"March Madness" Office Pool - Tips for Winning

Most avid sports fans in America would agree that there is nothing quite like the excitement and drama of March Madness, the NCAA’s college basketball 64 team tournament. The festive competition begins in March and a National Champion is crowned in early April.

According to Reuters, 18 percent of American workers participate in an office pool:

In addition, a big thrill for me over the years has been filling out a bracket sheet and participating in a variety of office pools. In a typical office, each person picks who they think will win the games in each round and chooses a National Champion. Each round is assigned points and the winner is the person with the most points. For those not familiar with this tournament, please see the link below for more information.


Most office pools have an entrance fee (per sheet) and monetary prizes for the top winners. Prize money is determined by how many people participate. I have been participating with a New York City group since the early part of the decade and I LOVE the competition!

The following three points are why I want to share some tips:

1) Since 2003, I have won the top prize in the NYC pool 4 times in 7 years. This year, I was once again in position to win with over 90 sheets entered.

2) I played Division 1 Basketball at the University of Vermont for 4 years which gives me a big advantage as I know college basketball better than most.

3) I approach the competition very strategically with little or no allegiance to any one team.

Gswede (above) loves the excitement of March Madness!

Below are some tips to help you win in your office. While this advice won’t guarantee you success, it can help you to place amongst the top 5 participants.

A) During the college basketball season, watch as many games as you can. If not, follow the teams (especially the top 25) via newspaper or Internet.

B) Before filling out your sheet(s), do as much research as you can on the regular season and the season ending conference tournaments. I typically spend 3-5 hours reviewing all aspects of the season as well as reading the opinions of experts who I respect.

C) Make sure you know ALL the key injuries to players especially on the top teams. If a star player is hurt and will miss several or all games, that fact should be a main consideration while filling out your sheet(s).

D) Enter more than 1 sheet. You want to make sure there is a backup in case one of your sheets does poorly.

E) The first round is crucial even though the points per game are the lowest. Know which teams are likely to upset higher seeds and look at past performance. If your college team is playing, NEVER pick them unless they are a top notch program. My college was in the tournament 3 years in a row and I didn’t pick them even though they upset Syracuse one year. If you don’t know the teams well, picking all higher seeds (only in round 1) will usually give you a good first round score.

F) Because the top programs often get the best high school players, only 8 -10 teams generally have a chance to win the national championship every year. Make sure your sheet(s) reflects that.

G) Always respect past champions. I was shocked this year because only a few people in my office pool picked the University of Connecticut to win the championship even though they have won it two times in the past decade.

H) Be strategic with your picks. I cannot reveal my strategy but I can tell you that EVERY pick on my sheet is thought about carefully and strategically. My formula is consistent year after year thus I am able to perform well. In addition, I always have one sheet I fill out from my gut. This year, that “gut feeling” sheet was the only one of my sheets that had a chance to win the top prize.

I) Look for the coaches and teams who have been rising throughout the years. Villanova is one of those teams, having been successful over the past 8 years yet never making it to the Final Four in that span of time until this year.

Before the Final Four teams began play yesterday, there were only 8 scenarios for a national champion. My sheet was guaranteed to win the top prize in 5 of those 8. Another player was guaranteed to win in the other 3. After the remaining four teams are known each year, it is my goal to be in position to claim the top prize (not the lower ones) and I usually am.

Even though I had better odds to win, it will not happen this year because the University of Connecticut lost to Michigan State yesterday thereby making it impossible for me to have the winning sheet. I will take home a prize though; 5th, 6th or 7th place depending on the combined final score in the championship game.

The man who won this year had a phenomenal sheet and thwarted my chance to win the pool in consecutive years since I won in 2008. I congratulated him today via email as he deserved the #1 spot.

It is never fun to lose yet I have a great time competing and this year was no exception. I am looking forward to 2010!

Who will have their “Shining Moment” on Monday night? With the firepower that North Carolina brings to the court, it will be extremely difficult for Michigan State to beat them.

Good luck in your office pool next year.

Happy Gswede Sunday!

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