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Picking March’s Winners is Madness!

By Yong-yi Zhu

SPORTS COLUMNIST

It’s that time of the year again. Bracketology, March Madness, the Road to the Final Four, the Big Dance. Whatever you want to call it, college basketball is going to be taking over the lives of sports fans for the next two weeks. It’s time when everyone prints out his brackets in order to join some pool, somewhere. We all go on one criterion or another in order to make our picks because we are convinced that our selections are the right picks.

Some people make their picks from statistics. Because Arizona scores 87.5 points per game and Duke scores 79.8 points per game, it looks like the Wildcats have that game pretty much nailed already. Because Air Force’s defense only gives up 50.4 points per game and is tops in the nation in that category, while University of North Carolina isn’t even in the top 25 in defense, it’s pretty obvious that Air Force is going to win that game. And if you look at the stats for three-point shooting percentage, Virginia Commonwealth makes 38.6 percent of their threes while Wake Forest only shoots a measly 38.3 percent. Well, I’m definitely going to mark VCU over Wake on my sheet.

Other people think that rankings are the way to go in making their picks. “Look, a number one seed is better than a number two seed is better than a number six seed is better than a number 12 seed.” Sure there may be a few upsets here an there, but in general, the higher seeds are definitely going to win, right? Why else would they be ranked higher anyway? That means that Kentucky is definitely going all the way. There’s no question about that.

Finally, there are those that go on more obscure ways of deciding. A popular method is the “Who’s Hot, Who’s Not” technique, picking who is going to win purely based on how hot players on a specific team are. Another is the mascot challenge where the fuzziest, cutest, and funniest looking mascots get picked over the dull-colored, mean-looking and boring mascots. The Syracuse Orangeman is a popular mascot by this standard while the Stanford Cardinal is less likely to win a beauty contest. (Who has a tree for a school mascot anyway?)

I think all those techniques are pretty weak because I know who will be the national champion come April 5. Isn’t it obvious that Eastern Washington is going to win it all? Come on, look at their stats. They score 70.6 points per game and grab 30.7 rebounds per game; both of these statistics are decently solid. Now look at their free throw shooting percentage, which is 70.3 percent; it ranks just outside the top 25. Also, they make 6.1 three-pointers per game, which is more than I can say for their first round opponent, the Oklahoma State Cowboys. Man, I’m feeling pretty good about Eastern Washington and pretty sorry for Oklahoma State right now. Oh, and did I mention that their mascot is an eagle? The mascot is truly a symbol of freedom and integrity that will bring nothing but fear to the eyes of the cowboys when they meet later today.

Okay, so none of these techniques are great and almost none of them will correctly predict all of the games in the NCAA tournament. However, nobody critiques their lack of a scientific method because we do not know what is going to happen until it actually happens. Anything could be right in theory. So our instinct might as well be good enough. On the other hand, the NCAA committee sits down and thinks about all the decisions that they have to make and comes up with a solution through much deliberation. They consider things like overall statistics, ratings percentage index, and how the team has played in the past several games and put together a composite of where each team fits into the tournament. They have to consider what happens if a team wins a game in order to potentially fit a next round opponent to them. After all, they don’t just sit down and randomly fill one of these charts out.

However, people are on them like crazy the moment the brackets come out. Why is Wisconsin a sixth seed? Why is Utah State not there? Why is St. Joseph’s a number one seed? These are questions that the committee has most definitely considered, and I’m sure and they’ve come to agree on the bracket that they present as the best way to resolve this difficult problem of picking 65 teams and placing them on this map. Take last year as an example, when everyone questioned the entering of Auburn in the tournament. Perhaps it was luck on the part of the committee, but Auburn sure performed well.

I don’t mean to say that the committee is perfect, but it’s just that how can we complain when they put so much effort into this matter, while we jot down an entire bracket within a matter of minutes?