Everyone has his or her own logic for filling out a bracket.
Some choose their favorite schools. Some choose against their least favorite schools. I have heard of a few who make their choice according to mascots and the cities represented.
There are even those who go with the higher seeds—as if that somehow makes a difference!
Like Albert Einstein, who searched for the Grand Unified Theory that would explain the universe, I am in search of the essential logic of bracketology. Surely there must be a Golden Mean that will unlock all the secrets year after year.
This year’s bracket-busting tournament has been the sports equivalent of an atom smasher, and it has revealed heretofore hidden secrets of March Madness. If you apply the following rules to your brackets next year, then you will win any office pool or online contest you enter. Well, you might do better than this year at least!
I share my results below for the scholars in the crowd.
The Nickel and Dime Rule
Do not count out the No. 5 and No. 10 seeds. Dimes (No. 10 seeds) are good for a win in the first round (Georgia Tech, St. Mary’s, Missouri). Nickels (No. 5 seeds, of course) could make it all the way to the Final Four and beyond! But other rules can trump this one (sorry Florida—see below).
The “X, Y, Z” Rule
If a school’s name contains the letters X, Y, or Z, then it is definitely a first round winner—especially helpful when the Y is an abbreviation, which trumps the “Nickel and Dime” rule (sorry Florida). When combined with the Nickel and Dime rule (as with St. Mary’s) it is a potent upset indicator.
However, this rule fails when the name of the school begins with an adjective starting with “N,” such as New or North (see Adjective Rule below).
The Big East Rule
If a conference is greatly hyped coming into the Tournament, do not expect many of its teams to survive the second round. Teams in the hyped conference are especially vulnerable to the “Proper Name” rule (see below).
Further research is necessary to completely understand this phenomenon, which is akin to the Sports Illustrated Curse. There might be some truth in the belief that the “Right Adjective” rule can overcome this curse.
The Right Adjective Rule
Some schools have adjectives in their names. They are Old and New. They are East and West. They are Saints and States.
Here’s what we can determine so far: North and State are neutral adjectives, with the exception of the “N” in North reversing the X, Y, Z rule. Old is better than New. Young is a name and not an adjective. East is the worst, and West is the best. Simple, yes?
The Orange Exception Rule
Pay close attention to this rule. It is a special modifier that can give a bonus or penalty to teams that have orange on their uniforms. It is not a rule in itself, but it seems to cancel or reverse the effects of other rules.
For instance, it reverses the benefit of the “X, Y, Z” rule (sorry Texas) and overcomes the disadvantage of the “Big East” Rule (congratulations Syracuse; your Y also helped). We are uncertain how this exception works on Tennessee, as science has not yet determined if the Vols' “circus peanut marshmallow” school color really is orange.
Proper Name Rule
If a school has a proper name, then it is a strong candidate for an upset. After all, Robert Morris almost beat Villanova. Well, not Robert Morris himself. He has been dead since 1806, and he was too busy financing the Revolutionary War to be concerned with Villanova. Rather, the school named for him almost beat ‘Nova.
The “Proper Name” rule was in effect in 2006, when George Mason made it into the Final Four. Well, not George Mason himself; he was a farmer and would have been too busy writing the U.S. Constitution, and besides all of that, he died in 1792.
Further research is needed to determine how this rule works when it is hidden in an abbreviation (see BYU).
A special case of the “Proper Name” rule specifies that if a team’s “proper name” sounds like the name of a household servant, then that team is especially capable of upsets. Combined with the “Nickel and Dime” Rule, you can see how this new bracketology would have predicted Butler’s path through the Tournament.
Remember one final rule as you consider all of this: No prophet is respected in his own time. Oh, and if the tournament expands to 96 teams next year, it is impossible to predict how these rules will work.