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COLUMN: A Balanced Bracket will help you feast this March

Josh VanDyke • Mar 14, 2018 at 2:15 AM

We've all been there.

It's Thursday afternoon and the first slate of NCAA Tournament games are closing out. One of your Final Four teams is on the ropes against the No. 15 seed and you get irrationally angry at a group of 19-year-olds for missing their free throws in the last 30 seconds of the game.

Now, your bracket is in shambles and you have to listen to Carol from accounting brag about how she picked that game correctly because she "liked their mascot and has a friend who lives out there."

It's called March Madness for a reason and more often than not, trying to predict colossal upsets will, in fact, drive you insane.

Last year as an experiment, I took my emotions out of my selections and picked strictly based on the numbers. The end result was only one Final Four team picked correctly in Gonzaga, who did make it to the National Title Game.

To learn from my mistakes, I've adopted a balanced approach this year. While I firmly believe great offense beats great defense, if a team that averages 80 points per game views defense as an optional endeavor, the chances of them winning six straight games in a row is not likely.

Instead, pick teams that are good at putting the ball through the hoop and are above average at playing defense on the other end of the court.

Here are a few ways to balance out your bracket and dominate your office pool this March.

Cram for the exam

Unless you've watched every College of Charleston game this season or have season tickets to St. Bonaventure hoops, chances are pretty good that you have no idea about these mid-major teams.

Since no one in their right mind is going to watch film on these teams, just glance at a few team capsules online to get a better understanding of the team's makeup, strengths, and weaknesses and visit KenPom.com for some important number crunching before the Thursday deadline arrives.

On the intensive analytic website, you can figure out how all 68 teams rank as a far as offensive and defensive efficiency. The big categories I look for are Adjusted Offensive Efficiency (AdjO) and Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (AdjD). Simply put, these stats give you an idea how many points each team would score if they were all given 100 possessions with the basketball or how many points they would allow on defense after 100 possessions.

Since 2002 when KenPom started, the majority of national championship teams have ranked inside the top 25 in both categories.

Don't fall in love with the Cinderellas

Part of the fun of filling out your bracket is bragging about the upsets you picked correctly. However, if you get too aggressive with the double-digit seeds, it could burn down your bracket faster than any lighter fluid.

Your best bets for upsets are picking one No. 12 seed to beat a No. 5 and one No. 11 seed to beat a No. 6. Anything more than that, and you're probably going to be kicking yourself for falling in love with too many Cinderellas. There's only so many glass slippers to roll out there.

One tip for picking upsets is looking at which double-digit seed is top 75 in offensive efficiency. The mid-majors that can keep up with the big boys on the scoreboard are more likely to spring an upset than a team that relies too heavily on defense.

The Homer Paradox

Filling out a bracket is tough when you have a rooting interest in one of the teams. As difficult as it may be, don't let your heart overrule your head when it comes to picking winners.

The homer paradox can be solved by simply shelling out some extra cash to file two brackets.

I suggest filling out one bracket with your heart and one bracket with your head. That way, you can enjoy March Madness as you root for your favorite team and still not be THAT upset if they don't win it all because you covered all your bases beforehand.

As you can see, my recipe for success this March Madness is a steady diet of balanced numbers, upsets and fandom.

After all, this is supposed to be fun.

Pro Tip: If you're watching the game from the office this Thursday and Friday, download some fake Excel Spreadsheets to camouflage your live stream. Don't scream unless you are prepared to sell people on the idea that you are just really excited about the last email chain response about the next meeting at 4 p.m.

Enjoy the madness and may the odds be ever in your favor.

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