Page 2 staff

Pre-Tournament Bluster

Patrick Hruby:
First things first. Bracketology is NOT a science, no matter how many times they roll out Joe Lunardi on ESPNews. In fact, here's a sentence you'll never, ever hear: "Mr. Lunardi? The Nobel Committee is on line 2. Congrats for picking New Mexico over Villanova. Your prize is in the mail."

This brings me to my second point: Who always ends up winning the office pool? The dude who studies 5-12 matchups until his eyeballs bleed? Or the guy who thinks Old Dominion is a pale ale? That's right, it's the latter.

Years of gambling on the tournament – for recreational purposes only, of course, lest law enforcement be reading this – have taught me one cardinal rule. One's basketball knowledge is inversely proportional to one's office pool success. So I'm not making a single educated pick. Rather, my selections are as dunderheaded as possible.

After all, they call it March Madness, not March Judicious Appraisal.

Here's a rundown of our participants' Final Four picks.

  • Patrick Hruby: Arizona, Wake Forest, UNC, Duke.
  • Dan Shanoff: Illinois, Gonzaga, UConn, Syracuse.
  • Scoop Jackson: Illinois, GA Tech, UNC, Duke.
  • Jeff Merron: BC, GW, UNC, Stanford.
  • Kieran Darcy: Illinois, Wake Forest, UNC, Syracuse.
  • Skip Bayless: OK St, GA Tech, UNC, Duke.
  • Bill Simmons: Louisville, Syracuse, Illinois, UConn.
  • Brian Murphy: Illinois, GA Tech, Villanova, Syracuse.
  • With that in mind, I've come up with six ways to pick games. One way or another, these criteria have guided every aspect of my bracket.

    1) Mascot Fight Club
    Survival of the fittest. I ask a simple question – if the two mascots for these schools brawled for real, like on the Discovery Channel, then who would end up eating the other? For example, I knew that Pacific would upset Providence last year, because a roly-poly Friar is no match for a ferocious Tiger.

    Here's a simple mathematical formula/food chain I've developed to pick winners:

    (paranormal phenomenon > natural disasters > guys with guns > poisonous insects > animals with teeth > animals with claws > guys without guns > trees) < ninjas/pirates.

    Really, what's badder than a ninja or a pirate?

    2) Famous Alums
    Arizona is playing in its 21st consecutive tournament, the longest active streak in the nation. Craig T. Nelson is a former Wildcat. Coincidence? I think not. A school is only as good as the alumni it produces.

    As such, it's a real shame Princeton (Dean Cain) didn't make the tourney. They would have gone places.

    3) Inverse Academic Rank
    With apologies to the fine, fine sociology majors of Duke basketball, everybody knows that campus athletics and academics have little relationship to each other – otherwise, the Ivies would dominate the Top 25 and Jim Harrick Jr. would be the NCAA Teacher of the Year.

    When in doubt, take the safety school over the first choice.

    4) Coach Appearance – Height, Hair, Wardrobe, Whiskers
    Image counts. Sad but true. Tall men do better on job interviews, better in presidential elections, better in society. This is scientific fact. So why wouldn't it apply to the sideline? Wasn't towering John Thompson a heck of a coach?

    Similarly, a full head of hair beats a chrome dome, a nice suit beats a mock turtleneck and a coach with a beard is a dead duck. Really: according to the NCAA Tournament record book, former Seton Hall boss P.J. Carlesimo is the only bearded coach to lead his club to the title game. And he was coaching Pirates.

    5) If These Schools Were Beer, Which Would I Rather Drink?
    The tournament starts on St. Patrick's Day. 'Nuff said.

    6) If I Was on Spring Break, Where Would I Rather Be?
    Since Page 2's Jim Caple seems to be answering this question for real, I'll take the hypothetical approach. Oh, and I go with regions, not just cities. Which means Texas has zippy chance against Nevada (Houston vs. Vegas? That's more one-sided than UNC versus the play-in winner).

    More to come tomorrow, when I put these principles into practice. In the meantime, why don't the rest of you recalculate the new, value-added RPI on a tablecloth or something?

    Dan Shanoff:
    Shanoff's Statement of NCAA Picking Principles, 2005 Edition:

    Dee Brown
    Beware the dominant Big 10 school ... they have destroyed brackets before.

