March Madness Survivor Pool Strategy and Round 1 Picks

March Madness 2011

I love NCAA Men’s Basketball March Madness pools. All kinds too, from the regular brackets that tally total wins and the point-based sheets that weight the final rounds more heavily, to more creative approaches.

My uncle Chancy runs a pool where you pick two teams from each bracket and for each win they get, you receive their seed number value in points, plus bonus points for the Final Four and National Championship.

I also collaborate with a friend on a big-money squares pool. It is just like a football squares grid (0-9/0-9) except we pay out the final scores of all 63 games in the tourney. First round gets you half your money back and the winnings keeps doubling from there. It’s dumb luck, there are really no bad numbers, and it’s still brilliant.

Even with all of my pool experience, the most challenging – and most rewarding – pool I’ve seen is Mike’s March Madness Survivor Pool at MyOfficePool.ca.

The idea with the survivor pool is to pick a team to win on opening day of the tournament, this Thursday. If they win, you advance. If they lose, you’re out of the pool. Keep picking one winning team each round of the tournament (Rounds 1 and 2 are each split for the pool) and see how long you can last. The last person alive, the survivor, wins the pool.

The catch of course is you cannot pick the same team more than once. In an elimination tournament like March Madness, it means you can absolutely run out of teams to choose from. Planning ahead is important, and one upset – which will no doubt occur (more than once) – can throw a wrecking ball into your plans.

There are plenty of ways to strategize your survivor pool plan, but I like to approach it backwards. If you’ve filled out a standard March Madness bracket, take a look at how you’ve got the final couple rounds predicted. You’re going to need to wait until the last round to use the winner, so plan ahead by listing the most certain winners last – and then advancing toward the tournament start by picking teams who you think will win, but lose their very next game.

Ideally, your teams will win the game you chose them for, and then bow out in their next tilt. That’s what I call survivor gold. You can’t put a price on pushing through a team you haven’t yet selected, and simultaneously jettisoning a squad you’ve already picked (and that someone may have not already used in favor of a team that’s advanced). Well – I guess you can put a name on it. Charlie Sheen sure can. It’s called Winning…duh?!?!

Hey – I could be wrong, but it’s seems pretty tough to win this thing if you start off by selecting Final Four favorites in Round 1. Each of the last two years, the pool winners went as far as and picked the National Champion (2010 and 2009 pool results).

Initially, you have to look for teams with difficult prospective second-round matchups. As this thing gets into the Sweet Sixteen, we separate the wheat from the chaff. If you blow a mid-round selection on Duke and they make the Final Four, your road is going to be difficult. Think Jimmer Fredette has just one win in him before BYU’s bubble bursts? You better hope he doesn’t go off for 50 again and lead his squad to the promise land in Houston.

Are you ready to take your chances with this pool? Here is a quick list of teams you should consider for the first round games on Thursday and Friday, and reasons why they might go out in the next round, Saturday and Sunday. Remember Rounds 1 and 2 are each split, so you need to pick a winner for Thursday before Friday even becomes relevant.

Ohio State – I know, they’re the overall number one seed. But the overall number one seed doesn’t have a great history and once they get past the 16 seed, they’ll tackle either perennial Big East power Villanova or one-time Cinderella darlings George Mason.

Xavier – I think they can handle Marquette, but there’s almost no chance they beat Syracuse, who could have yet another Final Four run.

Texas – This hinges on what happens to Arizona in Round 1, but there’s a good chance Texas wins one and then loses to the Wildcats – as long as Memphis doesn’t topple ‘Zona right out of the gate.

Purdue – They’ll easily smash the Peacocks, but I’d be worried about the matchup with Georgetown. You don’t want to face these Big East teams in the early going.

Notre Dame – The Zips are always tough, but I think the Irish can handle them. The next matchup, however, could pose some problems.

BYU – The Cougars will get past Wofford, but there are a couple of giant-killers lurking in Round 2.

Florida – I have no doubts about a Round 1 victory, but their prospective Round 2 opponents have 13 NCAA championships between them. Yeah.

So take your time, work backwards when necessary and take some chances. It’s not called a survivor pool because everybody survives. Just the opposite, actually…

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