Tuesday, March 15, 2005

The Popular Pick

Most big time basketball fans I know shy away from taking the consensus pick to win it all. Part of that is strategy: you don't have to get as many games right if you nail a more obscure champion. However, part of it comes from simply feeling uncomfortable following the herd. You see thousands and thousands of people taking North Carolina and you decide to take Florida over the Tar Heels in the regional semis. Or the tide turns to Illinois, so you scoff at the Illini and change your regional winner to Oklahoma State. If I had to guess, I would say this is probably the number one reason I've changed Final Four picks over the years. Not only that, we get teams like Syracuse in 2003 and Arizona in 1997 that go darting through the tournament as #3 or #4 seeds, and it's just so much more fun to pick a team like that. However, a quick glance over recent winners shows that the "popular" pick is far more likely to take home the crown:

1995 - UCLA (#1 Overall)
1996 - Kentucky (#1 Overall)
1997 - Arizona (#4 in South)
1998 - Kentucky (#2 in South)
1999 - UConn (#1 in West/#2 Overall)
2000 - Michigan State (#1 Overall)
2001 - Duke (#1 Overall)
2002 - Maryland (#1 Overall)
2003 - Syracuse (#3 in East)
2004 - UConn (#2 in West)

Over the past 10 years, a #1 seed has won six times, the overall #1 seed has won five times, and the "consensus pick" has won six times (UConn was the most popular choice last year, despite being a #2 seed). I've personally only predicted the winner four times in the past 10 years (1995, 2000, 2002, and 2004) and each was the "popular" pick.

If you think Illinois is too dependent on their guards or that North Carolina will gag like all Roy Williams' teams do, then by all means, pick somebody else to win it all. But if you are just picking someone else to be different, well, that might not be such a good idea.

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