  • Overvalue teams I've seen play.
  • Undervalue teams I've never seen play.
  • Never bank on the Big Ten.
  • "Feeling snubbed" is an unsustainable strategy for winning.
  • So is hot shooting.
  • Newly married, I'm suddenly a sucker for my wife's favorite team.
  • Gonzaga's so due.
  • Never bank on Bobby Knight (post-1991).
  • Cindys that run rarely win.
  • Cindys that slow down scare me.
  • Sunday in Nashville is a national Waterloo.
  • It's OK to pick against teams just because you "hate them."
  • "Tourney Experience" is my blind spot.
  • Never bank on Roy Williams.

    Scoop Jackson:
    I can't brag. Not about this. I haven't picked a winner in the NCAA Tournament since 1983. NC State. Wittenberg and Lowe. Valvano. Won $400. I'll tell that one later ... But, this year will no doubt be different. For, I believe (get it?) that the bracket before you is golden as a Jill Scott single. Then again, much like my column partner Jim Caple, I was three bottles of Cristal and one of Hyp down when I filled this thing out. So don't bear with me, just understand.

    I don't have a policy, ritual, scheme, format or annual pattern I follow or adhere to when I do my bracket. This ain't inside trading and I ain't Martha Stewart. My process is simple: Whatever Dick Vitale says, I do the opposite. As far as the upsets are concerned, I know there will be some – but less than we tend to think. Every year it seems like the tournament is filled with Dana Dane schools (aka: Cinderella, it's a hood thang) making noise when in actuality no mid-major or double-major school outside of the ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 10 or Big East has won the damn thing since what? Ever ... so me picking Northern Iowa to beat Wisconsin and New Mexico beating Villanova has more to do with the normality of at least two big conference schools losing early than anything else. And as far as Utah losing Thursday? That's just me not being sold on Andrew Bogut (I think Vermont's Taylor Coppenrath is more truth). Nothing else. Nothing personal.

    Other than that peoples, I just used my basketball Jedi mind tricks to feel the Force. Code name: Anakin. And in the words of the great Charles Barkley: I may be wrong (about my bracket), but I doubt it.

    Jeff Merron:
    This year, the Diane Chambers method wasn't going to cut it. I'm still feeling the sting of the November election – I'm a card-carrying liberal (except on many issues), and my team got stomped, electorally-speaking.

    It's payback time.

    So here's my method:

    Round 1: Seeds one and two win (lllinois, Oklahoma State, Washington, Wake Forest, UNC, UConn, Duke and Kentucky). The reasoning here is simple: I don't want you guys to think I'm another Muhammed "They're coming to surrender!" Saeed al-Sahaf. I may be silly, but I'm not completely nuts.

    All other games are won by the team that plays in the state that's "more blue" – meaning either Kerry won the state, or lost by less, by percentage.

    For example, in Chicago, 12th-seed UW-Milwaukee beats No. 5 seed Alabama, because the Dems won Wisconsin, and got trounced in Alabama.

    Some exceptions: I'm picking UNC, the last of my five alma maters, to go all the way.

    When two teams are from the same state, I'm going with sentiment: Therefore, NC State, where my niece goes to school, beats Charlotte, where I have no family members to answer to, in the first round.

    In the Sweet 16, UCLA beats Gonzaga. Tempting to go with the sentimental choice, which for me is Gonzaga. But California is bluer than Washington State (slightly – both went Kerry), and Los Angeles County is very blue. Although I want to make it perfectly clear that I'm not in bed with the Prius-driving, Lear Jet-flying hyper-liberal Hollywood star crowd.

    The main problem with this method, as much as I can tell, is that it's quite idiotic, at least until the Final Four. At that point, it becomes brilliant. Except for George Washington.

    Kieran Darcy:
    You've all seen them, right? Those sappy "The More You Know" public service announcements on NBC – with Katie Couric encouraging you to monitor your kids' TV viewing, or Brittany Snow saying "smoking is so five minutes ago!" Masterpieces, all.

    But I think it's time they drafted Bob Costas to film one, warning people: "The more you know about college basketball, the worse your NCAA Tournament bracket will be."

    Ever feel that way? I've never won a March Madness pool. Never even really come close. And I've been a college hoops junkie for a long, long time. Always seems like someone who barely pays attention wins the big prize, doesn't it? When that bracket pops onto the screen Selection Sunday evening, I immediately start reading every scrap of info I can find on every team in the field. But it doesn't matter. I always come up short.

