I have one fool-proof method for filling out my NCAA Tournament bracket. I go straight to the 1 vs. 16 games and advance all of the No. 1s into the next round. Seeing as how a No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed, this has never failed me.
It’s after that, of course, when I start looking at 8 vs. 9 and 7 vs. 10 and begin flipping coins. Or find myself being seduced into taking every 12 over every 5. And that’s when the corners of the page on which I’ve printed out my perfect bracket start to curl and I detect a smoky smell.
By Saturday of the first weekend my bracket is fully engulfed and a supposed underdog in our family bracket pool – my wife, my mother, my oldest son’s fiancée – is well on her way to taking the money and our dignity.
This year’s odds-on favorite: our beagle, Bella, who has a nose for upsets.
Once again, the tournament is said to be more “wide open” than ever. Or at least since the last time this was the unofficial mantra. A few weeks ago, Tigers coach Josh Pastner said that he truly believed all 68 teams in the tournament would have a realistic chance to win the whole thing. Of course, this is also the same coach who hugged media members after the Tigers won the Conference USA Tournament title, so he’s clearly the happiest guy in just about any room.
The Tigers are a 6 seed – they were to play St. Mary’s on Thursday, March 21, in Auburn Hills, Mich. – but have gotten little love from the national voices who are predicting an early exit. The Tigers are simply not a trendy pick to make a deep run.
“We lost back-to-back years,” guard Joe Jackson said of their one-and-done NCAA experiences. “We kinda feel like trying to go out and prove ourselves to the world.”
Which is kind of how I feel at my house; I have a track record to overcome. I also do less with more information while my wife, mom and future daughter-in-law do more with less information. Here’s an example: I kind of like Butler to win a couple of games. The team went to back-to-back NCAA title games when not really on the radar.
This year, Butler is a No. 6 seed playing 11 seed Bucknell. But now they’re on the other side of things. At ESPN.com, college basketball writer Eamonn Brennan said Butler hasn’t played its best in a month and that early upsets over Indiana and Gonzaga “left them a little residually overrated.”
Personally, I should do so well as to be a little residually overrated; I may pick Butler anyway.
There’s also an abundance of free advice out there on what never to do when filling out your bracket. Don’t pick too many upsets. Don’t pick too few. Don’t advance all 1 seeds to the Final Four. Don’t exclude all 1 seeds from your Final Four. Don’t go with your heart.
Pretty much all the Grizzlies violate this last rule by picking their alma mater and they are, after all, pro players.
“I’ve got Michigan State all the way, baby!” said Grizz forward Zach Randolph, channeling Dick Vitale.
I’ve got No. 1 seed Indiana taking care of first-game business. Beyond that? Well, my mother, a diehard Jayhawks fan, has again picked Kansas to win it all (that worked pretty well a few years ago, didn’t it Tigers fans?). And my wife, a Kansas State graduate, is wearing purple/rose-colored sunglasses. So I shouldn’t have to worry about her this year.
Meanwhile, the beagle likes those Gonzaga Bulldogs. And perhaps because I’m not a native Memphian and don’t feel that instinctive hatred for Louisville, I have picked the Cardinals to win it all.
But I could be wrong. I usually am.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. He and Jon Albright host the “Jon & Don Show” on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.