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Randomly Picking My Madness Bracket

Charlie Schroeder

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Davidson vs. Kansas, Detroit, Mich.
(Chris Chambers/Getty Images)
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The odds? 1 in 345 million
(Charlie Schroeder/Weekend America)

According to Adam Sugano at the UCLA Math and Sciences Department, the odds of predicting a perfect bracket in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament aren't very good. In fact, they're very bad.

"There's a 1-in-345 million chance of being perfect all the way through the NCAA tournament," Sugano says.

He should know a thing or two about sports -- after all, he spent three years writing his dissertation on the subject.

Sugano's slim odds inspired my colleague Horace and I to conduct an experiment. Horace (his friends call him "H") is a basketball junkie, and loves to ruminate about the game and its many nuances.

"With college, I think there's a lot more purity to the game," he says. "The players don't run the team, like in the NBA, and the tempo is much faster."

In our experiment, H used his vast knowledge of the game to help him fill out his bracket -- that is to say, predict who'd win all 63 games -- while I, a basketball know-nothing, filled mine using advice from my friends, a group that knows even less about the sport than I do.

Consider my friend Michael: I called him recently to ask him who he thought would win the St. Mary's-Miami game.

"I think regardless of how many Hail Mary passes they actually do throw," he said... "It's called throwing, right?"

It's not. It's called shooting. My chances didn't look too good.

H and I established some simple rules for our bet: Whoever picks the most winners, wins. But the stakes proved to be a bit more complicated.

I offered to take H out for lunch if he won. I expected the same in return, or at least something equivalent. But to my surprise, he came back with something completely unexpected.

"If I win, you have to sing one of my songs on the radio."

I forgot to mention H moonlights as a producer named "H Dubb."

"You could be Michael Bolton," he said.

Great -- just what I always wanted...

For someone who's tone deaf, singing on the radio is about as nightmarish as it gets, so I really hoped my friends would come through.

First, I called my friend Adam to ask him who he liked in the Mississippi State-Oregon game -- but he didn't even know what I was talking about. Then I phoned my friend John about the Stanford-Cornell game. "Who do you think is going to win?" I asked. "I have no idea," he says.

While my friends were "advising" me, H was crunching numbers on basketball websites and subsisting on a diet of sports talk shows.

Consider his pre-game analysis of the Davidson-Gonzaga matchup:

"I think Davidson will beat Gonzaga because their point guard play is better and they have a bona-fide star," he told me. "Gonzaga doesn't have a bona fide star like a couple years ago, when they had Adam Larson. He was a really prolific scorer. He could shoot, he could drive -- they really don't have that."

In the lead-up to the tournament, it was becoming apparent that I would lose and have to sing one of H's R&B songs on the air to a million or so Weekend America listeners. So I practiced singing my favorite Lou Rawls and Michael Jackson songs in my apartment. When dogs started howling nearby, I gave up.

The tournament started on March 20 when Georgia and Xavier met in Washington, D.C. That weekend was, arguably, the tournament's most exciting weekend. It epitomized what Sugano had told me earlier: "The NCAA tournament is predictably unpredictable."

In fact, that Friday four teams were upset in Tampa alone -- including Drake, when Western Kentucky beat them at the buzzer.

H didn't predict this upset, but to my surprise my friend Ian did. His reasoning isn't what I would call orthodox: "Because I have no idea where Drake is," he told me.

That same weekend, San Diego upset Connecticut. H didn't predict that one either, but my friend Evan did. Again, with an unorthodox reasoning: "I think San Diego still has a higher median house price right now," he told me. "So I'll say San Diego."

The next time I saw H, we compared brackets. I had correctly predicted 37 of the 48 winning teams, whereas he only had 32.

As of Saturday, April 5, H has correctly picked 42 winners, while I picked 46. With only three games left, it's academically impossible that he'll win. I think I'll ask him to take me to that kebab place down the street.

Still, I feel kind of bad beating him, so out of sympathy -- and an apparent lack of shame -- I'm still going to sing his song.

We won't know the winner of the tournament until Monday night. H thinks it'll be UCLA -- he likes their guards -- I'm rooting for North Carolina, because that's who my friend John picked. John's reasoning? "That's where I was born."

Hey, why not? At this rate, the odds are pretty good.


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By M Goldie

    From Brooklyn, NY, 04/06/2008

    Charlie Schroeder- I want you to have my basketball baby!
    Keep it up..

    By Mar Cornejo

    From San Diego, CA, 04/05/2008

    Although I am not a fan of basketball, I am a fan of a great sense of humor. You may not be able to carry a tune but you do have a witty way with words.

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