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NCAA pool: All systems are go

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It’s that time again. Basketball Bingo.

Or at least picking winners in the NCAA Tournament might as well be like that for me. I’m just not very good at it.

Now considering I used to get paid for covering college basketball, that’s hard to admit. It seemed, though, that no amount of work made it any easier.

I remember when I used to teach horse race handicapping that people often would ask, “Do you have a system?”

The answer always was the same. No.

When it came to picking the ponies, it was a lot of studying film, a lot of studying the Daily Racing Form and a lot of work. There was no easy way.

That being the case, my plea to the casual horse racing fan was not to try to figure out an entire sport in a day. Go with a favorite color, something you like in a name or play the same number in every race. Take a deep breath, and guess.

Trying to figure out an NCAA bracket is somewhat similar.

You can’t spend the entire college basketball season watching the NBA, or ice hockey, or everything else, and then think you can figure it all out like you’re Bobby Knight. So why not just throw some ink at a bracket and go with the biggest blotches?

Take, for example, tonight’s opening round “play-in” game between Albany and Mount St. Mary’s. How do you figure that one out?

If this helps, Albany has four Australians on its roster, one from Denmark and one from the Republic of Georgia. Mount St. Mary’s has one foreign player, from Croatia. Does that help?

What about this, Albany lost to Bucknell and Mount St. Mary’s beat Bucknell. Hmmm.

What to do?

I figured I would save myself some aggravation. This year, I am going with the Joe Lunardi Ratings Percentage Index. Lundardi has put together tons of information and stuck it into a computer program, which adds up all kinds of points and spits out a rating number. The NCAA selection committee puts heavy weight on each team’s RPI when it comes to selecting the at-large berths for the tournament.

Lunardi and company comput strength of schedule, how teams do on the road, what happens when they face top 20 teams and what kind of after-shave the players wear.

Looking at that system, you can just pick each game by selecting the team with the higher RPI. Albany’s RPI is 182, better than Mount St. Mary’s 192. A virtual lock, the Bucknell game be darned.

In going with this format, the Final Four would be Florida (No. 1 RPI) in the South, Villanova (No. 5) in the East, Arizona (No. 2) in the West and Wichita State (No. 4) in the Midwest.

Wasn’t that easy?

Of course, it is a system, and in horse racing at least, there is no such thing as a system. Please use RPI at your own risk.

If you are looking for other systems, you can try:

... The best record Final Four. That would end up Florida (32-2) in the South, Villanova (28-4) in the East, Arizona (30-4) in the West and Wichita State (34-0) in the Midwest. Oops, isn’t that the same as the RPI Final Four? Now we’re getting somewhere.

The four sevens slot machine Final Four: That would be New Mexico in the South, Connecticut in the East, Oregon in the West and Texas in the Midwest, all

No. 7 seeds.

The worst record Final Four. Kind of a reverse theory on the best record strategy. That would be Mount St. Mary’s (16-16) in the South, Milwaukee (21-13) in the East, Nebraska (19-12) in the West and Cal Poly (13-19) in the Midwest. The smartest players Final Four. How can you plan better than a Final Four of Stanford in the South, Harvard in the East, Arizona (my alma mater, so it has to be in this category) in the West and Duke in the Midwest?

The all-Indiana Final Four: Whoops.

Whatever your system, have fun, and play responsibly.

Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at or 379-5632.

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