My First, Last, and Only NCAA Bracket

Sunday 15 March 2015: The Plan

Hiya. Late March is always a difficult time for me, because just as spring training baseball is getting interesting, all anyone can talk about is college basketball, which I find uninteresting. I find the game confounding, and I was generally bullied/intimidated/had potential girlfriends stolen from me by jocks in high school or college, anyway, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t root with all my heart for the student athlete, particularly the ones I would have tutored if I had gone to a bigger school. Tutoring, mind you, as they were making out with girls I had a crush on. Hence, no March Madness excitement for me.

But I do enjoy aggravating friends of mine who take college basketball way too seriously, and I thought the best way to do that was to make my own non-serious bracket, in the hope that I will do no worse than they. So that no one can accuse me of actual strategic research, I’m going to lay out the plan for my bracket here. As we go through each round of play, I will update this post to let you know how my bracket is faring, so check back here regularly.

Technically, I’m told the tournament starts with 68 teams, but that doesn’t make any sense to me. So I’m going to start my bracket with the 64 teams that fit into the spidery-looking fill-in-the-blanks thing. For my purposes, Round One will start with a 64-team field (I know, I know, technically it’s Round Two, and this is precisely one of the reasons I dislike college basketball). To get from 64 teams to an eventual champion takes six rounds. So, for each round, I’m going to eliminate teams based on the following criteria:

Round One: In each of the 32 match-ups, I’m going to take the last name of the head coach, spell it backwards, and the one coming first alphabetically moves on. Example: a team coached by Mike Trout beats the team coached by Mike Brady. Jessica Alba should beat all comers. The team coached by Fred Mertz is going down.

Round Two: Based on mascot or team nickname. The one I think would literally beat the other at basketball advances. Tigers will beat ducks. Huskies will beat banana slugs. I don’t know what a “Hoya” is, so I’m hoping Georgetown doesn’t make it into this round.

Round Three: (Sweet Sixteen) Where I’d rather live or visit for a week moves on. This may not be as obvious as you think. There are friends in odd parts of the country I’d like to hang out with, and people in some parts of the country I’d rather avoid.

Round Four: (Elite Eight) Whichever school has the smaller student body advances. I figured the bigger the school, the more likely they are to pour their resources into football.

Round Five: (Final Four) This is a rock/paper/scissors kind of deal. I’m going to go to each school’s website and start poking around randomly until I come across one of the following pictures:

  • A person looking through a microscope.
  • A person pointing to a chalkboard.
  • 2-4 people sitting on the grass under a tree, smiling or laughing.

Microscope beats chalkboard. Chalkboard beats tree. Tree beats microscope.

Round Six: (Championship game) The National championship goes to the team with the shorter head coach. It’s my theory that shorter people are able to maintain careers in basketball by being smarter at it (there is a similar theory that borderline baseball players often make better managers, because they can’t rely on just their skills to stay in the game). This will be an excellent test of that theory.

I understand that today the 68 teams were announced that will make up this year’s tournament. I have not yet looked at that list; you’ll have to take my word for it. I would have posted this yesterday, but I only just now thought of it.

Remember: check back at this post after the first round! I’ll report back how I did!

Monday 16 March 2015: Update. I have decided to work up a second, “control” bracket, because science. For this bracket I will flip a coin for every game. Heads, the team on the top line wins, tails, the team on the bottom line wins. In this way, we can determine how my “test” bracket fares against one determined purely by chance.

Having just played out the NCAA tournament for my Control Bracket, using a 2000 Maryland state quarter, I have Albany (14) defeating Harvard (13) in the Championship Game. You heard it here first. I’ll be back Wednesday or Thursday, when I know who’s playing in my first round.

Thursday 19 March 2015: My bracket is now complete, at 7:36 PM EDT. I’m aware that games have started already, but I haven’t been paying attention. The thing is, I went to bed while the Boise State/Dayton game was going on last night, and I had to wait until I got home to find out who won, and run the winner through the rest of my algorithm. I could have done that immediately after work, but I had to let the dogs out, and my brewpub was tapping a new beer tonight, of which members get a free initial pour (I am, I did, and it was delicious). I ended up having dinner there, and spending a little time reading, and a little more time on Facebook, and then when I got home I had to feed the dogs, because My Bride has something going on tonight. So I only just now ran it through.

You’ll have to take my word for it that I didn’t cheat and look at the results of the games already played today. I will do that after this update. If you can’t take my word for this, I really don’t know what to tell you. I just don’t know what to say. Except that I’m hurt. Very hurt that you would think such a thing of me.

My prediction: Butler defeats Dayton in the final game for the championship.

