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Secrets to NCAA Tourney Success: Pick Your Pool Like You’re Picking Stocks

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March Madness is here and if you're like millions of other Americans, you're going to enter at least one NCAA tournament pool.

To help you fill out that bracket (or brackets), we brought in Jon Wertheim, a writer for Sports Illustrated and co-author of Scorecasting: The Hidden Influences Behind How Sports Are Played and Games Are Won.

Scorecasting is a bit like 'Freakonomics' for sports, featuring deep statistical analysis of sports and the things we think we know about them. When it comes to the NCAA Men's basketball championships, Wertheim offers the following advice:

Treat Your Bracket Like Investing: "If you want to win this thing, treat [your bracket] like a portfolio," Wertheim says. "You don't have many penny stocks, get your penny stocks out of this -- go with blue chips, go with big conference teams."

While it's tempting to pick the big upsets, Wertheim says you're much better off taking all the first and second seeds in your bracket and "march 'em through to the third round."

Upsets happen, of course, and picking the "Cinderella" team is part of the fun of March Madness, but statistically speaking it's the wrong way to go, he says.

One exception: 12 seeds have a historically strong track record against no. 5 seeds, winning "more than 11 beats six," Wertheim notes. So if you're inclined to pick an "upset special," make it a 12 seed.

Choose Reason Over Emotions: Don't pick a team just because you like their mascot more than the other team's -- or because your older brother's best friend went to a certain school and you once had a "lost weekend" there. Similarly, don't pick against a certain team (see: Duke) because you just don't like them.

Forget About 'Momentum': In 'Scorecasting', Wertheim and co-author Toby Moskowitz document that "momentum is a myth" in sports, generally, and the NCAA tourney specifically.

"Don't chase returns," Wertheim says. "Look at past performance but over a broad period. Kentucky and Syracuse winning 30 games is going to tell you more than the fact they lost last weekend" during the conference championships.

Location Matters: The NCAAs are played at purportedly "neutral" sites but some teams play in regional settings close enough to home that it can feel like a home game, West Virginia and Kentucky being prime examples this year.

Wertheim says home field advantage matters a lot in sports and almost 70% of the time in college basketball. "If there's a tossup game and one team is demonstrably closer, take that under advisement," he says.

And finally, Wertheim says the boost March Madness gives to morale and camaraderie in the workplace more than offsets any productivity "lost" to the tourney, so have at it and good luck. And be sure to enter Yahoo's Tournament Pick'em Game, featuring a $5 million prize for a "perfect" pool.

(Editor's note: An earlier version incorrectly referred to the title of Wertheim's book as "Sportscasting"; The Daily Ticker regrets the error.)

Aaron Task is the host of The Daily Ticker. You can follow him on Twitter at @aarontask or email him at altask@yahoo.com


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