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Horrors of a shattered NCAA bracket

By By Will Bardwell / sports writer
March 25, 2004
Now I know how Ryan Leaf's father must feel.
My NCAA tournament bracket was my baby. It was my pride and joy. I nursed it from emptiness to glory, with expectations of greatness and hopes of worldwide (or at least office-wide) renown.
But all that has changed now. Like an unemployed, unfulfilled 28-year-old hunched shirtless on an old couch, it hangs on my office wall silent and purposeless, mocking my dashed hopes with its very existence.
Things started out well enough. Those two first-round upsets by No. 12 seeds Manhattan and Pacific? I called both of those, thank you very much. With only a few noteable exceptions I could use a do-over on that UL-Lafayette over N.C. State pick my first round picks were pretty solid.
Then came last weekend. My once promising prognostications soon devolved into little more than yet-to-be-rolled toilet paper with "Gonzaga" and "UK" scrawled upon it.
Saturday night, I was at a softball tournament listening to the Alabama-Stanford game on a radio. The Crimson Tide, of course, went on to pull the upset. I groaned.
Over the next 30 minutes or so, the heads of dozens of middle-aged men were coincidentally clad in crimson Alabama baseball caps.
I drove back to the office to put on my dunce hat.
Yeah, I did. Thanks for reading. And by the way, if anyone still has that article, disregard it.
But I still had three of my Final Four picks alive. Oklahoma State was on fire, as was Duke. And with Gonzaga out of the way in the St. Louis regional, who would stand in Kentucky's way?
Lowly UAB, that's who. Darn you, Mo Finley.
The No. 8 vs. No. 9 games in the first round are the toughest to pick, but I felt certain Washington would cruise past the Blazers. When I saw UAB play in Hattiesburg against Southern Miss, the Blazers looked awful. I saw them lose to Mississippi State, too. I was certain they wouldn't live to see the second round.
As it turned out, they're still alive at the expense of the Wildcats, the second of my Final Four picks to go down early.
When Sunday's dust cloud settled, only eight of my Sweet 16 predictions still lived. In the NCAA tournament, 50 percent is great if that's what you shoot from the floor. It's not so hot when it's your prediction rate.
The good news, of course, is that everyone else's bracket is just as messed up as mine. I haven't met anyone who foresaw Nevada's ascension to the Sweet 16, nor many people who thought Mississippi State would fall on the first weekend.
It's little consolation, though. Western Michigan over Vanderbilt? UL-Lafayette to the Sweet 16? What was I thinking?
What really kills me is that I was a pen stroke away from picking UConn to go all the way. I was so close! But no, I had to pick Stanford.
For future reference, whenever the best rebounding team in the country, the best defensive team in the country, and the team with the best player in the country all happen to be the same team, somebody slap me and make me pick them. Granted, Vanderbilt will pose a stiffer challenge than my prognosticated UConn vs. UL-Lafayette matchup, but the Huskies still have a pretty manageable path to the Final Four.
But I'm not alone in having made some bad basketball picks. A couple of mornings ago, I got an e-mail from CBS Sportsline urging me to fill out a new bracket. I didn't even bother reading it before I trashed it. How were they going to sell this new contest to me without insulting my (admittedly insultable) intelligence?
Why would I fall for such a ploy? I've already missed 17 of the tournament's first 48 games. Who's to say I couldn't blow the last 15 just as easily? The odds would certainly be in my favor.
It's almost enough to make me want to quit picking brackets forever. There's no science to it at all! It's insanity. When you can't count on Kentucky and the No. 1 team in the nation to make it to the Sweet 16, what can you count on? I'd have just as much luck comparing and contrasting mascots, like my old roommate's ex-girlfriend.
Then again, dragons always beat wildcats, and a tide will drown even the hardiest cardinal. Maybe she was on to something.
At least now I can quit caring about my reputation (since it lies shattered on the floor) and I can start enjoying the rest of the tournament. I'll hope for buzzer beaters every night and I'll be pulling for all the underdogs.
I'll be pulling for you too, Mo Finley but don't expect a Christmas card this year.

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