It's Wednesday of the first week of the NCAA tournament, and you know what that means. No, I'm not talking about second-guessing your picks, though there is plenty of that. (Do I really want to stick with Baylor to the Final Four over Duke? Ahhh! Can't decide! Fine, fine, I'll go with the Bears. Or will I ...)
No, I'm talking about my annual sermon, one I find a way to write every single year. This year is no different. That sermon carries a simple, trite, but all-important thesis: Play one bracket. Make your picks. And stick with them.
Of course, you're free to do whatever you want. The NCAA tournament is yours to enjoy however you see fit. If you want to fill out a hundred brackets with a hundred Final Four combinations, feel free. This is America. No bracketization without representation! I'm pretty sure Jonathan Mayhew said that.
But it is my firm belief that the best way to enjoy March Madness is to sit down, do your analysis, find the stats you wholeheartedly believe in*, make your picks and fill out one master bracket, the bracket you will use to conquer each and every one of the numerous bracket pools you will be invited to. According to my rough calculations, this is exactly 1,038,494 times more fun than the multibracket route. It really is.
Why do I feel this way? It's not about being a more "serious" bracket builder. It's not about credibility, or anything highfalutin and elitist like that. It's because it's more fun. (OK, so I'll admit it: It is a little bit elitist. It's not at all difficult to spread your risk over 10 brackets and have at least one be successful. Anyone can do that. The person at your office who brags about succeeding through such means is not a basketball fan; he's a risk-manager. Don't be That Guy.) If you fill out multiple sheets with a number of different champions, you constantly bet against yourself. If you have Duke losing in the Sweet 16 in one pool and winning it all in another, well, who do you root for in the final minutes of Duke-Texas A&M? Both teams? Neither? And at what cost? You get to say you totally picked the Duke upset ... in one of your brackets. That's not nearly as cool as being unequivocally correct. Picking multiple brackets with multiple Final Fours and multiple scenarios might give you a better chance of overall success, but it comes at a serious cost. You've effectively hedged all the suspense right out of the NCAA tournament. That's what bankers do for a living, and trust me, bankers' jobs are not that much fun.
Again, no pressure here. Do whatever you want; this next three weeks is yours to revel in however you so choose. But trust me when I say that the NCAA tournament's joy is far more amplified when you have everything riding on one set of picks. Pick your upsets. Pick your winners. And stick by them. It may fall apart on Thursday, but at least you won't be That Guy. No one likes That Guy.
(*I recommend some combination of advanced efficiency analysis, especially free throw rate, defensive efficiency, and offensive rebounding percentage, as well as a look at Vegas odds and ESPN's bracket simulator tools. That's a start. Now get out there and rule the world, you bracket builder, you!)