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‘Bracketology’ commences

March 4, 2011
By SETH STASKEY, Times Leader Sports Editor

Who do you have in your Final Four?

How far do you have Ohio State or Duke going?

What kinds of upsets did you pick?

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NCAA Tournament brackets will be a common sight this month, as “bracketologists” will do their best to predict which college basketball teams will advance to the Sweet Sixteen, Elite Eight, Final Four and ultimately, the college championship.

All of those are amongst some of the questions that you'll be hearing in the coming weeks if you're into college basketball.

Heck, even if you're not into college basketball and just around a water cooler or inside a place of business, you're probably going to hear questions on this order.

With the calendar turning to March earlier this week, it's time for the Madness to begin and with that comes 'bracketology.'

The pairings for the upcoming NCAA Men's Basketball Championship won't be released until a week from this Sunday, but for the better part of two months, college hoops gurus and pundits have been trying to figure out who will be the top seeds.

Once the brackets are set Sunday, the real task begins. For the coaches and players, it's back to the film room and practice court to get ready to make a run at winning the NCAA title. However, that's a weekly deal for those guys. It comes with the territory.

The general public has an even greater task, however. You see, the teams only have to prepare for the opponent in front of them. The fans, however, have to look at every game and try to figure out who's going to be this year's Butler and/or Northern Iowa.

That can be a tough task for the simple fact that the mid-major teams, who are cast in the role of Cinderella each season aren't on national television much and don't get the exposure. Most are on national television in their respective conference championship games, but they're playing other teams in the Missouri Valley or Horizon Conference, meaning it's tough to gauge how those teams will stack up against say the second or third best team from the Big 10, Big East or SEC for instance. Those teams usually fare well in the tournament because they've got talented, veteran players who've not gone through a gauntlet much like the teams in the aforementioned 'power' conferences.

That's where it gets really challenging for the folks playing the brackets. It's for those reasons why you're more likely to be struck by lightning than pick a perfect bracket.

While picking a perfect bracket is obviously out of the question early, the key to a successful bracket is keeping your Sweet 16 teams around. Most office pools score one point for a correct pick in the first round and two for a second-round pick. Advancing as many Sweet 16 teams is key.

Personally, I try to shy away from the upset pick as much as possible. Sometimes I find myself really buying into a smaller team and I will admit that Butler and Northern Iowa weren't on my radar past, maybe, the second round.

Each year you're going to have those kinds of teams, but in picking with your wallet, you're better off to shy away because for the most part, the masses will shy away.

I would take as many of the higher seeds as possible early, but maybe lock into one Cinderella. Usually five seeds are susceptible in the first round to 12 seeds, so that's traditionally an upset that's fairly common. Another upset to take a good look at is the representative of the Mid-American Conference. Take last year for example, Ohio University upset a few teams in the MAC Tourney in Cleveland and got into the "Big Dance" as a 14 seed. It promptly knocked off third-seeded Georgetown in the first round.

Another big key to picking a successful bracket is determining early if you're playing to win or playing as a fan. Playing with your wallet sometimes make people think differently about things. Fans are bias in several regards and look at their favorite teams or alma maters with rose-colored glasses.

Let's be honest, picking this tournament is a crap-shoot. Most of the time, the winner is a first-time player or a young kid, who watched a few games during the season and still filled out his or bracket by thinking what colors he or she liked best.

Listening to analysis is nice, but sometimes, it's easier and a lot less stressful just to choose it like a kid would.

Staskey can be reached at



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