I think I can beat Bing Predicts.
To prepare, I've purposely avoided most of the endless chatter of TV, radio and online experts' predictions, as well as tips on how to select the perfect bracket, because it's really an inexact science. The odds of that are 1 in 9 quintillion, which as I've pointed out before, looks like this: 9,000,000,000,000,000,000.
Instead, I'm testing my knowledge -- and luck -- against Bing. Man vs. Machine, if you will. Why? Well, last year, despite my bracket being busted by the second day, I correctly chose two Final Four teams, compared with only one for Bing.
Eventually, we both ended up losing -- Villanova won the national title in a last-second buzzer beater for the ages. This year, Bing is picking Villanova by 73 percent to win again, while I'm taking Duke to win its second title in three seasons. Besides, according to Vegas, I'm coolly playing the odds: Duke is 5-to-1 favorite to win, compared with 8-to-1 for Villanova.
This is WAR!
So why do we turn into March Madness maniacs? The NCAA tourney is among the most widely followed sporting events in the country. More than 40 million Americans will fill out brackets this year for pots totaling $10.4 billion, according to the American Gaming Association. Nearly 24 million of those brackets will come from office pools at work, said Andy Christmas, vice president of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. This year's tournament could cost employers as much as $2.1 billion in lost wages due to distracted workers, he said.
Many may use Bing's bracket, which is designed to help non-basketball fans look smart. Last year, the bracket fared better than 70 percent of the record-setting 13 million brackets in ESPN.com's competition.
Yet this year, after all of its millions of data points, using 15 years of NCAA statistics, analytics and search terms frequencies, Bing is playing it pretty safe (my word) by picking 'Nova, the tourney's top overall seed, to win the championship again.
"They're a very strong and efficient team built to make another long run," Walter Sun, a Bing Predicts data scientist, told me during a chat Wednesday. He counters that the defending national champion this season has a 31-3 record by making nearly 50 percent of its shots, 80 percent of its free throws and playing solid defense.
But look at my bracket below. I'm riding with Duke, which last week won four games in four days to collect its conference tournament championship. And if Duke endures all the way to the Final Four, it will have beaten Villanova -- in potentially the best matchup of this tourney -- during the East regional final.
"I just think Duke is on fire right now, and when it comes to the tourney, I try to pick a team that's on a roll," I told Bing's Sun. "I personally think it's a curse to be a No. 1 seed."
In fact, I ended up picking all four of the tourney's No. 2 seeds (Duke, Arizona, Louisville and Kentucky) to make the Final Four. Bing, interestingly, did the same, with the exception of Villanova.
But I think brackets are won or lost on the first two days of the tournament, and this is where Bing and I differ vastly.
For example, in the battle between "smart" schools, Bing said West region No. 9 seed Vanderbilt has a 57 percent chance to beat No. 8 seed Northwestern, which is making its first NCAA tourney appearance EVER! Sun said Vandy's "body of work" gives it a slight edge over Northwestern, which lost by 28 points in its last game.
"It took Northwestern nearly 80 years to get to the Big Dance, they aren't going to blow this opportunity," I said. "They are at least going to get past the first round."
Bing and I also disagree on its picks of Princeton handily beating Notre Dame, South Carolina defeating Marquette and North Carolina-Wilmington upsetting Virginia. Wilmington has lost only three times in 2017 -- two of those losses were by one point each -- while Virginia was 6-7 down the stretch, Sun said.
"Millions and millions of brackets are going to get busted early, just like last year," I said to Sun. "Trust me."
Sun is confident that Bing will get the best of me and also benefit fans using its picks for some advice.
"We hope that our data matches their intuition," he said. "And for those who really don't know basketball, but want to play for the fun of it, use it as a guide because they just might win."
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