NCAA Basketball Picks: How to Win Office Pools & Bracket Contests

Kevin Stott

Friday, March 6, 2015 8:15 PM GMT

Like gambling in general, the odds of winning your office pool NCAA Basketball Tournament pool are pretty slim, but here are some solid approaches to increase your chances of winning—or at least coming close to winning it, this time around.

March Madness is upon us. The conference tournaments are now underway and Selection Sunday (March 15) and the actual NCAA Tournament itself (March 17-April 6) are just around the corner. And if you plan on entering your own office pool or one of the bigger, high-paying contests around these days, now is the perfect time to create an intelligent Plan of Attack and get ahead of the collegiate hardwood curve. Here are some things to think about if you are planning on entering one of these office pools or tournament Bracket contests.

 

Kentucky Will Probably Be Beaten at Some Point
Despite now sitting at a perfect 29-0, logic dictates that the University of Kentucky Wildcats will be beaten by some team at some point in this season. And if it happens somewhat fairly early on in the NCAA Tournament, say, before the Elite Eight or Final Four, many a Bracket will be busted from those folks looking at the 0 (losses) and thinking that this team may be the Floyd Mayweather, Jr. of college hoops. They’re probably not, but time will tell. But in terms of using this still now undefeated Kentucky team in your Bracket, think about the best way to do so as there will undoubtedly be many novices backing the Wildcats to go all the way and others plotting their (Kentucky’s) demise in the Final Four, thinking that’s their unique edge. Their unique edge as well as probably 22,305,793 others. Give or take a few.

Everybody will be out to beat this talented Kentucky team—whom the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook have actually created a ‘Will Kentucky Go Undefeated?’ (Yes +210, No -250) prop bet for—and everyone who plays against the Wildcats and head coach John Calipari now gives them their best shot. So, expecting a bunch of teenagers to run the stress-filled gauntlet of the best college basketball teams in the United States—all confident and off off wins in their previous games—is almost too much to ask of any college basketball team. The last time that a college basketball team actually did run the table, go undefeated and win the national championship was the Bobby Knight-coached University of Indiana Hoosiers way back in the 1975-1976 season...when the median price of a home in the United States was $39,500 and some of us didn’t have hair growing out of our ears. Remember that only seven teams have ever had undefeated seasons in college basketball history.

 

Do Some of Your Own Homework
Check out actual NCAA Basketball odds for teams which you may be uncertain about. Casinos in Las Vegas and offshore and European sports books offer Futures Books odds—a marketplace where one can select a team or teams and bet on them with specific odds to win a specific sports championship or event—and odds pages like SBR Odds to see what the people who actually bet the on these teams and their games think (through the changing odds, like a Hardwood Stock Market of sorts) about any given team. And a wonderful resource to utilize when planning all of this is ESPN's Bracketology, a web page from Joe Lunardi, the network’s lead Bracketologist, and the man who invented Bracketology—deemed by the 54-year-old Philadelphia native as the “art and science” of predicting the teams which are annually selected for the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament each March. There you can find a projection from Lunardi on what he thinks the tournament will look like at any given moment.

 

When in Doubt, Lean To Teams From Bigger, Stronger Conferences
Instead of worrying about seeds and, point spreads and who everyone else in your office pool is picking, history says it’s probably best to stick with teams from the bigger and stronger conferences to try to make it all the way to the Elite Eight, Final Four and championship game. Cinderella stories like Butler and George Mason and Florida Gulf Coast University are wonderful news stories and often do put their schools’ names on the map, but the last time a team from one of the smaller conferences actually won the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament was way back in the 1990/1991 when the late Jerry Tarkanian and Larry Johnson led the UNLV Runnin' Rebels from the now-disbanded Big West Conference to the crown.

The conferences generally deemed big and strong by the masses, and the ones which have won the last 24 straight championships are: the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC); the Big East Conference; the Big Ten Conference (B1G); the Big 12 Conference; the Southeastern Conference (SEC); and, the Pacific-12 Conference (Pac-12). But it’s definitely worth noting here that this year the Big East—like a number of other conferences—has undergone a recent transformation and is not as nearly as strong as it once was in basketball, although last year’s champions, Connecticut, still calls their beloved Big East home.

 

Some Teams To Watch This Year
Even though some of the names here may be familiar, these are schools which usually make nice runs and can provide some solid skeletal structure to your Bracket. Teams like Arizona (12/1,  to win national championship, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook), Duke (10/1) and Gonzaga (12/1) always seem to make a deep run in March and are historically good choices to get to the Elite Eight and often beyond and are always seemingly great Bracket choices. The current No. 3-ranked (AP) Blue Devils are coached by legend Mike Krzyzewski and have the type of disciplined and sharp-shooting team that can knock off this No. 1-ranked and undefeated Kentucky team (4/5), who is the first team in recent memory to have posted odds less than Even to win the NCAA Men’s College Basketball championship. That’s something.

And teams like Iowa State (35/1), Louisville (40/1) and Wichita State (75/1) are also some excellent choices to go deep this year in the tourney, while some smaller, more under-the-radar schools like Utah (35/1), Baylor (100/1), Arkansas (1001), Northern Iowa (100/1), Maryland (200/1) and even last year’s defending champs Connecticut (300/1), could all also probably make some noise this month and could be wonderful teams to back in your Brackets this year and maybe even in a Futures bet or two for those with access.

Also, don’t be afraid to throw out some teams you think may be overrated early on in the NCAA Basketball odds as that’s where some of the valuable points in some of these office pools and contests can be made. And be aware that last year it was a No. 7 (Connecticut) and a No. 8 seed (Kentucky) who made it all the way to the championship game with the Huskies—who were listed at 100/1 odds (tied for 22nd in the 68-team field) heading into the Men’s NCAA Basketball Tournament—being the team which went home to Storrs with the trophy.

 

Conclusion
How much shame is there losing NCAA Basketball Picks to Lois in Accounting? It depends. Everyone has their own individual Risk Profile, and, to some, these Bracket contests are simply vertigo-inducing madness, so it’s best to determine how serious you really are heading in. But most office pools are relatively small and try to keep the fun and entertainment part of the tournament incorporated. That’s usually the point, to have fun with it and enjoy it and learn through the process and not necessarily put yourself in a mind frame where you think you have to win it. Seriously. Again, remember that we are talking about tall, skinny teenage boys running up and down a basketball court, trying to put a big inflated rubber and leather ball through an 18-inch diameter basket. The unexpected is to be expected. And remember that a majority of Brackets every year are pretty much DOA by the end of that first weekend of play—this year on Sunday, March 22nd. So, think about that when filling out yours this year and try to be in the hunt after that first weekend of play, when the tournament has been quickly whittled down from 68 to that Sweet 16. That’s usually where these contests are won. Let the Madness begin.