You play to win the pool.
That's what Herm Edwards said ... right?
I bring it up because sometimes the goal of a March Madness bracket can be lost in the exercise. We aren't trying to maximize our projected number of correct picks -- we're trying to win. And that can sometimes look like two different things.
While we might like to be certain in our convictions, the reality is that we don't know who is going to win any game. And so we have to examine the probabilities and take a stab at the chance of certain events happening. That's where we've got your back with the Basketball Power Index, our predictive model with (hopefully) all the answers ahead of this year's NCAA tournament.
We don't know who our competitors will select until the bracket is locked, but we can take a guess by using the handy Who Picked Whom page on ESPN.com. And that will be our guide today for some BPI value picks. We'll skip the obvious (Virginia is the favorite, duh) and assume you want to zig where others zag if you're here. General rule of thumb: the more participants in your pool, the crazier you should get. Here are some helpful tips to fill out your bracket:
If you want to stray from the favorites (but not too far)
Pick Villanova to win the NCAA tournament
Not exactly a sleeper, right? I couldn't have imagined Villanova as a value pick a mere week ago, but here we stand with only 14 percent of Tournament Challenge users picking the Wildcats to go all the way, as of this writing. That's well short of BPI's projection of a 21 percent shot to win.
Pick Davidson and Loyola-Chicago to win in the first round
Both teams have over a 40 percent chance to win but aren't being selected in as many brackets. Plus, it's a low-risk move: BPI is down on respective opponents Kentucky and Miami, anyway.
Send Gonzaga to the Final Four
The Bulldogs aren't as good as they were a season ago, but the committee conjured an easy path for them. They have a 24 percent chance to get to San Antonio.
Pick St. Bonaventure to beat Florida
Either St. Bonaventure or UCLA has over a 30 percent chance to beat the Gators; only roughly 15 percent of players think the Bonnies will advance.
If you want to get a little more adventurous
Pick Purdue to win the NCAA tournament
If Kentucky had played as well as Purdue this year, the entire country would be falling over itself to pick the Wildcats to win it all. Instead, less than 3 percent of Tournament Challenge users have the Boilermakers winning the title, despite them having a 10 percent shot of accomplishing the feat.
Pick Seton Hall to reach the Sweet 16
That's right, over Kansas. The Jayhawks aren't really good enough to justify their No. 1 seed. The same move could be made in the West region with Florida State over Xavier, but more people have taken that path.
Pick Houston to reach the Elite 8
BPI likes Michigan less than most -- it isn't going to overemphasize a late-season run -- so it doesn't think Houston's road to the Elite 8 is that tough. Of course, this involves getting past UNC, too, but we never said this would be easy. Only 4 percent of people think it could happen, but BPI says there's a 16 percent shot.
Pick Auburn to reach the Elite 8
More likely (20 percent) and more picked (10 percent) than Houston, but there's still value here. And more likely if the aforementioned Seton Hall upsets Kansas ahead of time!
You want to get reckless
Pick Cincinnati to win the NCAA tournament
Here's the thing: this isn't crazy at all. We think there's a 10 percent shot of the Bearcats stunning the nation with a win. Now you just need to be the one to stun your co-workers by showing them you saw it coming.
Push Davidson into the Sweet 16, Seton Hall into the Elite 8 and Houston into the Final Four
Same picks as above, just more extreme. You have to go on a limb, here OK? Davidson has an 18 percent chance to win two games and the other two schools have a 7 percent chance to pull off their respective feats.
Pick Buffalo to defeat Arizona
DeAndre Ayton might be the next NBA superstar, but that doesn't mean Arizona is unbeatable.
Send New Mexico State to the Sweet 16
What? It's not like the Aggies have to play Clemson and Auburn in football.
BONUS: Pick Pennsylvania to beat Kansas
Only if you're feeling extra wild. Or if you're in a seed-multiplying pool, in which case the Quakers should be a mortal lock in your bracket.