My bracket’s doing well this year, and that’s good news on several fronts. First, it’s nice at home. My neighbor was very excited to have this college basketball type move in next door last summer, because he figured it would pay dividends in his office pool come March. With 64 tournament games now in the books, I am happy to report I can look my neighbor in the eye, at least until next year.
I didn’t tell my neighbor about last year. Back then I lived in Montreal. (I’ve had three different addresses over the last three Final Fours. That streak ends next year.) My neighbors, even in a locale that produced Kris Joseph and Laurent Rivard among others, plainly thought it very strange that a grown man should devote his time to writing about such an obscure sport, and at the college level to boot. To them I might just as well have been poring over stats from the McGill Table Tennis Club.
So, no, those neighbors weren’t asking for help with their brackets, and that turned out to be a good thing. Last year I correctly identified just one of the Final Four teams in advance: No. 4 seed Kentucky. My showing in the ESPN Tournament Challenge was so bad that my editor (somewhat too eagerly, I thought) encouraged me to sift that rubble at length in a piece that could have been headlined “Hi, I’m John Gasaway, and I Got Beat by 900,000 of You.” (But, hey, I did at least beat five million others.)
I’ll tell you now what I told my editor then. The extent to which my bracket does well in any given year is entirely up to actual basketball teams, who can make me look smart or foolish as they see fit. I will always be at the same old stand, voting more or less a straight tempo-free ticket.
This year that ballot’s winning in a landslide. Michigan State got punched between the eyes by the Louisville defense, but otherwise the participants gathering in New Orleans this week were all kissed on the cheek in advance by Tuesday Truths, my viewer’s intuition, and other such trusty screening devices.
Those screening devices may have counted for less if Kendall Marshall had been available against Kansas. When our brackets fare badly it’s due to exceptionally bad luck. When they do well it’s because we’re so brilliant.
To be sure, even the tempo-free chalk can get a little muddy when making picks in the round of 64. For instance my laptop and I had a running argument about Texas all year, one that came to a boil when I went with Cincinnati in my bracket over the Longhorns. My laptop took that “Fine, be that way, you’ll see” attitude that drives me crazy, and when the Bearcats stumbled badly down the stretch of that game I had to leave the room a couple times to escape the taunting from my know-it-all hard drive. But it worked out.
My assumption is that over the long term a tempo-free bracket tweaked and realigned by this kind of don’t-mess-with-Texas analytic guardrail will do well, and specifically will do better than the traditional chalk based on seeding. But until I do 20 or so ESPN Tournament Challenges I of course don’t know that for a fact. So my Gasaway Bracket Challenge is this: Meet me back here in 2032, and let’s compare.