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Adam Gold

How to win your office pool the fun way

Posted March 20, 2013

It's about that time. Time for you to put your beads on the line, fill out a bracket and hope for the best. The NCAA men's basketball tournament is the most captivating sporting event in the United States. Doesn't matter who you are -- longtime hoops guru or needle pointing grandmother -- everyone has a chance to win the bracket pool.

Especially if you have internet access.

Ahhh, but before you search for strengths and weakness of each of the teams in the ever-growing field, just fire up Nate Silver's award-winning blog FiveThirtyEight.com and he's got the entire tournament planned out for you.

Wait, isn't Silver the guy who predicted the last two presidential elections almost exactly? What in the name of Hank Iba does he know about college basketball?

Yes, it's the same Nate Silver, and yes, he did correctly predict both the election and re-election of Barack Obama. However, what he knows about college basketball is inconsequential because he knows statistics. Or, better put, he knows that statistical metrics have historically done a better job in correctly predicting the NCAA tournament and he combines them to create his super rankings, which gives him the percentage that each team wins each of their games.

Louisville, according to Silver's 'polling' -- if you will -- has a 22.7% chance of winning the national championship, and a 59.2% chance of reaching the Final Four. That's good for me, since I picked the Cardinals to win the Midwest Region when the brackets were released Sunday night. It's all there, in bracket form, and it gives you the percentage that each team wins each game.

Hold on for a second. I thought filling out a bracket -- or several brackets -- was supposed to be fun? Where's the fun in just playing the percentages -- someone else's percentages at that? Are you a professional bracket filler outer? Is this your job? Does success determine your monthly income, or provide for the kids' college fund, or go towards the summer vacation? Way to take the fun out of the tournament.

Do you know what's fun about mapping out the brackets for the NCAA Tournament? Picking the right upset, that's what's fun about the brackets. Do you know how many real upsets Nate Silver, or Ken Pomeroy -- whose 'Log 5' formula led my man, Joe Ovies, to a last place finish in 2012 -- or the ESPN Bracket Predictor spit out? How about zero. Nada. Zippo.

Yep, that's fun.

You know there's going to be an upset, and because you've gone all Wonder Bread on the thing, you've got no chance to puff out your chest and hold your nose up in the air when the 14-seed you WOULD have picked beats the 3-seed you thought was a fraud since November -- yes, I'm looking at you Marquette.

You know who always seems to win the office pool? Someone's dog. Yep, Joanne in accounting brought the brackets home and since it was her boyfriend's bowling night and she hadn't watched a college basketball game since Bo made her watch One On One with Robby Benson, she told Biscuit the bloodhound the names of the teams and whichever direction he angled his head in a confused stare, she went that way.

And she won.

And everyone laughed, because it's funny. Well, everyone but you, because you ripped the picks straight from Silver's web site and started spending the winnings on iTunes before the tournament even started. I mean he got the election on the money, right?

In my view, your office pool during the NCAA tournament is NOT something to be taken seriously. Have fun with it. If you don't know enough about the teams, come up with an alternate method of selection. In year's past I've used the Dominant Mascot Theory to select teams. Try it.

Pair up the nicknames of the two teams -- or, if you choose to substitute the mascots to suit your own agenda, that's fine, have some fun -- then decide which would survive if locked in battle. Here's how I work it…

Big cats like Tigers pretty much have the run of the animal kingdom. If two Tigers are matched up, you have to figure something out, but be creative. If it's the Tigers against the Panthers, Tigers win. On the Big Cat Big Board, tigers rule. Lions are next, followed by Panthers, Jaguars, Leopards and Cheetahs. Fortunately, not all of the wild felines are represented this year. The only animals that would beat a big cat would be a group of angry beasts.

The Wolfpack comes to mind, and that bodes well if you're an NC State fan looking for a reason to pick your guys over the Hoosiers, a bunch of dudes from Indiana. Talk about an easy walk into the Sweet 16. In fact, the DMT has State racing all the way to the Elite Eight, beating the Montana Grizzlies along the way. The most intriguing match up of the first round in my bracket matched the Michigan State Spartans and the Crusaders of Valparaiso.

Talk about a dilemma.

The Spartans, one of the first civil societies, were also one of the great land-fighting forces in the history of the ancient world. Meanwhile, the Crusades were a relentless, religion-driven series of wars that lasted more than 500 years. Sparty was tough -- they nearly defeated the mammoth Persian army with advanced weaponry, clever strategy and their bronze body armor. Their reputation was so off the charts that even Alexander the Great himself attacked elsewhere rather than tread on the Spartans turf. But, for the sheer relentless style of the Crusaders who, driven by their religious zeal, kept bringing wave after wave after wave of forces, my pick had to be Valparaiso.

In fact, Valpo made it all the way to Final Four, not too shabby for a 14th seed. Unfortunately, the ultimate trump card in the Dominant Mascot Theory is a natural disaster. Mother Nature is undefeated, my friends and there's just nothing you can do about it. Even the Crusaders, a collection of human beings no matter how driven and relentless they may be, would be at the mercy of the Cyclones of Iowa State. If the twister wants to take you out, there's just nothing you're going to do to stop it.

So, according to the theory, on one side of the bracket we have the Crusaders and the Cyclones, while on the other the Kansas Jayhawks survived a rather benign region as a fictitious bird that simply confused all opponents on their way to the Final Four. Waiting for the Jayhawks would be the University of Miami Hurricanes -- there's that natural disaster again.

Well, you know the theory. Cyclones and Hurricanes are just two much for the motivated humans and the imaginary birds, so who's it going to be, the Cyclones of Iowa State or the Hurricanes of Miami?

Your national champion? Thanks to the double-barreled attack of torrential rain and relentless 100 MPH winds, the U took out ISU in an epic championship game televised for the first time on the Weather Channel.

It's the NCAA Tournament. It's supposed to be fun. Have some. Then wow your friends and family with how you came up with the champion, because the real fun isn't just winning, it's being unique when you do so.

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  • randdjacobs Mar 21, 2013

    The only fun way is to win the office pool. If you ain't first you're last.

  • StunGunn Mar 21, 2013

    For all the games I watch, research I do on SOS, RPI, etc., my brackets are always busted by the first weekend. Throwing darts would be more successful. But, you're absolutely right, it should be - and is - fun.

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