Fans gear up for March Madness

Picture this: Two No. 12 seeds upset the No. 5 teams in the East and South Regionals, a No. 10 seed defeats a No. 7 team in the West Regional and a No. 13 seed knocks off the No. 4 seed in the Midwest Regional. Brackets are busted, dreams go up in smoke and the hours spent dissecting matchups go to waste thanks to teams from schools the casual fan would have trouble picking out of a lineup. Sound familiar? It’s March Madness.Though not an official phrase in the dictionary, the terminology has become synonymous with the rabid nature of players, coaches and fans associated with the NCAA basketball tournaments in March, specifically the men’s bracket.

With 64 games (including the play-in game) played in a three-week period, the tournament captivates college basketball fans far and wide – and Robert Largen is no exception.

Largen, an adjunct journalism professor, said he takes part in a high-stakes “super pool” with seven other executives in advertising and marketing from across the country.

This “super pool,” which has lasted for more than 25 years, is important because it allows the pool participants to continue the type of traditional fun that has taken place every March since the early stages of their business careers, Largen said.

“It’s a way for us to keep in touch,” Largen said.

In Largen’s pool, the eight participants pick eight teams in a “snake” draft setup, where the order of the teams chosen in the previous round is reversed for the next round. Points are awarded after wins in each round, and in this type of setup, Largen said, picking the team that’s going to win it all isn’t as important as picking a couple of teams that make deep runs in the tournament.

Largen makes his picks based on the predictions of columnists and experts from USA Today and The Sporting News, among others, as well as a team’s strength of schedule and its Rating Percentage Index. He said he makes average scores for each columnist’s predictions to create independent strength rankings for the teams in each bracket.

“I hitchhike on their knowledge to get smart on (the tournament),” Largen said.

While fans have implemented the use of statistics into their decision-making processes, George Gilbert, an associate professor of mathematics, isn’t so sure the use of numbers and statistics is necessarily helpful.

Gilbert referenced statistics he gathered from ESPN’s Tournament Challenge during the 1998 men’s tournament, and said a little less than two-thirds of the games were picked correctly. He said picking teams favored to do well presents both pros and cons.

“There’s a better probability of tying for the lead (in a pool), but it hurts you in the probability of winning because it becomes a crapshoot in the end,” Gilbert said.

With as much strategy being tossed around, there’s also a lot of money being tossed around in the forum of sports gambling during this time of the year.

Bodog, an sports gambling Web site, lets fans make single bets on the tournament or participate in the “March Madness Bracket Buster,” which features a $10,000 grand prize.

“Considering our international presence, March Madness only trails the Super Bowl and the World Cup of Soccer in terms of traffic,” the Bodog experts said in an e-mail from Aleem Jamal-Kabani, a public relations coordinator in association with Bodog.

Considering favorites tend to fluctuate throughout the course of the tournament, the people at Bodog suggest for even the casual fan to do some type of research before placing a bet.

“We set all our odds based on our analysis of the teams and games as well as by taking into account the betting tendencies of sports fans,” the Bodog experts said.

A recent H&R Block press release said one demographic gambling organizations, such as Bodog, look to capitalize on is the male college student. The NCAA reported that 35 percent of male college students have placed some sort of a bet on an NCAA sporting event sometime within the past year.

Frank Martinez, a sophomore radio-TV-film major, said this will be the first year his group will take part in a money pool, in what may be considered a year too late for one of his fellow pool participants.

“My friend won last year, but nobody paid up because, halfway through, we said ‘it was for respect now’ since no one had put money in yet,” Martinez said, “That friend agreed to that because he had a slim chance of winning. Unlucky for him, Florida ended up winning it all, which was his only chance to win because he chose them.”

So, as fans, students and professors attempt to pick this year’s George Mason “Cinderella” story from a field featuring potential bracket busters, there are memories to be made by a team’s game performance on the court as well as a fan’s pool performance off the court.

Let the madness begin.