One simple rule will get many people through the annual NCAA man’s basketball tournament with clean(er) brackets.
To borrow from one of college hoops analyst Jon Rothstein’s many Twitter catchphrases, what should you expect when the unexpected becomes the ordinary?
Until you get to the Final Four, nothing in sports personifies anarchy quite like the NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball tournament. Many of us study the game all season long and spend hours upon hours poring over dozens of brackets in an attempt to craft the perfect one. We’re going to enter pools among our friend groups and with a bunch of total strangers online and try to win, well, anything. Bragging rights, money, other stakes — you name it, someone’s probably gambling on it.
The problem is that this might be the most difficult thing in the world to predict. That’s why you can win millions of dollars playing in an NCAA bracket challenge, but only if your 63-game bracket is perfect. I don’t believe Warren Buffett has paid or will pay anybody from his Berkshire Hathaway network for having a perfect one because it probably won’t happen.
“As such, the number of possible outcomes for a bracket is 2^63, or 9,223,372,036,854,775,808,” NCAA.com blogger Daniel Wilco wrote in February. “That’s 9.2 quintillion. In case you were wondering, one quintillion is one billion billions.”
You have much better odds — one in 13,983,816 — of winning the lottery. Maybe you should go buy a ticket instead of filling out a bracket. It costs a little more to play, but totally busting out isn’t quite as soul-crushing if you’re a sports fan.
But playing the lottery isn’t nearly as fun as March Madness, so that’s why we’re still here. If you must play, I have one piece of advice for you.
Don’t fill out your bracket with logic and reason until you get to the Final Four.
Seriously, do something stupid. Pick matchups based on mascot preferences or jerseys you like or school colors you prefer. Pick head-to-heads based on which schools are ranked higher for academics or partying or whatever you can find. Pick completely at random if you want to, or maybe throw some darts at a board and spin a game wheel each time. You’re going to have a better bracket than many of the experts on ESPN, FOX, CBS, Yahoo Sports and anything else out there. It doesn’t sound right but I promise you, that’s the way to go.
I picked Arizona to go all the way last year and my bracket lasted about five seconds (figuratively speaking) before I busted out. I laughed like an insane person. I probably went a little insane that day. That team was good enough for March, or so I thought like a fool.
I tell myself every year that I’m going to take my own advice and totally wing this thing, but I won’t. I’m a creature of habit. I’m too deep into it. I’ll start by picking the 13 and 14 seeds to go far and scribble everything out because the voice of reason in my brain will take over and make me feel dumb for thinking someone’s really about to knock North Carolina out of the first round.
Don’t be like me. Get weird with it.