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Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2008, 12:33 p.m.

Las Vegas analyst offers tips on filling out your NCAA bracket

LAS VEGAS — Nine point two quintillion.
The number nine followed by 18 more digits.
Two to the 63rd power.
It sounds like a number from the realm of physics or astronomy, not sports.
It’s also the number of possible standard brackets that could be filled out for the NCAA Tournament, according to Las Vegas sports betting analyst R.J. Bell.
In other words, Bell said, if everyone on the planet were to complete a random bracket, the odds would be 1.5 billion to 1 against anyone having a perfect bracket.
All is not hopeless, though. A set of basic strategies based on the outcomes of previous tournaments can boost your chances of submitting a successful bracket, said Bell, who analyzes the single-elimination field from what he calls a “macro perspective.” (Basically, he’s a big-picture guy.)
“This approach is not team-specific and it doesn’t have much to do with any of the specific matchups,” said Bell, proprietor of the betting Web site Pregame.com. “For someone who’s a novice and filling out a bracket, being able to cross out a certain number of teams as they go through each round can simplify the process.”
In the first round, for instance, Bell advises backing teams seeded higher than No. 12 sparingly, if at all. (By “higher,” we mean the higher seed number, or a team considered worse than an opponent with a lower seed number.)
That makes sense, considering the 13th through 16th slots are typically filled by teams with automatic tournament bids, often from the weakest conferences.
A No. 16 seed has never upset a No. 1 seed (0-for-92), No. 15 seeds are just 4-for-92 straight up, and teams seeded 13 and 14 have won fewer than 18 percent of their first-round games combined in the past 23 years.
Bell advises paying special attention to No. 12 seeds, which have won 11 of 28 times against No. 5 seeds in the past seven years, and No. 9 seeds -- which historically hold their own against No. 8 opponents.
In his 2007 book, “Weighing the Odds in Sports Betting,” author King Yao also recommends considering No. 12 seeds, because the point spread is often tighter than you would expect in a 5-12 matchup.
As a result, bracket-pool participants who are not point-spread-savvy overrate No. 5 seeds, according to Yao. This allows backers of No. 12 seeds to pull away from the pack in pool standings when minor upsets occur.
In this week’s 5-12 matchups, Drake is favored by 4 points against Western Kentucky in Las Vegas sports books; Michigan State by 6 1/2 against Temple; Clemson by 6 against Villanova; and Notre Dame by 6 1/2 against George Mason.
Other trends advanced by Bell:
-- No. 1 seeds win their first two games 87 percent of the time. By contrast, teams seeded higher than 12 falter in the second round. Just six of the 368 teams that have advanced past Round 2 were seeded higher than 12th.
-- When working the Sweet 16 portion of your bracket, play the percentages and figure exactly three No. 1 seeds will advance to the Elite 8.
-- Just two Final Four teams in the past 23 years have been seeded higher than No. 8.
-- No team higher than No. 6 has made it to the title game in 22 years, and the champion has been seeded No. 4 or lower for 19 consecutive years.
“These events have occurred a disproportionate amount of times,” Bell said. “If you go against it, you’re really bucking the math.”
Although just 1 percent of the estimated $12 billion wagered on the NCAA Tournament will take place in Las Vegas, Nevada is the only state with legal sports betting. The remainder is driven by old-fashioned illegal bookies and online sports books based offshore.
The Las Vegas Hilton sports book made UCLA, at 7-2, the favorite to the win the tournament after Sunday’s draw, and the Bruins also command the biggest point spread of the first round, as a 32 1/2-point favorite against Mississippi Valley State. Pick the Delta Devils in an upset at your own risk.
“After 92 losses in a row, I don’t see things getting any better for the No. 16 seeds this year,” Bell said.
Story tags » BasketballNCAA Basketball

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