Monday, March 31, 2008

March Madness Methodology

DISCLAIMER: When reading this blog entry, one should know that I’m completely aware that I’m pretty insane between the months of November and March, and completely off the wall nutso from mid-March until early April.

The art of filling out NCAA brackets is a complicated science. There are many factors to consider when writing your predicted winners on your bracket lines. Here is my methodology, which I have used on and off for the past fifteen or so years of my life. You probably won’t use it, as its science is very specific to the type of person I am: stubborn, old-fashioned, obsessive, fiercely independent, and heavily influenced by geography. That is not the point. The point is that talking about annual traditions like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and March Madness is something we should all do more often, as it helps us instill a sense of loyalty to tradition.

The parameters:

First, I make one and only one bracket. If I participate in different bracket pools, I make different copies of the exact same bracket. I think it is unholy to make more than one set of predictions. March Madness is all about who you believe in; even if one doesn’t care about a game or has a difficult time predicting an outcome, one should make a decision and stick to it. Multiple brackets are for wafflers, people who are too scared to make choices.

Second, when making the initial bracket I draw it out myself with a ruler. I do this sometime during the weekend before announcements are made on Sunday. It is very therapeutic and helps me relieve the stress I feel when I think about the possibilities surrounding the University of Memphis’s place in all of this. If it’s a year where Memphis isn’t going to the Big Dance, I am usually feeling pretty bitter and upset. If it’s a year where Memphis is definitely going but their seeding or regional placement is in question (i.e. this year), I am stressed and will take hours to make sure that the lines measure out perfectly, as I am feeling obsessive. If it’s a year where Memphis may or may not be going to the tournament, I am extremely stressed and will take many, many hours to complete this process. I may use pre-printed forms from newspapers or the internet as second copies of my bracket (and to write down my friends’ brackets), but I always use my original bracket as my blueprint, my master plan. This original bracket goes everywhere that I go for the duration of March Madness, and I mark its correctness or incorrectness wherever I hear game updates. By the end of the tournament it’s usually folded into fourths, falling apart, covered in food and beer stains, and completely wrinkled and smushed to bits from traveling around in the bottom of my bag for three weeks.

When Selection Sunday is nigh I try my hardest to be in front of the television when the announcements are made. Like most people, I fill in the initial portions of my bracket as the teams are announced one by one. Usually I’ll go ahead and make some instant predictions, like picking all the 1 seeds to beat the 16 seeds, or knocking off teams that are seeded way too highly. I write my first round of predictions in ball point pen.

For my second round of predictions I usually use a pencil. This way I can erase any mistakes I’ve made. Constant erasing and rewriting usually means my bracket is covered with tiny eraser holes once I’ve made my final decisions. When making my choices I don’t pay too much attention to what sports commentators say, as I rely on my instinct and am usually pretty knowledgeable about the records and styles of play of most of the teams in the tournament. I pay attention to all of the important details, like how the teams have fared later in the season rather than overall, and how previous match ups between teams may come into play. I pay particular attention to the locations where the games will be played. For example, this year a lot of people have Pittsburgh beating Michigan State and then going on to beat Memphis. While I am certainly a pessimist about Memphis’s ability to win tournaments, I wonder how many Memphis naysayers are taking into account the fact that this hypothetical game will be played after Memphis will have played two games in Little Rock, which is a mere two hours away from Memphis and is often referred to as its sister city.

(You may be interested to know that I have never picked Memphis to go any further than the Final Four. I always have a stopping point for their glory. When I decide where that stopping point is, I always feel a huge surge of guilt of a treasonous nature. I feel a twinge of this every time I glance at my bracket.)

I make it a point to finish my bracket by Tuesday night before the play-in game (and yes, I make a prediction for the play-in game), and demand the same behavior from anyone who is comparing brackets or competing with me. If I am having a stressful or busy week, I will predict the play-in game first and finish the rest of my bracket by Wednesday night, as the first games are played on Thursday.

As teams are eliminated, I mark off my wrong choices with a big black marker. When a team I’ve picked to go further than the current game is eliminated, I mark off all future games as well. When I make a correct decision I circle it with the same big black marker (although some years I use a highlighter).

By the time Memphis has been eliminated, as they have been every year they’ve made it to the tournament, I lose a lot of interest in my bracket. I cease to genuinely care about the outcome of the tournament, even if I have a fair amount of money invested in it and it looks like I may win some. The sky gets a little darker. Food doesn’t taste as good anymore. My mood begins to sour. People avoid me. I close my door and throw things. I am bitter for at least two weeks, maybe longer. I lie in bed and remember the best plays of the season, and try to focus on Memphis’s certain and possible entries (if any) in the upcoming NBA draft.

When the tournament is over I compare my bracket with other peoples’, and eventually it gets thrown away. When the year comes that Memphis wins it all, I’ll frame my bracket and put it on my wall. Until then, I don’t want to be reminded of ugly basketball games and seasons that ended in disappointment. I just want to remember the good times.

With that said, GO TIGERS GO. THIS IS YOUR YEAR. For the first time ever, I am picking you to win it all. Don’t prove me wrong.

Anyone who wants to compare brackets with me, send ’em along with your email address and I’ll reciprocate.

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About Me

Jamaica Plain, MA, United States