I was up until 7 am this morning. I slept for two hours, then I got back up and continued working. I was building a machine, ideally capable of unlocking the greatest of life’s mysteries: The NCAA Bracket.
I love college basketball. I love March Madness. But more than either of those I love brackets, and the futile chase for perfection that they represent. For the past two years, this March Madness of mine has driven me to create my own sort of Frankenstein’s monster: a bracket of brackets to determine which bracket I enter into my friendly neighborhood bracket pool. Does this sound convoluted to you? Does it seem like a waste of time? Well then turn around now, because we’re about to turn the convolution up to 11.
Last year, we were chasing perfection with the hopes of snagging the billion dollar prize offered up by uberlord Warren Buffet. I have not heard that such a deal is on the table for this year, but that simply makes the quest for perfection that much more noble. We do not bracket for the money. We bracket for love. We bracket for glory.
So yeah, my best friend Ray and I constructed 16 brackets based on different silly criteria and then made a bracket of those brackets and watched them battle in glorious combat. I’m up all night to make brackets. Let me introduce you to my beauties.
Meet the Brackets
The Random Chance Region
This region is meant to leave the picks up to the lords of chance and fate. Because I cannot be trusted with the power of picking.
- Scrabble Points: Last year, I ran my own Scrabble-generated bracket with a fairly silly and overcomplicated system of rules imposed to hopefully help keep things fair. Schools were limited to seven characters unless both schools exceeded that limit. It took a while and still turned out to be a pretty crappy bracket. Thankfully, Ryan Nanni over at SB Nation put together a Scrabble bracket for the Interwebs that I decided to commandeer for the purposes of my bracketing.
- Names From A Hat: Same rules as last year – Ray and I made 32 slips of paper, 16 with the word “favorite”, the other half inscribed with “underdog”. For the #1-#16 matchups, 16 “favorite” slips were put in the hat with just 1 “underdog” slip, and then we mixed the hat and drew a pick. For the #7-#10 matchups, 10 “favorites” and 7 “underdogs”. You get the idea. I am sort of obsessed with silly and overcomplicated systems.
- Random Number Generator: We open an online random number generator and asked for numbers ranging between 1-64. For every matchup, the higher seed got the first number, lower seed receiving the second. In order for the lower seed to beat a higher seed, it’s number had to beat the higher seed’s by 3x the seed differential. So #7 Wichita State would need to beat #2 Kansas by 15 or more in order to move on to the Sweet Sixteen.
- Coin Toss: I toss a quarter a bunch. In order to keep things somewhat realistic, since I am planning on using the winning bracket in my leagues, I created a few parameters to randomly simulate the disadvantage of underdogs. If the difference between the teams’ seeds was greater than 9 [ex. #14 E Washington vs #3 Georgetown] the underdog needed to get three heads in a row. If the difference between the teams’ seeds was between 6-9 [ex. #12 SF Austin vs #5 Utah] the underdog needed to get two heads in a row. For a difference less than 6, heads went to the lower seed, tails to the higher seed.
The “Out Of My Hands” Region
This region is dedicated to systems, as opposed to random chance. While researching the tournament, I found this amazing tool: the Madness Machine by the Wall Street Journal. The machine allows you to assign value points like an RPG video game, so you can skew your bracket to favor strong defense, free throw shooting, etc. At the bottom, there is a “Madness Meter” allowing you to adjust for how cray-cray you want your bracket to turn out. It is a great tool that I think will only improve in the next few years.
On the flip side of that is Bing. We all know Bing as that search engine you never use even though its commercials prove that it is probably a better Internet search experience than Google. While I was excited about the Madness Machine, I found a Bing ad claiming that itcould help me build a bracket in a similar way, running simulations with different values and shit. I thought to myself, “This is perfect, I can make two brackets with the Madness Machine (one offensive and one defensive) and then make two with Bing, allowing me to make ‘Bing One and Bing Two’ jokes throughout the column.”
It was a dream come true. But as I was fantasizing of which Dr. Seuss images would be most funny when juxtaposed with college basketball, Bing failed me. Their system is just a simulator that spits out the same results every time. It is a chalk bracket and a huge disappointment. So I just created a third bracket with the Madness Machine and continued on with my day.
- Bing: Like I sad, pretty much garbage.
- Madness Machine – Offense: In case you are interested in the exact settings used to create this bracket, (and why wouldn’t you) feel free to click here.
- Madness Machine – Defense: In case you are interested in the exact settings used to create this bracket, (and why wouldn’t you) feel free to click here.
- Madness Machine – Madness: In case you are interested in the exact settings used to create this bracket, (and why wouldn’t you) feel free to click here.
The Statistics Region
Because #NumbersNeverLie. I just happen to usually pick the wrong numbers. The fault is all mine. To fill out this region, I asked for help on social media. I took to Facebook and Twitter asking friends to give me their favorite basketball statistics, which had mixed results. See below.
