March Madness Survivor Pool Strategy

Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be giving strategy tips for our annual March Madness Survivor Pool. Looking back at my past results, I got knocked out on the first Friday last year, the first Friday the year before, and I got knocked out of the Elite 8 back in 2007.

This should not be surprising of course since I don’t really follow college basketball during the season until the big tournament. Perhaps some knowledge of the teams, and who is hot and who is not, and how they match up is a good idea plunging head first into a pool like this.

Or… this pool is a lot like a lottery. It is going to take some luck, some planning, and some more luck to hit on the right combination of picks to stay alive to the end and outlast the competition. Yes, yes! That is it! At least, that is the angle I’ve taken before and I’m going to continue to take.

What can I say? Admittedly, I’m not a big basketball fan, even though I have acceptable height to play, but I really get juiced up about this tourney every year. I find myself watching as much as I can—usually while working away at my computer—right through to the end of the last of the late games.

My first over-exposure to the Madness was in 2007, and it was crazy intense how many late game heroics there were. The heart, the passion from these kids leaving it all out on the floor—that is the epitome of sport. That is why we watch.

Of course, it never hurts to have a little money on the line too to add to the intensity. That is where the pool comes in, and while I’ve chalked up luck as a big factor in my (future) success, lets touch on that planning aspect. If you’re not sure of the rules, here is a quick overview:

  • Pick a team, any team on the schedule, to win on the first day—today!
  • If that team wins, then pick another team to win on the second day, Friday.
  • If that team loses, then you are out of the pool.
  • Repeat picking teams to win through every round as long as they keep winning.
  • You cannot, and this is key, pick the same team more than once.
  • The last person (or persons) to survive to the end, wins the pool.

There are some detailed rules about tie-breakers which could come into play, because with a pool like this following a knockout tournament and you can’t pick the same team again, it is possible to run out of teams to choose from.

The pool rounds are broken down as Round 1 Thursday, Round 1 Friday, Round 2 Saturday, Round 2 Sunday, Sweet 16, Elite 8, Final 4 and Championship. This first weekend is tough, because you’ve got to hit a winner on four straight days. And clearly the idea here is, pick a team that you expect to win early, but not go any further or much further in the tourney. You need to save your best teams for later.

So, opening round I’m looking for a good middle seed while saving the top seeds to when after the smoke clears through the weekend. Here is a list of the top favourites according to my online sportsbook, as of this morning:

Round 1 Thursday   Round 1 Friday

Kansas (1) -25.5 over Lehigh (16)
Kentucky (1) -19.5 over East Tennessee State (16)
Villanova (2) -18 over Robert Morris (15)
Kansas State (2) -16 over North Texas (15)
Georgetown (3) -13 over Ohio (14)
Baylor (3) -10.5 over Sam Houston (14)
New Mexico (3) -9 over Montana (14)
BYU (7) -5 over Florida (10)
Texas (8) -5 over Wake Forest (9)
Tennessee (6) -3.5 over San Deigo State (11)
Vanderbilt (4) -3 over Murray State (13)
Notre Dame (6) -2.5 over Old Dominion (11)
Butler (5) -2.5 over UTEP (12)
Richmond (7) -2 over St. Mary’s (Ca.) (10)
Marquette -1.5 (6) over Washington (11)
UNLV -1 (8) over Northern Iowa (9)


West Virginia (2) -17.5 over Morgan State (17)
Syracuse (1) -17.5 over Vermont (16)
Ohio State (2) -17 over UC Santa Barbara (15)
Michigan State (5) -13.5 over New Mexico State (12)
Pittsburgh (3) -10.5 over Oakland (14)
Wisconsin (4) -10 over Wofford (13)
Maryland (4) -9.5 over Houston (13)
Temple (5) -4 over Cornell (12)
Purdue (4) -4 over Siena (13)
Texas A&M (5) -3 over Utah State (12)
Clemson (7) -1.5 over Missouri (10)
Florida State (9) -1.5 over Gonzaga (8)
Oklahoma State (7) -1.5 over Georgia Tech (10)
California (8) -1 over Louisville (9)
Xavier (6) Even vs. Minnesota (11)

So who sticks out for Thursday? BYU over Florida and Texas over Wake Forest perhaps, using a #7 or #8 seed early. For the more risk-averse, there is a trio of #3 seeds in Georgetown, Baylor and New Mexico. Georgetown has the name recognition, so one would be inclined to save them for a later round.

I had BYU in as my early pick, but that had more to do with testing the pool than putting much thought to it. A lucky coincidence perhaps? Hmm… I may have to just buy two entries, putting one on BYU and the second on New Mexico or Baylor.

Time to go do some quick tourney preview reading and research. There isn’t much time though. Tipoff is just over a couple hours away. Enjoy the games!

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