ESPN's Tournament Challenge Leader Interview: Perfect Final Four Picks

Jordan SchwartzSenior Writer IMarch 30, 2011

SAN ANTONIO, TX - MARCH 27:  Ed Nixon #50 and Jamie Skeen #21 of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams celebrate after a play against the Kansas Jayhawks during the southwest regional final of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Alamodome on March 27, 2011 in San Antonio, Texas. Virginia Commonwealth defeated Kansas 71-61. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It's a good thing Rhode Island didn't make the NCAA tournament this year or else Joe Pearlman's 15 minutes of fame would've been up before they started.

Pearlman, 50, is one of two people out of 5.9 million entrants in ESPN's Tournament Challenge to correctly predict this year's unlikely Final Four. Because of this, he's in first place overall in the annual contest that awards its winner a $10,000 prize.

The URI alum filled out his bracket based on rooting interests and admits he would've taken his alma mater to go all the way had they made the field.

"That probably saved my bracket this year," Pearlman said in a phone interview.

Instead, he predicted No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth would cut down the nets in Houston.

Well, sort of.

Pearlman, an East Brunswick, N.J., resident since 1993, actually wanted to take USC to go all the way because he's a fan of the Trojans' football team, but since he completed his bracket on the night of Selection Sunday before Southern California played VCU in a First Four game, his national champion pick was actually "USC/VCU." That morphed into just VCU after the Rams' play-in victory and so Pearlman figured he'd just stick with it.

"Once VCU had won, I was locked in with them," he said. "I'm fine with that. Let's go with it."


As for his Butler pick?

"I remembered them from last year," Pearlman said, referring to the Bulldogs' magical run to the title game against Duke. "I was pulling for them at the end. What [head coach Brad] Stevens does is tremendous."

Pearlman, who works in information technology and has three teenage children, doesn't get a lot of time to watch college basketball during the regular season, but he always tunes in when the tournament is on and knows what coaches have been successful in March.

"I like Kentucky because [head coach John] Calipari coached the Nets," Pearlman said. "This is the third team he's taken to the Final Four. I was pretty right on with my feelings on the coaches."

Like Jim Calhoun, who overcame controversy to lead an inconsistent UConn team to a historic Big East tournament championship.

"They just had an amazing finish to the year," said Pearlman, who added that the fact that he grew up in Stamford, Conn., had something to do with his pick. "They had some ups and downs during the season, but somehow they pulled it together, so they were definitely a team with momentum."

Pearlman has entered bracket pools before, but this was the first time he filled one out online. In fact, his ESPN profile indicates that he's been a member since March 13, 2011—Selection Sunday.


"My son and four of his friends from high school were putting their brackets together, and I said, 'I'm just going to do a bracket,'" he recalled. "I registered on ESPN, signed up and picked my bracket in about 10 minutes. I told them I just joined their group and I asked my son if it was okay, and he said, 'No.'"

Pearlman's son eventually relented and let his dad join the group he had created, called "we're in it to win it."

Well, at least the father was.

Pearlman isn't going to throw any big party this weekend to watch the Final Four. Instead, he'll just try to find some time between transporting his kids to their different activities to sit down in front of a TV and check out the games.

And if he wins the grand prize?

"I've been telling people the $10,000 would be pretty handy to send my son to VCU in two years."


Follow me on Twitter at @  JordanHarrison.

Jordan Schwartz not only had the most accurate bracket projections in the country this year, but out of 89 bracketologists, he was the only one to correctly predict 67 of the 68 teams to make the field.

Jordan is one of Bleacher Report's New York Yankees and College Basketball Featured Columnists. His book Memoirs of the Unaccomplished Man is available at, and

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