March 14, 2002

Bracket Madness

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Do you know why they call it March Madness?

For me, it’s because I get real freakin’ mad when nine of my Sweet 16 teams get bounced in the first round. If I were ever in contention in any of my pools by the time the final game rolled around, then April Anger might be the better term, because I’ve picked just one winner in the eight years I’ve been filling out brackets.

That’s the thing with the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It’s damn near impossible to predict. Technically, the odds of picking just the first round correctly is 4,294,967,296 to one. Admittedly, it’s a little easier than that because the games aren’t between evenly matched teams. But I’m sure the actual odds aren’t much better.

I tried to figure out the odds of picking the entire bracket correctly, but I don’t have a figure for you because my calculator imploded somewhere in the Elite Eight. So you’re on your own there.

To give you an idea of how hard it is to push all the right buttons when filling out your bracket, direct yourself to last year’s NCAA Men’s Tournament Challenge. Close to 700,000 brackets were entered. Out of those hundreds of thousands of entrants, how many would you suppose went 16-for-16 after two rounds? That would be zero. And only six picked 15 teams right. On the other hand, 205 didn’t get a single Sweet 16 team right.

To console people like those 205, one of the pools I enter yearly offers a refund to the person who finishes last. Unfortunately, it’s as hard to finish last as it is to finish first, so I can’t even win my money back by losing.

All kinds of crazy formulae have attempted to predict the winner of the tournament. These range from going with the teams that have to travel the least to the game sites to choosing the team whose mascot you think would win in a fight.

For example, the Miami Hurricanes take on the Missouri Tigers in Albuquerque, N.M. in the first round. Going on the mascot theory, the Hurricanes should win, since you don’t mess with the wrath of nature. On the flipside, Missouri is closer to Albuquerque than Miami.

Combining those two theories, I picked Duke to win it all, because it plays all its games in the South and a Blue Devil probably has some sort of paranormal power. Duke is also ranked first, but I swear that had nothing to do with my choice. Really.

The truth is, you need very little knowledge of college basketball to win your pool. In 10th grade, some kid in my English class filled out his bracket by picking the favorite in each game. Never mind the fact that he couldn’t pick Dick Vitale out of a police lineup even if Dickie V repeatedly yelled, “Upset City! PTPer! It’s tournament time, baby!” The kid won the pool.

On the other hand, my best friend from back home couldn’t buy a break in our pools, despite following college basketball inside-out for the entire season.

Here at the Sun, the motivation to enter our March Madness pool is the chance at earning bragging rights for beating the sports section, which someone from Daze will probably end up doing.

The point of these anecdotes is that no matter how much you follow college basketball, you can’t foresee what’s going to happen in 63 games over the course of three weeks.

Men’s basketball head coach Steve Donahue, who’s been involved in Division I basketball for 12 years, gave us his picks for this year’s tournament. Although I have nothing but the highest praise for Donahue as a person and a coach, picking McNeese St. and Central Connecticut in the first round is a bold, bold move.

Then again, his picks will probably beat mine by a long shot, so I can’t criticize too much. After all, we’re publishing his bracket, not mine, at least not until the April Fools’ joke issue.

Archived article by Alex Fineman