Everybody wants to get rich quick and live off their imagined fortune, whether they’re willing to admit it or not. Just look at the Powerball and Mega Millions craze that has been raging across the United States where citizens in all but a few states can by lottery tickets for a twice-a-week drawing, hoping that six correctly picked numbers can make them instant multi-millionaires even though odds are greater than 175 million to 1. While tickets are cheap, costing only $1 to $2, why spend money and rely on randomly generated numbers when you can use your brain, do something for free and possibly become a billionaire?
That’s right, I’m talking about the Quicken Loans Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge that Warren Buffett–the business magnate worth more than $58 billion–is insuring, offering $1 billion to anyone who can fill out a perfect bracket. While the odds aren’t any better than the lottery, it’s worth a try, especially considering it’s free. So here are some principles to live by when filling out your bracket and feel free to send a commission my way when you claim the billion-dollar prize.
Principle #1: Never pick a No. 16 seed, avoid picking a No. 15 seed and rarely pick a No. 14 seed
I think this is a rather obvious principle, but here are some numbers to give you a deeper understanding of this concept. Since No. 16 seeds were introduced in 1985, when the NCAA Tournament first expanded to 64 teams, there has never been a No. 16 seed which knocked off a No. 1 seed. While there have been some close calls: two 1-point losses (Princeton losing to Georgetown 50-49 and ETSU losing to Oklahoma 72-71, both in 1989), one 2-point loss (West Carolina losing to Purdue 73-71 in 1996) and an overtime loss (Murray State losing 75-71 to Michigan St. in 1990), the all-time record for No. 16 seeds is 0-116. So, it’s best to stand pat until proven otherwise.
As for No. 15 seeds, it’s probably best to avoid them even though recent history makes them a tempting pick. Before Florida Gulf Coast’s Sweet 16 run last year and two No. 15 seeds winning in 2012 (Lehigh beat Duke and Norfolk State beat Missouri), No. 15 seeds had won just four times in the previous 26 years with the last win coming more than a decade earlier in 2001. A 7-109 all-time record or six percent winning percentage is not worth blowing a chance at $1 Billion.
On the other hand, a No. 14 seed isn’t the worst pick in the world, but still should be done rather cautiously. A No. 14 seed has only won 17 times in nearly three decades for a record of 17-99 or 14.7 win percentage. However, you’re probably best to avoid picking a No. 14 seed as only four of those 17 wins have come since the turn of the century.
Principle #2: Pick a No. 13 seed to upset and at least three total No. 12 and 11 seeds to advance
While it may seem like the top-4 seeds in each region are shoo-ins to win their first round games, you’d actually be pretty smart to pick at least one No. 13 seed to win a game for your perfect bracket. No. 13 seeds have won 25 times over No. 4 seeds since 1985 for a near average of at least one win per year. In fact, there have only been seven individual years in the last 29 tournaments where at least one No. 13 seed hasn’t upset a No. 4, with the last time in which none advanced occurring in 2007. While the percentages are well in your favor to see at least one No. 13 seed advance, two advancing in the same year is a rarity as it has only happened three times (1987, 2001, 2008).
No. 12 and 11 seeds have a combined win percentage of 32.8% against No. 5 and 6 seeds respectively, meaning you should pick on average two-and-a-half teams out of eight, but for argument’s sake lets round up to three. Moreover, looking at the past five years of the tournament you’d be smart to pick at least three upsets in these matchups, if not an even four: 2013 – four teams advanced (one No. 11, three No. 12s); 2012 – four teams advanced (two of each); 2011 – four teams advanced (three No. 11s, one No. 12); 2010 – three teams advanced (two No. 11s, one No. 12); and 2009 – four teams advanced (one No. 11, three No. 12s).
Of your three or more No. 11/12 seeds that you pick to advance to the round of the 32, it’s not a bad idea to pick one of them to win another game and make it to the Sweet 16. No. 11 seeds have a win percentage of 32.6 percent in the round of 32, while No. 12 seeds have 45.4 win percentage. Looking into it further, there have only been three times since the turn of the century that a No. 11 or 12 hasn’t made it to the Sweet 16 (2000, 2004 and 2007). However, don’t expect them to go further than that as percentages drop significantly into the single digits for an Elite Eight advancement.
