Monday, March 26, 2007

Dog Fails to Bite Man Isn't News Either.

Not to preen, but refer back a few weeks on this blog, and you'll see I did a bang-up job of handicapping the NCAA's men's basketball tournament, correctly predicting three of the Final Four teams, with my only loser eliminated in the Elite Eight.

I'm NOT preening, either. Big whoop. According the New York Times, just about every American with a pencil was a college basketball expert this March.

Except they weren't, not really. Our nation's collective memory has become so defective, our journal of record can't recall the history of one its biggest sports events before 2005.

It's no surprise when high seeded teams reach the Final Four. It's what usually happens. Last year, when George Mason reached the semi-finals, and 2005, when high seeds went down like extras in a gladiator movie, they were the anomalies. Ever since seeding began in the tournament, form has held. The selection committee is smarter than it's given credit for. This year's Final Four contains two 1 seeds. That's actually slighter LESS than average. The other teams are 2 seeds. That's slightly above average, but only slightly.

Nor is it an upset when someone picks all four semi-finalists correctly in a bracket pool. Happens all the time. Since most people pick favorites to win anything, and since there are only 10-12 teams with solid shots to get that far, it's the good old law of probability asserting itself.

The other thing is, bracket pools don't pay off for your position at the top of the stretch. It's guessing who'll win the final three games that'll determine who gets money, bragging rights or both in all those pools. I've been entering bracket pools since the late '70s. I've had three of four Final Four teams more than once-several times with the correct champion as well. I've never cashed a check. Someone always has been righter than I was.

Reading the Times article more closely, we see even this alleged Year of the Chalk has its share of losers. The numbers cited to prove handicapping the 2007 tournament was a walk in the park came from ESPN's massive bracket contest. It was supposed to be amazing that almost 170,000 out of 3.3 million entrants had all four teams in the F.F. picked correctly.

As noted, we don't who those 170,000 so-far prescient souls have taking the whole cheese. A quick bit of long division, however, tells us that about 1 in every 29 contestants managed the feat. That's a little less than 3.5 percent.

That's a historic performance for bracket guessers? Suppose it is. The overwhelming majority of ESPN entrants couldn't have appreciated reading the news in the Times today. In a year the Times declared it was easy to be smart, there's a 96.5 percent chance any individual entrant was stupid. There's an ego boost, huh?


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