By Kevin York
I’m writing this post right after filling out my NCAA March Madness bracket, but you’ll be reading it Thursday afternoon at a point where it already may well be completely destroyed. I spent the last 45 minutes plus agonizing over which teams to pick. And that’s an improvement over years past. Typically I’ll spend that much time completing my bracket in one sitting. Then the next day I spend another 20 minutes or so reviewing my bracket, changing picks, changing them back, and finally leaving them blank. The following day I’ll come back and spend at least another 20 minutes making final decisions. So, this year I streamlined (people love that word, don’t they?) the process, waited until the night before first-round games and finished the whole thing in one sitting.
I decided to do sort of a live journal, Bill Simmons style, talking through my picks. This will show how completely irrational filling out a bracket is, at least for me. But I venture it’s this way for everyone – man, woman, knowledgeable, unknowledgeable, superstitious, facts-driven.
I’ll start this out by saying I have never won a bracket pool. Ever. I don’t think I’ve ever even come close, but I continue to do it every year, joining at least one pool, usually several. And I use the exact same bracket in each and every pool. Why? Because in the off chance that I do well, I want to win big. Not just win one pool but win them ALL. Of course, this has never happened. Ever. Never come close. You know this because I already stated it, but it’s worth stating again to show how irrational it is.
“But Kevin, wouldn’t it make sense to change some things up and complete different brackets?”
Yes. Yes, it would. But, when I get into March Madness, I lose all sensibility. I’m usually pretty data-driven in my choices. That’s not the case with filling out my bracket. Not at all. I go with my gut.
I’ll also say that I can’t stand it when people go with straight chalk, picking the favorites to play the odds and increase their chances of winning money. This isn’t about money. It’s about bragging rights. Anyone can say Louisville, as the overall top seed, will win the whole thing. That’s easy. It takes balls to say that 14 seed Northwestern State will beat 3 seed Florida. And luck. It should also be noted that I don’t have the balls to make that Northwestern State pick, but I respect you if you had the balls to make that pick. I really respect that. You went out on a limb and didn’t just go the easy route. My point is this – I like to take some chances. It’s more fun. Way more fun than just trying to win money. Did I really just type that? Yes, yes I did. See? Irrational.
Anyway, let’s get to my actual picks:
- The first big self-debate was to pick Oklahoma State or “expert” hot choice #12 seed Oregon. I think there’s too much buzz around Oregon. There’s no way they’re going to sneak up on OK State and surprise them. That means Oregon actually has to be better. The PAC 12 was horrible this year. Beyond horrible. The Big 12 wasn’t great, but respectable. I chose OK State.
- To show you how much the experts know, I felt like everywhere I turned earlier this week I heard about Middle Tennessee State. It was almost a foregone conclusion that they’d beat St. Mary’s and get into the round of 64. Turns out they couldn’t get past St. Mary’s. I started my bracket with this in mind… It may have influenced me to go against the so called experts more than usual.
- I wanted to pick my alma mater, Valparaiso, but when I saw their match-up I hated it. Michigan State in Ann Arbor. That’s practically a home game for Tom Izzo’s Spartans. He always has them ready for the tournament. I almost picked Valpo because one of SI’s “experts” mentioned that Valpo is the most experienced team in Division I basketball. I wanted to go with my heart but I couldn’t.
- Somehow I didn’t have another tough pick (let me define tough as spending 5 minutes or more staring at my computer screen) until my regional final of Louisville versus Duke. I think Duke is highly underrated (as does Ryan). I also happen to think Louisville is highly overrated. In a year with such parity, how do 80% of college basketball analysts all pick the Cardinals to win the whole shebang? I just don’t see it. Somehow Rick Pitino’s squad is getting all the credit in the world now after winning the Big East tournament. I’ll let the experts have their Cardinals. I went with the Dukies behind the play of Mason Plumlee, Ryan Kelly and Seth Curry.
- I should start out the West region by saying for years I’ve picked Gonzaga to make deep runs in the tournament, like Elite Eight and Final Four deep. Year-after-year. And year-after-year they ruin me. Why do I continue to pick them? I like the underdog. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Bulldogs. And then there’s the other reason – at some point Gonzaga is going to go on a deep run. It will of course be the year I don’t pick them to go deep. So out of fear, I’ve continued to take them deep in my bracket.
