Worst heuristic ever for filling out your NCAA tournament brackets

Worse than the all Big Ten strategy.

Say you’re a loyal partisan living in Washington D.C. who doesn’t know much about college basketball. To keep your cognitive strain to a minimum, you adopt the red state/blue state strategy. The heuristic is simple. Pick teams from the blue states (or from red states). If two blue state teams play each other, pick the bluer one. If two teams from the same blue state play each other, revert to county level data. (Note: the same results would not apply if you used county level data the whole way through – but it’s computationally much more difficult.) The same logic applies for red states. If you’re a political junkie you can fill out your brackets in a few minutes.

The red state strategy yields an all Utah-Oklahoma final four (BYU, Utah, Oklahoma State, and Oklahoma), with BYU taking the crown. The blue state strategy yields a Boston College, Cornell, American University, and Syracuse final four with American winning the championship. The red state strategy is particularly lousy at the beginning. Three of the four No. 1 seeds get knocked off in the first round.


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