Eliminating the insanity of March Madness

Picking a basketball bracket

4 minute read
At last, a foolproof system for filling out your bracket. (Photo: “Addiction” by Jason Dean, via Creative Commons/Flickr)
At last, a foolproof system for filling out your bracket. (Photo: “Addiction” by Jason Dean, via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Besides the Fourth of July, this time in March is my favorite time of year. No, it’s not the “wearing of the green” that sets me dancing a jig. It’s the announcement by the arbiters of all things acceptable and legitimate in college sports, the omnipotent NCAA, of this year’s basketball invitational tournament invitees.

Now I don’t claim to know how the magnificent minds of the almighty ones over at Indianapolis Headquarters work. I leave the splitting of hairs over the righteousness of the final choices up to the sports scribe theologians of the basketball hall of journalists. But they never manage to choose the final four teams correctly, collectively or individually.

I can. My system is foolproof, and it’s simple: Trust your eyes, sense of style, and regional loyalties first. Leave alumni affiliations packed in your closet in mothballs, alongside your yearbook, and rely on a selection of good names and old standbys. (In a crunch, you can’t go wrong choosing Duke.)

When looking at the final list of 64 schools, you have to select the team that will be the spoiler. My formula for this is simple. Pick a team with purple as one of their colors. Purple never wins the whole thing, but it will clash with green. Green goes far but rarely beats blue. Red and blue together haven’t won since Penn got in the Final Four (way back in 1979). As a matter of fact, blue rarely wins over red (unless it’s Duke or UNC), but is dominant over blue and orange (tough going, Cavaliers). Jesuit schools beat out other Catholic schools. No team with striped pants has taken the championship since Marquette won in 1977. West over Midwest, East over South.

More tips

  • Stay away from choosing a name you can’t pronounce or spell easily, so Gonzaga and Xavier are out quickly, unless they play a team with stripe pants or green.
  • Green and yellow are just icky (sorry Ducks), so St. Joe's will win over Cincinnati (because they’re hard to spell) and then trounce my alma mater, The University of Oregon.
  • Teams whose names are Native American derivatives (Iowa, Tulsa) over technical and mining institutes)


Perhaps you consider this method to be foolhardy and not based on sport scientific principles — think again. Is there anything about betting on the outcome of a game ever based totally on scientific principles? The X factor is there, always, especially in a tournament where a team has one bad game and gets eliminated.

Why do I recommend ignoring your alma mater? Experience. When I worked for a 300-attorney law firm in the ’90s, March Madness was a celebration for alumni. Beside the lawyers — all of whom had at least two degrees, often from different universities — there were paralegals, librarians, legal clerks, ITT geeks, translators, public relation staffers, and just plain administrative assistants, each of whom had a least one college degree. When the NCAA brackets were sent around the office, I suffered through torrents of basketball bombast. The louder the prognostication and longer the argument for choosing alma maters (usually Temple and Villanova), the quicker the schools were eliminated.

In the end it was some guy in the mail room or an 85-year-old receptionist who won. I cannot vouch for the mail room staffer, but I once asked the receptionist her secret and it was she who told me to go for the colors.

My predictions

So here are my picks for the Final Four:

  • East: North Carolina (sky blue, old standby)
  • Midwest: Iowa (Indian name)
  • South: Maryland (red)
  • West: Duke (dark blue, old standby)

Here’s my thinking for the South and West Conferences:

Kansas beats Austin Peay because you can’t pronounce it; they will play Maryland, who will have defeated Hawaii because not everyone can spell Hawaii and Maryland’s colors are red. Maryland will go on to play Villanova because of the red thing, and many can’t spell the Wildcats’ official name either (one l or two?). Duke will defeat St. Joseph's, who will have defeated Holy Cross because it’s a Jesuit school and Holy Cross is Holy Cross Fathers. Oklahoma will end up playing Texas A&M, who will lose because it’s a technical school. Maryland will pummel ’Nova because of color and name. Duke (old standby) will win over Oklahoma because it’s easier to spell.

Simple. Now I will leave you to follow my hypotheses and select the final winner: I’m going with the East over the South.

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