Hot Reads: The Best Way to Fill Out a Bracket
Photo Credit: Aaron Babcock

Hot Reads: The Best Way to Fill Out a Bracket

March 13, 2017

Got your bracket? Good. Now what?

Go with your gut? Guess? Try to apply some science?

This is my central conflict every March. I want to believe there’s a smart way to do this, but I’m not smart enough to figure it out. I want to think this tournament is more than just a collection of 63 nearly random events, but the evidence keeps stacking up on the other side. It induces as much anxiety in me each year as it does joy. For me, filling out a bracket has become my “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” except I keep doing it each spring, keep taking the same frustrating trip while wondering if I should just employ the time-worn tougher-mascot method.

I guess the paradox here is trying to make sense of a billion-dollar joyride we prize as one of the greatest in sports specifically because it doesn’t make sense.

But enough about my personal angst. If you’re still up for the fight — maybe even eager for it — these are the sources that I would (OK, fine, eventually will) consult to make me feel like I’m at least employing some sort of strategy.

How to Win Your NCAA Tournament Pool: You have to pay to play — $7.99 for the Kindle edition, available instantly — but this is the book, by Ed Feng of The Power Rank, that gives me hope that there’s a smart way to do this. No matter your level of commitment to filling out your bracket, Feng has tips that will make you feel more informed. And don’t worry, you can read this book in one sitting and still have plenty of time to make your picks before your pool deadline.

FiveThirtyEight: If you need some win probabilities to inform your decisions, there are plenty of options but I like those from FiveThirtyEight because they’re already incorporating a lot of those other options:

Our methodology for making these projections is exactly the same as it was last year. They’re based on a blend of six computer rankings: FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings, Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, Jeff Sagarin’s “predictor” ratings, ESPN’s BPI, Joel Sokol’s LRMC ratings and Sonny Moore’s computer power ratings. We also use two human-generated rating systems: the selection committee’s 68-team “S-Curve” and a composite of preseason ratings from coaches and media polls. The preseason ratings have some predictive power when used carefully, serving as a hedge against teams that may have overachieved or underachieved relative to their talent level and are due to revert to the mean.

Also of note: Nate Silver writes that “this is not a year in which we’re going to be able to help you all that much, at least in the Elite Eight and beyond.” So, yeah, the paradox again, but you’ve gotta start somewhere, right? I’ll start with these win probabilities and adjust from there.

ESPN’s Who Picked Whom Bracket: This isn’t updating yet, but it will soon enough and this is probably your best glimpse into the public consciousness. Here you’ll get a real-time tally of what percentage of people are picking which teams, a valuable source of info if you want to be contrarian and go value shopping. If you can get the same data for your specific pool, then you’re really cooking with gas, but in the absence of that, consider this ESPN page your best approximation of an “exit poll.” There are hundreds of other projections out there. If you’re trying to decide which ones might help you the most, here are’s season-to-date accuracy rankings.

Good luck out there.

The Grab Bag

  • Will Farniok of the Famous Footballing Farnioks of South Dakota — a group that includes current Husker, Matt — spoke with Erin Sorensen about his recent visit to Lincoln. (Premium)
  • Steve Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star offers seven thoughts on the Huskers’ first week of spring practice.
  • Dan Murphy of ESPN looks at the ways some Big Ten schools are keeping spring practices fresh for the players.
  • Sam McKewon of the Omaha World Herald details just how much room the Huskers have to improve in the passing game in 2017.

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