Monday, March 16, 2009

Bracketology Lessons with M&G

I don't know about you, but I need a break from hockey right now. Between watching teams around us win and watching the Sabres find every new way to let us down, it doesn't feel as fun watching hockey right now as it should.

This is why I am so glad that it's finally March.

I've been a college basketball follower my whole life - my father is a huge Syracuse fan and my mother has always liked Duke. We've been filling out brackets as long as I can remember.

It was only during the NHL lockout that I became an avid lover of March Madness. Without hockey's home-stretch to keep me occupied, I needed another outlet for my sports passion. I found that and so much more in the NCAA Tournament.

I love the whole aura of college basketball, the sense that this is how the game should be played. Yes, there are those players looking for their big NBA payoff, but most of the kids in the tournament are just that - kids who are holding onto their passion for as long as they can. There's an innocence about the fact that there are no big contracts, no endorsement deals, nothing to cloud the fact that these players have true skill and the effort to make that skill even better. That's why, though my favorite team is in a "power conference," I love watching teams from small, mid-major schools succeed. I can't wait for the next George Mason or Davidson to emerge in the coming weeks.

For those of you who come here for Sabres news only, I encourage you to follow the Madness for the next few weeks. I know that the brackets look daunting, but, even if you know nothing about college basketball, fill one out; it'll help you feel invested in every game.

To help you out on that front, I present:

The Muckers and Grinders Guide to Bracketology*

Rule 1: If you're stuck on a match-up, always pick the school with the cooler name.

I try to follow this rule at least once every year. There's always at least one school that sticks out as having a name so cool that it's hard to ignore. Sometimes, it's a school like Austin Peay. Other times, I go with standards like Gonzaga, Xavier, or Marquette. This year, I'm going with Butler because it shares a name with a certain Sabres defenseman and I'm terrible at picking 8-9 games. This rule also applies to cool mascots (ie. Syracuse Orange, Xavier Muskateers).

Rule 2: You can't pick all higher seeds to win.

This rule has four of corollaries: 1.) You cannot choose all of the higher-ranking teams to beat lower ones in the first round. There's going to be an upset (or a few) somewhere, and you'll want the pride of having picked it. 2.) You cannot pick all four of the one seeds to make the Final Four (even though that did happen last year). That's just too easy, and you want people to think that you really thought this through. 3.) Though the first two points may be true, don't overload on the upsets. There's a reason teams like Pitt, UNC, Duke, and Memphis have high seeds; they're good. Selectively go through the match-ups to find the one or two games that you have a gut instinct will go other than predicted. 4.) Picking a nine over an eight doesn't count as an upset in my book.

Two of my first-round upsets: VCU (11) over UCLA (6) and Minnesota (10) over Texas (7)

Rule 3: Alma Maters Matter.

If the school you attended is in the tournament, you have to pick them - no matter the match-up. If (like me), your school never makes it to the Big Dance, pick the team representing its conference if possible. UB didn't make it, but Akron did, so give the Zips a win. If you're a Canisius student or alum (like yours truly), the MAAC's representative is Siena, and I like their match-up against Ohio State (sorry to my cousin Jon who is currently a Buckeye).

Rule 4: Follow Your Heart.

If you follow college basketball with the passion that I do, you surely have "your team." For some, it's the Orange; others like UNC or UConn. Don't be afraid to pick them to go all the way. Sure, somebody in the office is going to call you a homer and you may forfeit your chance to win the pool, but sports are about rooting for the team you love. What's the point in picking Louisville to win the whole thing if you really love Kansas?

Every year my sister and I pick the same team to go all the way. We fill out our brackets knowing that the chances of them winning are slim to none, but that doesn't matter to us. What matters is that we get to root for the Duke Blue Devils in every round until they're eliminated. I know that they'll most likely have to get through Pitt to get to the Final Four, so maybe picking them is not the smartest idea for anyone looking to get it right. Still, someday my sister and I will be the ones celebrating when Coach K cuts down the nets, and the fact that we won on our brackets will be the last thing on our minds.

*Said guide does not guarantee a successful bracket. In fact, if past performance by the creator is any idicator, it will guarantee nothing but funny looks and comments of "seriously?" when others look at your bracket.


dani said...

I was sure that you would get beheaded if you didn't root for Syracuse and you lived around here! haha Keep your dad safe!

I totally live by your rules.

Katie said...

I totally live by your rules.

They make brackets so much more fun!

The Orange are my second-favorite team, but Duke stole my heart back in the days of JJ Redick and has kept it for good. haha