shouldn't be.

Everybody's looking for an edge, for any bits of information that might aid in a strong effort — not perfection, not for Warren Buffett's billion here — in climbing and reigning supreme over all the schlubs in all the cubicles at the office who want nothing more than to prove how much smarter they are than their co-workers. There's them and there's you. This isn't so much an annual betting pool as much as it is complete warfare, a workplace battle to embarrass lesser colleagues and crown a champion. Crown you as champion. Winning a few extra dollars is nice. Showing up a hundred know-it-alls is nicer.

Since Sunday's Selection Show, when all the matchups were announced, somewhere around 50 million pieces of prognostication have been passed along, through every available modern medium.

I think I've read and heard them all. Maybe you have, too.

Experts are spilling it out there, and a lot of times one contradicts another. One sage advises us to shy away from the temptation of picking 12-seed Harvard over 5-seed Cincinnati in the East. One says the Bearcats are far too athletic for the Crimson. Another says no, no, no, go with Harvard because it has the same veteran team that knocked off New Mexico in last season's tournament, only the Crimson have added two seniors who weren't available to them a year ago.


It's worse than just that.

Nowadays, most predictors are throwing all kinds of formulas and analytics and metrics behind their picks. Advanced numbers. Kenpom.com has become the most referenced wellspring of information since the first editions of the Bible. Other prophets-by-the-numbers have said: Thou shalt not pick Saint Louis because, while the Billikens' defense allowed .903 points per possession during the season, in its late-year skid, it has allowed 1.07 points or worse per possession.


Suddenly, adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency and offensive and defensive win shares and rebounding percentages are all-seeing, all-knowing indicators. So are top-50 wins and assist-to-turnover ratios and strengths of schedule.

North Dakota State, a 12, supposedly would be a solid pick over Oklahoma, a 5, because the Bison have won 14 of 15 games. Stephen F. Austin, a 12, is a smart upset special over VCU because the Lumberjacks average 16.6 assists a game, which ranks eighth in the NCAA, and they sport a great turnover margin — plus-5.2, which ranks fifth.

Their pressure defense conjures 16.4 turnovers a game, which ranks sixth. Add onto that the fact that VCU, while aggressive on defense, suffers from distinct offensive inefficiency. It ranks 288th in field-goal percentage (.419) and 253rd in free-throw efficiency (.674).

You can go through all this, for every team in every matchup in every region, round by round. And you can also slap yourself upside the head with a socket wrench.

You can wonder why No. 1-seeded Wichita State was thrown into a region in which it could face Kentucky in its second game, and why the Shockers might have to beat Louisville and then either Michigan or Duke to find their way back to the Final Four, making them a tough, tough pick. On the other hand, according to kenpom.com, Wichita State is one of only two teams to be ranked in the top 10 in offense and defense. Louisville is the other.

Hmm, again.

Or you could go with Arizona, which in Ken Pomeroy's rankings is the top-rated team. The Wildcats have the country's highest Pyth, which is short for Pythagorean winning percentage, which, according to Pomeroy, is simply an expected winning percentage against an average D-1 team.

It's derived from … well, a bunch of numbers Einstein couldn't have made sense of. What you need to know is that those rankings, after Arizona, include Louisville, Florida, Virginia and Wichita State in the top five. Or perhaps you don't need to know that.

In filling out those brackets, there's a hard way, an easy way and a painless way: 1) You can listen to the experts, you can rummage through all the predictions and all the reasons for those predictions, you can live — or die — with those fancy-schmancy computations; 2) You can trust your gut, lead with what your basic impressions of teams and conferences and win-loss records and momentum and your own eyeballs are telling you; or 3) You can do what winners do, what the office's receptionist's boss' sister's cousin did to win last year's office pool.

You can guess.

That's probably the best way to go.

GORDON MONSON hosts "The Big Show" with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 and 960 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.






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