Use Our Video Guide to Fill Out Your Bracket Like a March Madness Savant

The stadium scene.
March 17 2014 4:21 PM

Get Prescient, Get Lucky, Get Smart

Our video guide to filling out your bracket like a March Madness savant.

“For one glimmering instant, you grasp for the sun. In one glimmering instant … you come undone.”

Mike Pesca Mike Pesca

Mike Pesca is the host of the Slate daily podcast The Gist. He also contributes reports and commentary to NPR.

So goes the public domain version of the stirring song that ends each NCAA Tournament. But how to get to that “glimmering instant,” as immortalized by the vocal stylings of El DeBarge, Nia Peeples, and, my favorite, Nell Carter.

The answer is to get prescient, to get lucky, and to get smart. Since luck is ephemeral and prescience is punished in the post-apocalyptic world imagined in Divergent, I suggest you concentrate on the smart part. For most bracket prognosticators, smartness means picking the teams most likely to win. I subscribe to a different philosophy. I always pick Coastal Carolina. Actually, no I don’t, but I do believe in “value investing.”

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Value investing, when it comes to picking the NCAA Tournament, means being humble enough to know what you don’t know. No individual really has insight as to what relatively evenly matched group of teenagers through 23-year-olds will beat another set of teens though 23-year-olds. But smart, empirically driven data sources like Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, predictionmachine.com, Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight, ESPN.com’s BPI, and the Las Vegas oddsmakers offer useful direction. From there, we compare their choices to the ”wisdom” (or perhaps the “lemming-like behavior”) of the crowd, as seen in the ESPN national bracket. If there’s a team with a 40 percent chance of winning but only 5 percent of the public is picking them, maybe you should consider taking a (Dayton) flyer.

Over the years, this has become something of the Slate in-house method of NCAA bracket prognostication. It is a smart technique, full of consistency and logic, unless you're in an actual Slate bracket-picking contest, where everyone is looking to zig when everyone else zags, but since no one's zagging, things tend to devolve into an acrimonious zig-off. One year, a guy in sales actually zogged—he nailed the St. Bonaventure upset but got everything thing else wrong. He was fired, and now runs a burgeoning hedge fund.

In any event, I hereby present 17 minutes of myself waving a dry erase marker in your face, getting all excited and misspelling Harvard…

Mike Pesca is the host of the Slate daily podcast The Gist. He also contributes reports and commentary to NPR.

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