Principle #3: Don’t get overly enamored by No. 2 seeds
Every year many people–myself included–will pick one or more No. 2 seeds to make a Final Four run and might even have one of them win the National Championship. The harsh reality is that No. 2 seeds aren’t nearly as successful as you’d think. Since 1985 No. 2 seeds have only won the NCAA title four times–a 13.7 win percentage–the same number of championships as No. 3 seeds over the same time period. It’s already been mentioned in this article that No. 2 seeds aren’t bulletproof in the round of 64–especially in recent years–and furthermore they definitely aren’t invincible the first weekend of the tournament in general. In 16 of the past 17 tournaments at least one No. 2 seed has failed to make it to the Sweet 16, meaning at least one No. 7 or 10 seed is likely to pull off an upset in the round of 32. Surprisingly, No. 10 seeds tend to be more successful in match-ups against No. 2 seeds than No. 7s are, as No. 10 seeds have won over 40 percent of the time (21-31) compared to No. 7 seeds, winning just 25 percent of the time (21-61).
Whatever you do though, don’t shun No. 2 seeds completely as at least one has made the Final Four 20 out of the last 29 years, or 68 percent of the time. Recently though, No. 2 seeds have had a rough go as in three of the past six tournaments a No. 2 seed has failed to reach the Final Four and the last to win a championship was UCONN in 2004.
Principle #4: Pick a No. 1 seed to win it all, but be wary of the No. 1 overall seed
If you’re like me, you never really like picking a No. 1 seed to win it all. It just seems hackneyed, but hey, when $1 billion is on the line you’d be smart to do so. Since 1985 No. 1 seeds have won 19 of 29 championships, or two-thirds of the time. Moreover, in recent years No. 1 seeds have had even greater success winning six of the past seven and 11 of the past 15 championships. But what about the No. 1 overall seed you ask? Since its creation or designation by the tournament committee a decade ago, only three of the 10 No. 1 overall seeds have been crowned NCAA champions. Kentucky and Louisville each were dubbed the No. 1 overall seeds the past two years and have come away with a title, but others like Ohio State in 2011 lost in the Sweet 16, while in 2010 Kansas lost in the round of 32.
If you’re too prideful to pick a No. 1 seed to win it all, at least be smart enough to pick one if not two No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four. In the past 29 years only twice (2006, 2011) have no No. 1 seeds made it to final weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Additionally, 49 of the 116 Final Four participants since 1985 have been No. 1 seeds, or 42.2 percent of the participants. However, don’t overdo it with No. 1 seeds either as it’s not very likely more than two will make it in a given year. In the past 29 tournaments, three or more No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four only four times with one of those times (2008) consisting of all No. 1 seeds.
Principle #5: Choose at least one team/coach with previous tournament success to make a deep run
It should go without saying, but it never hurts to pick a perennial contender to make a Final Four run. Nine teams in the history of the NCAA Tournament have eight or more Final Four appearances and all of those teams have made at least one Final Four appearance in the last 12 years, while six have of those have won the title in the last 14 years. Those nine teams to be aware of and pay close attention to include: North Carolina (18), UCLA (17), Duke (15), Kentucky (15), Kansas (14), Louisville (10), Ohio State (10), Indiana (8) and Michigan State (8). In fact it’s almost guaranteed one of these nine teams will make it to the Final Four as not only do they account for five of the last six championship titles, but the last time there was a Final Four without one of these nine teams was the first year of a 64-team field in 1985.
One thing that many of these programs have in common is a tenured coach who has either brought the team to prominence or continued the school’s storied tradition. Is it any surprise that most of Duke’s success has coincided while Coach Mike Krzyzewski has been at the helm–a resume that includes leading Duke to four NCAA Championships and 11 Final Fours the last 34 years? It shouldn’t be. That means not only be aware of the aforementioned teams, but also teams with tenured successful coaches like Syracuse with Jim Boeheim (one NCAA Championship and four Final Fours) and Florida with Billy Donovan (two NCAA Championships and three Final Fours).
Principle #6: When you tear up your bracket make sure not to litter and recycle the paper
Now that you’ve spent the last few minutes taking in this advice and scheming how you will fill out your bracket, just realize this: YOU HAVE NO CHANCE! That’s right, I said it. After getting your hopes up I’m bringing you back down to earth because filling out the perfect bracket is about as likely as seeing a mythical creature while completely lucid conscious. Just to give you an idea of how likely you are to fill out the perfect bracket, USA Today reported that the odds for the average person not missing a single game is 9.2 quintillion to 1, while those who know something about college basketball odds go up to 128 billion to 1–if that makes you feel any better.
Suddenly, the lottery doesn’t seem like such a bad route to get rich quick after all.