The only emotion deeper than the satisfaction of finalizing your NCAA tournament bracket is the utter despair of watching it all fall apart.
When it comes to the 2014 proceedings, there has been more than enough dejection to pass around. From the early exits of Duke and VCU in the Round of 64 to the surprise advancements of Connecticut, Dayton, Stanford and Kentucky, the annual throwing of the bracket in the air to signify lost cash happened earlier than ever.
Meanwhile, billionaire Warren Buffett got to take his Scrooge McDuck swim, as his $1 billion was more than safe by Sunday. Buffett's so-called Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge came and went without anyone getting through the first weekend with a perfect sheet of selections. In fact, the last known perfect bracket on Yahoo was from the now Internet-famous Brad Binder, whose remarkable run ended with Dayton's upset win over Syracuse.
As noted by Liz Fields for Good Morning America, the odds always worked in Buffett's favor:
As ABC News previously reported, the odds of guessing a perfect bracket were estimated by one mathematician to be 1 in 128 billion (and that’s if you know something about basketball). In the same YouTube video, DePaul University's Jeff Bergen explained that there were more than 9 quintillion ways to fill in a bracket.
This is not the year to feel good about your college basketball knowledge.
Nor is it a great time to be an NBA scout hoping to get one last look at this year's elite players before June's draft. (Side note: Goodbye to Doug McDermott, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart and Tyler Ennis. It's been real.)
Luckily, it's just not your average college basketball fan feeling terrible about his or her picks. The great thing is we're all in this together. From you, to me, to President Barack Obama, to every analyst on the planet, everyone has a bracket that's been busted.
With that in mind, let's share in all of our failed glory by updating the progress of some of our most famous bracketologists.
(Note: Most information comes via ESPN's Bracket Challenge rankings.)
Rank: 2,895,198 (73.7 percentile)
Smartest Picks: North Dakota State, Harvard
Biggest Mistakes: Duke, Villanova, Kansas
So far, so not-so-bad for our sitting President. While President Obama's brackets have tended to be chalk-heavy in the few years he's been filling them out with ESPN's Andy Katz, the risks he does take tend to work out. North Dakota State and Harvard were able to oust Oklahoma and Cincinnati, respectively in the second round, giving POTUS an early boon over most of the field.
Thursday was quite a good one for The Barackatologist (sorry).
The next few days...not so much. Because of his chalk-heavy leanings, President Obama started seeing his Sweet 16 picks fall by the wayside. Like many of us, he watched on as Dayton ousted Syracuse on Saturday and Stanford took down Kansas the next day, losing two Sweet 16 squads there alone. Between Kansas, Duke and Villanova, three of President Obama's Elite Eight teams are already watching the rest of the tournament at home.
That said, he does have one up on most of us: All of his Final Four teams are still intact. Leaning chalk normally pays dividends as the tournament goes along, as the glass slippers of Cinderellas get smashed into a door and the giants finally take over. (Side note: A glass slipper has always seemed like a really impractical and expensive shoe.)
Florida, Arizona, Louisville and Michigan State are all still around, though each have had their fits and starts along the way. The Spartans face the most difficult trek going into the Sweet 16, as they face top-seeded Virginia—a team that's looked every bit worthy of its No. 1 status thus far.
"I know these are not imaginative picks, but I think they're the right ones," President Obama told Katz, acknowledging his leaning toward the favorites.
Everything goes well, and POTUS could be looking at a bracket in the 90th percentile. If not, say hello to the Final Four, Dayton.
Rank: 1,831,463 (83.4 percentile)
Smartest Picks: North Dakota State, Harvard, Tennessee
Biggest Mistakes: Kansas
Young Jeezy song that best describes the ESPN analyst's picks: "Trapped."
Looking at the first week, not all that much went wrong for Bilas. He didn't have Dayton because no one did. He didn't have Mercer, again, because no one did. With a slight upset Final Four selection in Wisconsin, Bilas could probably talk himself into being considered one of our best "celebrity" bracketologists.
The Jayhawks' loss to Stanford on Sunday was a frustrating hit on many levels. First, no more Andrew Wiggins. Second, no Joel Embiid whatsoever. Two of the likely top three picks in this June's NBA draft were cast aside without so much as a second weekend. Including Duke's Jabari Parker, the three best players in this class played a total of three games.
For Bilas, though, it simply means a ruined bracket. Top overall seed Florida remains alive and the overwhelming favorite in the South Region. The Gators have looked dominant in wins over Albany and Pittsburgh, and the dual upsets in the bottom half of the bracket leave UCLA as their only realistic test.
The issue here for Bilas is that pretty much everyone had Florida running through the South. Embiid's injury status combined with the scarily (and, it seems, foreshadowing) poor play of Syracuse down the stretch left Florida with a relatively open road to the Final Four. No one thought the road would be paved smoothly by Stanford and Dayton, but that's just how things shake down in March.
Any potential boost Bilas would get from a potential Wisconsin Final Four berth will be negated as he fails to get points in the South. Michigan State and Louisville, his championship game teams, are still alive, so there's some hope. But if you're pitting our favorite Jeezy enthusiast vs. our favorite Jay Z enthusiast, I'd throw money on HOVUS. (Sorry. I'll show myself to the exit.)
