Looking for a way to ace the March Madness pool at work? Sports analytics expert Ed Feng suggests a “contrarian” approach.
The Stanford-educated engineer, who founded “The Power Rank” website, bases his NCAA tournament strategy more on probabilities than on won-loss records or shooting percentages.
It starts with entering a pool of 30 to 100 people, which gives you a better chance of separating yourself from the pack. Steer clear of the big, national contests.
“It’s really hard to avoid the luck of others,” Feng said. “When there’s that many people, somebody’s going to get lucky and beat you.”
In his book, “How to Win Your NCAA Tournament Pool,” Feng suggests bypassing the two or three teams that everyone else is picking to win.
This year, for example, several Las Vegas sportsbooks favor Duke. Or, if you live in Kentucky, your pool competitors might lean toward the local school.
“If the Wildcats win, you and many others will get the 32 points” for choosing the champion, Feng writes. “However, with so many others getting these points, there’s a strong chance that one of them gets lucky with low-probability upsets in the earlier rounds and beats you.”
Better to focus on a team that ranks just below the top two or three. In other words, a team that has a decent chance but gets picked by hardly anyone else.
Find your contrarian champ by consulting the odds or looking at websites such as espn.com, which show pool-selection trends nationwide.
Feng insists this strategy will significantly increase the probability of winning.
There are other nuances for maximizing your chances and making contrarian picks in the earlier rounds. There are also exceptions to the rule.
“If you’re in a 10-person pool with people who don’t know about basketball,” Feng said, “go with the favorite.”