Greeson: Building a better bracket

Greeson: Building a better bracket

March 20th, 2014 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

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Document: 2014 NCAA Men's Bracket

Bracket for the 2014 NCAA Men?s Division I Basketball Championship

Are you needing help with your bracket? Need a new system after finishing third from the bottom last year in the office pool, one spot ahead of the wierd guy in accounting, who narrowly edged your boss's cat Snuggles that was making picks by licks, purrs and feline nickname familiarity?

We here at the TFP are to help. My philosopy is detailed below. Two sharp young ladies from the timesfreepress.com team have agreed to share other approaches online, and you can follow our success at our website. Maura Friedman has hitched her wagon to analytics, leaning heavily on numbers and help from Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight.com. Mary Helen Martin has taken the off-key and creative approach of anagrams. Good luck with that.

I work backward, deciding on our Final Four -- the teams we believe to be the best that are playing well right now -- and draw from the four back to round one. This means we have penciled in the four -- Florida, Arizona, Michigan State and Louisville -- we picked Monday in my online column "5-at-10" on timesfreepress.com. Yes, it means we have the same Final Four as President Obama, and that means we are definitely going to have to enter a second bracket now.

When we first put that quartet down, we felt good about having a mix of 1 seeds and other seeds. When we saw the released Vegas odds -- those four are the four favorites to win the whole thing according to the guys in Sin City who do this for a living -- we felt simultaneously good and bad. You never want to walk straight favorites, but these are the Vegas favorites not the selection committee favorites.

So we're sticking there -- although I boldly pronounced Syracuse as my pick in late January, and the Orange's implosion in the final furlong has given everyone pause, which naturally means they are going to win it all -- and now the scoring tricks come in.

First, know the rules of your pool. The second rule is remember rule No. 1.

Everything else is feel and feelings, and balancing emotion and motion offenses. If you want to pick with heart, fine. If you want to pick with your head, fine. But pick a horse and ride, mixing your methods is worse than mixing your metaphors, and we all know how painful it can be to beat your head against dead horse.

From there, know there will be upsets, but pick them wisely and sparingly.

It's great to be the guy that picks Florida Gulf Coast winning a couple of games, like they did last year as a shocking No. 15 seed, but in most of those cases, those are only a few points and the risks outweigh the reward. Yes, upsets happen, and even in a year when we do not have a clear-cut double-digit seed that seems to be peaking, upsets will happen this week too. But picking a winning sheet is about calculated risk and hedging point loss.

If you had FGC last year, and you did not pick a slew of early upsets, then you made up a lot of valuabe early-bracket ground. If you picked a slew of upsets and nailed FGC, while you got to brag about being the one that nailed the 15 over the 2, you likely lost ground overall because you picked several other upsets that did not have hit. Do you want bragging rights about a shrewd pick or the cash and bragging rights of winning the whole thing.

So calculate, and hedge, and by hedging, if you are riding a No. 4 seed -- like Michigan State and Louisville -- do not be shy about picking the 12 over the 5 in that bracket. This proves wise in two directions: 1) We know a 12 will beat a 5 this weekend since it has happened in 23 of the last 25 tournaments; 2) If those 5 seeds -- St. Louis or Cincinnati -- make a run beyond the first weekend, that means they have knocked out No. 4 seeds we are riding into the Final Four, so our sheet is dead anyway.

Also, know that No. 9 seeds have won over 8s almost 55 percent of the time. So pick two 9s -- we like Pittsburgh and Oklahoma State, but you can mix and match them.

Next, remember that more times than not there is one region that works almost exactly according to the seeds and then there is one region that becomes bedlam. Those are completely up in the air, so if you have one regional with Nos. 1-4 in the Sweet 16 and one regional with a 1, 5, 7 and 11, that's OK. The key is in the balance and hoping that you pegged the right one.

So with that, make your best guess and know that having a dog in the hunt makes it more fun -- even if your cat made the picks.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.