It’s that time of year again, when, rather than greeting co-workers with a “Good morning”, or “How are you today?”, we instead ask “So, how is your bracket doing”? If your bracket looks anything like mine, you would be using an understatement if you said “It’s looked better”. And considering I failed to select any of the Final Four teams correctly this year, I’m not exaggerating. Then there’s my brother in law who, after day two of the tournament, posted to Facebook that he would be offering his bracket up in a memorial bonfire in his backyard.
All of this got me to thinking – when was the last time someone told you their bracket was doing well? I don’t think I’ve heard it once this year. Yet someone has to be winning their pools, right? It seems like we all have a negative view of our brackets because we expect to get everything right, and when we get a few games wrong, we become overly pessemistic. After the first weekend of games I thought I was in terrible shape. Then I looked at the pool I’m in and realized I was in seventh place out of almost 100. What I didn’t take into account is that everyone else was doing poorly as well – as is the case most years.
I’ve also been thinking about brackets, and how we feel the need to torture ourselves by filling one out each year, only to have our hopes dashed and be shown how little we really know about college basketball. I’ve been filling one out since 1989, and have saved them all. In the 1990s I started filling one out with my own predictions, and then another to show what actually happened in the tournament. The other day I looked back through some of those and was hit with a wave of nostalgia. I saw, in 1999, when I got seven of the Elite Eight teams correct, and still had all of my Final Four teams left, only to have three of those four lose in the quarterfinals. I also saw (and KU fans will have to forgive me here) in 2003 when I picked Syracuse to win it all as a three seed, and was correct. In fact, I was so sure they were going to win that year that I put their name all the way through my bracket before I filled anything else out. Of course, I didn’t get any of the other Final Four teams correct that year, so I can’t brag too much.
I was also hit with a wave of nausea when I saw how utterly wrong I was most of those years. There haven’t been many years where I completely misfired on the Final Four as I did this year, but there were several times when I only got one right. Two was not entirely uncommon. And I guess I’ve gotten three right a couple times. I’ve never predicted all four, and if my past picks are any indication, I won’t be winning the grand prize on the ESPN bracket challenge anytime soon.
When I was looking at those old brackets I started thinking. I was thinking about what it was like to fill out my bracket this year – what it’s been like to fill out my bracket for the past twenty four years. And I realized that every year when I fill it out I feel good about my picks. I look it over and think I’ve done a good job. It all makes perfect sense. It’s hard to imagine it going another way.
And then the games are played and I feel like a complete idiot.
What was I thinking? Why didn’t I have more guts to pick that team? How could I have possibly thought they were going to get to the Championship Game?
I realized the unpredictability of March Madness – what we love so much about the NCAA Tournament – is exactly what destroys our brackets each year. So we root for the 15 seed to beat the two seed – as long as we haven’t selected that particular two seed to make it to the Final Four. But you know what – even if that does happen, like it did to me this year when Florida Gulf Coast beat Georgetown, we still enjoy it because it’s what makes March mad.
And continuing to fill out our brackets thinking this will be the year we get it right is what makes us mad.
And that’s what makes this the best time of the year.
So, in the spirit of the season, let me ask: how is your bracket doing? Let me know if yours looks better than mine, and tell me who you think will be cutting down the nets on Monday. Also, check out these books we have in our collection about the Final Four:
And just for fun, if you can’t get enough of brackets, check out these two books by Mark Reiter and Richard Sandomir: