Friday, May 15, 2015

Meet the Man Who Correctly Picked all 64 Tournament Teams

Millions of people fill out a March Madness bracket every year. Some do it for contests that offer big-money prizes. Others do it for the chance to come out on top of the office pool. Others do it just for fun, to be able to say they 'called' an upset or to measure their prediction abilities.
Bryan Johnston

The one common denominator amongst the hundreds, thousands, millions of individuals that fill out brackets every spring is that they do so after the sixty-eight* teams have been selected and seeded.

Can you imagine trying to pinpoint what teams would make the tournament to begin with? Even with the assistance of analysis and rankings, to narrow down several hundred teams to not just the best sixty-four, but the same sixty-four that the committee will select? 

Bracketology is not just for basketball, either - some folks venture into that territory for softball, as well.

Today, we introduce you to the man that did just that, correctly selecting all sixty-four NCAA tournament-bound softball teams. Meet Bryan Johnston, media relations contact for football, wrestling, and softball at Virginia Tech.

A member of the Hokies athletic department since the year 2000, he says his venture into softball bracketology began about ten years ago. “When we were on the bubble, I started looking at the teams around us. I made a spreadsheet comparing us to them, and it kind of took off from there.” He adds, “It has become a tradition, plus our coach likes to look at it to see how we’re looking for postseason. It’s kind of both a guilty pleasure and a useful tool for work.”

Lest you think the perfect 64-64 is a fluke, Johnston has consistently reached the sixties with his correct prediction, usually missing just one or two. Though he would have the impressiveness of such consistency downplayed, he makes a good point when adding “Honestly, sixty teams are locks, either by one of the automatic bids or they’re so high in the RPI that you know they’re going to get in. It comes down to those teams usually in the 38-50 range in the RPI, looking at the important numbers, and a little bit of luck.”

The Panthers of Pittsburgh were the team that made Johnston’s round of sixty-four perfect, though he almost didn’t include them in the field at all. “I got an added advantage of seeing Pitt play really well at the ACC Tournament in Blacksburg, so I knew they were hot,” he says. Despite a median RPI, but thanks to convincing wins and a solid performance in the championship final persuaded Johnston to make a last-minute change early Sunday morning, adding Pitt to his projected field and removing Long Beach State; “It was more of a gut instinct to change them right before lunch.”

Always go with your gut.

What's the method to the madness? Johnston says he begins bracketology analysis in April, while “who’s in, who’s out” predictions pick up steam in the weeks directly leading up to the selection show. RPI, strength of schedule, and performance against top 25 and top 50 teams are the prime criteria he uses to set his field.

No homerism goes into the picks, either. “I pick with my head, not my heart,” Johnston says. “That’s my number one rule. If I think we’re in, I’ll put us in and tell [head coach Scot Thomas] that. If I don’t think we’re in, I tell him that too. I’m not superstitious at all because I know it’s a numbers game and what I put on my sheet has no affect on the outcome.”

Johnston adds that he may try to go a step further next year and predict the sixteen national seeds and host locations, in addition to the field of sixty-four. For now, though, he can dwell on perfection.

* The NCAA basketball tournament features four play-in games for the final four spots in the round of sixty-four, so sixty-eight teams technically are selected, though four are eliminated before bracket play begins.

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