I absolutely love March Madness and the bracket phenomenon for several reasons. First is the fact that you can win stuff. Who doesn’t love that? There are pools at your office, pools with your friends, teammates, family members and even random people you’ve never even heard of. For most of these you pony up $10, $15, or $20 dollars and hope your Cinderella upset special that you have going to the Final Four doesn’t lose in the 1st round. If you’re Rick Neuheisel, you bet five grand and get fired from your day job. But look, aside from the money to be won in small, local pools, if you fill out a perfect bracket on almost any website, it is dishing out ten grand along with 42” flat screen TV’s and other gift certificates, memberships, etc. You can’t beat that. Given there are millions of people participating, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to think every year that this is the year you’ll reign triumphant.

Second is that college hoops is far better than college football bowl season because every game, excluding tonight’s Play-in game, truly means something. I don’t get off as much watching Utah and Navy duel it out in the Poinsettia Bowl as I may watching the likes of Coppin State/Mount St. Mary’s, Mississippi Valley State, Portland State and Texas-Arlington try to become the first 16-seed to knock off a 1-seed. It may not have happened yet, but at some point in the future, whether it’s Thursday, Friday or 100 years from now, a small, unknown group of collegiates will pull a modern day miracle that will eventually result in the making of a Disney movie. And chances are they’ll get trounced in their second-round game.

Now you may argue that bowl season is great because of the BCS v. non-BCS matchups that evolve and you can pick winners and win prizes much like March Madness, but let’s face it, there were only 12 bowl games I counted that I actually cared about this past year, and eight of them came on January 1st or after. From the 1st round to the Sweet-16, Elite-8, Final Four and Championship game, every game is impactful because of the tournament style of play. In boxing, the classic adage is that styles make fights, and the same can be said about sports in general. Some teams matchup better against others and that’s what makes following each and every game so exciting. This is why the BCS and college football should move to a tournament style playoff format, but that’s for another article on another day.

My last love of brackets is sifting through the copious amounts of possibilities that run through my head. There are endless possibilities, and I assume only Leah Ulrich is capable of calculating the total number of brackets you’d have to fill out in order to guarantee yourself a perfect version. This is the same woman who accused Keefe and I of cheating on a Stats test. After telling her the reason we had the exact same answers in Part B of the exam of purely coincidental (despite the fact that we sat next to each other) it was her contention that the possibility of that happening was mathematically impossible. She even went as far as to provide a statistical percentage which she had calculated. Bottom line, we were too tough a nut to crack. Sorry, Leah.

But I digress.

In lieu of filling out my official bracket, I will settle with providing you five options/theories to follow when working your way through each region:

1) The “ESPN analyst minus Bobby Knight” Theorem : Anyone watch Selection Sunday? If so, you’d see that Jay Bilas shocked the world by putting all 1 and 2-seeds in the Elite 8. That’s real riveting stuff, Jay. Why don’t you go ahead and take the least amount of risk with your bracket because you’re afraid to take a chance on something you really believe in fearing that it won’t work out and you’ll lose all credibility. Oh wait, that’s exactly what you did, and everyone else on that panel of “experts” except for Bobby Knight, who put Louisville and Pitt in the Final Four and had Pitt winning it all. I admire Knight for doing that, and in my eyes is the only one who kept any sense of dignity when that special went off the air.

2) The “Teams you wanna root for” Theorem: There’s nothing worse than watching the games and wanting one team you like to win. Or if it’s UNC or Duke, wanting one team to lose, badly. But what’s even worse is wanting that yet knowing that you have the team doing the exact opposite in your bracket. Yikes! This is the case for me with Notre Dame and USC, my two favorite college hoops teams. I am giving ND a pass into the Sweet 16, but UNC will be there, as well, and as much as I want the luck of the Irish to carry them to hoops glory, I’m a realist. USC, meanwhile, could be knocked out in the 1st round, but I like them enough to put them in the Elite 8, so I’m doing it because I want to root for that. So that’s theorem number 2: root for the teams you want to win all the way through so you’re never faced with the aforementioned dilemma. You can happily watch your way through the entire bracket if all your teams win, and if they lose? Well, that sucks, but at least you’re cheering for them during the games.

