Last year I was of the opinion that you needed to hit the At Larges as soon as you lost faith in what was available to you in the regualr leagues... Of course I also pulled a big CJ and fell in love with a couple of those teams and went too early.
In retrospect, I think waiting until the end is the far-and-away best idea... maybe not the last round, but certainly not before the last 3 rounds.
The difference is that in all the regular leagues there's a HUGE difference between the best team and the 10th-best team... IU should be good for at least, what?... 14 or 15 wins minimum (assuming nothing bad happens)? But Iowa or Northwestern probably aren't good for much more than 5 or 6 at best... So you do NOT want to be stuck with Iowa or Northwestern...
but in the At-Larges, I can come up with a list of 14 teams, the best of which might be good for 18 wins... and the 14th of which is probably good for 13 wins minimum.
I'm going to have to be REALLY sure there's nothing left in a regular league before I spend a 4th or 5th round pick on a team that I could get the same value with the final pick of the draft.
I just have to prevent myself from falling in love with any of those teams... so I'm not looking at them too deeply at the moment... I know that I think there are 3 really good, strong teams in the At-Large who just probably can't do worse than 16 wins... then there is another group of 2 or 3 I think are really safe...
After that they all look alike to me and I think all of them will get between 13 and 15 wins...
When you can have your pick of Gonzaga, Penn, Holy Cross and Bucknell with the LAST pick of the entire draft, I think its okay, even if Penn isn't going to get you the same number of wins other teams might.
I'm going late.
But like I say, there's still time for me to convince myself that some team out there is Jennifer Connelly... last year Maryland was Jennifer Connelly and Marist was Selma Hayek for me. And both turned out to be over-picks on my part.
Last year I was determined to wait until the final round. I was hoping most of the others would also. Since I drafted first in the final round, that would mean I'd get an early at-large team.
But almost everyone jumped a little early, and I ended up with a poor at-large team. I think only a couple or 3 people ended up with worse at-larges.
So I'm now thinking I may need to move in the 7th or 8th round for an A-L. But I don't anticipate moving any sooner than that. Considering my draft position, I don't think I want to wait until the 9-10 of the draft again...7-8 turn is probably where I'll go.
The question isn't whether your at-large team was better or worse than other people's at-large teams who drafted at-larges earlier than you. The question is whether your at-large team + the team you drafted in the earlier round is better than the other person's at-large + the team they drafted in the last round. Right?
For example, CJ got 3 more wins from Marist last year (3rd round) than you got from NW State (10th round). Was that a bad call? Well, you got 19 wins from VCU (3rd round) and CJ got 6 wins from Iowa State (10th round). By my arithmetic, you got 10 more wins overall in the 3rd and 10th round than CJ, so it's not useful at all to point out that drafting his at-large earlier netted CJ 3 more wins from his at-large than you.
The way I look at it, it's simple. The at-larges basically comprise a single, huge conference with over 150 teams. The 14th best team in that mega-conference, drafted in the 10th round, is almost certainly better than the 9th best team in the Big Ten taken in the 10th round.
I drafted my at-large in the 9th round last year, and in retrospect, I think that was too early.
There's more variable to it than that, but in a nutshell, that's right... I think the ONLY reasons to get an At-Large before your last pick would be:
1) You're convinced that the pool of available teams remaining in all the conferences is essentially identical for all the remaining picks... so if you get to the 3rd round and you're just POSITIVE that there are 100 teams left on the board in all the conferences that are all going to get the same amount of wins more or less, then ther'es value in trying to get the 2 or 3 extra wins you'd get picking At-Large early.
2) You think the pool of At-Larges is either significantly stratified (that there are 4 or 5 or fewer teams that are really going to win 5 more games than any other teams), or significantly weak.
3) That you fall irrationally in love with a certain At-Large team and can't bear the thought that someone else will have her in his bed.
3 is irrational, 2 is pretty unlikely, and 1 you should know better...
However, 1 makes maybe more sense as you get deeper into play... if its the 8th round and you can't tell the difference between any of the last 30 or 40 teams, then maybe there is value in trying to get 3 or 4 more wins.
But if I'm in the 8th round and I see maybe 8 teams left on the board that I think will maybe get me 3 or 4 more wins than anyone else, I'm goign for one of those first. I'll only go At-Large when I think there will not be any significant difference in wins in any of my remaining picks.
I think there's two factors to consider when drafting a team - expected wins and variability. Basically the average and the standard deviation. The thing about the late rounds is that not only do the expected wins go down, the range of reasonable expected results increases as well. So you've got teams where you might say, "Hmmm... I think this team will win 4 games, but it's easy to picture them winning anything from 8 to 0 games." This is the difference-maker for the at-larges, IMO. Even in the 10th round, their expected range is not nearly as variable as the late-round conference picks.
I'll also mention that the strategy I use in the late rounds (which, it goes without saying, fails me everytime), is to treat variability as a positive rather than a negative. I'll choose the team that will probably win 2 games but could conceivably win 8 games over the team that will safely win 4 games, but no more than 5 and no fewer than 3. I convince myself that eventually a couple of my longshots will come through in a single season and that'll make all the difference for me. They never do.
And by draft day I'll probably convince myself to do the same damn thing again.
I took Boise at 7, and they turned out good for the last team taken in the 7th round.
But I was hung-up on what to do with the other pick at the 7-8 turn. The pickings looked slim in the standard leagues by that point with the noticable exception of the Horizon.
Only 3 teams had so far been claimed, so all I had to do was pick the 4th best team in a 9-team league. But there was no telling 4 through 9 apart, so I winged a guess with Wi-Mil and missed badly.
I could have taken an A-L team at that point, and easily gotten 3 more wins than the A-L I settled for at the 9-10 turn (Nwstn St).
Wi-Mil ended up being lousy. I'm guessing I would have come pretty close to their number of wins from someone else at the 9-10 turn.
So in my particular case of last year, I think I could have come up with a couple more total wins if I'd taken an A-L at the 7-8 turn.
But you never know. I distinctly remember having the team you ended up taking high on my list and could have drafted them (Jackson St). But I also had the roto-disaster named Robert Morris, that ended up plaguing Ashton, near the top of my chart too.