Edson: How To Fill Out Your March Madness Pool

As much as I love college basketball, I’m not very good at picking winners in the NCAA tournament office pool.

Luckily, three friends of mine are really good. They are consistent winners year after year.

So I asked them their secrets and this is what they said:

  1. Pick “Chalk” Early On. In betting circles (so I’m told) picking “chalk” means picking the favorites. My NCAA gurus insist that No. 1 seeds are always safe in the first round. Usually, they said, the top three seeds are safe in the first round. So instead of wasting time on those teams, they look at the 8-9 matchups, along with 7-10, 6-11 and 5-12. That’s where they gain most of their points in the early rounds.
  2. Don’t Fall In Love With Big Name Schools. It used to be that schools like Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina not only had the most talent, but the most seasoned players. That’s not true anymore. In fact, those schools tend to attract more “one and done” players who head off to the NBA after only one or two years in college. So if a lesser known team is riding a winning streak and is playing one of the big name schools, take a good hard look at those games.
  3. Ride The Hot Conference. In past years, you could count on riding conferences like the ACC and Big Ten into the Final Four. That’s not necessarily true this year, they said. They caution against picking a certain team simply because it’s in one of the “name” conferences. This year, they said, they much prefer teams like Xavier, Cincinnati and Wichita State. Those schools are not from the ACC and Big Ten.
  4. Pick A Couple Of Your Favorite Teams. All three of my experts recommended that you have to have fun when doing your picks. They are all from Michigan, so they naturally are going to take Michigan and Michigan State. They also have gotten in on the fun with Davidson riding a hot streak. Davidson is Steph Curry’s school and its first round opponent is Kentucky. So it’s a No. 5 seed (Kentucky) against a No. 12 seed (Davidson). This is where they recommend having some fun and taking a chance.
  5. Once You Get Into The Regional Finals, Take Defense. My group of battle tested tournament winners believe you should look at your picks very hard once you have filled the brackets out to the regional finals. That’s when all your homework will pay off. They said from the regional finals on to the tournament finals, the team playing the best defense usually wins.
  6. Look for 3-4 surprise teams. Easier said than done, right? Well, my friends admitted they often check the Las Vegas odds right before the tourney starts to see where the smart money is going. You can check various sites online to see who the favorites are and by how much. My group of three “wise guys” said they leave no stone unturned when it comes to getting an edge.
  7. Let Me Know If You Win Your Pool. If anyone reading this ends up winning their office pool, please let me know. I want to check your keys to winning against what my three friends said.

Good luck!

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.