Fun & Games: Bracketology, or falling on your own sword


by Anthony Harrisonanthony

Remember a few weeks ago when I wrote a rambling screed about my bracketology system for the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament?

In case you missed it (or are too busy to read the rantings of a clearly insane person), I boasted that my system “fundamentally works,” that I’d won pools based on its merits, that offensive rebounds are the most important statistic in the history of any sport, et cetera.

Basically, I had become consumed by delusions of grandeur.

Back then, the world was so fresh and new. It was full of hope, joy and the ecstasy of a coming spring.

Then came the first round of the tournament.

I entered a few bracket pools for this iteration of the tourney. I filled out six brackets, one of them for the Triad City Beat pool.

I did this knowing full well that, if I failed, I would become the butt of jokes made by my colleagues. The editorial board — Brian, Eric and Jordan — already roasts me on a daily basis, thanks to everything from my space-cadet moments and inexperience of certain Triad culinary institutions to my mumbling and my choice of raincoat. I’m a prime punching bag, and I set myself up for it.

But no; this would be a new level. It would bring into scrutiny my veracity as a follower of college basketball, let alone my reputation as a sportswriter.

And it wouldn’t be just that trio of horrific tormenters. It’d be our intern, our art director, our marketing team — every single person within earshot of the newsroom would know of my embarrassment.

All this loomed over me after I’d bragged — in print — about my bracketology as the end all, be all of sports analysis.

Well, after we returned to the office — after that devastating first weekend of historic upsets — Brian estimated that my bracket busted within six hours.

How could this have happened so quickly? How could a lifelong basketball fan, a sportswriter, appear so woefully inept at such a critical juncture?

Could it be that my bracketology system — the one that “fundamentally works” — is actually a crock of crap?

Maybe, but not necessarily.

Here’s what happened.

I did my thing: I went through my spreadsheets, I looked at each round, compared and contrasted all the different statistics, weighed my hunches.

And I decided the No. 6-seeded University of Arizona Wildcats could go deep.

If you recoiled a bit, believe me: I understand.

But it gets worse. So much worse.

I thought they could go deep. Like, to the championship game.

Instead of making a run at their second championship title, the No. 11 seed Wichita State University Shockers… well, shocked Arizona on the first day of games, 65-55.

Jesus wept.
Jesus wept.

It was a hell of an upset. But to my credit, the Wildcats played like a championship-caliber team during the regular season. They averaged 81 points and 40 rebounds per game, 48.2 percent from the field — 38.3 percent from three-point land — and they’d amassed 384 offensive rebounds.

What can you say? The Shockers showed up.

Tragically, the University of Miami Hurricanes blew the Shockers out of the water, forcing Wichita State’s return to Kansas. It was a bitter pill to swallow: The team that beat my contender lost in only the second round.

Then again, most everyone’s brackets were thrown into disarray by what happened on the second day.

If you picked the No. 15 seed Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders to beat the second-seed Michigan State University Spartans in the first round of the tournament, prove it with a screen cap. I’ll buy you breakfast.

Similarly, the University of Alabama-Little Rock surprised the country in their triple-overtime victory over Purdue University — though Eric and sales rep Kori predicted it — only to lose to Iowa State University. And Stephen F. Austin University destroyed Bob Huggins’ West Virginia University squad. And Syracuse University beat Dayton University on their historic run past the University of Virginia to the Final Four. And so on.

Hell, only 2.6 percent of brackets in the CBS bracket pool picked Villanova University as the winner of the national championship game — probably all of them students and alumni — and the Wildcats only won that game on a ridiculous last-second three off a perfectly executed, drawn-up play.

Point is, the tournament is absolutely unpredictable, this one especially so for many reasons. There’s nothing you can do to definitively draw up a winning bracket, because no amount of seed selecting, stat logging, game watching, pundit following or team pride can prognosticate what ultimately happens in any game after the opening tip.

So those in the TCB pool — including victor Eric, who had never entered one before this tourney — can laugh all they want at my horrifically busted bracket. They can rib me over believing Arizona could make it to the title game. Shoot, this is an invitation to any of y’all: Give me hell over how much hubris I publicly spewed in my March 16 column.

But I bet none of you picked the eventual champion.

I’ll see you next year, nerds.