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March 14, 2006

Wanna Win Your Bracket? Try a Whole "LOTA" Love

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Written by: RJ Warner

(Deep breath, wiping sweat from forehead, big smile) IT’S HEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERE!!!  (More giddy laughing, thinking about dancing, thinking twice). It’s that week, boys, girls and shareholders. The week we’ve all been waiting for, the only marketing slogan we’ve collectively as a nation completely caved into: MARCH MADNESS!  I have a friend from Turkey who didn’t even know it was an actual tournament. She just kept repeating: “I can’t wait for March Madness,”  as if CBS paid for her rights, too. If I had a few of those millions, I’d hire Michael Buffer to pick it up from here (deciding to hell with it and dancing anyway). We finally got here; Olympics, the ridiculous posturing of NFL lawyer-types and Dick Button be damned! Barry Bonds could shoot up with Pedro Gomez on American Idol and hoops fans wouldn’t give a flying cow hormone for the next 20 or so days. I apologize for the childlike excitement and pure jargon of the opening (Dick Button?), but this time of year just does something to me, as it does to seemingly every man, woman and employee across the land.

Everything  normal about us goes out the window this half of the month. Work ethic? Ha! We’re as productive as an army of one-armed Mario Mendozas when it comes to work. Morals? Puh-leeze. When it comes to gambling, we`re a weird cross-pollination of Janet Gretzky and Pete Rose.  We drop more dimes than Henry Hill on these games with our point spreads, polls and parlays. Common sense and intelligence? Depends on the outcome of Iona-LSU.Let’s face it. The best part about these games is not the kids playing their hearts out, the buzzer beaters, the bands, or Bruce Pearl sweating through his suit during the morning shoot around. Only half the people get to enjoy that (not sure if anyone not wearing orange enjoys Pearl). That’s all great, of course. What we all do share, however, is the love of the action. Oh, the action.

So, of course we’re all going to participate in a bracket poll. But how are we going to pick from all of these teams? Can we really fill our heads in the next few days with all of the players, stats, and trends, all over Dick Vitale’s shouting? That’s a good idea, actually, to turn off ESPN. We don’t need it like the selection committee doesn’t really need the RPI (Really Pointless Information, obviously).

I’m here to introduce to a thirsty sporting (read: betting) public my pretty-damned soon-to-be-almost-foolproof Law of Tournament Averages system (LOTA for short). It’s  a list of theories I have developed since these things went to 64 teams in 1985 (I refuse to recognize the play-in game in Dayton. As far as I’m concerned, Dayton is where I blew a tire on a cross-country trip). It’s almost foolproof  because, well, like, uh, sometimes the teams I pick lose and stuff. So what purpose does LOTA serve? It’s basically some things I have noticed in the tourney that help me pick some games because some patterns tend to keep repeating themselves over the years. Certain seeds tend to be very successful, certain ones do not. Certain things happen at certain times, while other times they don’t. Just Follow me.

Before the theories, let’s set the ground rules. The first one has to with the actual physical act of filling out your brackets (EXTREMELY IMPORTANT): fill them out one game, one round at a time. Do not jump ahead of yourself. Take at least a good hour to do this. On second thought, take the day off work or school. Going in, you might be hell bent on Pitt in the Final Four; but when you realize that they’re probably going to meet Kansas in the second round, better be using pencil. (FYI: much better Pitt teams haven’t advanced past the sweet 16). Of course, stick with any established superstitions. If you haven’t peed since your Upset Special started making a comeback, you’re holding it. Also, all responsibilities and obligations must be met BEFORE or put off until AFTER the games. Please. Dog needs walked? They can hold it too, until the lull from 5-7 PM (EST). Once Clark Kellogg begins analyzing, there… is… nothing… ELSE! Oh, and they hire pizza delivery drivers (and beer drivers in select areas) for a reason.

