I've actually won an NCAA pool before. The 1996 UD Stuart Hall Sixth Floor NCAA Tournament Pool championship went to me. It included seven other guys, four of whom have still not paid me. I won on the strength of randomly picking Syracuse to go to the Final Four and because most of the guys I hung out with as a college freshman were too busy pursuing
other pleasures their studies to really pay much attention to college basketball.
Since then, I've not come close to winning. And actually, as much fun as it is to make out a bracket, I prefer to put most of my money one a pool one of my buddies runs where we each pick ten teams and get points based every time each of them wins, with more points being given for lower-seeded teams that advance, and a square game another friend runs where you have a chance to win with every individual result.
In the traditional iHeartMedia office pool, my best finish is something like 38th place. A couple of years ago, I finished sixth from last. Our former HR director, who's watched a grand total of zero basketball games in her life, has won the pool twice. Since she no longer works with us, maybe I can have her ghost-pick for me.
Anywhere, here's this year's bracket....
My bracket is not what you would call "creative." And it surely doesn't look like the picks of someone who overthought or who has a tried-and-true strategy. I simply looked at each game and, based on whatever it is I do know about each team, picked who I thought would win.
I did automatically advance six teams to the regional finals, because those six - Villanova, Kentucky, North Carolina, Arizona, Kansas, and as a late add, Duke - were the six that during the season made me think "know what, they can win six in March." Then I pared it down. I just like the way 'Nova plays too much to pick them to lose against Duke, and while I did originally write Kentucky into the Final Four, that was a mere error made in haste, and one that I'm frankly too lazy to correct. I like the Wildcats. I can see them winning this thing. I also don't like them on defense, I fear than Malik Monk will shoot them out of a game, and I don't think they use Bam Adebayo nearly enough. Also, I think North Carolina is better.
I think they're better than Kansas too, mainly because they have multiple shooters, bigger bodies, and honestly, the farther Roy Williams advances in the tournament, the happier he is, and there's nothing more god-awful in college basketball than an unhappy Roy Williams.
I picked Arizona over Villanova because I think Jay Wright's Wildcats will be running of fumes by the time they play Sean Miller's Wildcats, and because I just can't talk myself into there being a repeat champion.
Then I think Carolina will beat Arizona in a game that I expect some sort of heated moment to cause an exchange where Williams sticks his finger in Miller's chest or something.
I don't like Roy Williams.
But yeah, Carolina.
As for the locals. I have spent the week being optimistic about the Bearcats, and I do think they'll play well enough against Kansas State to ignite a very big round of "you know, we have a chance" texts between my friends and I late on Friday night. And I do think the Cats can create just enough problems for the Bruins on defense while exposing some UCLA defensive deficiencies on offense to make the game interesting.
But UCLA is the better team, so I'm picking them. I fill out my bracket with my head, not my heart, and I root to be wrong all them time.
I also think Xavier will play really well against Maryland. The Musketeers have a big March asset, in a guy - Trevon Bluiett - who can score in bunches. I like the way they've clicked on defense, and Quentin Goodin has grown up a bit. Plus, the Terps are basically just one guy and a bunch of other dudes.
Florida State is being undersold a little. They have two future pros in Jonathan Isaac and Dwayne Bacon. They're athletic, they have size, and as enigmatic as they are, when they're running the floor and attacking on offense, they can be as scary as anyone.
I think they're better than Xavier. I've typed that sentence before and been wrong.
I think John Calipari will be acutely aware of the line in the NKU game - 19.5 - and keep it interesting so as not to embarrass another state school. This logic helped me win a three-teamer in Vegas when UK opened their title run against Western Kentucky in 2012.
And I have Dayton losing to Wichita State, which makes me sad because I really enjoyed this UD season, loved their senior class, and I wish I could use a UD/UK matchup to remind my UK friends of the last time the Flyers played the Wildcats. I attended that game with my dad, and two of the guys who still owe me money from my win 21 years ago.
Maybe I'll call them this weekend.