Using reverse bracketology to make a splash in NCAA pool

FullSizeRender-1For the past 30 or 40 years I’ve spent Selection Sunday scribbling with a pencil, scanning with the TV remote, and scrolling on the Internet in hopes of filling out a winning tournament bracket. Armed with stats, a strategy and educated hunches from watching four months worth of college hoops, I’ve seen every March Madness end in April Sadness.

Time after time and year after year, my can’t-miss picks, well, missed. Sometimes respectably, like a second-place finish in a bar pool in 1998; sometimes embarrassingly, like last season when my three of my Final Four picks decided to hit the NCAA Tournament drive-through window with one-and-done showings. All that homework just to flunk the final hoops exam.

To add insult to injury, I’ve seen some unlikely winners float to the top of tourney pools. As a longtime sports writer, I’ve been in pools with a lot of so-called experts only to watch in amazement as some casual fan treats their bracket like a jumbo-sized lottery ticket. They simply pick high seeds, or schools they’ve heard of, or teams that wear the prettiest uniforms – whatever bizarre lack of logic they decide to use to somehow pick crazy upsets that come true.

In 2011, a friend’s dog won a pool I was playing in by picking teams with canine mascots and against those with cats. Of course, the UConn Huskies defeated the Butler Bulldogs in the championship game, and some lucky pooch won all the loot. It’s one thing to lose to a idiot who picks games based on heads and tails by flipping a coin; at least they have an opposable thumb. The thought of all that prize money being blown on doggie treats and tennis balls is infuriating.

So I’ve decided to take a new approach to filling out my bracket this year – complete ignorance. I’ve always said the college basketball season is meaningless since the only thing that matters is making the Big Dance, but this time I took my own advice and paid zero attention to this season. I even bailed out on watching all the conference tournament games last week. I have no business giving anyone advice on picking games this year, which is exactly why I’m going to win:

* East: The logical choice here is Villanova since it is a No. 1 seed and the defending national champion, but this bracket has nothing to do with logic. Give me No. 2 seed Duke since the Blue Devils always seem to make the Final Four. My upset picks to look out for are No. 12 UNC Wilmington over Virginia and No. 10 Marquette over No. 7 South Carolina.

* South: Here’s one tip I’ve learned after living in the Carolinas for two decades; if you want to win a pool you’re not going to do it by picking North Carolina. Even if the top-seeded Tar Heels win the whole thing, there are so many other brackets with UNC on top that it’s almost impossible to win the tiebreaker. Give me No. 2 Kentucky to beat out the Heels for the Final Four, and my upset pick is my alma mater, No. 12 Middle Tennessee State, over No. 5 seed Minnesota.

* Midwest: Again, No. 1 seed Kansas is going to appear on most brackets, but picking all top seeds is borrr-rrring. Give me No. 2 seed Louisville to make a run for the Final Four, and give me No. 11 Rhode Island in an upset for No. 6 Creighton. As a side note, if No. 7 Michigan’s plane slides off the runway when the Wolverines touch down for their first game, just like they did before winning the Big Ten Tournament, it might make a couple of adjustments.

* West: Everyone is talking about No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Arizona meeting for a trip to the Final Four, but you can’t just pick high seeds and hope to win. There’s always at least one long shot in semifinals and I’m digging deep in this one. No. not No. 3 Florida State or even No. 4 West Virginia, but No. 5 Notre Dame. My upset pick is No. 11 Xavier over No. 6 Maryland.

* Final Four: My sheet looks like the ACC Tournament instead of the NCAA, with three of the four hailing from the ACC. My bracket also features a pair of fun showdowns – a Bluegrass State clash between Louisville and Kentucky, and an ACC title game rematch between Duke and Notre Dame. Give me Duke over Kentucky in the championship game, and show me the money.

It seems any bonehead can fill out a winning bracket, and this year that bonehead will be me.

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