You say you want some sports? I got your sports right here!
It’s March Madness, that time of year when I set aside my utter ignorance for all things college basketball and plunge face-first into filling out a tournament bracket. I pinpoint the data, poring carefully over each school’s win-loss record, coaching strategies, recruitment violations, and other important calculations.
Here’s one that I used to win a pool back in the 1990s: I had just finished reading a biography of Bing Crosby, wherein I learned Bing was graduated from Gonzaga University. That was all the reason I needed to choose the ‘Zags – at the time an upstart team on the margins – and that year, they stunned the basketball world and made it to the Elite Eight. I won a few bucks and they became a perennial powerhouse.
Perhaps you’re having trouble finalizing the perfect bracket to send in to whichever sportsbook has come crashing through your television to demand you parlay your bets and become a champion and rake in the dough they promise every 90 seconds or so. I am happy to share some of my can’t-miss bracketeering tips with you:
Go with Gonzaga. The Bing Thing still resonates.
Even though Duke is on the East Coast, they’re plopped into the NCAA’s ‘WEST’ bracket. It’s Coach K’s last season. Take Duke.
I don’t know where Baylor is, but they’re the top seed in the ‘EAST’ so, OK Baylor!
We’re knee-deep in the Lenten Season, so St. Mary’s should have a good run.
I did watch the Purdue vs. Iowa Big 10 Championship game (more on that in a minute), and Purdue looked pretty good despite the loss. That makes me an expert on Purdue.
Kentucky, because, Kentucky. Aren’t they always in this thing?
In the ‘SOUTH’ we go with Arizona, not because they’re the top seed but because that’s where my daughter and son-in-law live with Ernie, their basset hound.
I’m on the fence about this Longwood (14th seed) versus Tennessee (3rd seed) game. It’s those 14 vs. 3 situations where we seem to get the most upsets every tournament. But I’m a fan of volunteers generally and don’t know where Longwood is, so Tennessee gets the edge.
I’m all-in – in the first round, anyway – with Villanova, because I still remember my high school trigonometry teacher, Mr. Halstead, and my old Retail Council boss, Jim Sherin, being big Villanova guys. Pity they lose to Ohio in the next game.
The ‘MIDWEST’ gets only slightly tricky for a minute. My long-suffering wife, Angie, is a native of Davenport, Iowa, and a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa (Go Panthers!). No Panthers in this year’s bracket and, even if there were, her parents would still root for the University of Iowa Hawkeyes despite their daughter’s academic pedigree. I see the Iowa State Cyclones are in that same bracket and, as much as I’d love to see them advance far enough to play the Hawkeyes just so I could tease my in-laws, who do not like the Cyclones one bit, that’s not going to happen because I’ve picked nearby Colgate to upset the whole apple cart and make it to the ‘Sweet Sixteen,’ where they will lose to Auburn.
I’ve got Iowa up against Auburn in the Elite Eight. Tara Barnwell, publisher of this weekly newspaper and my boss, is an Auburn grad and remains the school’s number one fan here in upstate New York. Too bad they’ll lose to Iowa, Tara. I have to go with family here. I may even wear my Hawkeyes jacket to the office because I’m that kind of a sports guy.
After that round is the vaunted FINAL FOUR, but by then it’ll be almost time for baseball and I think I’ve got a show to play that weekend so I probably won’t bother – that is, unless my bracket has taken me to sheer perfection and I’ll be fully invested.
If I had my way, there’d be a sportsbook bracket out there taking wagers on things like the number of times we’ll hear someone say “they punched their ticket to the big dance,” the actual length of time it will take to get through the final 60 seconds of any given game, or the number of sportsbook commercials we’ll endure for the duration of the Madness. I won’t complain (much), though, because it feels joyous to have the tournament back, happening in March, and with Dick Vitale still here to cheer all of us through it.