Bracketologist

Bracketologist

BracketDobberSBN

Arlington, VA

Male, 34

I'm currently the resident bracketologist for SB Nation and I've been attempting to accurately project the NCAA Tournament field since 2006. My goal is not only to be correct in picking at-large teams and the seeding of all 68 teams, but to inform the public about the process and how the sometimes bashed college basketball regular season does really have importance. I'd be glad to answer your questions on how the field of 68 is put together, but I won't be much help with your bracket picks.

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26 Questions

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Last Answer on May 03, 2013

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What was your most accurate bracket ever?

Asked by brikhaus over 6 years ago

In terms of selection, I got all (then) 34 at-larges right in 2008. In terms of seeding, which is more important since it's more difficult, I've done the best this season and last.

If you had a REALLY inaccurate year picking the 68 teams, would your job be in jeopardy?

Asked by L-train over 6 years ago

Considering that I'm trying to predict the behavior of a group of 10 on my own, I wouldn't think so. Plus, the "picking 68 teams" is an exaggeration. In any given season, a maximum of four or five spots is really up for grabs at the end, and usually (like this season) it's a few less.

When it comes to brackets, how much of an advantage do you think the seasoned college b-ball fan has over a non-fan who does 1-2 days of research?

Asked by dennis d. over 6 years ago

Not much actually. I've found that I usually did better with my picks back when I was in high school and college, when I didn't build a bracket every few days over three months. Now, I feel like I overanalyze it. 

Were you psyched to see Nate Silver getting so much spotlight? Do you feel like that sort of validates the type of stuff you work on?

Asked by kickpush23 over 6 years ago

I enjoyed Nate Silver's success as a person with two poli sci degrees. However this is a little bit different because I don't rely as much on computers as he does. Much of what I do relies more on history and anecdotal evidence. 

Sounds like the team selection process has improved over time, but what do you think the Committee still needs to improve upon?

Asked by boomshakala... over 6 years ago

The Committee really needs to stop pushing the RPI so much, since it's not a basketball-specific metric (the NCAA uses it for various sports to compare teams). It also creates an issue when evaluating schedules, particularly since everyone's RPI and SOS pull into one another and it creates a feedback loop.

On the schedule front, I think the numbers get too much emphasis over the intent. Take Virginia, for example. While there were several teams on the Cavaliers schedule who probably weren't going to be very good, they did schedule a few CAA teams that in most years would have been an RPI boost. Plus, they played two of them away from Charlottesville (at George Mason and Old Dominion on a neutral court). They got burned by those good intentions when the CAA turned out to be historically bad this season. In short, the Committee should recognize that not all "bad games" are created equal.

How did you become a bracketologist? And given the randomness of March Madness outcomes, what makes any one college hoops fan more qualified to be a bracketologist than any other?

Asked by Pete T. over 6 years ago

One of my friends challenged me to put together a bracket when I was in grad school, in 2002. I put it aside for a few years and decided that I could probably do a good job if I did it more frequently. 

Any fan could probably do it, but most probably don't have the interest in rules, procedures and organizational minutiae that I do. It's not the simplest thing in the world to do, even if it looks like it.

What team(s) do you think got screwed this year?

Asked by baselineJ over 6 years ago

No one really. Tennessee was the team I missed, and they came closest, but they also got swept by Ole Miss and Georgia, lost to Alabama in the SEC quarterfinals, and failed to crack 40 against Virginia and Georgetown. If that's the team that's the most screwed this season, I'd say the Committee did a terrific job.

What's your background? Did you study and/or work in statistics and probability?

Asked by JSB over 6 years ago

I have more of a writing background than a statistical one, though I did a fair amount of statistical analysis in grad school. My focus was on judicial politics -- attempting to predict Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals decisions. Trying to predict the Selection Committee's behavior is actually rather similar. 

How many brackets do you play each year? Is there a generally accepted "right number" of brackets to play to ensure you don't take a complete bath in your pools?

Asked by bracket_woes over 6 years ago

I only play one. And again, I'm not the best person to ask about bracket pools, since my focus is more on getting there as opposed to what happens after Selection Sunday. While I do a picks post, my track record on that front is very mixed. 

Do you think projected lottery picks are crazy for playing in a tournament where one freak injury could cost them a guaranteed million dollar payday?

Asked by baretron24 over 6 years ago

Not at all, since injuries can, and do, happen in practice and less important games. 

What in your opinion is the biggest freak occurrence in the tournament in the past decade? And does FGCU being in the Sweet 16 rank high on that list?

Asked by !GATORS! over 6 years ago

FGCU making the Sweet 16, particularly in such a dominating manner, is at the top of the list for me. VCU reaching the Final Four after winning five games is a close second, however.

So much for Bucknell :(

What made you feel so strongly that they had a shot?

Asked by harumph over 6 years ago

Mike Muscala. He didn't have a good game at all and that really cost the Bison. Plus, I watch Butler a lot and wasn't really impressed with how they were playing late in the season.

Why focus only on predicting the field? Isn't projecting the winners where the majority of interest and value lies?

Asked by Falcons4Life over 6 years ago

In my case, I'm a college basketball fan first. So my goal is to primarily show that there is worth in the journey not just the destination. Otherwise, there are two different skill sets at play here. Mine examines the big picture body of work. Picking the bracket focuses more on the small picture. Given that the tournament is a crapshoot and unpredictable things can happen, I stick with what I know and can explain fairly well. 

Why do you think there've been five 15-2 upsets, but no 16-1's? Obviously they're both longshots, but there's no reason the difference should be THAT much, right?

