[See our complete guide to March Madness.]
March is one time of the year that many people who may not know a breakdown of a point suddenly become sports bettors by risking a few dollars in an NCAA men’s tournament pool.
If you’re one of them, and it feels like your annual entry is starting to look like a donation, this’s good news: following a few simple guidelines can significantly increase your chances of winning. And you can do that without obsessively following college basketball this season. Indeed, you may even have an advantage over the hardcore fans who do not follow these tips and only stick to their own impressions of the teams.
The rules are very important.
If you get a hitch, do not immediately start choosing games. Rather read the rules of the pool carefully.
If it’s an old pool that awards the same number of points, no matter which team you choose, you’ll want to stick with the favorites. Do not be smart with UC Santa Barbara or Liberty. There is no reason for that; the reward is just not worth it.
But if the pool awards bonus points for upset, you need to take a very different direction. Now you want to pick long shots; Indeed, you have to do it to have a chance to win.
The number you have to choose depends on the rules of your pool. If the bonus points for heel shakes are stingy, say a single point, you might just want to pick the 9-seed to beat the number 8 seed. If the bonuses are wider – some pools offer 3, 5, 10 or more points for upset – you also want to start picking 10, 11, 12 and 13 seeds, and sometimes even 14 seeds.
One caveat: if you upset too much in the first round in this type of pool, you will yield a lot of points, but can hurt later when the points awarded for each correct choice usually increase. So it is probably wise to choose only once per game. If you choose the 13 to beat the 4, you should also not choose the 12 over the 5 (you usually do not want to sit with a 12 against a 13 in the second round.)
Consider the number of participants.
While this is the best way to fill a pool without bonus points, the number of players can have a big effect. If the pool is just you and a handful of friends, then pick all the favorites; you have a good chance of doing really well. But once the field size exceeds 50 or more, an entry for favorites, while likely to perform fairly well, can struggle to win money.
The best option for a larger pool is to confuse your choice as little as you can until you reach the last eighth point: maybe pick a few number 2 seeds to make the Final Four and one of them to win it all.
If your pool has a larger field, you need to take even more chances. If you enter one of the large public swimming pools with tens of thousands of participants or more, you will have to make a nice, final Four to win the chance.
Embrace a conflicting view.
If you choose your eventual winner, it may be to your advantage not to go with the team that everyone likes. The undefeated Gonzaga is the number 1 team in the country. This means that even if you choose the Zags correctly to win, you will be one of the many contestants who do. But if you look a little further, maybe at a team like Michigan or Houston, and you’re right, you might just be one of the small participants doing that and so you have a better chance of the overall win.
And know your opponents. If your pool includes a lot of graduates from Illinois, you mean, you probably want to pick another team to win it all.
Look at the betting lines.
Overall, the better-selected teams have a better chance of winning. But sometimes the oddsmakers see it a little differently. Join the bookmakers in any game in which the betting and bookmakers do not agree. You have a better chance of winning, your opponents might go the other way, and if your pool awards it, you will get some bonus points.
Based on the very early rules, Rutgers, who is a 10-seeded but one of two points above Clemson, is in seventh place.
Based on the rankings of computer forces, Villanova over Purdue and Tennessee over the state of Oklahoma are some upsets that do not really upset in the second round.
Beware of the ‘hot team’.
It’s inevitable that there are teams that get hot in their conference tournaments and get a lot of buzz to do well in the NCAA tournament. Do not fall for the hype. A striped team, like Georgetown, which won four games this weekend to take the Big East tournament as a No. 8 series, is likely to return to the way it played most of the season.
In contrast, the teams that crashed early in their conference tournaments, such as Villanova, who lost to Georgetown in the quarterfinals of the Big East, are likely to play well again.
Check out the pre-season favorites.
Teams that have been ranked high in the season but underperform often do well in the NCAA Tournament. The theory is that those teams have a lot of talent – otherwise they would not be named top teams before the season started. And the talent is probably still there, even though the players have underperformed in the few dozen games of the regular season, a fair sample size.
The teams that can suddenly start playing this year as everyone expected include Villanova, no. 3 preseason and a number 5 series; Virginia, no. 4 pre-season and a number 4 seed; and Wisconsin, no. 7 preseason and a number 9 seed.