There really isn't that much left to say about yours, mine or anyone's bracket for the 2014 NCAA tournament. We're all in the same boat, our handwritten sheets of paper long-since tarnished and being used as makeshift coasters for coffee stains and shed tears.
Eighth-seeded Kentucky and seventh-seeded Connecticut made bracket-busting obsolete. They've created a completely brand-new scenario where the winner of most office pools doesn't even need to have the national champion correct.
It just needed to land one of these two perspective teams. And even that's a challenge in and of itself. Of the 11 million brackets submitted for this year's tournament on ESPN, exactly 1,780 of them had UConn and Kentucky in their national championship game—or 0.016 percent, per ESPN's Amanda DeCastro:
That even more than a thousand people selected the Huskies and Wildcats is astounding—even if those people blindly threw a dart at their brackets. Connecticut and Kentucky comprise the most unlikely pairing in tournament history. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight points out that, since the Dance began seeding in 1978, every final has featured at least one team seeded No. 3 or better, roughly equivalent to between the No. 9 and No. 12 team nationally.
Neither Kentucky nor Connecticut would have been ranked in the selection committee's Top 25 based on their seeds. Of course, no one saw Aaron Harrison having a Jordan-esque run in the clutch or Connecticut's once-stagnant offense waking up just in time to catch its defense. It's funny (and saddening for those hoping to win the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge) how things work in March.
All of this is to say we are all one. No one has stakes remaining for Monday's national championship game—except the pure enjoyment of the sport. And, in a world where the sitting president fills out a bracket, that means you and I are just as good at prognosticating basketball games as the leader of the free world.
With that in mind, let's take one last look at President Obama's and our panel of experts' brackets heading into the title game.
Rank: 2,983,304 (72.9 percentile)
Where Obama Went Afoul With Connecticut: Round of 32 (Villanova)
Where Obama Went Afoul With Kentucky: Round of 32 (Wichita State)
You know, perhaps last week's "executive order" joke wasn't so funny after all. Maybe the Connecticut-Kentucky final was just one great big conspiracy to ensure President Obama stayed within good standing in his bracket. I mean, is it any less plausible than either of those two schools running off their historic streaks to get to Monday?
OK, maybe a little. But still. For POTUS, this was about the best-case scenario if he was hoping to continue cultivating his reputation as a Barackatologist. (I'm so sorry.)
Heading into the third weekend, President Obama had only hit one Final Four team (Florida), which he had losing to fourth-seeded Michigan State. Yes, the same Michigan State that had been eliminated by Connecticut in the Elite Eight. While I'm sure he had more important things on his plate, I'm sure aide No. 2,123 who keeps track of these things for the President was watching on edge as Connecticut pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament.
Florida was the top overall seed, and thus picked to the national championship game by a whole heap of people. Those included yours truly. But the Huskies' dominant second-half performance left just a minuscule fraction of the country able to move past Mr. Obama. Despite not being able to gain additional points in the Final Four, POTUS moved down barely over one percentile.
Still, even in relative triumph, he's had a good sense of humor about his lack of predictive power.
"My bracket is a mess," Obama told a group at the University of Michigan last week, per MLive's Kellie Woodhouse.
Rank: 4,171,226 (62.1 percentile)
Where Bilas Went Afoul With Connecticut: Round of 64 (Saint Joseph's)
Where Bilas Went Afoul With Kentucky: Round of 32 (Wichita State)
We can pretty much copy-paste everything said about the President's bracket and apply it to Bilas. Except the executive order thing. I know Bilas is a practicing attorney, which gives him great legal strength, but not POTUS strength.
Still, mostly everything worked out in Bilas' favor over the weekend. He and Mr. Obama both had a Michigan State-Louisville final (as did an oddly high number of analysts in retrospect). Having Kentucky defeat Wisconsin worked in a similar fashion to Florida's loss, as Bilas gets credit for having the Badgers to the Final Four but doesn't go backward because a high seed kept advancing.
As a result, Bilas essentially stays stagnant this week. He moves back ever so slightly from the 62.8 percentile to the 62.1 percentile, which means he can no longer honestly round up. But it's still far better than what a Florida-Wisconsin national championship game would have done for his outlook.
Bilas' predictive powers have also gotten better as the tournament went along. Given a second chance by Terrence Watson of Vibe prior to the Final Four, Bilas picked a Florida-Kentucky championship game. While that's only a 50 percent success rate, he still has a chance to be correct in selecting the Wildcats as his new national champion.
"It’s hard to go against [Kentucky] right now," Bilas said. "Coach Cal and the kids have seemed to figure it out."
Young Jeezy song that best describes the ESPN analyst's picks: "R.I.P."