Asked by corleone over 6 years ago

You wouldn't think so, but consider this. Often the 16s are at a disadvantage because there's a good shot they're unexpected winners from weaker leagues. This season, that description applies to all four teams that were placed in Dayton this season and Western Kentucky. A 15, on the other hand, typically comes from a conference that's a bit more competitive and often these teams also play a slightly stronger non-conference schedule that gives a bit of a boost, especially when it comes to experience when facing a top 8 team.

What do you think is the biggest flaw in the existing seeding system?

Asked by Rudddddddd over 6 years ago

This is one of the toughest questions I've been asked here, so it's taken me awhile to come up with a decent answer. I'm going to say the inconsistency between the Committee's stated emphasis on placing the top four seed lines in true seed order (which appears in the Principles and Procedures document) and their actual, demonstrated emphasis on geography. Duke, in particular, suffered because of this incongruence this past season.

As someone who (I assume) loves college hoops, do you get annoyed by the staggering number of fair-weather fans who emerge during the NCAA tourney?

Asked by jackson hornblower over 6 years ago

It's only annoying when they decide to bash the regular season as being meaningless, especially if they spend their time following pro sports with a less restrictive postseason (by percentage of qualifiers). It does get tiresome to hear someone to say the regular season doesn't matter in a sport where 68 of 347 teams play 30 or so games to make the postseason when they follow a sport that has 30 teams playing 82 games for a spot in a 16-team bracket. 

What teams, if any, do you think get overrated (overseeded) because of their history and brand? (e.g. Duke, Gonzaga)

Asked by sawishhhh over 6 years ago

I think this happens to conferences more than teams, with certain leagues being viewed as tougher and their teams getting a boost in seeding (or selection) as a result. This season, the Big East falls in this boat (as I think Villanova and Cincinnati may be seeded a bit too highly), while the Pac-12 didn't get enough respect (see what Oregon and Cal did yesterday, though both did get a geography boost).

Do you think the BCS did a good job in creating the new college football playoff system? Is there anything they should have borrowed from how NCAA basketball does it?

Asked by TERR over 6 years ago

I wish the field was a little bigger and that there was more of a potential for mid-majors to get a chance at the championship. To me, it seems like the new system will probably be similar to the current one with the only difference being two more teams are invited. The small step is significant though.

When sizing up a team to determine if and where they belong in the tournament, what are the top 5 factors you consider? Where do the "intangibles" fit in?

Asked by slowgrind over 6 years ago

The numbers (RPI and strength of schedule) are important, but delving into those numbers is even moreso. I tend to study quality wins (against teams in the Top 100 in the RPI, with those in the Top 50 carrying more weight), bad losses (outside of the Top 100, with far more emphasis placed on losses against teams ranked 150th or worse ... and yes, I'm looking at you, Virginia Cavaliers). Non-conference scheduling and performance away from home is also a significant factor, since the Committee chair says something to this effect every season.

Finally, I look at whether a team has won its regular season league title, the tournament title, or both ... for seeding purposes at least. The Committee has historically given seeding bumps to teams who have claimed both (see Kansas and Louisville this season) while punishing teams that win neither (Duke).

Intangibles are tricky. The eye test is helpful, but mostly for seeding and not selection. More often than not, the numbers win out over what happens on the court, especially for teams outside of the power conferences. Middle Tennessee's selection this time around gives me hope on that front.

How did you find yourself at SBNation? Have you been with them since the beginning?

Asked by Try-n-Save over 6 years ago

I've been with SB Nation since 2009, since even before SBNation.com started. Previously, I just had my own Blogspot and Blogger sites. Our college blogs manager found me on twitter and the tech team got Blogging the Bracket up in time for March 2009. 

Is this something you can do full-time, and do you apply it to other sports besides college hoops?

Asked by jayzilla over 6 years ago

This isn't even my full-time job during basketball season, so no. I've thought about doing other NCAA sports, particularly baseball, but don't know the procedures (which are quite different) as well. 

Do you think 68 is the right number? Should it be higher or lower?

Asked by spazmatic over 6 years ago

I think it should go back to 64 to be honest because I like the symmetry of it. However, the performances of the at-large opening round winners so far has me seriously re-thinking this. 

Let's say I know zilch about college hoops and have only one hour to research for my bracket. What sites, resources, etc would you suggest I study in that hour? (oh the joys of new fatherhood...)

Asked by Sal over 6 years ago

I don't think researching the bracket is necessarily the best strategy, as in my experience that leads to overthinking things. But if you insist, check out SB Nation's coverage (naturally) and KenPom.com (which requires a subscription) for advanced statistical analysis.

So....what do you do the rest of the year:) I assume bracketology really only starts come the beginning of Fall college basketball?

Asked by Skolk over 6 years ago

Honestly, I really don't get cracking until January, when conference play starts. It's really silly to do it any earlier than that. You could argue that March would be the appropriate time, but really, going throughout the conference season helps me to better compare teams and to adjust for fluctuations in performance.

Through the offseason, my primary focus is tracking the various early season tournaments. I found it difficult to figure out which teams were playing where in November and December and figured many fans probably had the same issue. So, I took matters into my own hands.

Do you think you can beat the Vegas sportsbooks who charge a standard 10% vig by betting on college hoops?

Asked by prodad over 6 years ago

I'd say no..projecting the field has little to nothing to do with forecasting results. What I do is more backward-looking than forward-looking. 

If you had to bet a third of your net worth on 3 teams seeded between 11th and 15th this year, who do you go with?

Asked by lulz_2013marlins over 6 years ago

Again, I'm a terrible person to ask for getting advice since that's not really what bracketology is. However, I feel strongly about Bucknell making a run. I also think Davidson and Belmont can win a game.