Last year I plunked down 10 dollars to join our office NCAA tournament pool. Since I know next to nothing about college basketball, I picked Missouri to win the entire tournament with my thinking being that the No 2 seeded Tigers wouldn’t be picked by many of the other contestants (who generally pick a No. 1 seed to win the tournament) so if the Tigers did manage to win the tournament I’d have a great chance of winning since picking the winning team gets 63 of the total 192 points (32 points per round) and 32 of those would be for the championship game that none of the players would get. If I had picked the favored Kentucky Wildcats, not only would they have had to win but I would have had to outscore a host of players in the early rounds which is just a guessing game for someone like me that only even knows the names of a handful of the players. This sounded like a good plan but it came to naught when despite picking 29 of the first 32 games correctly I was out of the running when one of my three incorrect games was the Missouri Tigers huge upset at the hands of tiny Norfolk State.
Even though I ended up throwing away a ten spot on the tournament pool last year when the email came around this year I decided to try my luck again. Unlike last year’s odds-on favorite Kentucky team, this year there was no clear cut favorite and all the number one and two seeds (except for Gonzaga of the tiny West Coast Conference) did not dominate their conferences like number one seeds of the past. Through the process of elimination, I decided to pick the Duke Blue Devils as my championship team and build my bracket around that. Even though I didn’t know very many players on many of the teams, I listen to sports radio a lot on my way to and from work and had noticed that Duke had gone on a winning streak when a player named Kelly had come back from an injury. Duke is always well coached and when I saw them get upset in the ACC tournament by Maryland, I was impressed with their size up front and the quickness of their guards so despite their upset loss (and their own first round exit as a two seed last year) I decided to make them my pick.
I filled out the rest of the bracket in about 2 minutes last Wednesday. I know there are always a lot of upsets and it’s just a matter of picking the right ones. I was surprised to see that the Pacific 12 conference champion Oregon Ducks were a 12 seed so I decided to take them to win their first two games. I took a bigger gamble by picking Wichita State to win their first two games including a potential second round matchup against the number one seed Gonzaga. I don’t know why I did that except I remembered 3 years ago when fellow Wichita’s fellow Missouri Valley Conference member UNI (University of Northern Iowa) beat top seed Kansas in the second round. I also took a couple of first round upsets that I didn't pick to win their second game; picking 11 seed Bucknell to beat 6th seeded Butler (who I consider overhyped by virtue of their 2 recent championship game appearances) and 12th seed Ole Miss to beat 5th seed Wisconsin (whose slow down style of play makes them prone to being upset as well as capable of upsetting more talented teams). Otherwise, I just stuck to picking the favorites with the only quirk in my picks being that I had failed to pick any number one seeds in the final four, opting instead for other brand name schools Duke, Ohio State, Florida, and Syracuse.
After the first round of the tournament ended on Friday night I was happily surprised to find myself tied for third out of the 22 contestants with 24 out of 32 correct picks, 2 behind the leader. Bucknell lost to Butler, but Ole Miss, Wichita State, and Oregon all made it through the first round. I lost two of my final eight teams when LaSalle beat Kansas State and unknown Florida Gulf Coast defeated Georgetown but most of the other contestants missed those upsets also along with Harvard’s Ivy League upset of New Mexico, the third of my Sweet 16 teams to be eliminated in the first round.
On Saturday, everything broke my way. The one final four team I selected that was playing (Syracuse) beat California, My upset team Oregon beat St. Louis to get to the Sweet 16, and my big upset came through as Wichita St. defeated top seed Gonzaga. I took a one point lead heading into the Sunday games and my luck held out on Sunday as my final four selections all won. Ohio State got a lot of help from the referees to defeat Iowa State, Florida blew out Minnesota, and Duke defeated Creighton in the last game of the day. I didn’t stay up to watch, although I had games on all day as background noise while I worked on lessons for this year’s chess camp.
All told I had 13 of my Sweet 16 selections make it through, six of the final eight and most importantly all of my final four selections are still alive. With 33 percent of the tournament over I have a three point lead. Am I spending my winnings yet? No, I’m still a huge underdog. If I had known I would have had such a big weekend I’d have went with the odds and picked Louisville to win the championship. I’m tickled to be in the lead of our small office pool after and I’m even outpointing the President so far with 13 teams in the Sweet 16 to his 11. The President and I agree on Florida and Ohio St. making the final four, but where I have Duke and Syracuse, Obama went with number one seeds Louisville and Indiana to make the final four and the championship game, with Indiana winning. The only regret I have is that this pool doesn't offer any prizes to the leader after the first round. By the time I picked out a lawyer to rectify that injustice the tournament would already be over, but I wanted to make sure my tournament leadership was captured for posterity in this post.