How to Beat a 12-Year-Old in Your NCAA Tourney Bracket

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REUTER/Dave Kaup

If you pick your NCAA basketball tournament bracket winners based on uniform color, don’t worry. You still have a nice shot to win your bracket pool. Seriously.

Joe Lunardi, the dean of ESPN’s bracketology, told NewsFeed he has no more a shot of winning any type of office pool than your Aunt Betty. (Not that he would enter an office pool, since he works for St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and gambling is out of the question at a NCAA institution.)

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Lunardi’s 12-year-old daughter picked the fifth-seeded Butler Bulldogs to make it to the Final Four last year because she thought their uniforms reminded her of penguins. Butler ended up losing to Duke by a mere two points in the National Championship game. “There have been years where I have been winging it and won,” Lunardi says about friendly bracket challenges. “In recent years, where I put in weeks of my life studying these things I still lose to my daughter.”

NewsFeed still asked Lunardi for his tips on winning our office pool. First, he says, go with the top seeds. While it may be okay to select a few flyers to make it deep into the tournament, remember these teams have been seeded for a reason. “The favorites still do win the vast majority of the time,” Lunardi cautions. “The times they don’t are frequent and dramatic enough to make the tourney what it is. The fun is spotting them ahead of time.”

With computer-based research showing top-seeded Ohio State will win the tournament, Lunardi has selected all four top seeds—Ohio State, Pittsburgh (losers of three of their last six, by the way), Kansas and Duke—to reach the Final Four, even though all number-one seeds making the Final Four has happened once since 1985. He has Kansas topping the Buckeyes in the finals.

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It should go without saying to stay away from the 15 and 16 seeds, even if they are your Alma matter or that mascot is oh-so-cute. No 16 has ever won a game and only four 15s have earned a victory.

The upsets to look at? Seeds 12 and 13. While seeds 13 through 16 are teams from tiny conferences you’ve never heard of who make it into the tournament automatically by winning their conference, it isn’t far-fetched for a 13 to pull an upset once per year. Lunardi has Belmont beating Wisconsin (easily this year’s trendiest pick) and Oakland beating Texas. But the 12s represent the final “at-large” teams, schools who started the season rough and have caught fire at the end to make it into the tournament. And momentum can be catchy. Lunardi likes three 12s this year: Richmond (vs. Vanderbilt), Utah St. (vs. Kansas State) and Clemson (vs West Virginia).

Aside from stats, Lunardi picks teams based on experience, great guard play and a proven track record of winning on the road. But of course, what does he know? His daughter beat him last year.

See a Sports Illustrated printable bracket here.