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Economic angles to the NCAA bracket pool

With 3 hours to get your picks in, you can listen to the experts, or the economists, as you fill out your bracket. Here are some tips from economists:

--Peek at the point spreads. "If you're going to pick some underdogs in the first round, check the Vegas line to see what the experts think," says Andrew Weinbach, an economics professor at Savannah's Armstrong Atlantic State. "It has been consistently demonstrated that Las Vegas point spreads are, on balance, very reliable and unbiased predictors of the outcome of the games.

"In basketball, as in horse racing, the long shots sometimes win, but it's important to know whether the horse has a tender foot or a broken leg."

--Don't go too bonkers picking upsets. "Too often, too much thought goes into the whole darn thing," says Justin Wolfers, assistant professor of business and public policy at Penn's Wharton School. "You're often best to stick with the strongest teams and forget all the reverse-reverse-reverse psychology.

"There's a reason that favorites are the favorite: They tend to win."

My advice? The pools are puzzles. If you like puzzles, dawdle over your picks and enjoy the process. Otherwise, combine the Wolfers and Weinbach approach, and try to grab a couple of "soft" upsets.

If you want to consider the "weak guards" and "strong defense" philosophies you can waste many hours of office time. For advice on how to do that, see the full compilation of angles from Jeff D'Allessio at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

And there is always the possibility that your office pool is poorly designed. In which case you can adopt the Craig Newmark approach, which both capitalizes on the error, and forces an improvement in pool design for subsequent contests.

Update: Via the comments, Mike Giberson points out another market-based indicator, which he discusses at Knowledge Problem.