METHOD TO THE MADNESS
On the eve of the beginning of the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament, I was agonizing over my bracket. Last year,I laid a royal egg in failing to pick correctly any of the Final Four. I didn't even take Florida to the Sweet 16. It was then that a friend of mine, who admittedly can spout scores and statistics much faster than I can, gave me the advice that might win me my pool this year.
"Just pick favorites."
Favorites? All the time? He had to be joking. The NCAA tournament is famous year after year for being a breeding ground for unexpected drama. Nowheresville State knocks off North Carolina in the first round, a mid-major defeats Kansas in the second, etc. I know better than to think the favorites will always prevail in a college basketball tournament, or any tournament, for that matter. Plus, the thrill of correctly picking an upset supercedes any satisifaction in riding a packed bandwagon of one of the powerhouse schools.
But what argument could I make with him? I was so terrible last year that maybe "playing it safe" is the most intelligent risk (by my standards) that I could take. Never before have all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four. Could this be the year?
Why not?, I thought to myself. Not to mention, the Ohio State Buckeyes had just rolled over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship. I had already decided I was homering them to Atlanta. So, I went for it. And by going for it, I mean I didn't really go for it at all. For the most part, I picked favorites, including four one seeds to the Georgia Dome...
...with two notable and strategic exceptions: No. 7 UNLV and No. 6 Vanderbilt. I also stayed away from the Durant-driven Texas bandwagon and picked them to lose to the rejuvenated No. 5 USC Trojans.
Behind Lan Kruger, the Runnin' Rebels are back. He's cleaned up the program and gotten some good recruits the right way. Wisconsin limped into the tournament, tired and demoralized after a rough Big Ten tournament. The Rebels battered the Badgers, and one of my two upsets was complete.
Vanderbilt impressed me by beating Florida earlier this year. They got hot at the right time and have the leadership to win. The Commodores over the over-rated Wasington State? Sure1
Of course, the Buckeyes almost did the ultimate bracket-busting by nearly falling to Xavier (thank God for you, Ron Lewis.) Truthfully, we all know they should have lost to the Musketeers. But OSU "should have lost" so many games this year. The 2007 basketball squad kind of reminds me of the 2002 football team: the Luckeyes.
I'd rather be lucky than good any day, though, and so far, I have been.
As the Sweet 16 tips off tomorrow, all of my early-round fortune could prove to be fool's gold. I have Florida and North Carolina in the championship game, and Oregon and Georgetown concern me the most. The Buckeyes have Memphis or Texas A&M to deal with if they can edge Tennessee, a team who almost beat them in Columbus earlier this year and who scorched the nets for 121 points in their opening round game.
What's done is done, though. I "just picked favorites." If my friend, seemingly a sports world nostradamus, is right, I might just "win."
I'm not sharing a nickel with him, though. Not unless he reads this and calls me out.