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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Busted Brackets

Like, well, a fourth of the U.S. adult/adolescent population, I participated in a NCAA tournament pool in my office, and like a lot of people, my brackets were completely busted on the first two days. Actually, I participated in a second pool in which four of us “drafted” teams, on a seed times round basis, and I’ve completely bombed in that one as well.I’ll get over it within the next few hours, but for the record, my fate is a good example of how stupid the Conventional Wisdom is in any sport, including politics.The principles that guided my picks included:1) Don’t be a homer. My beloved Georgia Bulldogs were not in the tournament, so I had to be wary of the temptation to irrationally favor the teams from my work-place home of Washington, D.C. I picked the three “Georges”–Georgetown, George Washington, and George Mason–to lose in the first round. All three won, and the Hoyas and Patriots actually advanced to the Sweet 16. I wish this result could be noted by the various people who email me now and then to accuse me of being a Washington Insider.2) Go for the hot young teams. Everybody’s Hot Young Teams were Kansas and North Carolina. The former lost in the first round; the latter in the second.3) Don’t pay attention to irrelevant traditions. Alabama has a great basketball tradition, but had a lousy, underachieving season. All the cool kids had them losing in the first round, while all the ignorant pickers chose them to beat Marquette, whose own tradition was too remote to be of interest to those ignorant pickers. Alabama won, of course. Same thing happened with Indiana and San Diego State and N.C. State and Cal: “smart guys” picked SDSU and Cal; dumb guys rightly picked IU and N.C. State.4) Pick judicious upsets: Most pools give bonuses for picking first-round upsets. Three years ago I was briefly in the running in my office poll for picking lots of those upsets. The last two years, I bombed by picking just as many upsets. This year was supposed to be another Year of the Upset, and it was, but I generally picked them wrong, going with San Diego State, Northern Iowa, Marquette, Seton Hall, UNCW, UAB, instead of Bradley, George Mason, Northwestern State, Montana or N.C. State.5) Focus on coaches’ tournament records: Tom Izzo has an incredible tournament record at Michigan State; I picked them to go to the Elite Eight, and the Spartans lost in the first round. Same scene with Kansas and North Carolina: their coaches never underachieve, except when they do, as in this year.The bottom line at this point is that people who filled out their brackets intuitively, or even ignorantly, are doing a lot better than us pseudo-sophisticates. Next year I’m probably going with the system of “whose mascot would win in a fight,” which at least presents some interesting metaphysical issues of how a Blue Devil would fare against a Bruin.

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