Selecting the perfect bracket never a simple task

By: Chris Bendel – Asst. Sports Editor

Fifty-six percent.

At the close of last semester, after months of preparation and thorough studying, I glanced at the score scribbled on my final exam. It read 56 percent. Man, I thought, this will kill my GPA. This really wasn’t like me, to bomb a test so badly.

Diligence with taking notes hardly mattered in the end. When I turned the final in to the professor, I was confident in my answers for each question were supported with logic and well thought out.

Yet, the 56 percent placed me near the top of my class. According to espn.com, my official class rank clocked in at 46,580 out of millions of entries from students across the country. I imagine professors Vitale and Lunardi were pleased with the results as I used their instruction to help guide my preparation for the final.

For college basketball fans, filling out a 2014 NCAA tournament bracket serves as the final exam for the basketball season.

Every student of college basketball filling out a bracket understands the enormous challenge of perhaps the sports world’s most ubiquitous, accessible, and challenging test. In 2013, after years of poor results, I finally perfected the skills necessary for picking a successful bracket.

A 56 percent mark means that out of 64 games, I picked 36 correctly. The number includes compounding missed picks, meaning there were deep tournament runs by teams I eliminated from my bracket in the first round, which continued to plague the bracket as the tournament progressed.

When the 2014 NCAA tournament opened at UD Arena Tuesday, March 18, students of college basketball, which includes both diehard and casual fans, must complete their final exams promptly before the start of second-round games Thursday, March 20.

They will fill out their bracket, each with a personal philosophy guiding how they choose to do so. Some use advanced metrics, some follow an innate basketball intuition, and some go through the process with no rhyme or reason. Last year when they put effort in, their bracket tanked epically. Why even bother?

Formulating a Final Four prediction days before the start of the tournament is much like cramming for an important final the night before the exam. The cramming method works for some, and I unfortunately practice it frequently, but often preparation trumps procrastination, regardless of ability.

The process does not start with picking up a pencil on Selection Sunday. It begins with the first games of the season in November.

A Final Four prediction is a dynamic process, constantly evolving throughout the season as the fan takes mental notes from snippets of games from unfamiliar and out-of-market teams throughout the year. In picking an upset come March, watching 10 minutes of a seemingly obscure game in December can prove critical.

The most serious fans watch ESPNU for the Sun Belt Conference matchup between Georgia State University and Arkansas State University to gain some familiarity with a possible Cinderella instead of a primetime matchup.

Most of the fun in bracketing stems from picking the upset. Naturally, the process involves much luck and risk taking is inherent for any potential upset pick. Knowing this, I have identified two different types of risk that can affect the success or failure of a bracket for any particular year.

Cinderella risk stems from the annual unpredictability of the tournament. Upsets in the opening rounds occur every year and lower-seeded teams rattle off several wins in a row, sometimes compounding the problem. A player from a non-traditional power can catch fire and carry a low-seeded team deep into the tournament.

In sports, there is perhaps no greater equalizer than the three-point shot in college basketball. A team from a power conference may outmatch their opponents in almost every physical category, but to cancel out that advantage, all it takes is for a player to get hot for 40 minutes. That’s both the beauty and mind-numbing frustration of college basketball, depending on which side you are on.

All brackets face Cinderella risk. They simply cannot escape from the streakiness of college basketball.

The other, avoidable type of risk to a bracket is what I will call hometown bias risk. Blind optimism in the form of taking the hometown team further than what logic dictates can lead to dangerous results for any bracket. This goes for allegiance to a particular conference as well. Picks should not be clouded by an allegiance to a particular school or conference.

For example, if a UD student takes Dayton to the Final Four, the Flyers’ chances of validating that pick do not increase in the slightest.

Understanding the basics will help with the completion of a successful bracket.