Q&A with Jon Wertheim: Safe NCAA bracket picks trump shockers
Bracketologists are peddling bombshell upset picks to a nation of NCAA pool entrants, but "Scorecasting" co-author Jon Wertheim has some less sexy advice: "Don't worry about being lame." Wertheim's myth-busting research into sports has led him to the conclusion that a good bracket will roll with the heavyweights rather than the fabulous upsets.
What sorts of upset picks do make sense? No. 16 seeds never beat top seeds, and No. 15 teams rarely beat No. 2 seeds - and if you pick those teams and they miss, they can easily bust your bracket. The "tech start-up" play would be picking a No. 12 seed to beat a No. 5 seed. In 20 of the last 22 years, at least one No. 12 seed has beaten a No. 5.
What do you think of the "hot hand" strategy? In terms of predictive value, I'm more interested in Kentucky and Syracuse's 30-win seasons than LIU-Brooklyn coming in on a winning streak. ... Look at Vanderbilt winning the SEC. I would be very surprised if Vanderbilt was an Elite Eight team, but they're suddenly a hot pick because they won the conference and beat Kentucky.
Do you ignore a team's tournament history when making your pick? We've seen it a lot of times, that teams have a history of losing early in the NCAA tournament. But if you go back and look, you'll see they were losing to ninth, 10th, 11th seeds those years - good teams. So there's not much to that.
Any other advice? There's no bonus for getting your bracket done early. You need to use the next 48 hours to get your bracket right. With a small amount of research, you'll see, for instance, that [No. 4-seeded] Indiana's [senior] point guard [Verdell Jones III] blew out his knee and is out for the season.