How to pick your NCAA tournament bracket

By CARA COOPER

Last year around this time, my newspaper’s newsroom did what just about every office in the United States did and held an office pool for NCAA Tournament brackets.

It’s the same every year. The winner gets to hang their bracket on the wall with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles victory ribbon for an entire year. I won the year before, because I am a genius and was really planning on winning again. Solely for the right to continue to tell people for another full calendar year that I am still a genius.

Our sports editor at the time was asking everyone if they wanted to participate. I’ll recreate one conversation with another reporter here.

Former Sports Editor – Hey [name redacted], would you like to do a bracket this year?

Reporter – What’s a bracket?

FSE – For the NCAA tournament.

R – Is that a sports thing? What sport?

FSE – basketball.

R – Oh. Sure! I pick UNC.

I don’t know how this person picked the rest of her games. She just said UNC and went with it.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I had killed it, of course, picking 12 of the Sweet 16 and three of the Final Four teams.

So it came down to the National Championship game. I had Gonzaga winning it all. The other reporter, of course, had UNC. The winner of that game would win the contest.

And I have had to look at her winning bracket above my desk every single day since!

Okay, this reporter is extremely nice and kind and a wonderful person who I really like, but I also plan on holding this grudge for the rest of my life.

This exchange is a real life version of an SNL skit with Peyton Manning, in which Manning is a sports writer and Amy Poehler is not. And Amy Poehler’s character beats Manning in a bracket challenge by choosing teams based on things like “Texas uniforms are orange… hideous!” and “I learned that Butler are the Bulldogs! How cute is that!”

Basically, all of this is to say that filling out brackets based on actual basketball knowledge is fruitless and disappointing. There’s a reason no one has ever won Warren Buffett’s perfect bracket challenge, and the only people who ever come close are teenagers who are too smart for their own good and figure out a way to fill out 6,500 different versions on ESPN.

So, I have a better idea for your brackets this year. A couple of years ago my friends and I did a challenge where we filled out brackets, but we couldn’t fill them out based on who we actually thought would win games. Everyone’s bracket had to have some sort of theme. Which mascots would win a fight, team with the best uniforms, most famous alumni, stuff like that. So if you’re like me and would really rather not have to deal with the shame of no longer being the office genius, or if you’re just looking for an excuse to spend half an afternoon on Wikipedia, here are some tips for how to fill out your bracket this year.

Best way to pick your bracket

  1. Team with the best looking coach

I’ve had this discussion with my friends before. UVA’s Tony Bennett is too good looking. Like, creepy handsome. It’s like he was made in a factory or something. I can’t explain it. Picking an entire bracket this way may not be so fun, but there’s a 100 percent chance you end up with UVA facing Jay Wright and Villanova in the finals, which has an extremely good chance of actually happening.

  1. Which mascot would win in a fight

This may not have the best chance of winning your bracket pool, but is very fun to imagine. Every game in every sport I have ever been to in my life I have wondered which of the two mascots would win in a Hunger Games scenario. Also, in the South Region this year you have four teams all with wildcats as their mascot. So choose wisely with that Kentucky/Davidson first round game.

  1. Coin flip

Someone in our office last year literally picked every single game with the flip of a coin and ended up in third place. I’m telling you, you have just as much chance of being right that way then actually picking winners. It’s not called March Madness for nothing!

How to NOT fill out your bracket:

  1. Based on most famous alumni

This was the mistake I made in that bracket challenge with my friends a couple of years ago. And it was a big mistake for one reason – the Ivys. No matter what the college is, the Ivys will always have the most famous alumni. Harvard was in the tournament that year and I had to have them go all the way because that’s where Al Gore went. And this year UPenn is in the tournament, and unfortunately their most famous alumni is not John Legend.

Now, if you want to change it up some and go with “School with the most famous reality TV alumni” that’s safe. You’d likely have Arizona (Kourtney Kardashian) in the finals. Or if you went “School with the most famous journalist alumni” you’d probably have Duke (Charlie Rose) against Virginia Tech (Hoda Kotb!) in the Final Four.

  1. Based on the team with the highest player payroll

Mean! Don’t do that.

But really, just let college kids make money already.

  1. Based on actual basketball stuff

Does your official title have the word “bracketologist” in it? If not, then this way is worthless. Also, there’s no way to not have some sort of personal bias. You want to know why I didn’t pick UNC to win it all last year? Because I hate UNC.

I didn’t even have UNC in the Final Four. I had UCLA. Solely because I watched UCLA play one game in the regular season and for some reason thought Lonzo Ball was the next great point guard. Also he looks exactly like Drake when Drake was still known as Aubrey Graham and acting on my favorite TV show, Degrassi. Personal bias.

Same reason I can’t pick this year, because if there’s one thing I’m positive about it’s that UVA will not win it all. And now that I’ve committed that to writing I fully expect there to be a big ceremony next year with Tony Bennett raising a banner into the rafters at John Paul Jones Arena.

So don’t do that. No matter how much some people like to brag, no one has seen every team in the country play unless seeing every team in the country play is literally your job. And even then, I’m pretty sure most people just pretend like they have and make stuff up.

(But really UVA won’t win it all this year. Of this I am positive.)

Happy bracketing!

This story first appeared in The Martinsville Bulletin.

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