Mike Conway is a numbers guy.
That serves him well as a certified public accountant, and this year it paid dividends in The Times Bracket Bust.
The Flowery Branch resident beat our sports department handily and won our second annual March Madness prediction contest, edging the second-place finisher with 147 points to 141.
That was good enough to finish in the 98th percentile among 2.5 million competitors on Yahoo.com.
For comparison’s sake, your humbled sports editor ended up in the 43rd percentile. So much for my elaborate coin-flip method.
In more than 10 years of picking in various pools, this was Conway’s first win. His advice to those among us still looking for a win after 20 years of bracket beat-downs at the hands of our wives and sisters?
Take the suffix in bracketology seriously.
"Spreadsheets help a lot," he said.
Next year, maybe I’ll attempt something more in line with Conway’s studious approach. He won’t divulge the specifics, but it sounds like it might involve an abacus and a slide rule.
"It’s kind of secret, but I’ll tell you some of it," Conway said. "I take some statistics and rank the teams based on those. Some of the statistics I use are RPI, the AP Top 25 and how long they were in the top 25 during the season. If they’re pretty consistently in the top 25, that gives them a better rating than teams that jumped in and out.
"There’s also a mathematical program that some boys down at Georgia Tech run."
That’s LRMC he’s talking about; a ranking system created and maintained by professors in Tech’s school of Industrial and Systems Engineering.
"Unfortunately, it’s a total number-cruncher which means they don’t have any allowance for any upsets," Conway added. "But before the tournament starts they have a pretty good ranking of who’s powerful and who’s not, and I kind of use that."
It’s a yearly ritual for Conway, a Mercer graduate who said he follows Georgia Tech, Georgia, North Carolina and Duke.
"I go straight out to breakfast early in the morning as soon as the USA Today hits, because they always have the special section just for the tournament," he said. "I’ll spend all morning doing research. It’s kind of a tradition for me each year."
It didn’t start out well in this year’s tournament for Conway. He missed on nine games in the first round, but that’s expected in his formula.
"I wasn’t too worried at first because the way I pick the bracket is a statistical number kind of thing, which doesn’t allow for any upsets, unfortunately," he said. "I knew I would miss a few of those, but I knew as I got closer to the end, the numbers would prevail. And they pretty much did."
Sure enough, he correctly picked 14 of the Sweet 16, six of the Elite Eight and three of the Final Four. He also had eventual champion North Carolina winning it all, but by the time the field was whittled down to two teams, Conway had already wrapped up the tournament.
Michigan State, which made a somewhat surprising run to the championship game, was the linchpin in Conway’s bracket success. Only three other Bracket Busters saw the Spartans as a Final Four team.
"Nobody even gave them any coverage during the tournament until they made it to the Final Four," Conway said.
"I’m not sure why. In my ranking system they came out in the top four, and that’s why I went with them even though no one else gave them much credit."
Score one for March’s mad scientist, Mike Conway.
Brent Holloway is the sports editor of The Times. His columns appear each Friday in The Times and on gainesvilletimes.com.