Rank: 1,831,463 (83.4 percentile)
Smartest Picks: Kentucky
Biggest Mistakes: Syracuse, lack of Round of 64 Upsets
First things first: Sorry, POTUS. When I called your bracket "chalk-heavy," I had forgotten about Mr. Vitale's selections. If our sitting president tends to lean on the favorites, then Dickie V rolled around in a chalk factory and came out looking like a ghost. The loudest man in broadcast television took just three lower seeds in the Round of 64 when filling out his bracket—and two were No. 9s.
While it's typically disappointing to see someone be so risk-averse, the strategy seems to have paid off. All of Vitale's Final Four teams (Florida, Michigan State, Arizona and Louisville) are still remaining. His predilection for higher-seeded teams puts him in the first-weekend conversation with Mr. Bilas, while he'll likely finish ahead of President Obama—even if both of their brackets shake out the way they'd like.
Vitale also deserves some credit for one of the select few upsets on his bracket: Kentucky over Wichita State.
It was a game that some saw coming as soon as the brackets were released—the overachieving mid-major against the prep-filled, preseason No. 1 team in the country. Kentucky had more McDonald's All-Americans responsible for going to get postgame McDonald's for the kids who actually played than Wichita State did on its entire roster.
Nevertheless, the historical numbers say picking a No. 8 over a No. 1—no matter the hype around either team—is a losing battle. Yet Mr. Vitale went for it, got rewarded in one of the best games of the tournament thus far and is now in a position to stand above his colleagues and the President.
Chalk may not be the most fun way to fill out your bracket, but Vitale seems to have backed the right favorites.
Rank: 10,135,725 (7.9 percentile)
Smartest Picks: Stanford, Dayton
Biggest Mistakes: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Credit where it's due: Beadle had the right idea. She had a No. 1 seed going out in the Round of 32. She had a No. 2 seed going out in the same round. She had a No. 11 over a No. 3. Every one of those things happened over the past couple days.
They just happened in different brackets.
Beadle's Oklahoma State pick became Kentucky. Her Texas pick became Stanford. And her love of #Nebrasketball was unfortunately not mutual, and Dayton became the No. 11 seed to oust third-seeded Syracuse. (Though kudos to Beadle for seeing that Creighton was in danger of an early exit.)
The result was a bracket that ranks outside the top 10 million, but it's really hard to get that indignant about the mistakes. For one, there is roughly a 99.9 percent chance she does not care. For two, I was lying—there is a 110 percent chance she does not care. No matter your knowledge of college basketball, one does not simply fill out a bracket that has a No. 9 seed in the championship game unless one shrugs at the whole process.
This, like many of Beadle's other qualities, makes her refreshing at the Worldwide Leader. It also unfortunately makes her not-so-great at arbitrarily picking games none of us can figure out anyway. Props to Beadle for giving it a shot, though.
Rank: 190,039 (98.3 percentile)
Smartest Picks: North Dakota State, Kentucky, Connecticut
Biggest Mistakes: Creighton, Kansas, Duke
There were plenty of people who realized Kentucky had a chance to beat Wichita State—likewise Connecticut with Villanova. There were few who actually had the fortitude to pick one of them. There were even fewer who decided to ride or die with the Wildcats and Huskies.
Andy Katz is one of those brave souls.
It worked out, and now Katz has bragging rights over pretty much every colleague, their grandmothers and their whole next of kin. Among the celebrities in ESPN's bracket pool, Katz ranks tied for third overall but way ahead of most so-called experts. He has a slight lead over ESPN's Jeff Goodman, and most other college basketball aficionados are looking up at his solid bracket.
Given the teams remaining, there aren't going to be that many opportunities to catch Katz either. His Final Four of Arizona, Florida, Louisville and Iowa State is pretty run of the mill among those who still have all their Final Four teams remaining. The Cyclones are the only "out there" pick, and we're getting generous by calling a No. 3 seed an unlikely national semifinalist.
Katz's mistakes were also explainable. Kansas and Syracuse at certain points both looked like the best team in the country; seeing them both flail in March was a major surprise.
As it stands, Katz sits above the rest. His mistakes were the ones that most people made, and by playing the percentages with a few relatively big upsets, he got a leg up on the competition. Even in frustratingly unpredictable years like 2014, that's what winning your bracket pool comes down to: playing the odds, taking a few calculated risks and hoping everything works out.
Going forward, Katz and all others who went with top-seeded teams are in good shape. Since 1985, only three national champions were seeded worse than No. 3. Overwhelmingly, No. 1 seeds have won 18 national titles since the advent of the 64-team format—far greater than any other seed.
With Katz taking top overall seed Florida and the Gators having an easy road to the Final Four, one could argue they are the prohibitive favorites to win it all. I still tend to believe in my initial pick, Arizona, but selecting Duke to the Final Four was already the death knell to my bracket.
The lesson: Unlike yours and mine, Katz's risks have just happened to work out. So far.
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