Field Notes, Vol. 2: On bracket fidelity

March, 13, 2012
3/13/12
3:45
PM ET
Still agonizing over your bracket? Field Notes, Vol. 2 (word to 2011's Vol. 1) is one college hoops writer’s attempt to guide you through the process as the Thursday deadline looms. Note: Said writer may or may not have a horrendous recent tourney history, which is why he’ll rely so much on advice from others in this series. Consider it a thinking fan’s guide to the bracket.

[+] EnlargeVanderbilt's Kevin Stallings and John Jenkins
Chuck Cook/US PRESSWIRENo matter how many NCAA tournament brackets you fill out, stick to one set of picks and feel the joy when that big upset comes through.
(And speaking of the bracket, be sure to join our College Basketball Nation Tournament Challenge group, wherein you can test your bracketing skills against yours truly and the rest of the ESPN.com college hoops writing staff. Imagine the bragging rights. So many bragging rights, you guys.)

Now: On why you should pick one, and only one, NCAA tournament bracket.

Forget red states versus blue. Forget urban versus rural. Forget iOS versus Android. Forget "people who find Karl Welzein hilarious" versus "people who say they don't get it."

The great cultural divide of our generation supersedes them all. On one side: People who pick multiple combinations of brackets. On the other: Those who live by a simple principle -- that the only way to truly enjoy the highs and lows of the NCAA tournament is to make one set of picks and stick to it.

I fall into the latter category, and I think you should too.

Why? I've made these reasons abundantly clear before -- I do this every year -- but in case you haven't heard this argument before, or you need more convincing, or you're entirely new to the blog (or to this whole college basketball thing in general, which seems unlikely, but you never know), let's review:

First, the standard disclaimer. Don't get me wrong: You can totally do whatever you want with your bracket. Your NCAA tournament experience is yours and yours alone, just like anything else. If you want to spend hours on end playing Angry Birds (I will never understand why people like this game, but clearly I'm in the minority) instead of an actual, real video game (say, Mass Effect 3) that's your deal. Do your thing.

That said, you should totally pick one master bracket and stick to it in all of your pools. And here's why:

Because it's more fun.

Again, this is a subjective, qualitative thing, and your mileage might vary. But I doubt it will vary all that much. The rationale for picking multiple brackets and spreading them out across your various tournament challenges and office pools is really pretty simple: You're trying to win. You're hedging your bets. You're betting jelly beans and you want to win as many jelly beans as possible. Or you want bragging rights. But this calculus reduces the bracket to a stock portfolio. You become an investment manager. You're spreading risk around. You're a bean counter. You are, no offense, boring.

Say you play 10 totally diverse and risk-averse brackets in 10 different bracket competitions. Maybe you win twice. Maybe you win four times. You worked out a way to kind of-sort of beat the system. As Ron Swanson would say: Bully for you.

The alternative is so much more appealing. You make one set of picks. You know these picks by heart, because you agonized over them. You don't have to constantly check your various brackets. Even better, when that glorious upset you picked comes through, you get to say, "I picked that upset!" Full stop. There's no, "well, I had it one bracket, but the other I had the favorite going to the Final Four," and so on and so forth. You made the pick. It came through. You get to enjoy it in full.

There's nothing quite like the euphoric joy of a well-chosen, well-executed bracket. There's nothing like the despair and malaise of a set of picks that destroys your chances on Thursday afternoon. But this too is part of the fun -- the defining part, I'd wager.

Set aside your rationality. You can be rational the other 11 months of the year. Set aside a blind desire to win. You can win at Angry Birds whenever you want. Set aside the desire to get a return on your jelly bean investment. The stock market is always available to you.

Instead, spend the next day and a half sitting down and making your picks with convincing gusto and self-avowed faith. Carry that faith with you. Good things will happen. Or they won't. But at least you didn't defeat your own whims and kill the sheer, unbridled emotion that makes these next three weeks the year's most wild and wonderful.

Even if your picks crash and burn, you're still a winner for that.

Next up in Field Notes: How stats can help your picks.

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