How I Won 2014 NCAA Men’s Basketball Pools

JWH3 with check #1

Chance Entry into Two Basketball Pools

Reflecting back on March Madness 2014, I beat the odds before even parting with $10 to join two NCAA Men’s Basketball pools. How many 65-year old people (men no less) do you know who have never participated in this annual national tradition? You all know dedicated sports fans who have reviewed 64 teams with much hope and who (always with the exception of one lucky person) have dealt for two or so weeks with much disappointment. I was encouraged to join the first pool by my friend John during a casual dinner conversation with two other couples. A few nights later at our favorite hangout, the A1A Brewery in St. Augustine, I gave John a $5 bill and he passed it on to Ed the Organizer. Three days later, in a now annual tradition, Missy and I attended a Red Sox spring training game in Fort Myers. The Sox lost to the Phillies. Over a few beers before or after the game (or both), I told son Jason (a long-suffering Cubs fan as they all are) and fellow Red Sox fan and audiologist Allan and about my first entry into a basketball pool. They’d been doing it for years, of course, and after maybe a beer or two more I concluded “in for a penny in for a pound” (technically in for 1000 pennies instead of 500). It turns out there were about 250 people in the second pool, ably run by Allan’s friend Jude.

Seeking Evidence Through Research

With so much money invested in the basketball pool business, I couldn’t wait for the announcement on ESPN of most of the 64 teams who would compete for the 2014 Championship. I immediately constructed the framework for my brackets. Once I begin any new project, I quickly get totally focused on the task at hand. Some subconscious highly competitive spirit takes charge. For two days, I repeatedly reviewed the names of the 64 schools. I spent a few intense hours watching on TV dozens of self-proclaimed college basketball experts as they tediously constructed their personal brackets, while explaining in unnecessary detail the reasons for their decisions.  With a printed copy of the bracket form on a clipboard and holding a pen, I sifted through the sportscaster verbiage and slowly compiled my own brackets (JWH3 Brackets). The whole process seemed quite natural. It resembled the three-step process I follow regularly in my career as an audiology consultant: 1) Gather from “peer-reviewed sources” as much information as possible on a given topic; 2) Review the information thoroughly; 3) Analyze, distill, and summarize the information into a newly created form (like a PPT presentation or an expert witness opinion) directed to a specific target audience.


Head versus Heart

Talk basketball “bracketology” with someone and you’ll soon be discussing the merits of making decisions with your head versus heart.  For me the two strategies are not mutually exclusive. It makes sense to base each team decision on evidence like past performances, strength of conference and schedule, the coach, and any other facts you can find about the players. Go with your head if you don’t have any personal or emotional attachment to either team. However, don’t get yourself into game day head versus heart dilemmas created when the team you picked to win is playing against the team you desperately want to win.  There’s enough excitement watching close games when a little money is on the line without adding some head versus heart drama.


Here’s an example from my 2014 brackets of a head versus heart battle. I followed my own advice through four rounds and it really paid off (literally) but I then violated my principle and missed an opportunity for big points. I put my money on UCONN to win some early games. I considered it a heart and a head decision. In the early 1960s, former Coach Jim Calhoun was a basketball player at my undergrad alma mater, American International College. A few years after his graduation, I watched many a basketball game at AIC including one at the Division II championship tournament in Evansville Indiana. I grew up less than 20 miles from Storrs Connecticut, adding to the heart factor. One of my ancestors William Hall (1651-1727) was among the first settlers of the area in 1680. I ran the mile during indoor high school track meets at the UCONN field house, and I was accepted to UCONN for graduate school. Where’s the head in the decision? I have complete confidence in and respect for Kevin Ollie as a motivating and excellent defensive coach. Point guard Shabazz Napier and fellow team members were improving with each game. My heart and maybe one hemisphere of my brain were with UCONN. The good news is that I picked them to go to the Elite Eight. The bad news is that my other cerebral hemisphere and the sports pundits led me to select Michigan State for the Final Four. As a Northwestern University graduate, it’s unnatural for me to cheer for Michigan State, Ohio State, and most other Big Ten teams. In the game between the Huskies and Spartans, my heart was in charge from tip off to final basket. My only regret in the entire bracket selection process was the decision to give up on UCONN before they reached the Final Four. Failing to do so violated my core strategy. When push comes to shove, go with your gut and not your cerebral cortex.

A Core Strategy

This naïve beginner at basketball pools thinks it’s important to have a core strategy or game plan that guides bracket picks. Here’s my reasoning in a nutshell, using the 2014 teams as an example. At the time the 64 teams were selected, the University of Florida was the best college basketball team in the country. The evidence supported the Gators as a national champion contender. I was a faculty member for 12 years at UF. I gave my heart and soul to the University during that time, not to mention thousands of afterhours work as department chair. My head and heart were aligned for the Gators.  Only 3 teams managed to beat the Gators early in the season. Wisconsin was one. The sports experts were big on Wisconsin and they beat my #1 selection. The Badgers were an easy pick for the final four. Kentucky had come close to beating the University of Florida in three games. The Wildcats deserved a place in the Final Four. UCONN also beat the University of Florida early on. I watched the game and saw Shabazz nail a long shot in closing seconds to win the game. My head and heart pointed to UCONN as a Final Four, but I foolishly listened to the experts. Basketball pool veterans will probably all agree … You must pick some teams that most people will not select, some long shots that will make or break your bracket. I’ve enjoyed receiving two checks this year (see photograph on top) fully realizing that I may never win again.

You can also follow James W. (Jay) Hall III on Twitter. Be sure to visit his website:

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