There are 347 colleges who play Division I men’s basketball, and only 64 get to play in the NCAA Tournament. Only one March basketball tournament boasts a capital “T,” and it’s not the one down the road at Holy Redeemer.
It’s madness, and once the bracket is announced Sunday night beginning at 5 p.m. CDT, you have about 86 hours to mull over 63 games – that is, if you want to play along with the Times & Word Bracket Challenge at contest.timesnewspapers.com. It costs nothing but your time.
If you’re in it to win it, there will be no shortage of prognosticators dishing out inside information. But don’t look for that here. Despite spending the better part of the 1990s as a sportswriter, I’ve never won an NCAA bracket – not even in the years playing with our little family. Getting beat by a fourth grader in a four-bracket contest is humbling, but then again, remembering that 10-year-old boy analyzing Mike Krzyzewski’s defense is in itself remarkable.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not playing. I wouldn’t miss it. So here are a few things I’ll be thinking about when I sit down at the laptop to fill out my bracket:
Pay attention to the seeding. The 64-team field will be divided into four sections, or regionals, with each team in a region assigned a seed from 1-16. The best are seeded 1-4; it’s those teams seeded 5-8 that have the best chance to break through. The lowest seeded team to ever win the title? No. 8 Villanova, in 1985.
Pick your Final Four first, then work backward. Sure there will be upsets, but a No. 1 seed has lost in the first round just once in 34 years: 2018, when the University of Maryland Baltimore beat Virginia. So it’s safe to pick the No. 1s to go far. But be warned: Only once, in 2008, have all four No. 1s advanced to the Final Four.
There’s always going to be a surprise. You just have to identify the lucky team. Last year, that was No. 11 Loyola-Chicago, which had a then 98-year old nun, Sr. Jean, as its No. 1 fan and advanced to the Final Four. There may be something to Divine Intervention.
Be careful picking with your heart, because chances are it will be broken. I’m thinking about picking Marquette to win it all, a school I love that once got a lot of tuition money from us. But then again … Duke is going to be a favorite thanks to a trio of phenomenal freshmen. Gonzaga is, at times, unbeatable and currently No. 1 overall. Virginia has a chip on its shoulder after last year. All potential champions.
But what do I know? My bracket once got schooled by a 10-year-old.