    This past year, I've been moonlighting as a college basketball reporter for ESPN The Magazine, in addition to my editing duties here on Page 2. I''ve never studied the college basketball landscape as closely as I have these past four months.

    So I expect to get utterly schooled in this competition.

    My Final Four? Pretty predictable – Illinois, UNC, Wake Forest and Syracuse. I have some sleepers mixed in during the early rounds – including Northern Iowa, Old Dominion, and my beloved Penn Quakers, of course. But I don't have much confidence in my bracket. In fact, I've never felt so shaky about a bracket before.

    So, maybe I know too much? Or, more likely, maybe I've never known nearly enough. But one thing's for sure ...

    It's still the best three weeks of the year.

    Skip Bayless:
    I refuse to wimp out on my preseason pick, Georgia Tech, last year's runner-up. The Yellow Jackets have often put me in a strait jacket, tormenting and mystifying me. Talk about a Rambling Wreck. But I still believe. All I needed to see was the ACC semis and final. My Jackets handled Carolina, and nearly beat Duke with Will Bynum going 4-for-17.

    When 7-foot-1 Luke Schenscher gets revved – which isn't always – he changes games. GT plays serious defense. GT is deep. GT is by far the most talented 5 seed in NCAA Tournament history. GT will be the first 5 seed ever to win it all.

    Otherwise, I think Oklahoma State's three guards are a little better than Illinois' "best ever" three guards. So Oklahoma State joins my ACC party at the Final Four. But it will be Georgia Tech – not Wake – joining Duke and Carolina. I still don't quite believe in Wake. Maybe I still believe a little too much in the Gonzaga fairy tale. But give me Gonzaga over Wake, then Georgia Tech over Gonzaga. Or give me a strait jacket.

    Bill Simmons:
    First of all, I hate entering NCAA pools because I always get crushed in them. Do NOT use these picks as your own. If anything, go against them. But here's what I did: I used a combination of the "Who seems the hungriest?" and "Who has the most potential NBA players?" and "Do they have a good coach?" theories. That led me to four teams:

    1. Louisville – I liked these because they have some studs and Pitino is due for a run one of these years, so when they got screwed with the 4 seed, I was delighted. I can't wait for them to win a few games and see him go into Pitino Mode.

    2. Syracuse – I like these guys because of their guards and Hakim Warrick, who I find myself rooting for because the Chad Fords of the world don't think he's a guaranteed lottery pick. I think he's the next Shawn Marion and can't believe people don't see this. Things like this drive me crazy.

    3. Illinois – I'm not nuts about this pick because they went 32-1 – that means they would have to go 38-1 to win the title, which seems a little ridiculous when you think about it. But they have some no-question-about-it NBA guys, and it looks like they enjoy playing together. I also like Dee Brown – I think he's the Delonte West of college hoops this year.

    4. UConn – Once they finally got healthy, they were looking as good as anyone for three weeks before they fell flat in the Big East tournament – I like when this happens, it's always a wakeup call for those teams. I think this is going to be the Year of the Gay – first Randall, then Rudy. I have them beating the Illini to win it all.

    One team that I really liked this season: Washington. I didn't pick them only because they were in Louisville's bracket and I wanted to root for Pitino, who I hated for pretty much the entire time he was in Boston. You figure it out. But I think Washington's for real – they even have a Simmons.

    Teams I'm not crazy about: UNC (the Roy Williams factor); Wake Forest (NCAA teams that revolve around a point guard make me nervous – one bad shooting night and they're done); Duke (they don't have a lottery pick on the team); Oklahoma (I can't take them seriously); and, of course, Boston College (who collapsed three weeks too early). BC sucks. Don't forget this.

    Brian Murphy:
    How sad is a bracket when picks are made by the "Buddy System" instead of any legitimate basketball reason? Take the Pacific-Pitt game, for example. I'd think a Big East school would wax a Big West school. But one of my best pals in the world, Roberts, went to UOP. So I picked UOP. Why? I can't look my buddy in the eye and say: "Dude, I went with Pitt." Of such rock-solid reasons do brackets go up in smoke.

    Same with Alabama vs. Wisconsin-Milwaukee. 'Bama should win, right? But my buddy Patrick went to Auburn. I had to pick against the Tide, just for solidarity with my War Eagle pal. So, there you have it. A bracket rife with uncertainty, crafted with the architectural strength of a house made of Popsicle sticks.