March Madness has officially begun

Gregory Gagliardi – Special to the Southern News

With Selection Sunday now over, March Madness has officially begun. The annual college basketball tournament featuring the best 68 teams is set to tip off this Thursday.  

Founded in 1939, March Madness has undergone various rule changes, yet this has not stopped audiences from tuning in to watch the tournament.  

According to Nielsen Fast Nationals, last year’s tournament was the most watched NCAA tournament in 22 years. Averaging 11.3 million viewers, an eight percent increase than the previous year.

Last year, the National Championship game between Duke and Wisconsin averaged 28.3 million total viewers. A 33 percent increase from the previous year (21.3 million).                             

This made last year’s game between the Blue Devils and Badgers the most viewed NCAA title game in 18 years. However, the most viewed game still belongs to the Arizona vs. Kentucky game in 1997.

According to American Gaming Association and GfK Custom Research in North America, about 40 million Americans will fill out a March Madness bracket, and bet more than $2 billion.

For the people who play for serious money comes the obvious question – how does that affect picking the games? 26-year-old stats analyst at ESPN, Kyle Soppe explains.  

“I’m annually involved in big money leagues, and free leagues. In the money ones I tend to trust the numbers more.  If I don’t have a strong opinion, numbers talk,” said Soppe.  

Soppe also mentioned how money and emotional attachment can get in the way of picking teams.                      

“There is an emotional piece to it,” said Soppe, “but I try to limit picks impacted by my own personal feelings to the early rounds. To that end, I try not to have emotional picks next to each other, as I understand those picks tend to come with more risk.”

On the flip side, playing for no money allows Soppe to risk more because there is no reward. However, not everyone lets money affect them, just like 22-year-old stat analyst, Alex Everett.    

“I do not let money influence my picks,” Everett said. “I only pick one bracket and stick with that bracket. I think my bracket is good enough whether money is involved or not.”  

While Everett doesn’t let money get in his way, that doesn’t mean he is free from other obstacles. Everett attends college at a Division I basketball program. So if his college basketball team make the tournament, he will have to deal with an added obstacle.

“If my school was in the tournament, I would always pick them to win at least one game. I am big on supporting my school,” said Everett.  

Jungkyu Lee, a 26-year-old stats analyst also abides by Everett’s policy. He too, only picks one bracket even if money is involved. But even Lee understands the issues that come with attending a Division 1 college, with their team in the NCAA Tournament.  

“I don’t try to let it affect me, but sometimes it does,” said Lee. “When my team is playing, I also want to root for the team I like. So emotions do get in a way to some degree.”                                        

In order to keep his emotions out of it, Lee likes to keep it simple rather than play favorites. His ultimate advice is to have fun.

“You will never get the perfect bracket so why fret over every game,” Lee said.

When it does come time to make picks, everyone has a different strategy. Soppe is a numbers guy. He finds fun not just by watching, but by putting a statistical spin on the games. Each year he chooses a new way to make picks.

This year I am playing with a system to get a single number, trying to have it predict winners for every game,” said Soppe. “Obviously this will come with bumps in the road, but it gets me one step closer to taking all emotion out of the game. Hell, the games are played with insane levels of emotion, why let my own emotions that won’t impact the outcome in the least, get in the way?”

Not everyone’s strategy is as complex as Soppe’s. Everett’s bases his picks on his gut feeling, and picking over seeds. He, unlike Soppe, does not do much research.

“If I know a team has a good player, or is hot, I usually pick them to win a game or two,” said Everett.

Each analyst did yield a common ground. They all agreed that there would always be upsets when filling out brackets – and another year will pass without a No. 16 seed defeating a No. 1 seed.

Photo Credit: Todd Wickersty


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