Picking a Winner: Tournament Time

I will admit that college sports is not my area of expertise. I don’t follow it on a regular basis, other than the residual criticism on shows like Pardon the Interruption and Around the Horn. Even then, it’s harping on either the inadequacy of the Bowl Championship Series in College Football, a simmering scandal involving boosters or other improprieties, or the ramifications of some player’s season on his NFL or NBA draft status. With that being said, I still fill out an NCAA Tournament bracket every year. No, not to win the office pool the mail room guys set up. Nor is it for the considerable sums of money that Yahoo and ESPN put up as prizes to those who prognosticate the tournament correctly – well, it’s partly for the money.

I fill out the brackets for the same reason the casual fan watches the World Cup, Daytona 500, and Indianapolis 500 even though they have no intention of watching any of those sports. It is the big event in those respective sports, where drama takes hold and everything hangs in the balance. A season is made or broken on a bounce, a call, a timeout that the team doesn’t have.

In the beginning, when I was younger and less experienced with sports, I used to cut out the bracket in the back of the New York Daily News. I would fill it out without any rhyme or reason, picking crazy upsets and having my eventual alma mater, Manhattan College, winning the whole thing on more than on occasion. Thankfully, I learned more about the history of the tournament and the trends of upsets, because no one can really take a person who picks all sixteen seeds over all one seeds seriously.

My system for picking is not based on throwing a knife at a wall or the colors of their uniforms. The rumblings I hear on PTI and ATH, in addition to the basic trends and my perception of certain coaches, help to put everything together. That last factor has hurt me in the past, particularly with Jim Calhoun of Connecticut. When I sit down and look over the brackets, I, like everyone else, have to keep in mind that all number one seeds will not make it to the Final Four, eight and nine seeds are a toss up, and at least one five seed will lose to a twelve seed.

Even with these guidelines, picking the brackets is by no means easy. Other than either alumni of George Mason or family of the players on George Mason, who could predict the run the Patriots made in last year’s NCAA Tournament? With that seed planted, it is very tempting to elevate most of the mid-major programs over the more established programs like Duke, Kansas, and North Carolina. What goes unsaid by all the pundits about “this year’s George Mason” is that Cinderella’s carriage turned back into a pumpkin once she reached the Final Four.

In the Midwest bracket, Florida, Arizona, Butler, Maryland, Winthrop, Oregon, Georgia Tech, and Wisconsin will advance to the Second Round. Florida, Butler, Oregon, and Wisconsin will advance to the Regional Semifinals, with Florida and Oregon advancing to the Regional Finals.

The East bracket will advance as such: North Carolina, Arkansas, Texas, George Washington, Washington State, Texas Tech, and Georgetown. North Carolina will meet Texas and George Washington will face Georgetown in the Regional Semifinals, with Texas facing Georgetown in the Finals.

Out in the West bracket, Kansas, Villanova, Illinois, Southern Illinois, Duke, Pittsburgh, Gonzaga, and UCLA will go to the Second Round, with Villanova, Southern Illinois, Pittsburgh, and UCLA moving on. Villanova and UCLA will advance to the Regional Finals.

The South bracket will send Ohio State, Xavier, Tennessee, Virginia, Louisville, Texas A&M, Creighton, and Memphis to the Second Round. Ohio State, Tennessee, Louisville, and Memphis will survive and advance to the Regional Semifinals, with Ohio State facing Louisville in the Finals.

The University of Florida will use the SEC title victory to propel itself back to the Final Four out of the Midwest. In the East, the more complete team of Georgetown will take out forward Kevin Durant and the University of Texas. Coach Jay Wright will lead Villanova over UCLA and coach Ben Howland, claiming the West’s bid. The youth of the Ohio State Buckeyes, especially center Mr. Greg Oden and guard Mike Conley Jr., will move on out of the South. In the National Championship, the Georgetown Hoyas will squeak by the Florida Gators – maybe not a classic, but good enough to keep you glued to the couch.

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