Now, don’t panic. I’m aware that your bracket may not yield the same results, but don’t tear yours up in frustration right now. Remember, the games still need to be played. However unlikely, it is possible that my calculations may be off. There is a chance, however small that Dayton could pull off the upset.

How, you ask?

I had to guess Chris Holtmann’s height.

Look, I’m not proud of it, either. But I simply was not able to find out how tall Chris Holtmann is. I found out that Dayton’s coach, Archie Miller, is 5’11”. But I tried everything I knew to find out his opponent’s height. I typed “how tall is chris holtmann” into Google. Twice. No luck. I typed, “chris holtmann height” into Google. Nope. I tried “how tall is chris holtmann” a third time. Maybe this time I’d find out. Nope. There’s nothing more to be done. I couldn’t find a picture of him standing next to a player whose height I could look up. So I guessed.

To me, Chris Holtmann looks taller than Archie Miller. Therefore, Butler wins.

If anyone could find me a picture of the two of them standing back-to-back, I’ll be grateful.

Anyway, I’ll update again after the first of these games are played. I’ll let you know where my bracket held up, and where reality let us all down.

Saturday 21 March 2015. It’s 10:45 AM, so I think I’m getting this in before any of today’s games start. How is my bracket doing? I have no idea.

I have no idea, because I’ve never made a bracket before, so I don’t know what constitutes “success”. My bracket is reeling after first contact with Reality, shot full of holes, but I think it’s still standing. Both the teams I predicted to face each other in the final survived the first round. That’s something, isn’t it?

Remember, the first round exclusion criteria – based on the letter the head coach’s name ended on – is about as close to random as I could come up with. So you’d expect about a 50% success rate, and I pretty much got that, within normal variation (Knucks is cringing right now, he’d know the technical terminology for this – standard deviation, maybe?). I successfully predicted the outcomes of 18 of the 32 games, so a little better than half, which makes sense. Interestingly, I killed it in the Midwest division, going 7/8, but met my Waterloo in the South, going 2/8.

My guess is that the people who follow basketball aim to go over 75% – knowledge of the teams, seeding, research (none of which factored into my bracket) should give them a solid boost over random luck, especially with a more or less statistically significant sample of 32 games. So, in that sense, I fared poorly. But as the sample drops to 16 games, then 8, 4, 2, and 1, luck looms ever larger. So watch out.

On the other hand, both the teams I picked for the final game – Butler and Dayton – are still alive and well. So that’s some success right there. Also, my bracket “predicted” the upset victories of Georgia State, Ohio State, Dayton, UCLA, and UAB. Can your bracket say the same?

As far as the Control Bracket, the one where I flipped a coin, that one did predictably; I came within a reasonable shot of 50% with 14 out of 32 victories (again, the South division was the bracket’s nemesis). So I beat the Control bracket, but not what I’d call significantly. On the other hand, both teams my Control bracket picked for the final – Harvard and Albany – have been treated more harshly by Actual Events. C’est la vie.

I’ll update in a couple days with the results of the Round of 32 – The Battle of the Mascots.

Monday 23 March 2015: Sigh.

All I can say is, there are an awful lot of institutions of higher learning in this country who might be talkin’ the talk, but ain’t walkin’ the walk, mascot-wise.

This was a harder round to pick than I anticipated, even without Hoyas. A lot of schools pick mascots in the wild feline category (panther, tiger, cougar, wildcat, bobcat, etc.) which makes it damn hard to distinguish basketball ability. My very first pick, for example, was between the Wildcats of Kentucky and the Bearcats of Cincinnati. Turns out “bearcats” are essentially pandas, which was no help whatsoever. Thanks, Obama. I eventually went with wildcats, figuring aggression would prove victorious over size, and in that instance at least, play on the court backed me up. I had a team of researchers (coworkers, actually) working out whether a team of huskies would beat a team of bulldogs. Though they pointed to the height and reach advantage held by huskies, I eventually decided that huskies are actually freaking dogs and as such, don’t shoot, dribble pass, or in general, play basketball in any meaningful way. Therefore, bulldogs would win, since they’d likely hold the court longer. It’s so hard to find good help.

Generally, humans were selected over animals, since humans will, in fact, play basketball. I picked bears over Spartans, since even though Spartans are armed with swords and martial training, that means little when you have to get in close against a bear. I thought of picking panthers over Musketeers for similar reasons, but then My Bride suggested that “Musketeers” were actually “dudes with muskets” as opposed to, say, d’Artagnan. Hmm. Xavier, it is.

Team “mascots” representing songbirds, trees, colors, or weather patterns generally fared poorly.

Alas, it made little difference. Only five of the teams I picked lived up to the promise of their mascots out of the pool of the “Sweet Sixteen.” Neither Butler nor Dayton made it through*, which were the two I picked to play in the final game, so my bracket may officially now be called “busted.” Interestingly, of those five teams, four actually make up real match-ups: Xavier vs. Arizona, and Kentucky vs. West Virginia.

