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Ashway: Tournament time finally upon us

POSTED: March 18, 2014 4:10 p.m.

It’s tournament time!

That wonderful time of year dominated by captivating Cinderellas, ubiquitous upsets, and wild wire jobs.

But no small part of the March Madness allure takes place before the first games even tip off. That time when we all succumb to the temptation to become bracketologists.

For those of you in need of some expert guidance filling out this year’s tournament bracket, a few words of advice: Don’t seek expert guidance.

The beauty of the tournament lies in the fact that no one, experts included, knows what’s going to happen. Like we all saw Florida Gulf Coast’s run to the Sweet Sixteen last year. Or Wichita State’s Final Four run.

But for those of you seeking an edge in the office, family, or rotary pool, you have three options. You can go with history, mathematics, or gut instinct.

If you’re a student of history, look no further than the 2014 Men’s Final Four records book.

There you may unearth myriad nuggets to assist your quest for the winning bracket.
First thing you do is pick every number one seed to win its opening game. Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, the top seeds are 116-0 against the hapless No. 16 seeds. No. 2 seeds are a robust 109-7 against No. 15s, still a solid 94 percent winning percentage.

The smart folks always drone on about the success that No. 5 seeds have against No. 12 seeds. Not really. The No. 5 seeds have won 65 percent of the time (75-41). Even the No. 7 vs. No. 10 matchup weighs in at a 60 percent success rate for the seventh seeds. In any election, 60 percent counts as a landslide.

Only in the No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchups can you truly pick upsets with a modicum of confidence. The No. 9 seeds hold a 60-56 advantage (52 percent).

There’s more, of course. No team seeded 13th or lower has ever won a regional semifinal (Sweet Sixteen) game. So pick all the upsets you’d like, just confine them to the early rounds. Another oddity: Teams seeded seventh and tenth are both 0-7 in regional finals since 1985. Twelfth seeds are 0-1 in regional finals.

Since 1985, No. 1 seeds have produced 18 national champions, nine runners-up, and 20 other Final Four teams. For No. 2 seeds, the numbers are four, eight and 13. For number threes, they’re four, five, and three. The other three champions were seeded fourth, sixth, and eighth (Villanova, in 1985).

And yet, the upsets will occur. The records book section on tournament upsets includes only those games where the winner was seeded five or more places lower than the team it defeated. Last year’s tournament involved 11 such games. There were eight in 2012, 11 in 2011, and nine in 2010.

So, how do you pick the upsets? You might want to let someone do the math for you, unless you can grasp the winning strategies at www.poologic.com.

The webmaster conservatively estimates that users of this site have earned over $250,000 using his various strategies. He also urges users to donate a portion of their winnings to the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research. 

Java applets available include the Poologic Calculator and the ROI Calculator. You’ll be exposed to Point Maximization Strategy, Multiple Entity Strategy and The Contrarian Strategy.

You’ll even learn how to use the formula C is less than ((F + K) x Pc/Pf) — K, where C equals your estimate of the number of pool sheets that will be entered for the contrarian pick, not including your sheets, and...

Well, you get the idea. Or not. It gets a bit involved. Or, you could have paid $100 last Thursday to attend Professor Tim Chartier’s March Mathness gathering in Manahttan.

Chartier, a professor at Davidson College, has developed a bracket program based upon applied linear algebra. According to Mary Pilon of the New York Times, Chartier broke down the algorithms using simple diagrams. We’ll have to take her work for it.

But if the math is over your head, and history isn’t your thing, fear not. You can still trust your gut.

That’s the method master bracketologist and friendly family bookmaker Uncle Vinnie Mariglianni employs. And we must divulge that Uncle Vinnie has one of the most impressive guts in the entire free world.

From various locales in suburban New Jersey, Uncle Vinnie does quite well every March with his own selection process.

“I just trust my gut, ya know?” Uncle Vinnie said last week. “I pick doze teams dat feel good, dat I like, ya know? It ain’t rocket science.”

That’s as good a method as any, which explains the beauty of March Madness.

Denton Ashway is a contributing columnist for The Times. His column appears on Wednesday.


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