For at least the next 72 or so hours, everyone–literally, anyone with a pulse–who has even a shred of interest in sports or money will be answering, even if only in their minds, a burning question. Who will wind up winning the title of college basketball champion?
For as anticlimactic as the college regular season has become, especially in a season where it’s clear at least the top two NBA draft picks aren’t playing there, and the likelihood of many who are returning next year save for some deep NIL-backed financial support isn’t good, March Madness has become, pure and simple, the most engaging and financially lucrative corrolary to actual action that any sport, at any level, has seen.
And as Dante Chinni of NBC News reported today, it’s become even more crucial to many people, and the states they live in, than, perhaps, even a bank bailout could be:
When all is said and done — from office pools and bets with bookies to online gaming — NCAA Tournament time is the focus of billions of dollars in sports wagers.
WalletHub estimates there will be more than $10 billion worth of gambling around the 2023 edition of the NCAA Tournament. Over 50% of people in the U.S. will place online wagers on the event.
Those are big numbers, and they aren’t all coming in strictly above-board methods.
About 40% of the money will be wagered illegally on the games, according to WalletHub. But that means the remaining tournament gambling will be done through legal methods.
The legal share has grown because more places have allowed legal bets on games — online and in-person — in recent years.
In 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, opening the door to sports gambling across the U.S. States rushed into the space and continue to join.
In total, 36 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized sports gambling in one form or another. Nine more states are considering it.
So, if nothing else, for the sake of the economy, let alone whatever ego you might want to assauge, if you’re not already doing so, be prepared to make your selections.
Don’t worry if you have absolutely no idea who plays for whom or what their regular season records were. More often than not, it doesn’t matter. I’ve been in pools where receptionists (remember them?) won thousands picking MASCOTS. I’ve won one myself by simply picking a champion that no one else did. The way most pools’ point structures are, if you happen to have an upset winner, you can make up enough total points to eclipse people who can pick upsets earlier on, which do tend to happen more often than not.
Jim Sergent of USA TODAY did provide a few significant data-driven tips today, based on 37 years of analysis of results of the current six-round, four-regional format (almost no one counts those play-in games, but for those that do, lucky you, you’ve got four more picks to make and 36 fewer hours to get them ready):
1. Pick the 1st and 2nd seeds in the first round – unless you really have a hunch
Yes, 15 and 16 seeds have won first-round games before: 11 times to be exact. But that’s out of nearly 150 games. Ten of the 11 were 15 seeds. I picked one once. But don’t hope you will.
2. Watch out for the No. 8 seeds
Notice how No. 3 through No. 7 seeds lose at much higher rates than the No. 8 seed in the Sweet 16 and set up the Elite Eight. One theory is that the 8-9 matchups are often highly competitive games, at least on paper, between teams whose seeds could have been flip-flopped. The survivor of that game has enough momentum to carry them through at least opening weekend, unlike some #1s that may have cakewalked through their opener. And while it’s tempting to think one of them could continue, as Sergent adds:, think again:
3. Too many upsets might end up upsetting you
A No. 8 seed or lower has made the Final Four 13 times–about 23% of the 53 games, according to the NCAA. In 2007, only four lower seeds toppled higher seeds, while in 2014, a record 19 were upsets. Talk about broken brackets.
Where will those upsets more likely occur? Again, per Sergent:
The majority of the first-round upsets are between the No. 5 and No. 12 seeds, according to the NCAA:
39%: No. 10 over No. 7 seed. One in 2022.
39%: No. 11 over No. 6 seed. Three in 2022.
36%: No. 12 over No. 5 seed. Two in 2022.
I almost always take four or five of these choices. And I almost always hit on one or two, Depending upon how many 8-9 coin flips I call accurately determines whether or not I care enough in week two.
4. Picking the Final Four gets more challenging
Since 2011, there’s been at least one No. 7 seed or lower in the Final Four in every tournament – except for 2019. Even that tournament would have required some creative guessing with eventual champion No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Michigan State, No. 3 Texas Tech and No.5 Auburn.
Also, just picking all the No. 1 seeds to make the Final Four is about as likely as a No. 16 seed toppling a No. 1 seed. Sorry, Virginia. Since 1985, that’s only happened in the 2008 Final Four.
All this said, the biggest reason it’s called Madness can be summed up in this final observation from Calhoun:
5. A No. 1 seed is still the best choice for the tournament champion
Maybe you shouldn’t have four No. 1s in your Final Four, but they’ve piled up two dozen championships in a little more than three dozen years, including eight of the past 10 tournaments.
So chalk–indeed, ROCK chalk–may be the way to go. For what it’s worth, that’s my winner.
And I’m one of those who has been conditioned to make my “sheet of integrity” the one I use everywhere. For years Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic ruled morning sports radio with their selections, and the ridiculous dress-up stakes they had for the one whose bracket was busted first. But they converted me to their religion. You can futz around if you want, particularly if you have the money to do so. Not I.
For those of you who have the cache, take some tips from CBS Sports’ staff and their SportsLine simulations:
One of the model’s shocking 2023 NCAA Tournament picks: No. 9 seed FAU defeats No. 8 Memphis in a critical 8 vs. 9 matchup. The Owls have already racked up 31 wins this season, besting the previous school record since joining Division I in 1993 by 10 victories
Another surprise from the East Region: No. 6 Kentucky barely sneaks by Providence in the first round and then fails to make it to the Sweet 16. The Wildcats began the season ranked No. 4 in the AP Top 25, but were unranked by the start of the new year and even fell to 10-6 after a loss at home to South Carolina.
Guess which teams my Sheet of Integrity has advancing? Nah, you don’t want to know.
Oh, and THIS year? At long last, the women have achieved full parity, with their tournament now also called March Madness and having finally added their First Four. In a year where there’s an undefeated and undisputed number one incumbent as an overwhelming favorite, it’s all about the undercard.
There’s your bracket. It’s your guess who to pick. I’ll probably pick a few schools based on mascots. But don’t even think of picking an outcome that will be different than this one that happened last April:
No, I won’t be betting it for real. If you do, I wish you well. Thanks for contributing to the economy.
But I’ll be watching. And, who knows? Maybe I’ll make a new friend who makes a few bucks from some of this.
Y’all know where and how to express your thanks if you break the bank from it.