Jul 12, 2020

The evolution of a bracket

Growing up, I considered myself an amateur Bracketologist.

Every March, I would scrupulously (some would say anally) go through the NCAA Tournament bracket, picking what my upset picks were, which teams would make the Final Four and which team would win it all.

Though I played high school basketball, my dad coaches basketball — shameless plug: He won The Fresno Bee’s Coach of the Year award last year — and I watched college basketball all season long every year, I still struggled to fill out a good bracket.

Year after year, the same thing: my first two rounds would be excellent, but then the horse I rode to win the tournament would be upset in the Sweet 16, derailing my bracket’s chances of winning the pool I was in. (You know, if gambling were legal.)

Thus, every year I had a different strategy. One year, I had it in my head that colleges whose names had two words and the first word started with a ‘W’ — say, Wisconsin-Milwaukee or Western Michigan — would do well. I picked them all. I got lucky with a few of them, but, needless to say, this strategy did not work out too well.

Another year, I was completely on the Kevin Durant bandwagon. In my mind, he could do no wrong. Unfortunately, for me, he did wrong when his team, the Texas Longhorns, lost in the second round.

Mostly, my history of filling out brackets has ended in abject failure. When I had enough foresight to pick the correct champion, I had lost so many early-round games that it did not matter. When I was on fire for the first two rounds, my Final Four teams would suffer early exits.

So this year, I decided to do something different: I decided to not watch college basketball all season.

In the past, I would immerse myself in the college basketball season, researching each team’s RPI, its record on neutral courts and its strength of schedule. This year? None of that! I’m going with my gut.

It has never steered one wrong before, right?

The most likely upset each year is from the fabled 5-12 game. The five seed is usually a mid-major team that is at the bottom of the top 25 rankings or a big-name school that lost a bit of momentum toward the end of the season. The 12 seed is usually a team that snuck in to the tournament, normally because it caught fire toward the end of the season. It’s a perfect storm.

This year, I’m picking two 5-12 upsets: Harvard over Vanderbilt and Virginia Commonwealth over Wichita State. VCU made the Final Four last year; I’m betting on there being some magic left. And why Harvard? I heard some talking head say they could upset Vandy, so why not?

The one seed most likely to get upset before the Final Four is Syracuse. Its starting center was declared ineligible for the tournament, and if there’s one thing I know, it is that teams that lose their starting centers usually struggle. I see them getting knocked off by Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.

My Final Four consists of Kentucky, the one seed in the South Region, Missouri, the two seed in the West Region, Ohio State, the two seed in the East Region, and North Carolina, the one seed in the Midwest Region, with Kentucky defeating North Carolina in the championship game.

I expect this bracket to be thrown in the shredder by this time next week. But should my bracket improbably win any pools it is in, my days of watching college basketball in the regular season may be over.


Tony Petersen is the opinion editor of The Collegian. Follow him on Twitter @tonypetersen4.

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