The first LOTA theory is the most obvious one, and if you don’t know this, please stop reading and bury your head in the sand or take some type of Bracketology 101. This column is not for you. This is simply called UHS or Upsets Happen, Stupid. Lower seeded teams always win some games in the first few rounds. No. 9 seeds actually hold a 46-38 overall advantage over no. 8 seeds, with all four nines winning in 1989 and `99.  Sevens beat ten seeds only 60% of the time and  no. 6 seeds knock off 11′s about 70% of the time according to Put it this way: In 20 years, there have been a total of 84 regionals. Out of those 84, all top eight seeds advanced in only seven of those regions. Just know this.

The most popular theory is the Twelve’s Win Always theory (TWA). Not every game, but at least one. This holds true every year (except 2000). Even my little niece knows this one. It’s always fun to nail it anyways and I’m into Vince Vaughn territory when it comes to being money on these. Pacific over Providence (2004)? No sweat. UW-Green Bay over Cal (`94)? C’mon! College of Charleston over Maryland (`97)? Yawn. The UW-Milwaukee win last year over Alabama was so in the bag I took a nap during the second half. In fact, I’ve forgotten more than this. Just be careful, though, and don’t get too 12-5 happy or you’ll have Michigan State losing to Old Dominion only to get scalded (I admit when I`m wrong every once in awhile). No more than two, max.

The Mighty Twelve’s  have had some success going to the sweet 16 as well.  Gonzaga doing it in `01, and George Washington in 1993 jump right out (guess who picked `em, that’s why). Missouri Rushed (Kareem, that is) their way to the Elite 8 as a twelve right under our alcohol-reddened noses in 2002 and Pearl led UW-Milwaukee just last year. Want to impress your friends? Pick a 12 over a 5 and a 13 over a 4 in the same bracket, with the twelve advancing. They will bow before you if you’re right. Or throw stuff at you for being so damn smug. Texas A&M looks like a candidate  to do something this year. Just keep this in mind.

Three’s rarely lose, but that doesn’t keep me from picking against them.  A lot of us fall in love with those 14′s every year (only Richmond reciprocated my ardor in 1998). Pick at your own risk; because three’s who survive early scares tend to go far, far, far (Florida in `94, Syracuse in `03 and Ga. Tech in `04). If I had to reach, The Florida-South Alabama game scares me a little (but I`m not biting and you`ll find out why if you keep reading).

Fifteen’s? Too risky. Yeah, they happen, sure. I won’t even list them because we all remember them well. I will say this: if you hate a two, pick them to lose in the second round, which has happened 27 times. Look out for Marquette.

Sixteen over a One? Hasn’t happened despite a few close calls; although I have a feeling it might one of these years. As of press time, though, this one’s right there with death, taxes and a female not waiting until a TV timeout to speak.  Maybe Oral Rob…KIDDING!!!

Ok, let’s get serious. I’m not here to rabble solely about numbers. You can check out to view all of the brackets from the past or go to (you can WATCH THE GAMES there! God loves us all) for more statistical breakdowns. If you know your actual history though, you can cheat a little with my Advanced LOTA system. Just keep reading.

My favorite LOTA is probably the most ridiculous, but that`s why it`s my favorite. I present to you the Time of Day Theory (TOD). The TOD has an uncanny knack of selecting which upsets you might want to consider.  Wha Wha WHAAAT!? Well,  I’ve noticed over the years that the huge upset winners tend to shock the world when a lot of people (not us, I hope) have gone to bed. That’s right, the clock was well past midnight when 14th  seeded Weber State was busy laying the wood to Michigan State in 1995 and North Carolina in `99. I woke up to find Xavier, another 14, knocking off Nebraska in 1991, right after no. 15 Richmond made history against Syracuse. Same with Princeton- UCLA in `96, Santa Clara over Arizona in ’93, Hampton stunning Iowa State in ’01 and Kansas-Bucknell last year. I don’t  know why it works this way.  Maybe the higher seeded team gets a little tight waiting around all day and night to play. Of course, the TOD doesn`t always work perfectly (I missed a test because I watched Maryland punch 14th seeded Gonzaga in `95 until well after 1 A.M); but if you’re looking for the Big One, notice that  Syracuse-Texas A&M starts around 9:30 PM Thursday and North Carolina-Murray State is late Friday night (The Racers shocked UNC in the same situation in 1988). Alas, Florida-South Alabama starts at 2:45 p.m. Thursday. Too early for our blood (alcohol level). Is this completely crazy? Absolutely. Just try it.  

