|ESPN.com: College Basketball Nation||[Print without images]|
|When filling out your tournament bracket, don't overlook JaJuan Johnson and Purdue.|
As it turns out, the wisdom-of-crowds information is extremely useful. The statisticians and expert bracketologists I talked to all urged one central point: Don't think about guessing the most games correctly. Instead, think about finding "bargains" in the bracket where collective wisdom runs askance of more objective measurements. Exploiting games where your fellow bracketologists are likely to guess wrong -- even if the odds of that happening are still against you -- will give you the best shot at jetting ahead of the pack. An NCAA bracket, then, is more like a long-shot stock than a game; the odds of winning may be low, but the big pot makes the gamble worth it -- if you know how to maximize your investment.
Even though the college basketball season is fairly long, however, it turns out to be a mistake to entirely dismiss preseason expectations, even late in the year. Instead -- I’ve studied this issue in preparation for the N.C.A.A. tournament projections that we’re going to release next week -- the optimal blend for predictive purposes turns out to be something like five parts in-season performance to one part preseason expectations.
Obviously, this implies that in-season performance -- such as measured by computer power ratings -- ought to be weighted much more heavily. But preseason expectations do deserve some consideration, and accounting for them might allow you to win an extra game or two in your tournament pool.
When picking fund managers, too many investors have made the mistake of focusing on recent extreme performance in hopes it presages future success. It doesn't. Likewise, don't put too much stock in momentum when making picks. For as often as we hear about teams "coming in on a roll" or "getting hot in time for the tournament," there's little indication that good teams that win their conference tournament fare better statistically than good teams that don't. The worst recent performers are likely to do just as well as the best recent performers. For as often as we hear about the teams "riding the wave of momentum" (see: Jim Valvano's 1983 North Carolina State team) there's seldom much predictability to it.
Since 2003, for instance, teams playing an N.C.A.A. tournament game within 50 miles of their campus are a remarkable 24-2. One of the two losses came in last year’s championship game, when Butler -- playing just miles from its campus in Indianapolis -- came within 2 points of defeating a heavily favored Duke team.
By contrast, teams travelling at least 1,000 miles to play their game are 121-174, having won just 41 percent of the time.