How To Pick a Bracket

Stephen NoffkeContributor IMarch 15, 2009

All right, we’ve all seen the crazy gimmicks of how to pick your brackets. My personal favorite is choosing which team has the shortest name. This is particularly useful in years when Duke and UCLA (yes, if I chose longest names, UCLA would be come University of California in Los Angeles; they can be useful either way) are good. I also like the dominant mascot way of picking, mainly for the logic and reasoning of the picks. A Hoosier is probably a farmer, and a razorback is basically a pig, and farmers take care of pigs, so clearly the farmer wins! Funny how you can set up a mascot fight and have the team you want to win come out on top of it, right?

But even though we always try to replicate the random logic some people use. We know someone’s cousin Emily will pick based on her favorite color, somehow predict George Mason reaching the Final Four, and then win the pool.

Speaking of George Mason, I will always claim some credit with them. I picked Michigan State to beat them in the first game. However, I had Michigan State beating exactly every team they beat on their way to the final four. That’s got to count for something, right? Right?

Fear no more, is here to help!

What is the key to winning the bracket? Getting teams into the Final Four! Regardless of scoring, those teams get you points each and every round they are right and even more points when they have reached the Final Four.

I actually have done some statistical analysis on the Final Four every year since 1985 (the year it expanded to 64 teams) and have noticed two trends.

First Trend: Two teams from one conference make it to the Final Four.

Of the past 24 tournaments, two teams from one conference have made the Final Four 17 times (1985 the Big East had three teams that made it). That’s 71 percent of the time.

Now, you might be thinking, OK great, two teams from one conference. Well, how many conferences are there? Agreed, it may seem difficult to pick which conference it is going to be. But as of writing, ESPN Bracketology expert Joe Lundardi (who, by the way, went 65 for 65 in 2008) has only 10 conferences with multiple bids. So that narrows down your field quite a bit.

Now, you also have to think that the conferences with only two or three teams will most likely not be able to have two of them making the Final Four. So now we are only talking about six conferences to choose from. That’s not that bad.

Looking at the potential teams this year, I think the best options of having multiple teams make the Final Four are the Big East (with potentially three No. 1s) and the ACC. Big Ten fans might be screaming that they have more teams in the tournament, so should they be considered. Yes, they have a bunch of good teams, but I don’t feel like they have two elite teams that could make it to the Final Four.

Second Trend: A team from last year's Final Four will return to the Final Four.

Of the past 24 tournaments, 15 times a team from the previous year's Final Four has made it back to the Final Four (In 1991 and 2007, two teams returned to the Final Four). That’s 63 percent of the time. Again, I know, not a super high number.

Think of it this way. If you knew nothing about basketball besides the last year's final four, there is a 15 percent chance you get one right. That’s blindly picking. What if you watch college basketball and know stuff about teams. Like last year, UCLA was a No. 1 seed and was likely to make it again.

Looking at the potential teams this year (Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina, and UCLA), I feel like UNC has the best chance of getting back. They have the point guard play that is needed to get through the tournament, as well as a more than sufficient inside game with Psycho T.

Memphis still scares me with their relatively weak schedule this year. I was starting to like Kansas again until the loss to Baylor. UCLA could be another potential team that could do it, but I am not as confident in them as I am in UNC.

So what are the odds that both two teams from one conference and a return team happen in the same year? Well, these odds are a lot lower. Only 10 times in the past 24 years has this occurred. That's 41 percent. Now that's not a bad percentage, but probably not as high as you would like.

Now you might be asking, OK these odds are really not that overwhelming, why should I pick my bracket this way? Well, either two teams from one conference or a repeat team returning to the final four has occurred 23 of 24 times! Only one year has neither trend occurred. That is why you should consider picking your brackets this way.

Here is a year by year breakdown of the two trends.

Two from One Con (Y/N) Return Teams (#) Both (Y/N)

2008 No 1 No
2007 No 2 No
2006 Yes 0 No
2005 Yes 0 No
2004 Yes 0 No
2003 Yes 1 Yes
2002 Yes 1 Yes
2001 Yes 1 Yes
2000 Yes 1 Yes
1999 Yes 0 No
1998 No 1 No
1997 No 1 No
1996 Yes 0 Yes
1995 No 1 No
1994 Yes 0 Yes
1993 No 1 No
1992 Yes 1 Yes
1991 Yes 2 Yes
1990 Yes 1 Yes
1989 Yes 1 Yes
1988 Yes 0 No
1987 Yes 0 No
1986 No 0 No
1985 Yes 1 Yes

Now, I am not saying that these will guarantee success or even to use them. But just something to think about while you're picking your bracket.

I have just one small disclaimer that makes me sound like a Wall-Street analyst. Past performance does not indicate future earnings. So take this information with a grain of salt.

The point of doing the brackets is to have fun. So have fun and enjoy March Madness!

One last side note: Since there is a lot of which conference is better then every other conference trash talk going on nowadays, here’s a breakdown of how many times each conference has had multiple Final Four teams.

Big Ten - Five

ACC - Four

SEC - Three

Big XII (Big 8) - Three

Big East - Two