You probably won’t win your NCAA men’s basketball tournament office pool this year.
First, the odds are naturally against you just by the sheer numbers of entrants (unless you are self-employed and work in a one-person office. And even then you still might not win).
Second, no matter how much you know about basketball, the NCAA men’s tournament annually checks in as the most unpredictable major postseason in all of sports. You aren’t better off choosing teams at random, but you often are better off employing a dash of strategy with a larger dose of humility and amusement while making your picks.
All of this, of course, is what makes March Madness so wonderful. The bracket picking is the glue that attracts us to the games, the frantic finishes are what keep us coming back for more and the upsets are what send us into mock rages over busted brackets.
What makes this tournament so much less predictable than all the rest of the postseasons? It’s a combination of things.
• So many good teams: The emergence of so-called “midmajor” powers in recent years, such as Gonzaga and Butler, has added depth to the pool of capable teams. There are countless (40? 45?) teams with legitimate chances of at least reaching the Sweet 16. In the NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL, there are no more than 16 teams total that even make the postseason, and many of those teams are overmatched.
• One-and-done: Unlike the majority of the baseball playoffs and all of the NHL and NBA playoffs, which have multigame series, the NCAA tourney is a series of one-game playoffs. One night of hot shooting or some ill-timed foul trouble can derail or extend an entire season.
• Lack of familiarity: Playoffs in pro sports are often matchups between teams who have faced each other in the regular season, often many times. College basketball teams are often squaring off for the first time, and it’s difficult to project how matchups will play out.
• Youth: College basketball players are in their teens or early 20s. It’s hard to predict how a group of guys that young — individually and as a team – will handle what for many is the biggest athletic stage of their lives so far.
So go ahead and write Kentucky down as the national champion. The Wildcats are undefeated and there is every reason to believe they will run the table and finish off this incredible season.
All they have to do is win six games, each of them in single-elimination fashion, most of them likely getting more difficult as the go, all of them while carrying the burden of expectation.
Wow, when you look at it that way, there’s reason to believe almost any team could win almost any game. Let the madness begin.