March Madness: How to win the office pool 

It’s crunchtime. The clock is winding down. Do you have your brackets filled out ? The first round of the 2007 NCAA Division I men’s basketball championship tips off on the two greatest sporting days of the year this Thursday and Friday.

Will you impress your co-workers and prove yourself a master of bracketology, that mystical art of correctly filling out the symmetrical chart known as the brackets by predicting the winning teams in each game? Or will you once again lose to the guy in your office with the nose hair and an a cappella version of "One Shining Moment" on his iPod?


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The annual NCAA Tournament, with its steady, mathematical progression from 65 teams to one national champion, costs employers billions of dollars a year in worker productivity as people gather at the water cooler or stream the games onto their work computers, according to workplace consultants.

But a worker might be able to make up some of that difference by actually winning the office pool.

R.J. Bell, the founder and president of Pregame.com, a betting information Web site, said that by analyzing the history of the tournament, an individual could cut his decisions in half, allowing him greater chances to win the pool.

The odds of picking a perfect bracket — correctly picking the winners of all 64 games in the tournament — are 9,223,372,036, 854,775,808 to 1.

"If you put a million people in a room and they fill out one bracket a second, it would take 300 years to fill out all the possible brackets," Bell said.

The biggest hindrance to someone filling out a good bracket is letting their eyes deceive them while they make their picks, he said.

"[They’re] focusing too much on the limited amount they actually see, i.e., their impressions, rather than the facts," he said.

What’s keeping them from at least correctly picking a game is that people don’t pick enough upsets, he added. "The tournament never follows form as much as the average person expects," Bell said.

There is an average of nine "major" upsets, when a team ranked at least four seeds lower than its opponent wins, in a tournament, and there are at least nine upsets of a lesser value, according to Pregame.

If you’re interested in Pregame’s advice, you’re probably one of millions who will contribute to a $1.2 billion loss in worker productivity over the three-week tournament, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based workplace consulting firm.

Employers, however, should make room at work for March Madness because working during personal time is no longer out of bounds, said John Challenger, CEO of the firm.

"There used to be a really hard line between work and personal life," Challenger said. "Today, it’s really changed. We take our work home with us, we commute with it, we go on vacation with it. It’s only fair that it go in reverse."

How to win your pool

Teams are seeded 1-16 in each of the four geographical regions. All stats are calculated from 1985, when the tournament expanded to 64 teams.

First Round (64 teams)

Advice: Be very selective picking any team below a No. 12 seed.

» No. 16 seeds are 0-for-88.

» No. 15 seeds are 4-for-88.

» No. 13 and No. 14 seeds have less than a 19 percent winning percentage combined.

Advice: Consider upsets when seeds Nos. 12-9 are involved.

» No. 12 seeds have an 11-24 record against No. 5 seeds in the last six years.

» No. 9 seeds have a winning record against No. 8 seeds.

Second Round (32 teams)

Advice: Advance No. 1 seeds to the Sweet 16 almost automatically.

» No. 1 seeds win their first two games 86 percent of the time.

Advice: Advance No. 12 and No. 10 seeds picked in first round.

» No. 12 seeds are 14-of-29 and No. 10 seeds are 17-of-35.

Sweet 16

Advice: Advance exactly three No. 1 seeds into the Elite Eight.

» 70 percent of No. 1 seeds go to the Elite 8.

Advice: Put no team lower than a No. 12 seed into the Elite Eight.

Elite Eight

Advice: Select one or two No. 1 seeds for the Final Four.

» One or two No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four 18 of the last 22 years.

Advice: Move no team lower than a No. 8 seed to the Final Four.

» Only two of 88 Final Four teams have been seeded lower than No. 8.

Final Four

Advice: Select no team lower than a No. 6 seed for the championship.

» Zero have made it in the last 21 years.

Championship

Advice: Pick a No. 4 seed or higher to win.

» For the last 18 years, the champion has been a No. 4 seed or higher.

-Source: Pregame.com

dsmith@examiner.com

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