Tips to Win Your Pool in SI's Realtime Bracket Challenge From a Live Betting Expert

A realtime bracket challenge lets you avoid an early busted bracket, but you're going to need a strategy to know whether to ride out your original pick or make the call to switch.
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Are you ready to try our Realtime Bracket Challenge? Now you can lessen the odds of being knocked out of your pool early with a busted bracket thanks to the ability to switch picks in the middle of games. Granted, you shouldn’t be trying to switch your picks often in-game, since keeping and winning your original pick is how you get the maximum amount of points. Just remember that basketball is a game of runs and don’t overreact too early if your original pick is down 10 five minutes in.

Here are some tips to help you evaluate when and if to switch your picks this March.

Injuries/Foul Trouble

This is pretty straightforward: A team won’t be at its strongest if one or a few of its key players aren’t on the floor for extended periods of time. The most obvious example from conference tournament action was VCU, which lost its best player, Marcus Evans, against Rhode Island. VCU was rolling, up 26–18 over 13 minutes into the game, before Evans suffered his brutal injury.

It didn’t take much time to see that VCU was a completely different team without Evans. Rhode Island cut the deficit to three at the break and grabbed its first lead four minutes into the second half. While it was tight throughout the rest of the game, VCU clearly wasn’t the same on both ends of the floor. It would have been worth the gamble to switch the pick to Rhode Island at the under-8 or under-4 minute timeout.

An example of foul trouble in action from this past weekend was Ohio State-Michigan State. Buckeyes star big man Kaleb Wesson, who has a propensity to draw whistles, picked up his fourth foul on a flagrant 1 with 16:30 left in the game. Wesson is so critical for the Buckeyes because he’s easily their best presence down low. The game was tied at 40 when Wesson picked up his fourth, and by the time he came back in, Michigan State had extended its lead to 10. He fouled out less than 20 seconds later, and Michigan State made it a 21-point game with four minutes to go.

Shooting Regression

Teams can struggle from the field for long stretches, even ones with the most potent offenses. And on the other end of the spectrum, average or mediocre-shooting teams can catch fire. Identifying which shooting performances aren’t sustainable can be key for figuring out whether or not to make the switch.

One of my favorite examples this year happened in the regular season, in an ACC affair featuring Virginia and Louisville. The Cardinals led 37–27 at the half, but look at these shooting numbers: Louisville shot 10 for 16 from three while Virginia went 0 for 11. Even taking into account that Virginia is the much better shooting team, the fact that Louisville was only up 10 despite having a 30-point edge on three-point makes was concerning. The Cardinals had scored only seven points inside the arc, another big red flag. Despite the urge to switch your pick if you had Virginia, this was a prime spot to instead buy the Cavaliers.

Sure enough, Virginia outscored Louisville 37–15 in the second half to win by 12. While the Cavaliers only shot 2 of 6 from three in the second half, Louisville went 2 for 15. Once again, the Cardinals struggled inside the arc as well, scoring just nine points in the second half on non-threes.

So whether your pick is getting burned by a massive advantage from the other team with outside shooting or having bad luck on shots near the rim, be patient in the second half rather than jump ship too early at the break. Remember, once you switch your original pick, you can't get that max potential point total back.

Pace

A double-digit lead is much different in a North Carolina game (fifth in adjusted tempo, per KenPom) than in a Virginia game (353rd in adjusted pace). Fewer possessions in a game means fewer opportunities to score, which obviously can greatly impact a team’s chances of comeback.

Duke and UNC's ACC semifinal was a battle between two teams that not only have great offenses but also play at extremely fast paces. The Tar Heels raced out to a 13-point lead with 6:23 remaining in the first half. Instead of panicking about the Duke pick and thinking about switching, this was a game that had stronger potential for a comeback given how many possessions projected in this one. The Blue Devils cut it to a four-point deficit 87 seconds later, and made it a tie game at the half.

So remember, if you want to maximize your points, don’t make the switch unless things are really dire. There isn’t much of a difference in switching picks during the time between the end of halftime and the under-16 break (24 points) compared to the time between the end of the under-16 and under-12 breaks (22 points). The possible points you can get for your bracket then drops quickly if you switch between the under-12 and under-8 breaks (18 points) and between the under-8 and under-4 breaks (12 points). The key for a successful Realtime Bracket is to be as patient as possible with your picks, and keep in mind the tips above if you are thinking about switching.