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Officially, he's an editor at a sports magazine in New York City. Mid-March every year, Gene takes the picks, rounds up the money ( per entry) and the NCAA brackets, and sends out regular e-mail updates — to the 400-odd people who enter the contest. What’s better, an experienced coach or a strong point guard? There’s the rub: The people who can debate the case for Jimmer Fredette or Jared Sullinger to be National Player of the Year don’t necessarily do any better at these contests than the admin who can’t tell a full-court press from a French press. So the mathematicians and game theorists who study NCAA tournament results — and yes, there are several — advise you to tune out the talking heads. Most pools are run on sites like or ESPN.com, saving pool masters hours of tabulating results, but you can enter your picks online after you’ve worked it out by hand. 1 seeds to win in the first round, because in 25 years no No. Then, you’ll use Vegas odds to pick the remaining favorites in the first round. In other words, you want your sheet’s winner to be a team that is ranked either third, fourth, fifth or sixth overall in the country before the tournament starts. “If everyone in your pool thought the same way you did, then you would tie them all,” says Tom Adams, who designed the site
You’d think running a sizeable pool year after year might give Gene some insights into how best to make his own picks, but the week before March Madness starts, he’s like every other sports junkie: watching as many games as he can, listening to analysts on sports talk radio and ESPN, and immersing himself in articles and statistics. Two years ago, he says, “My girlfriend was laughing at me, because I fell asleep on the couch making my picks the night before they were due.” So how did he do? There’s a better way to fill out the brackets to give you better odds of winning. This saves you from having to research which starting center has a bum knee, or which team is playing just a few miles from campus. Yep, skip all the middle rounds, and go to your title game. Mathematicians say to pick either the third- or fourth-ranked No. “If you diverted a bit, and picked a different champion, you would have a higher probability of winning.” That’s because in a standard scoring pool, getting the champion right gives you a motherlode of points.
ESPN publishes a “Who Picked Whom” chart; generally, these patterns reproduce in smaller pools. “This year it looks like Ohio State and Kansas will be the two favorites and then another three to five teams will have about the same chance of winning,” says David Letscher, another St.
Louis mathematics professor, who, with Clair, wrote a paper on maximizing the probability of winning these mega pools.
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