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Slate: Pick Duke, If You're Statistically Inclined

In a quirky but intriguing essay for Slate, Chris Wilson writes about the phenomenon of crowdsourcing an NCAA Tournament bracket, which basically means following the wisdom of the crowd, making a few tweaks to the bracket and hoping you distinguish yourself enough from everyone else.

The best way to do that this year? Pick the Blue Devils to win the national championship, Wilson writes:

Again, your overall strategy should be to look for situations where the national bracket values a team much higher than the objective statistics.... For example, a mere 3.8 percent of those who have entered ESPN's pool so far predict Duke to win the whole tournament—the right-most column on this table—while Sagarin's tables give the Blue Devils a 7.7 percent chance of winning it all. Although that's still a relatively slim chance, the fact that the Blue Devils are so undervalued—probably because they're so reviled—makes this a valuable bet. By contrast, 28.2 percent of the crowd has North Carolina taking the title, while their Sagarin odds stand at 13.2 percent. Which would you take: a 13.2 percent chance of guessing the same correct outcome as more than one-quarter of your pool or a 7.7 percent chance of an outcome that would put you way ahead of the pack? I would take the second—at least, if I wanted a chance to win the prize money. (This assumes your pool resembles the country at large, of course; a pool among Duke undergraduates probably would not offer the same generous odds.)

Ah, and there's the caveat. Such a strategy probably wouldn't work in The Chronicle's Sports Blog Bracket Challenge (shameless plug: join now!). Which is why, of course, I took North Carolina to win the national title. Well that, and I think they're the best team in the country. But if it makes my pick statistically smart, I'm not complaining.


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