- Average Player Height: On Facebook, my friend Stephanie was first to respond. I don’t she had any real idea of why I was asking, but her favorite statistic is player height. I was 100% in. Unfortunately, finding average player height was a bit difficult on the Internet. I got some help from this NYT article on how freaking huge Kentucky is, compared to both the NCAA and the NBA. CBSSports.com helped out with anyone I couldn’t find.
- Twit Stats: When I posed the question to Twitter, I got a few snark responses from friends out of love, but my boy Dan Marcel came through with a good bit. He listed points per game, blocks per game, and steals. I then took those stats, switched things up a bit, and got silly and convoluted again in order to make up Twit Stats: (PPG-TO)^(BPG/10). This was done so that I could make a “TO THE POWER OF BLOCKS” joke. Unfortunately, Texas led the nation in blocks per game and sort of turned this bracket into garbage. It happens. Here and here you can find proof of my math and that I am Excel literate.
- The Glessner Model: My friend Toph Glessner is a genius. Straight up one of the top ten smartest people I know that’s not like, an old guy yet. He has been developing a system for the past two years that he hopes will unlock the secrets of bracketology. I asked him to write a bit explaining his system: “Eleven months in the making, the Glessner Model is a truly, purely, statistical approach for predicting the outcomes in this year’s tournament. The brain-child of senior-who-had-too-much-time-on-his-hands, Chris Glessner, the model uses a blend of multi-factor analytics and Naive Bayes prediction to aggregate insights from 27 commonly cited basketball statistics (Rebounds, Steals, Turnovers etc), recorded over the past 10 years. Glessner claims that, in the long-run, testing has indicated that the model significantly outperforms a benchmark of simply picking the higher seed for each game. In other news, Glessner’s model also indicated a 0% chance of him getting laid by Texas cheerleader.” You’re the best dawg.
- ShittyBanter Index (SBI): We brought it back! Last year’s favorite made up statistic, named after my home blog, is ready for it’s second go around in March Madness. Pretty simple stuff: [(PPG+APG+RPG)*FG%]. And if you don’t think I take this seriously, I’ll refer you to this image and this image and ask you to imagine how long it took me to gather all that data.
The School Pride Region
- Emoji Mascots: Okay, this was a big one. As you might’ve seen, Washington Post made this absolutely dope collection of team mascot emojis. They are having a thing where people vote on which emojis will advance to the next round, which is all well and good, but they failed to arrange the emojis into a bracket. It was super frustrating, because this absolutely beautiful idea was sitting right there and WaPo didn’t take it. So from 2:30am to 4:30am this morning, I created this. Please for the love of God click on that link. Here, I’ll even give you another chance to; if you missed it the first time, just click here right now. It’s a huge .pdf that I made with my limited Photoshop skills that is not perfect but I am super proud of. Please click it. I haven’t slept but it was worth it if you clicked.
- Hottest Cheerleaders: This bracket only still gets a slot because it was one of the inspirations for the bracket of brackets, after always reading articles that claimed “Fun Ways To Fill Out You Bracket!” which always suggested cheerleaders and mascot fighting. It was originally a good, stable bracket that people could easily understand, and thus understand the larger, convoluted and silly bit that I was working on. But this year I just felt icky making this bracket. The same site kept coming up with the headline “The 20 Hottest Cheerleaders at X University,” and I decided that this was not something I wanted to fully commit to again. Of course, I finished the bracket, and yes, those Texas girls are beautiful. But this is the final year for the Hottest Cheerleader bracket. On to bigger and better things.
- Average Game Attendance: Pretty self-explanatory. The team with the higher average attendance wins. There were a few surprises on this one. Shout out to Ray for burning this one out for me.
- Twitter Followers: Ray looked up the official college basketball twitter account for each team. If a team did not have an account dedicated solely to college basketball, we then went to the university’s main athletic department twitter. Again, shouts to you Ray.
Sixteen brackets, one of which I hope will bring me eternal glory. As always, to show you what happened, I made a Prezi.
Want to know which bracket won? YOU HAVE TO LOOK THROUGH THE PREZI. Nah, just playing, it was Names From A Hat. It’s pretty okay, although I just lost my first Sweet Sixteen team in Iowa State. It happens. It’s Madness. I would go round by round and talk you through the rest of the madness, but I’m already almost 2,000 words deep on this. I’m also live-blogging all day today from BWW and am trying to focus on getting as much content out through that as possible. I invite you to explore the Prezi, critique my decisions, and enjoy the hell out of March Madness.
If you want to follow along with how the brackets are holding up, I made a league on ESPN that you can bookmark if you like.
We’ve made sixteen brackets for three years now. Thanks for being a part of it. Here’s to you not getting busted.