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Thompson: Strategy For A Winning Bracket

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By Brad Thompson–

All the buzz this Monday revolves around seeding, matchups and bracket busters. In my world, there are only two ways to fill out a winning bracket. Whether you choose to fill out multiple brackets or just one is up to you, but implementing one or both of my strategies will increase your enjoyment and, more importantly, your chances of winning.

None of the information below is based on specific team’s strengths, experience or style of play. The Perfect Bracket and the Conservative Bracket deal only in philosophy, not specifics, although examples from this year’s tournament are given.

The Conservative Bracket

Using this strategy increases your chances of winning, by keeping your hopes alive until the Final Four and even the championship game. This approach is aptly named the Conservative Bracket, because it specializes in picking the favored team to advance. This method emphasizes late tournament wins more than first round upsets. You won’t come off looking like a basketball wizard by advancing the higher seeds throughout the tournament, but it will keep you in the middle of the pack with a chance to win at the end.

A factor that cannot be overlooked while implementing this strategy is the scoring system in your pool. Most tournament bracket competitions have scoring systems that reward correct late round picks more than early round picks. Some common scoring systems assign 10 points for a first round winner and 80 points for picking an Elite Eight winner. This means having one of your Final Four teams advance is worth eight correct first round picks. A scoring system like this emphasizes having the most teams alive in your bracket later in the tournament and that’s how the Conservative Bracket pays off.

Don’t be overwhelmed by the urge to pick upsets in the first two rounds. Playing it relatively safe during the first weekend by picking mostly chalk teams keeps you from losing any of your Final Four teams. Even if you think mid-majors will upset higher seeds, resist the desire to advance them. I’m not suggesting eliminating every upset from your bracket, just be very careful and wary about eliminating a team that might make a deep tournament run. For example, a popular upset pick this year is No. 13 Oakland over No. 4 Texas. Now I can’t argue with the fact that Oakland might beat Texas, but it isn’t a total stretch for Texas to make it to the Final Four either. Penciling in an upset of Texas will significantly hurt your bracket if the Longhorns don’t loss and advances deep into the tournament, whereas Oakland, at best, probably only wins two games.

You won’t be winning your office pool after the first weekend, but your remaining points possible will be higher than your cubicle neighbor. You should also still have all your Final Four teams left, giving you the opportunity to move to the top of the leaderboard later in the tournament.

One drawback of this approach is even if you are successful, you might not win your pool. Anyone can fill out a bracket and pick the higher seeded team; by picking the favored teams you won’t separate your bracket from other people’s bracket. It’s low-risk, low-reward.

The Perfect Bracket

This approach focuses on the importance of every game and picking upsets. The Perfect Bracket puts the same amount of significance on first round games as Final Four picks. It’s a high-risk, high-reward way of filling out your bracket. This type of bracket is for the sports brainiac who claims to have watched every college basketball game this season and knows the personnel of mid-major rosters as well as Big East ones.

Success using the Perfect Bracket strategy makes you look like basketball genius. On the other hand, it can leave you looking extremely foolish – if you picked Belmont to upset Wisconsin in the first round and the Badgers advance to the Final Four.

This strategy enables you to demonstrate your superior hoops knowledge by picking the sleeper teams that advance to the Sweet Sixteen and beyond. After the first weekend of the tournament your inbox will be overflowing with emails questioning how you knew Wofford was going to make it to the Sweet Sixteen. You’ll be the high scorer in your pool and the talk of your office. No one saw Old Dominion upsetting No. 1 seed Pittsburgh in the second round except you. What vision and intelligence you have.

The beauty of the Perfect Bracket is if you are successful, you will probably win your pool. No one else went out on a limb and took the chances you did by picking upsets. Unfortunately, if you miss on your sleeper picks you will fail miserable and your reputation as a supposed basketball genius will be ruined. You could look like Dick Vitale, but run the risk of looking like Charlie Sheen.

How To Decide

First, determine what type of scoring system your pool goes by. Then decided if you are going to fill out multiple brackets. My strategies are effective either way.

The Perfect Bracket appeals to the gambler in us all. It makes following your bracket more fun in the early rounds of the tournament. The Conservative Bracket is just that, putting the emphasis on the Final Four and championship games.

Some people have a problem with filling out multiple brackets and if that’s you, pick one approach and cross your fingers. As for me, I fill out one Conservative Bracket and one Perfect Bracket. It gives me the best of both worlds.

In the end, both strategies hinge on – probably on the most important bracket factor of all – luck. So don’t stress out about your bracket, just follow one or both of my approaches, enjoy the madness and pray.

Do you agree with Brad? Post your comments below.

brad thompson bio pic Thompson: Strategy For A Winning Bracket

Brad Thompson

Brad M. Thompson, a former college football player and coach, made his return to the Midwest in 2009 after fighting wildfires out West. He earned his master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University and covers the Big Ten Conference and Chicago sports. Follow him on Twitter at @Brad_M_Thompson. Find more of Brad’s blogs here.

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