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March Madness Bracket 2014: Best Strategies to Win NCAA Tournament Pool

Brendan O'MearaFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

March Madness Bracket 2014: Best Strategies to Win NCAA Tournament Pool

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    Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

    There's no real formula to win an NCAA tournament pool. Maybe with the exception of this. Not outsmarting yourself is probably the best and most prudent advice you can follow.

    Rounds 1 and 2 of the tournament are some of the best sporting days in the country. If you can get to Las Vegas for it, all the better. You'll never know the pure entertainment value of a guy hitting or missing a one-and-one in a game where the spread is 29 points and his team is down 28. You'd think it was the game-winning drive in Varsity Blues.

    Most of us have filled out brackets at this time of year since we were in middle school. We cut them out of the newspaper back when people still read newspapers. We filled them out, folded them and kept them in our pockets. We went home and poured a giant glass of milk and binged on thin mints until our teeth turned brown.

    Yes, it is one heck of a time to be into sports and college athletics, and there's nothing like keeping that early tournament momentum going like having a bracket worth framing when the Werner ladder goes up and net comes down.

    The following are some tips—take 'em or leave 'em—to optimize your chances of winning your pool.

Chalk Wins

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    Phil Sandln/Associated Press

    There are always upsets, but not as many as you would think. The trendy and clever thing to do is try and pick that random upset that sets you apart at the water cooler. This only pays if you get George Mason in the Final Four, Butler in the final or the 2013 Wichita State team in the Final Four.

    Chalk wins. It's boring, but true.

    There's the temptation to pick upsets because ultimately it will be an upset that create separation, but if you go into the bracket knowing others will be doing just that, eat your chalk and see who's standing in two weeks. According to RJ Bell of Pregame.com, No. 1 and 2 seeds are a lock to advance to the second round.

    Most of the No. 3 seeds will advance as well, but here is where you may find an upset.

Upsets Are Largely an Illusion

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    RJ Bell has done some great research. At least one top-four seed has lost in the first round in 25 of the past 29 years. No. 1 and 2 seeds get through, so it's up to you to pick a No. 3 or 4 that will fall. The No. 3s this year are Syracuse, Creighton, Iowa State and Duke. The No. 4s are UCLA, San Diego State, Louisville and Michigan State. 

    In that group are solid freshmen, senior leaders and tenured championship coaches. This is the cluster of teams that could get upset and create some distance between you and the guy in HR. Given the options, it may be best to pony up and hedge.

    In which case you should...

Play Multiple Brackets

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    The main challenge with playing multiple brackets is knowing that you're filling out at least one losing chart. It's a mental hurdle, but when there's so much ambiguity sometimes it's best to have a bracket where Duke loses in the first round as a No. 3 seed and another where Duke advances to the Sweet 16. 

    One bracket is easy to manage and root for, but when it blows up, it all blows up. Had you played extra brackets and hedged against the possibility of, say, Wichita State losing early (or late), you'll be the envy of the pool...a shark in a pond of guppies.

Remember the Rankings

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Pitt is seeded ninth, which puts it in the 29th to 32nd range of teams in the country. Being a No. 9 seed pits Pitt against No. 8 Colorado. This will be a coin flip for many—and not a Harvey Dent same-sided coin. Looking a tad closer, there can be some separation between teams seeded as close as eight and nine.

    This link right here will help. It gives you a rundown of the top teams and how they fared against the RPI top 25, top 50 and so forth. For instance, Pitt is ranked 39th on the list with Colorado at 32nd. The Buffaloes have a worse record on paper at 23-11 compared to Pitt's 25-9, yet Colorado is seeded higher. 

    Other 8-9 matchups are Kentucky vs. Kansas State, Memphis vs. George Washington and Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma State. Brackets may be won or lost by picking these games by splitting hairs with strength of schedule. How they handled tough competition could be the difference between being alive deep in the tournament or not.

Work Backward

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    Bill Boyce/Associated Press

    Feel strongly about one team? Just pen it in as the winner and work back. Make no mistake: You need to feel real strong about it. Love Florida or Wichita State? Write them in and let whoever plays them fall like a Spartan warrior. 

    Taking it from the beginning allows for too much second-guessing. It gives you a chance to overthink certain scenarios. There are matchups worth agonizing over, but they shouldn't be top seeds you see reaching the Final Four and beyond. 

Don't Forget Home-Court Advantage

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The selection committee tends to reward teams for doing well in the regular season and gives them preferential treatment with regards to where they play. No. 1 seeded UVa, for instance, will play its first games in Raleigh, N.C. So too will No. 3 Duke. Florida plays its early games in Orlando. Syracuse plays in Buffalo, just a few hours away from the Carrier Dome.

    The home-court feel could mean an extra one or two points in a team's favor and that can't be ignored while filling out brackets.

Consider a Home Loan

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    Nati Harnik/Associated Press

    If ever there was a guy who had $1 billion to spare, it would be the world's wealthiest man, Warren Buffett. But even Buffett has picked his spots wisely and Quicken Loans is there to scarf up some vital information behind the cloak of an NCAA bracket. The challenge, for those who haven't heard, is this: fill out a perfect bracket, win $1 billion. 

    Create a profile, fill out the bracket and Quicken has now gathered some key demographic information about folks who may apply for home loans. Gotcha, suckers!

    The odds of winning are laughably small, 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808—the bolded portion there is 36 billion. Buffett's wealth is in the 50 billions. That nine is in the quintillion range, which, if it were a dollar amount, makes Buffett look about as wealthy as Al Bundy. 

    Want to feel truly depressed? Get a look at the image accompanying this piece. Then again you could be saying, "So you're telling me there's a chance!

    If you're going to fill out a bracket, why not take a stab at this? There's only one sure way to lose, and if you don't mind getting spammed by Quicken, entering this contest gives you at least one ray of sunshine in an otherwise bleak existence devoid of all things hopeful.

Schedule a Surgery

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Dr. Nick Riviera, an iconic Simpsons character, had a funny way with infomercials with his sidekick, Troy McClure. Try and envision a scene where he sold men on the idea of a cheap vasectomy to coincide with March Madness. "Call 1-800-DOCTORB, the 'B' is for Bargain!" he said in Homer's Triple Bypass. 

    Yes, men the world over scurry to urologists and gladly await the scalpel if it means sitting undisturbed on a couch to watch the tournament and lament the condition of their brackets while brushing off the thin mints crumbling on their shirts. 

    It's just that simple.

    How is this a tip to help you win your pool? Oh, you didn't mean gene pool? Well, disregard then.

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