The Situationist

The Unproductive Situation of Picking Underdogs in the NCAA Tournament

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 20, 2010

Earlier this week, we blogged about the role of implicit attitudes in the selection of teams for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Today we bring your attention to a New York Times piece by Nicholas Bakalar on a study titled, Match Madness: Probability Matching in Prediction of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  The study’s authors, Professors Sean McCrea and Edward Hirt, conclude that while betting on the underdogs may make a fan feel good, the decision often proves regrettable.   We excerpt Bakalar’s piece below.

* * *

Some people think that the way to win the office pool in the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament is to pick the promising underdogs to win — and they believe they know which underdogs to pick. But two psychology professors have this advice for them: don’t bet on it.

The problem is that of all the prediction techniques — asking sportswriters, polling coaches, following the Las Vegas odds, and others — none does better than simply predicting that the better-seeded team will win.

“We all feel we can guess right; it’s seductive,” said Edward R. Hirt, a co-author of a study on the subject published in the December issue of The Journal of Applied Social Psychology. “We know that we’re better off just picking the lower-seeded team, but that’s boring.”

A pool involves predicting the winner of each game in the tournament. The person with the most correct picks wins. In the first round, when the No. 1 seeds plays the No. 16s, the outcome is, for all practical purposes, preordained. Although there have been a few close calls, including two 1-point losses, no 16th seed has ever beaten the No. 1 seed since the expansion to 64 teams in 1985.

But the closer the seeding, the more likely an upset becomes. The game between the teams seeded eighth and ninth is virtually a tossup.

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To read the rest, click here.  For a related Situationist post, see Cheering for the Underdog and Jack Bauer and Growing Up Rich.

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One Response to “The Unproductive Situation of Picking Underdogs in the NCAA Tournament”

  1. […] The Unproductive Situation of Picking Underdogs in the NCAA Tournament – via The Situationist – Today we bring your attention to a New York Times piece by Nicholas Bakalar on a study titled, Match Madness: Probability Matching in Prediction of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The study’s authors, Professors Sean McCrea and Edward Hirt, conclude that while betting on the underdogs may make a fan feel good, the decision often proves regrettable. We excerpt Bakalar’s piece below. […]

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