Here is a formula that I believe to be true: The less time I spend on a prediction, the more likely it is to happen. I'm fairly certain Albert Einstein devised this formula first, but it was confirmed for me at the 1995 Super Bowl. At the beginning of the week, I was 100 percent sure that the 49ers would beat the Chargers by about a million points. But, as the week went on, as more and more analysts broke it down, as more and more players began making their points, as my mind filled with all sorts of new information, I began to doubt.
By Friday afternoon, I thought the Chargers had a chance.
By Saturday evening, I had the game more or less a toss-up.
By Sunday afternoon, I thought the Chargers were going to win.
So, for a few years now, I have done what I call the 64-second bracket (now 68 seconds because the field has expanded). The idea, simply enough, is to pick the entire bracket in 68 seconds. No time to look anything up. No time to ponder the deep dark secrets of each team. No time, frankly, to learn even basic information about Liberty or La Salle, like their nicknames.*
*Well, I know Tom Gola played for La Salle.
Deep down, you know this is the best way. You know it's true because the person who will win your office pool, nine times out of 10, knows nothing about these teams. You're breaking down how Bucknell's style will match up against Butler, maybe looking at some video, maybe analyzing the seemingly similar but subtly different coaching styles of Dave Paulsen and Brad Stevens. They've invented some system involving alphabetizing and which name sounds more like food they like. And when they beat you, well, you will have no choice but live with it, the same way you have to live with the basic fact that a flush beats three of a kind in poker, even if your opponent didn't realize he HAD a flush.
So, 68 seconds. That's all. No matchups. No breakdowns. Just blunt, undisguised guesswork while going as fast as I can.
First round (Four seconds): Four games, four seconds, that's all you can give them. I chose N.C. A&T, Middle Tenn. State, La Salle and LIU Brooklyn. I have no idea why.
It's often wise to pick at least a single No. 3 seed to get upset - No. 3s have lost about 15 percent of the time over the years - so I choose Davidson over Marquette. I did, almost accidentally, hear an amazing statistic about third-seeded Florida: Apparently the Gators were 0-6 in games decided by six points or fewer. This might have made it tempting to pick Northwestern State over Florida.* But this stat counts as "information," and information is precisely what I'm trying to avoid here.
*Northwestern State (which is in Natchitoches, La.) is appearing in its third NCAA tournament. Northwestern (which is in Evanston, Ill., and is sort of famous) has never appeared in an NCAA tournament. This remains one of the most amazing sports facts ever. I have to believe Northwestern alum Seth Meyers has a good bit on this.
The most famous upset line in the NCAA tournament is the No. 12 seed beating the No. 5 seed - it happens more than 30 percent of the time in real life. I'm picking Cal over UNLV - I do know that game is in California, which makes this a dangerous pick because there's actual reasoning behind it. I'm also picking Akron over Virginia Commonwealth, just because Cinderella teams like Shaka Smart's VCU sometimes get upset themselves when they are the favorites.
I have No. 11 Bucknell upsetting No. 6 Butler for that same reason - the Cinderella Curse - and No. 10 Iowa State upsetting Notre Dame because, well, I don't know, I was in a serious hurry by this point. The 8-9 matchups are always a toss-up. I picked No. 8 North Carolina to win because I want to see Roy Williams play Kansas in Kansas City. I picked No. 8 Pittsburgh, No. 9 Missouri and No. 9 Temple. This round took WAY too long. I need to pick the third-round games much quicker.
Third Round: (15 seconds): That's faster. I advanced all the Nos. 1 and No. 2 seeds again, though I think No. 2 Duke could have a really brutal game with Creighton and No. 2 Georgetown, well, I barely had them getting out of the first round.
Anyway, that's half the games in the third round, and it took just five seconds, so I had time to ponder the others. As for the rest: In the East, I have Montana and California playing for a spot in the Sweet 16, which I don't feel great about. I took Montana. I also have Davidson and Bucknell playing for a spot. Man, my East bracket is a disaster. I took Davidson.
I have Michigan and Florida winning their games in the South region. Michigan, by the way, is playing its "South" region games in Auburn Hills, Mich., which is really about as far from the South as you can get and remain in America. They really should stop even the silly pretense of separating these regions by geography and, instead, name them after famous people who has success in those regions. You might have the John Wooden region, the Dean Smith region, and so on. Just an idea in the 1.3 seconds I had to spare.
I have Saint Louis and Michigan State winning in the Midwest, which is a brutal bracket. I have Wisconsin and New Mexico coming out of the West.
Sweet 16 (Six seconds): OK, here's where a No. 1 seed has to go down. It could be any of them, but I'm choosing Wisconsin to beat Gonzaga. Wisconsin just has this extraordinary ability to make the other team look absolutely horrible. It's like their uniforms are made of kryptonite.
As for the No. 2 seeds - I have Michigan State beating No. 2 Duke, I also have Florida beating No. 2 Georgetown.
So my Elite Eight is as so:
- No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 3 Florida
- No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 2 Miami
- No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 3 Michigan State
- No. 3 New Mexico vs. No. 5 Wisconsin
I can tell you right now - that's way too conventional. This tournament figures to have more upsets than that. But it's too late. My bracket is already close to filled out. I have to keep going forward.
Elite Eight (Three seconds): Don't have a lot of time here. I chose Kansas, Miami, Louisville and New Mexico. The Louisville-Michigan State game seems like an impossible choice, and it might be a classic. I just have this Rick Pitino feeling about this tournament. I now have seven seconds left to pick my Final Four and championship game, which isn't enough time. I would prefer to nine seconds to consider all the possibilities. But here we go.
Final Four (Five seconds): Kansas is a crazy team. I picked the Jayhawks to go all the way through the Final Four - they easily could lose the first weekend. They're so up and down, and when they look bad, they look really bad. But I had to pick them to beat Florida (How did Florida get this far in my bracket? Didn't I almost pick the Gators to lose in the first round?) and do the same against Miami.
Rick Pitino, meanwhile, has been at Louisville for 12 years - he has now coached at Louisville for as long as he coached Kentucky and the Boston Celtics COMBINED. Crazy.
I'm picking Louisville. Like I say, I have a Rick Pitino feeling about this year's tournament. And a Kansas-Louisville final - that sounds pretty good.
Championship game (Two seconds): I picked Louisville - which would make it the second straight season that Bill Self and Kansas would lose in the championship game to a team from Kentucky. I will concede, there is the slightest chance that it will all go a different way.