The next is the Big Bracket Blowup Theory (BBB). It seems that a BBB fells us almost every year. This means that one of the four brackets blows up like Barry Bonds’ head. with a ton of upsets in one region, and our first Final Four team bidding adieu by Sunday.  In 1992, the Midwest looked like Hiroshima after the top three seeds, Kansas, USC and  Arkansas  lost to UTEP, Georgia “James Forrest” Tech and Memphis State by the first Sunday, allowing Cincinnati to waltz to Indianapolis (Uh, where is the final this year?). Go back to those 12-13 matchups (happened five times). There’s that one spot where 10′s end up meeting 14′s in the Sweet 16 (Providence-Tennessee-Chattanooga in 1997) and 5′s are meeting 10′s for the right to go to the Final Four (Indiana-Kent State in `02) and dogs and cats start living together. A well placed BBB means money in the bank, and the guy (or girl) who nails it is likely to be cashing in. Now, the trick is, to guess which one. Get it wrong and follow the trail of big red X’s (and tears). Scared yet? Just be wary.

Now, I hate to give a lot of credence to these and otherwise soiling years of research and hard drinking, but there are some So Bogus and Stupid They Sometimes Work theories, or BS for short. BS theories include picking teams by nicknames and colors, or like my mother (Even SHE does these things) does: deciding which city is a better place to live. We can poke holes in these easily. Gaels and Quakers shouldn’t scare anyone and even tougher sounding teams like the Great Danes (Albany) and Demons (NW State) will never have a shot; and Syracuse has taken Hawaii down twice in the first round (but not A&M this year if I have my way). There are some people who cause trouble with their BS methods, and their clueless ways infuriate the hell out of us, especially when they finish AHEAD of us. Just don’t admit it (1995).

Now, to finish up, I’m introducing  a new theory this year.  I’ll call it the Attend the Services of the DeceaSed (ASS). Of course this is sacrilege and macabre, and I have bought myself a one-way ticket straight to hell, but I’m 2 for 2 with this. Unfortunately, in 1998 and 2005, my family lost a close member the week before and the funeral was held on the first Thursday of the tournament. Coincidentally, I won the big money both of those years. Of course I’m not hoping to lose a relative, but I might just swing by a funeral home early Thursday morning. Hey, just win, baby.

Scientific? Questionable. Crackpot? Definitely. Fun? Absolutely!

Kansas,  Duke, Uconn, Ohio State

Kansas, Uconn


(Still dancing, not even self-conscious)

About the Author

RJ Warner


  1. Cellar Dweller

    I don’t know… I enjoy the tournament for other reasons. I’m not a bracket guy, I’m anti-gambling. But I voted for this column because it was well written, and you do know your information. That’s what it’s all about. I don’t need to agree with you to acknowledge the quality of the work.

  2. Editor

    Great article I have another theory.  It’s called the Chris Rock theory.  Chris Rock had a bit that in boxing, the more socially disadvantaged the boxer is, the better a fighter he’ll be. “Just think, there’s a Native American out there waiting to kick everyone’s ass!”.

    If it’s a tossup and I don’t know who to pick (close seeding, etc), I always go with the team with less going for them.  That’s why Stanford will always blow it.  Duke most of the time.  Penn always.

    This year, Bucknell vs Arkansas?  Definitely Arkansas.

  3. RJ Warner

    We’ll see I think Bucknell is for kids who couldn’t get into Penn, Brown or Columbia, so they might be good in the first round. Thanks for the positive feedback.

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