Rank: 1,322,983 (88.0 percentile)
Where Vitale Went Afoul With Connecticut: Round of 32 (Villanova)
Where Vitale Went Afoul With Kentucky: Sweet 16 (Louisville)
Finally, someone who had one of our national finalists going past their second game. Vitale's bracket, for the most part, had enough chalk to make a third-grade teacher cough. But his selection of Kentucky over Wichita State seems almost prescient now, even if he had the Wildcats losing a round later to Louisville.
Like the aforementioned pair, Vitale benefitted from the unforeseen outcomes Saturday night. He, again like everyone, had Louisville and Michigan State in his final. By virtue of the teams that beat his national championship selections making it to the final game, the amount of backtracking was minimal. Vitale moved back just over one percentile from last week and will probably have bragging rights among colleagues for a while.
Bragging rights in this sense mean little. Everyone's bracket is terrible. Vitale's is just a little less so because he landed five of the Elite Eight teams, most of which involved him merely going with the chalk selection.
Even in crazy seasons like this, it ultimately pays to go with the low seeds. Unless, of course, by some miraculous happenstance you get struck by lightning and can somehow predict the future. Which is how I assume anyone who picked Connecticut-Kentucky came to their conclusion.
Rank: 9,251,860 (16.0 percentile)
Where Beadle Went Afoul With Connecticut: Round of 64 (Saint Joseph's)
Where Beadle Went Afoul With Kentucky: Round of 64 (Kansas State)
Gotta give Beadle credit here. Having not just one but both national finalists going out in the round of 64 ain't great shakes. I'm sure it's not the first time in history that's happened to someone—every pool has that one "clever" fella who thinks a No. 16 seed will finally upend a No. 1—but I've certainly never seen it. Sometimes when it rains, it pours and all that other cliche nonsense.
That said, Beadle's line of thinking continues to be correct. If there was anyone who had the right idea that this was going to be a completely nonsensical, totally unpredictable tournament, it was Beadle. She had Oklahoma State in her final game. Nebraska in her Elite Eight. Texas in her regional final. When Beadle filled out the bracket, it was as if she gave one giant shrug, knowing the inherent stupidity of the process.
She was right. Yet she was so very, very wrong. Beadle's bracket might be the ultimate justification for a chalk-heavy bracket, as strange as it sounds. While her ideas were proven correct, the inherent difficulty of picking which underdogs will shock the world is often impossible. Oklahoma State lost its first game. Kentucky and Connecticut, teams Beadle picked to lose their first games, are playing for the national championship—even though it was completely reasonable to expect them to be ousted early.
The Wildcats were wildly (again, apologies) inconsistent all year. There was no reason to think a one-point loss to Florida in the SEC tournament would suddenly shift their entire season. A loss is still a loss (#hardcoreanalysis). Likewise, Connecticut lost to Louisville by 33 points less than a month before playing for the national title.
The world is weird, man.
Rank: 2,459,976 (77.7 percentile)
Where Katz Went Afoul With Connecticut: Sweet 16 (Iowa State)
Where Katz Went Afoul With Kentucky: Sweet 16 (Louisville)
Can we get Katz a medal or something? Maybe a plaque? No? Not even a gift certificate for one of those $5 all-you-can eat joints?
Even he didn't pick Connecticut and Kentucky to the final game or even the Final Four, he deserves some level of credit for having both make it to the second weekend. At the time, it involved the very implausible scenario of the Huskies defeating a three-bombing Villanova team and the Wildcats taking down an undefeated Wichita State squad.
The Shockers weren't "Undertaker at Wrestlemania" great, but it took perhaps the greatest game of the Big Dance for Kentucky to take them down. The only competition on the "greatest game" mantle are Kentucky's subsequent three victories, each of which had a national championship feel. At one point, Katz was in the 98.3 percentile thanks in part to his faith in Kentucky and Connecticut.
If only he had a little more.
Who will win 2014 national championship?
In the end, though, this tournament has been defined by a lack of faith. Despite being from major conferences, Kentucky and Connecticut were very much so underdogs. They're not Cinderellas in the traditional sense—mainly because it's never felt like a fluke they made it this far.
Harrison's clutch three-point barrage will go down in history, but Kentucky still competed with the nation's best teams long enough for him to make those shots. Kevin Ollie's team may be defined by its defensive tenacity, but it's nowhere without the impossible shot-making of Shabazz Napier and ascent of DeAndre Daniels.
There will be a rush for everyone to make their revised national title picks in the coming hours. But what these two teams have done defies selection. Now that our brackets are smashed to smithereens—and by our, I mean the entire nation—let's just instead watch this game and appreciate the final 40 minutes. Lord knows we'll probably need all of them to decide the outcome.
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