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Always pick the higher seed. Never pick an upset.

The behavioral phenomena is called probability matching, explains Matthew Hutson.

Let’s say you’re drawing balls from a large box that contains 25 red balls and 75 blue balls. Many people tasked with predicting draws will predict red 25 percent of the time and blue 75 percent of the time. They match their guesses to the probabilities of the outcomes, in this case yielding a 62.5 percent success rate. But if they just guessed blue on each draw, they’d be right, on average, 75 percent of the time.

Similarly, people know there will be a certain number of upsets in each NCAA tournament, and therefore betting on a Cinderella-free tourney seems silly. The only logical thing to do, they conclude, is to figure out when those upsets will take place. The drawback, of course, is that by shooting for perfection, they end up handicapping themselves. In McCrea and Hirt’s research using real NCAA data, for example, people would have been much better off just sticking to the seedings.

One thing is for sure. You won’t have much fun filling out your bracket with this strategy.


Why else would CBS try to pay ESPN to take the tourney off its hands?

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1) Zero-sum ethics. People who feel good about their green purchases cut a few ethical corners later.

2) Starwood Hotels experiments with letting environmentally-minded guests opt out of room cleaning (plus get a small discount). Hat tip: Kare Anderson.

3) Split the check by bumping iPhones. Hat tip: Adam W.

4) NCAA selection bias. Playing in one of the six power conferences is worth an extra 1.75 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

5) Looking to get elementary school kids to be more active? Paint brightly colored castles, dragons, clock faces, mazes, snakes and ladders on the playground. Hat tip: Randy Scott.

Addendum: Calorie counts at chain restaurants are going to be harder to ignore, says AP.

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Worse than the all Big Ten strategy.

Say you’re a loyal partisan living in Washington D.C. who doesn’t know much about college basketball. To keep your cognitive strain to a minimum, you adopt the red state/blue state strategy. The heuristic is simple. Pick teams from the blue states (or from red states). If two blue state teams play each other, pick the bluer one. If two teams from the same blue state play each other, revert to county level data. (Note: the same results would not apply if you used county level data the whole way through – but it’s computationally much more difficult.) The same logic applies for red states. If you’re a political junkie you can fill out your brackets in a few minutes.

The red state strategy yields an all Utah-Oklahoma final four (BYU, Utah, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma), with BYU taking the crown. The blue state strategy yields a Boston College, Cornell, American University, and Syracuse final four with American winning the championship. The red state strategy is particularly lousy at the beginning. Three of the four No. 1 seeds get knocked off in the first round.

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