In Defense of Sports Gambling – A Last Look at The 2015 NCAA Tournament

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Another tournament finished and another fantasy competition completed.

Some readers requested a post-mortem report for my bracket.

Here it is:

First, a link to my original bracket:

And here’s what it looks like now that it’s all said and done:

More red than I’d like, but that’s the game.

My bracket suffered a major blow in the early hours of the very first day of the tourney. Iowa State, a team I had in the title game, got dropped in the opening round, by 14-seed UAB.

Despite that early setback, I still finished respectably in my pool (500+ entries). I gambled on undervalued picks, correctly selecting high seeds Kansas, Georgetown, and 1-seed Villanova, to lose in the round of 32. Louisville’s run to the Elite 8 helped as well.

I had no problem picking against top seeds when the opportunity arose, which put a smile on my face when popular picks like Virginia and Villanova were toppled early in the proceedings.

I practice what I preach.

Remember, winning a big pool is not about how many picks you get right. It’s about how well you do relative to the rest of the pool.

If you didn’t have the courage to go against chalk in big spots, you probably finished respectably, but nowhere near the very top—where the money is. 

Those spots are reserved for the people who picked middle seeds Michigan State or Louisville coming out of the East Region, since nearly everyone had Duke/Gonzaga, Wisconsin/Arizona, and Kentucky coming out of their respective regions.

That’s the problem with a bracket replete with popular picks.

Yes, they are favored to win, so, if winning a big pool were about getting the most selections correct, you would just choose the team favored to win in every matchup. Going all chalk would make sense.

Unfortunately (for you), nearly everyone in the country does this.

The problem with the “pick-the-highest-seeds-to-win-and-mix-in-a-few-minor-upsets” strategy is, you have selections that give you very little upside. Yes, you will probably get a lot of picks right, but so will the rest of your opponents, so you just keep pace with the masses instead of picking spots to take a step forward while everyone else takes a step back.

And worse, when you’re on the wrong the side of an upset, you have zero opportunity to make it up elsewhere in the bracket, since every correct pick that gives you points does the same for everyone else.

No regrets in my tourney selections—the process was sound.

I picked the overwhelming favorite to win and some odds-driven Elite 8 and Final 4 picks that would’ve put me at the very peak of the competition had the ball bounced the other way.

If anything, I will be particularly wary of dark horses that lack interior size (read: Iowa State), as they’re particularly vulnerable when they have a bad night from three-point range. A team with good 6’10″+ players can always dump the ball inside–and prevent the opponent from doing the same–when outside shots are not falling.

Like I mentioned in my previous strategy post, riding traditional powerhouses who’ve been slotted as middle seeds offers value. Big dogs, like Louisville, have Hall-of-Fame coaches who attract the best high school players, prospects that teams like an Iowa State or a Western Kentucky will never see. Those teams also benefit from the subtle coaching advantages—shrewd substitutions, rapport with the refs, fan bases willing to travel around the country—that come with life at a big-time program. In a series of one-and-done games, those go a long way towards advancing far.

Other stories of interest in the NCAA Tournament arena:

The Best NCAA Pool You’ve Never Heard of:

Average joe gets arrested for running NCAA pool:

Sports gambling is as American as apple pie. 

If you’ve ever joined a fantasy league, wagered on a football game, or tried your hand at an NCAA tourney pool, you’ve gambled on sports.

You don’t have to wager money—it could be for bragging rights. Any activity where you are wagering on something with an uncertain outcome is gambling.

The average gambler is not some shady drifter or two-bit mobster; it’s the dude who delivers your mail or your local high school science teacher. 

The fact that it’s still illegal in most states is, well…..criminal.

Chasing down sports gamblers is a waste of government resources. It’s hypocritical as well, since state-sanctioned lotteries remain one of the biggest contributors to school treasuries.

Paternalism does not wear well.

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