Bad Math: Picking the Wrong Tournament Upsets

Jared RebackAnalyst IMarch 24, 2008

The most exciting four days in sports are over. 2008's version of the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament did not disappoint. Fans got to see the usual upsets and a host of games that were decided in the final seconds.

With upsets come carnage. The carnage in this case is the damage done to everyones' brackets. Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and Duke were among the squads many picked for the Final Four that didn't even get halfway there.

When first looking at the bracket last week, the first thing that jumped out at me was how vulnerable I felt many highly seeded teams were. While I felt the one seeds were all easy bets to reach the Sweet Sixteen, I couldn't help but look at the two seeds with far less confidence.

I was able to pick Texas moving on without much of a struggle, albeit over St. Mary's.  After that, my first instinct was that I kind of felt all three other two seeds would be eliminated short of the Sweet Sixteen.

I immediately slapped myself in the face for even entertaining the notion that I was going to pick three, two seeds to go out in the second round, and went about trying to figure out which one or two might pull off the loss.

I first settled on picking Butler to beat Tennessee. I felt Butler was tremendously better than the seven seed they were handed, and I was not impressed with Tennessee down the stretch.

I need not tell you that this near upset did take place, that the Bulldogs shot themselves in the foot by missing countless free throws and way too many layups to beat such a highly ranked opponent.

It was the other pair of two seeds where I let bad math take away from giving me a tenth correct Sweet Sixteen pick.

I looked at potential second round matchups for both Duke and Georgetown, and thought that no matter who came out of those 7/10 matchups, the two seeds would struggle to win those games.

The problem was selecting the winner of those games. I thought Davidson and Gonzaga were very evenly matched, and either one of those teams was good enough to not only beat Georgetown, but reach as far as the Elite Eight.  

I had originally picked West Virginia to beat Arizona, but over the course of the week the talking heads at ESPN went on and on about why the Wildcats would beat the Mountaineers, and I changed my pick.

Those two games, however, seemed like 50/50 games to me.  I then decided that the second round games against Georgetown and Duke would also be more or less 50/50 games.

That left me with the idea that while Georgetown and Duke were 50/50 shots to reach the Sweet Sixteen, Gonzaga, Davidson, West Virginia, and Arizona were each only 25 percent chances to move on.

I finally decided to pick both Georgetown and Duke to win using this logic. I then proceeded to have little issue having Duke lose to Xavier in the round of sixteen.  Georgetown, however, I pegged to beat USC in Detroit before losing to Kansas.

Every year I seem to make some mistakes in my bracket because I choose with my heart over my head. This year I decided to try and stick to using my head.  This led, perhaps predictably, to the same results.

To be fair, if I had picked both Georgetown and Duke to lose, it still would have resulted in a missed Butler pick, and a prediction of Arizona over Duke, so I really would have only gotten one more game right, but I like to think of it as the principle of it all.

Despite my picks, I rooted hard against Duke (as I do in every game they play) and was happy to see them exit. I also rooted for Davidson, as I typically like to see the little guy knock off the giant.  

In this instance, heart beat the head,and reinforced a valuable lesson about the NCAA Tournament:  No matter what happens, I will always be wrong when it comes to picking upsets.