3) The “Cinderella” Theorem : It’s hard not to after teams like George Mason, Valparaiso and Butler have put the Madness in March Madness. So be that guy, looking for all the possible upsets and visualizing various Cinderella teams making it to the Final Four. If you get lucky with one of them and ride ‘em to the end, you could pull out the victory if they beat everyone else’s title team earlier in the tournament.

4) The “Complete, Statistical, Number Crunching” Theorem : You just analyzed every single team’s record, roster size, statistics and RPI numbers for the three days straight. You were probably the last person to finalize your bracket in every pool you’re taking part of. You’ve dissected every first round game for an hour apiece and thoroughly thought styles and matchups. Eventually, you determine the best possible odds/probability that UNC and Kansas will play in the dream Final Four matchup and Memphis and Duke will be lucky to make it into the Sweet 16, never mind the advancing past it. Chances are you overthought your bracket the entire time and it will have more red than green come next Monday. Good luck to you, sir.

5) The “Oh my god what is March Madness anywayyy” Theorem : My favorite theorem, basically proven true by Bill Simmons and his incredibly under informed wife. She has outpicked him the last two years with zero breakdown and analysis of the game. I’m considering doing it in one bracket just to see how it plays out. Essentially you put yourself in the perspective of a female, knowing nothing about college hoops, or sports in general, and picking winners on the following criteria: attractive uniform colors, cute mascot/team names, picking teams from states you enjoy vacationing in, eliminating teams from states or universities where an ex-bf that cheated on you is from, hot star players or coaches whom you’ve seen or heard of only because he was on TV when your bf was generously flipping from ESPN to your LifeTime movie on commercials, or more than likely, vice versa.

Obviously treat the criteria loosely as I’m not expecting that many of your readers have had a boyfriend cheat on you; feel free to substitute with girlfriend when necessary. But try it, because chances are that Wendy from Accounts payable or Joyce at the reception desk will be taking home the prize pool of money.

Now I still haven’t released my bracket because I’m waiting on the winner of tonight’s ever-important, high impact Play-in game that could change the outlook of brackets nationwide. Hey, if Coppin State wins, I may ride them the Final Four. If not, well then I’d say North Carolina should advance to the field of 32 with ease.

But for now, below are some thoughts on top of Keefe’s that I’ve had while perusing all four regions endlessly over the past couple days.

- As Keefe pointed out, it’s disappointing that USC and Kansas State are paired up in the 1st round. I understand the excitement of showcasing two of the top freshman in the nation, but these are two teams who could arguably make a run through the tournament together. I like USC here because Tim Floyd will throw a weird D at Beasley and Mayo will take over; plus K-State has been sliding as of late.

- The winner of the aforementioned freshman showcase most likely faces Wisconsin, another bummer. The Badgers are deep and loaded with Brian Butch as the big man leading the way. But again, I like USC to make a run here, they’re battle tested and could go deep.

- Clemson-Villanova is the second 1st round matchup I hate. ‘Nova could be a surprising but I also like how well Clemson has played as of late. Unfortunately, one will be gone early.

- Tyler Hansborough could face three straight opponents with top notch big men in Indiana (DJ White), Notre Dame (Luke Harangody) and Louisville (David Padgett). If he leads UNC through that murderer’s row, then I may finally warm up to the kid.

- Along those lines, UNC faces the toughest route to title town. UCLA has the easiest. Memphis will be the first 1-seed to fall.

- Get off the bandwagon all you Georgia fans. They will lose in the 1st round to Xavier, which is poised to make a run to the Sweet 16. I have them eventually losing to West Virginia (sorry, Rich), who will take out Duke to punch their ticket to the Elite 8 against UCLA. My upset special is Davidson, twice in a row.

- Look for Stephen Curry & Co. to clean out Gonzaga, who comes in with less fanfare than ever this year. Then it’s on to Georgetown, who I have found to be overrated all season long. They have gotten zero production off the bench and if Davidson can prevent them from getting off 3’s, they could make it 24 consecutive wins.

I’ll have my finalized bracket picks in tomorrow. Hope you enjoyed this for now.

- Besse

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