March Madness Survival Guide: Evaluating Three Non-Basketball Selection Methods

IMG_9354Written By: Matt Craig | @MrMattCraig
Editor in Chief of Chirp City
Host of the Ball Hogs Podcast
Member of Ball State Sports Link



I’m going to complete a perfect bracket before I die.

It’s my life’s work. It’s what people are going to remember me for (if it’s not for my irrational confidence). I just refuse to believe that it’s impossible for someone, with a little skill and a lot of luck, to make 63 correct predictions. In the words of Han Solo, “don’t tell me the odds.”

However, that obviously isn’t happening this year. After Maryland’s shaky victory over South Dakota State, zero perfect brackets remained of the 13 million entries into the ESPN Bracket Challenge

My bracket is predictably busted just like everyone else, and I added insult to injury when I published a column before the tournament on why brackets that made chalk pics would be more successful.

But I’m choosing to double down on my prediction that no team seeded above three would make it to the Final Four. If anything, aren’t all of these upsets making an all-one-seed Final Four even more likely?

Either way, the methods that I chose to use this year to create my bracket were obviously wrong. I watched every mid-major in the field play, and that didn’t help me in selecting first round upsets. I looked at match ups and style between teams, and it was far from perfect.


You know how people always say, “I’m in a bracket pool with my girlfriend,” or “parents,” or “grandparents,” or “friends who know nothing about basketball,” and then inevitably go on to explain “and he/she has picked almost every game correctly!” And we always laugh, because we know someone exactly like that. Have you ever wondered if there’s anything to that?

In the interest of exploring every advantage that tryhards like me can gain from the kind-hearted grandmas out there who luck into correct predictions, it’s time to evaluate the strategies of these ignorant wizards.

Do their methods really work??


I hear this one every year. For example “my 10 year old daughter picked teams based on the prettiest colors” or some variation of that. But how are we to know what the prettiest utahbasketballcolors are? Where are these little geniuses getting their information?!?

Luckily for us, ran a worldwide survey in 10 different countries across four continents, trying to find out what the world’s favorite colors were. While I can’t confirm that the point of their research was to predict basketball games correctly, I also can’t deny that it isn’t.

Either way, in the United States, here were the top 10 colors, ranked in order:

  1. Blue
  2. Green
  3. Purple
  4. Red
  5. Black
  6. Pink
  7. Yellow
  8. Orange
  9. White
  10. Brown

In fact, in every single country worldwide, blue was unanimously chosen as the favorite color.

So if we’re sticking to this strategy faithfully, the first thing we would need to do is look at games with blue-colored jerseys versus teams with non-blue-colored jerseys. Of the thirty-two first round games only sixteen of them contained teams that had blue jerseys.

But in those sixteen games, teams that wore blue jerseys went 10-6. The six losses were from a six seed, two twelve seeds, a fourteen seed, a fifteen seed, and a sixteen seed.

So of those sixteen games left, the next thing we’re looking for is teams wearing green. There obviously aren’t a ton, but those teams did go 3-1. Then surprisingly, purple: 2-0. Then the big one, red, was the most disappointing of the bunch, with a 5-5 tally. That leaves one more game for black to get a win.

That brings us to a grand first round tally of 20 correct predictions to twelve incorrect. Not too shabby, considering the “average score” on the ESPN app (50% percentile) was only roughly 21.5.

Essentially, you have about as good of a chance going with colors as any other average guessing strategy. Yeah I’m talking to you Mr. “I’ve watched like three regular season games this year and think I’m making intelligent picks but I really don’t know anything.”

But we’re going for perfection here, and I’m not sure there are any hidden pearls of wisdom to be found by looking at the pretty colors. Sorry to all the little boys and girls out there.

We look on further.


We’ve all seen too many teams called the Wildcats and Tigers, so it’s impossible not to root for any teams with creative mascots. In the first round, lovers of creative mascots sdsujackrabbitswere rewarded with big wins by the Lumberjacks (SFA) and Rainbow Warriors (Hawaii), though my Jackrabbits (South Dakota State) didn’t come through.

Finding a way to judge mascots for the validity of the method is pretty simple then. The best mascots are the most original ones. I found a list of every college mascot in the nation on Wikipedia, and you know it’s accurate because it’s on Wikipedia.

Here’s the top 12 most frequent mascots (ignoring adjectives such as purple, black, Nittany etc…):

  1. Eagles (76)
  2. Tigers (46)
  3. Bulldogs (40)
  4. Panthers (33)
  5. Knights (32)
  6. Lions (32)
  7. Bears (30)
  8. Hawks (28)
  9. Cougars (27)
  10. Pioneers (28)
  11. Warriors (27)
  12. Wildcats (27)

I’m not going to take you through every single first round matchup, because it would take too much time and space. But here was the final tally: 15 wins for more creative mascots, 11 losses, and 6 ties.

But if one were to go with the higher rated seeds in the cases of a tie, they would add on an additional five wins and one loss. That brings us to the magic number for your first round: twenty correct to twelve incorrect.

Again, you really have as good of a chance with your bracket using this strategy as whatever you’re already doing.

So I got to thinking….can you really just use whatever you want?


New bracket strategy. Pull out a dictionary!

dictionary.jpgIt sounds crazy, but I promised we’d try out everything. A couple ground rules: we’re eliminating the word “university” from team’s names because that would skew the results, and judging the rest by the very first letter, as if you were flipping through a dictionary. Which name would come first?

Drum roll please….

Teams that were found second in the dictionary went 22-10. Boom.

Ladies and gentleman, we have a winner. Using a dictionary as your only resource for pulling out your bracket would not only put you above the 50th percentile of ESPN brackets, it would also tie you with the bracket of….yours truly.

Wow…no one said this whole perfect bracket thing was going to be easy.

Essentially it doesn’t matter if you watch every “big” college basketball all season, then watch every mid-major team play, and organize your thoughts and write about them all season….or if you just pull out a dictionary and go that route, our brackets are going to be about the same.

And that’s why #MarchMadness is the greatest sporting event in the world.

I’m going to go wipe up my tears now.






Author: Matt Craig

Chirp City Founder & Director of Content. Hey Bill Simmons, if you're reading this, hire me.

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