- I don’t like the PAC 12. I don’t like Arizona. I like Belmont. That was fairly simple for a guy that picked zero upsets in the first region he filled out. I just realized I picked no upsets in the Midwest. Straight chalk. I kind of hate myself for it.
- Everyone says Pitt would give Gonzaga problems because of their physicality. Screw logic. Gonzaga is my team.
- Wisconsin is a team that will bore you to death as a viewer while they’re beating their opponent to death. They’re slow and physical. Really physical. Wisconsin typically does well in the tournament and it was a strong Big Ten year so I went with the Badgers.
- I really wanted to pick New Mexico, but Ohio State is just so good.
- Gonzaga-Ohio State. Somehow I settled on Ohio State much sooner than I should’ve given my past relationship with Gonzaga. They just strike me as better all-around, more battle-tested at that stage of the tournament. This of course means this will be the year Gonzaga gets to the final. Put it on the board.
- North Carolina-Villanova was one of the hardest first round games for me to pick. I like both. I finally decided on UNC because I think they have more talent. They didn’t use it all during the year, but maybe come tournament time they will.
- Minnesota as an #11 seed versus UCLA as a #6 seed. Big Ten versus PAC 12. Obvious choice here with the Gophers (that’s a pick for Minnesota in case you don’t know their mascot).
- I really thought hard about picking Carolina over Kansas in the second round. Lots of internal debate on that one. Finally decided that Kansas is just the better team.
- I don’t think much of Kansas apparently. I wanted to pick Michigan to beat them in the Sweet Sixteen. And I did. How did Michigan end up as a 4 seed? Sure they finished 6-6, but over the course of the entire season, they were not a 4 seed.
- A lot of people love Florida. I don’t see it. The SEC was bad this year. Like on the same level of bad as the PAC 12. Yes, that bad. I have them running up against Georgetown in the Sweet Sixteen. Big East champ versus SEC champ? Why would I even debate this? It’s like the best tv show on Showtime against the best tv show on, Fox. No, Fox gives the SEC too much credit. They’re more like Spike TV. Yeah, that fits. Anyway, I went with Showtime (Georgetown).
- Georgetown over Michigan. I can’t really say why. Georgetown is another team I typically pick to go farther than they actually do. So Michigan will actually win this game. Or Georgetown will lose in the first or second round. I always lose a Final Four team early. It’s a sure thing. As sure as, I don’t know… I spent five minutes trying to think of a clever analogy and have nothing. Trust me. Sure thing.
- Cal-UNLV is another popular upset pick. It’s a #5-#12 game. Usually one of the four #5-#12 games results in an upset. And the game is being played in San Jose, essentially a home game for Cal. But then I come back to this – Cal plays in the PAC 12. Believe it or not, UNLV in the Mountain West played in a tougher conference this year. I went UNLV. Also, I picked zero #5-#12 upsets. I did pick two #6-#11 upsets.
- Complete chalk in the first round. I hate myself all over again.
- I like Butler over Marquette. Butler Coach Brad Stevens has a feel for the NCAA tournament. He also scouts the hell out of the teams he faces in the tournament. First upset in this region (it would turn out to be my only upset).
- I feel like Indiana is the most complete team in college basketball. I like them over Miami in the East regional final. This bracket was fairly straight forward.
So my Final Four is Duke, Ohio State, Georgetown and Indiana. Indiana over Duke in the national championship game.
Looking back over my bracket, I noticed I picked very few upsets. Much fewer than in year’s past. I don’t like this. I just don’t feel any more upsets. I need to feel an upset to pick it and I’m not feeling them this year. It makes me feel dirty, like that chalk guy I usually make fun of. Am I that guy?
This was an odd bracket year for me. I picked against Gonzaga in a year when they have a reasonable chance to not just make the Final Four but to actually win it all. I didn’t choose my alma mater. My alma mater. Who does that? Did I just complete a bracket using my head more than my gut, or heart? Maybe I did. I don’t feel good about it. But maybe that means I’ll fare better than in past years.