Are you running out of time to fill out your brackets for the office pool and really have no clue which teams to pick?  Elihu Feustel is here to help with Five-Minute Brackets.

You don't have a lot of time. Maybe you do not even like basketball, but you have to fill out a bracket (or two or 10). How can you fill out a bracket that has a good chance of winning without knowing anything?

Cole AldrichFortunately, this is very easy. In five minutes, you can put together a bracket that will beat 80% of the people. You can look competent in your office, or extract wealth from others in contests.

Start with the assumption that the higher seed will win every matchup, then look for exceptions. In the first round, look at the spreads at an on-line book such as In most cases, the higher seed is favored to win.


In the 2010 tournament, there are three lower seeds favored to beat the higher seed (acording to the spread): No. 9 Florida State (in the West), No. 11 Minnesota (in the West) and No. 9 Louisville (in the South). Your "base bracket" should have these three teams winning in the first round, plus all the other higher seeds.

For the remainder of your games, look at the Sagarin Ratings at USA Today.  The boring but profitable approach is to pick the team with the higher Sagarin rating for each likely matchup. For example, Kansas and UNLV are likely to play in the second round. Kansas has a higher rating (96.2 versus 83.9), so you pick Kansas. As in the first round, the higher seed is usually favored to win. If you do this for the 2010 tournament, you would expect these "upsets" (where a worse seed beats a higher seed):

  • Midwest: No. 5 Michigan State over No. 4 Maryland
  • West: No. 5 Butler over No. 4 Vanderbilt

Other than the five upsets we identified in the first two rounds, you always pick the higher seed. In this bracket, you will have all of the No. 1 seeds advancing to the Final Four. I would once again use Sagarin ratings to pick the winners. Kansas has by far the highest rating, suggesting they will win it. Duke's rating is one point higher than Kentucky, so you select Duke to advance to the championship game (and lose).

This quick method gives you the most likely winner of each game. If you stick to this, you are likely to beat most people. In small office pools or in online contests, you will have the best of it.

If you are in a contest where there are a lot of contestants and the prizes are "top-heavy" (i.e. big prizes to the top 1%), it is often a good idea to pick one or two other games for an upset. Look for games where the spread is close to pick 'em, or where the Sagarin ratings of the two teams are close. If you hit on these one or two games, you are much more likely to make the money.

© Copyright 2010. Reprinted with permission of the author.