The bracket

Staring at a printed bracket is a favorite pastime of mine, one that I will uphold stubbornly for the rest of my life, even though I, like most of the rest of America, host pools online now rather than score them myself. I enjoy the time it saves, and cannot rationally give that up, but to be truthful, I miss going through the brackets after each round and seeing each individual’s upset-predicting successes and failures.

A tale from my childhood illustrates the extent to which, at an early age, I acquired my love for a 64-team, single elimination tournament in the greatest sport in the world: I was once grounded during the second week of March, for actions unrelated to college basketball, and when I was grounded as a kid, it took the form of losing entertainment privileges (television and internet) for a period days. When she discovered that the period coincided with Selection Sunday and the week following, my mom realized that the punishment now far exceeded whatever my crime was. It wasn’t necessary to deprive me of my several days of preparation and then watching the opening rounds of the tournament, and the punishment was moved to a different time.

Anyway, below I have inserted my bracket, completed and finalized. For most of my life, I have been a so-called “one bracket kind of guy” who sticks with the same selections across all of his pools. Choosing to fill out more than one seems like an attempt to end up lucky, rather than trust your own bracket prowess. Fill out enough brackets, and one of them will emerge as a good one, but it takes skill to align what you truly believe will happen with what plays out over the three weeks of the tournament.

A few thoughts on the bracket, and on Carolina’s first weekend:

  • This is perhaps the least upset laden bracket I have ever filled out. I almost always pick a 12/5 upset, and I’m generally decent at hitting on it. I also enjoy taking at least one double-digit seed to the Sweet Sixteen, and I’ve had moderate success there, as well.  Neither occurs in my bracket this year, and most of it has to do with the matchups. The two twelve seeds with the best shot at advancing were Harvard and VCU, and both drew tough draws: Harvard catches Vanderbilt off their recent upset of Kentucky, and VCU catches fellow mid-major Wichita St., who also has much to prove and isn’t likely to be taken by surprise. It’s also a different year in college basketball than we have seen recently: the bubble was as soft as ever, yet the pool of good teams runs about 20 deep before there is a drop-0ff, deeper than it has been in the past few years. There is a larger than normal gap between the 1-5 seeds and the rest, and as a result I have only one true upset in my first round, which itself is only an upset according to seeds: N.C. State is better and more talented than overseeded San Diego State.

  •  According to the “experts”, the most likely upset candidates are Belmont over Georgetown, Montana over Wisconsin, and Ohio over Michigan, but none of those felt likely enough to go all-in with. They also mention that Detroit is more talented than a typical #15 seed – what a gift that would be if they knocked off Kansas. Lastly, I’m not predicting this or even saying it will be a close game, but UNCA against Syracuse represents, in my view, the best chance in recent memory for a #16 to upset a #1 . UNCA is tough with experienced guards who can get hot, and Syracuse is a weak #1, especially after losing a starter this week.
  • I’ve had so much success picking Duke to lose at the right time in recent years, it has just about acquired official superstition status. Duke loses to Baylor in the third round, completely incapable of defending their superior athletes. Amusing to me how every other 2-seed is receiving Final Four buzz, but not Duke. The nation’s top tier is seven deep, and Duke is on the outside. ESPN held a bracket draft this week, and Duke slipped to 13.
  •  The toughest pick of the bracket was Missouri over Michigan State, since it involves betting against Tom Izzo reaching the Final Four with a great team. But Missouri is the first 30-win non-#1 seed and is absolutely the toughest of the #2’s, and I like teams that are deep with talented, experienced guards in the tournament.
  •  Not a lot to like about Carolina’s potential second round matchup with Creighton, even though the numbers and the analysts say the upset has little chance because of Creighton’s inept defense. That would be absolutely true for 2009 Carolina, but this team has been more inconsistent offensively, and there is the unfortuante story line of Harrison Barnes playing against his less-heralded former high school teammate who turned in a better season this year, and is being rewarded as an All-American for it. I’m for Alabama.
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