I take small solace in knowing that my Control Bracket did as poorly as I, also making only five correct picks. Wichita State University is the only team in which my bracket, the Control Bracket, and reality intersect. Make of that what you will.

Thankfully, there are no more games until the weekend, so I’ll update Sunday night. We’ll see if I have any teams left after that.

Wednesday 1 April 2015: I know, I know, there were like, two more rounds of basketball games since I last updated. Look, I was busy last weekend. And both my Control and Test brackets are officially defunct, anyway. No survivors. Ishmael went down with The Pequod. Ripley bought it on The Nostromo.

What do people do when their brackets no longer reflect reality anyway? Do people take a mulligan, where they run the remainder of the games through a new restarted bracket? Or do they just sit on the sidelines like they took an early headshot in gym-class dodgeball? I’ve decided to follow the advice of renowned bracketologist Stephen Hawking.

Professor Hawking posits that there are an infinite number of parallel universes, universes in which all other possibilities have become reality. Leave us travel, then, to the alternate universe in which my bracket is still intact.

The Sweet Sixteen round was the one most difficult to call. This was the round in which the team from the place I’d rather live or visit would move on. The very first matchup I was faced with (which actually came about in our local reality) was Kentucky vs West Virginia; two states in which I’ve visited and aren’t as starkly different as say, UCLA and North Dakota. I chose West Virginia in that contest mostly because it’s more mountainous, and I like that. As for the rest, I’ll only say this: I believe I can be happy retiring to a place where people are wholly indifferent about basketball. As if in retaliation for this bias, none of the teams I picked to advance did so.

The Elite Eight allowed for no such bias; simply a Google search for student body size of each remaining school. In real life, my theory may have fared better at this round, but what I found in my alternate reality was that most matchups, such as UCLA vs Robert Morris, were between schools of vastly different sizes. I still maintain that when schools are more evenly matched in student body size, the smaller school will enjoy an advantage. Someone needs to get on this.

So my own Final Four: Butler vs Wofford and Dayton vs Robert Morris. I will make one final update this weekend. Just in time for baseball.

Saturday 4 April 2015: It’s cold here.

I look up from my computer, through the window, and see My Bride preparing her garden for the coming season. She’s wearing layers because of the chill in the air, but I can see the sweat glistening on the back of her neck. She pauses in her digging, raises a gloved hand to her brow, pausing to take stock in her work. Though it doesn’t feel as though spring will ever come, keeping a garden is an act of faith that warmer days await. Still, it shouldn’t be this cold. Not here.

Because here, in the alternate universe I write from, in which my NCAA bracket is still intact, the earth revolves around twin suns.

Sol and Siol have warmed our land and our hearts for generations, but spring is slow to reach us this year. The Elders have noticed, of course, as have we all. They’ve urged calm. Part of The Cycle, they assure us. But you can sense the urgency with which they’ve called us to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament this year. None of this is lost on us.

Maybe it’s nothing. But maybe our Atonement needs to be greater this year. Perhaps we have not been earnest enough.

Our twin suns bring us long summer days, days spent basking in the sweet beauty of Base Ball. Though the winters are short, so are the winter days, and the nights are long. To pay the price for the warmth of Base Ball, freely given from above, we must Atone for a few weeks at the end of winter. So that we may better appreciate the beauty of Base Ball, we must submit to the suffering of Basket Ball.

For generations we have given our sons and daughters to toil on the Courts of Basket Ball, as we have done before them. We honor their sacrifice by forcing ourselves to witness their misery, though it brings us grief. In our suffering we hope to redeem ourselves, to purify our hearts and souls, so that we may be worthy of Base Ball.

In return, Sol and Siol will warm the land. That is our hope, anyway.

The teams from Butler and Dayton understand this. They have played hardest of all, yoking themselves to our suffering as they alone are left to play the unholy sport. Butler has defeated Wofford, Dayton defeated Robert Morris in grueling affairs to stand where they are. As painful as it is for these young men to play the required game, it has been even harder for us to watch, given the sport’s monotonous back-and-forth choreography and uneven pacing. But that’s precisely the point.

We suffer, so that our joy may be more complete.

The final game is tonight. In our universe, it must be tonight. Monday is for Base Ball.

Butler wins. As has been foretold.

Turns out I’m pretty good at this bracketology thing. Not sure what the big deal is.

______________

*This may have actually spared me an embarrassment. I think I got the coaches mixed up in my selection, and meant to pick Dayton after all. I didn’t think it was ethical to make that correction after I noticed it, so I let it ride.

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