Definitive Guide to Hedging Your Bets When Picking Multiple NCAA Brackets

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystMarch 20, 2013

Definitive Guide to Hedging Your Bets When Picking Multiple NCAA Brackets

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    Filling out multiple brackets is a controversial strategy to some people, but it's very commonly practiced.

    There are a lot of things to keep in mind when you're in more than one bracket pool. Most important of all, though, don't be that guy.

    You know the type.

    The guy that fills out 20 brackets and then brags about going 15-of-16 in the Thursday games in one of his pools. The guy who starts all of his sentences in March with, "In one of my brackets." The guy who doesn't even know who he's rooting for in most games because either result would be acceptable for some of his brackets.

    Nobody likes that guy.

    Feel free to fill out as many brackets as you want, but just pick one that's actually yours and roll with it.

    I'm not trying to start a "Should kids storm the court after an upset?" type of debate here. Just trying to keep you from losing friends over the next few weeks.

    Now that we've settled that, here are five tips for hedging your bets in multiple pools.

Mix and Match Your Final Fours

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    Even if you're extremely confident in Louisville winning it all, you can't pick the Cardinals into the Final Four in more than 50 percent of your brackets.

    That might seem silly, but what happens if they lose before even making it to the Elite Eight? If you have them going deep in every single bracket, you're an acronym that's Spanish for "sun."

    You're going to want to have a different Final Four combination in just about every single bracket—depending on how many you're actually filling out, of course. It might be tough to come up with 50 different Final Four combos.

    Moreover, make sure you're mixing up your national champion, too. Especially in a year like this in which virtually anyone can win—if you fill out 10 different brackets, you're going to want to have at least six different champions.

    I wouldn't necessarily say that your number of different national champions should be 60 percent of the number of brackets you fill out. If you do 30 brackets, you don't need 18 different champions. Or, maybe you do.

    Just make sure you're not putting too many eggs into one basket(ball team).

Always Pick an Upset Even You Don't Believe Can Happen

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    If you pick nothing but favorites and popular upsets, you're not going to win any respectable pool. Multiple people will end up having very similar brackets, and winning will come down to a series of coin flip games between the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds.

    Nobody wants to leave things up to chance like that.

    Go ahead and pick something crazy in each pool, just to be a little different. Maybe take my insane advice and go with New Mexico State into the Sweet 16. It's a safe assumption that 85 percent of the people in any given pool are picking Louisville to beat Saint Louis in that spot anyway, so why not be a contrarian in one of your pools? If it happens, you're gaining ground on everyone else in the group.

    Now, don't go clinically insane or you might as well not even enter the pool. Even if this is the year that a No. 16 seed finally beats a No. 1 seed, you've only got a 25 percent chance of picking the right upset anyway, so don't waste your time and money.

    Maybe take a No. 15 over a No. 2 in one of your brackets, but try to keep it to just unexpected teams in the No. 10-13 range in the Sweet 16.

    You could also throw in the occasional No. 7 seed to the Final Four. No one ever picks that. Among the expert brackets listed on ESPN, the lowest-seeded team making the Final Four is No. 5 VCU.

However, Don't Pick the Same Crazy Upset in Multiple Brackets

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    There's nothing worse than losing a pool because you picked the national champion to lose on the first weekend of the tournament. It's happened to all of us, but don't let it happen in a bunch of different brackets.

    Maybe you really like Davidson this year and really think Marquette is the weakest No. 3 seed that we've seen in years. Doesn't matter. You still need to go with Marquette more often than not.

    You're trying to play the odds here—even if you think Marquette deserved a No. 5 seed, that's still one of the 20 best teams in the country that you would repeatedly be picking to lose to a team that went 0-4 against the RPI Top 75 this season.

    Keep picking upsets, but mix it up. Unless you're in more than 20 pools, chances are you only need to win one of them to profit and/or have bragging rights.

Don't Put Too Much Stock in a Coin Flip Game

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    Sometimes you accidentally get into a groove with a certain team and just keep picking them in the first round again and again.

    That's fine with some of the top seeds, but it could create a problem in the middling games.

    Let's say you're totally sold on Iowa State and are just trying to decide how far you want to take the Cyclones in your various brackets. All of a sudden, you've filled out a dozen brackets and don't have Notre Dame winning a game in any of them.

    It happened to me three years ago in the first-round game between BYU and Florida. Every single metric under the sun loved BYU, so the Cougars were picked to win at least one game in every bracket I filled out. I didn't realize this until the game was headed for a second overtime and there was literally no scenario in which I could benefit from a Florida win.

    This year, I feel like that danger team for people is Creighton.

    The Bluejays looked unbeatable for the first two months of the season before falling apart in the middle of the Missouri Valley Conference season. They turned things around at the end, and drew a first-round opponent that has lost seven of its last 11 games while struggling to score all season.

    Don't fall into the trap. Make sure you pick Cincinnati in at least a handful of those brackets.

Use a Different Method for Every Bracket

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    Choosing amongst the methods is totally up to you, but you can only truly have one "gut" bracket. Everything after that is just second guessing what you already believed.

    Do one bracket that's heavily loaded with Big Ten teams under the assumption that teams from the best conference will thrive in the tournament. Do another one with no Big Ten teams in the Elite Eight under the assumption that they're more worn out than the other teams in the country.

    Fill out one bracket that shows a little favoritism towards teams with a lot of seniors under the theory that they want it more in their final season. Fill another one out with an edge towards freshmen under the annoying theory that they're practically sophomores now.

    (Now that I've pointed that one out to you, you'll notice it non-stop for the next three weeks. "Marcus Smart is just a freshman, but at this point in the season, he might as well be a sophomore." What does that make seniors in March? Rookies in the NBA? Just stop it, announcers everywhere.)

    You get the idea.

    Just shake it up so you're not essentially submitting the same bracket with minor alterations. Because at that point, you should put the same bracket in every pool and cross your fingers; which is as silly as putting all of your money in one stock.

    Diversify your portfolio, and there's a good chance you'll win at least one of your pools this year.


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