Predict NCAA Basketball? You Must Be Mad

Sunday, March 11, 2000. 6:30 p.m. As soon as the super-secret NCAA committee in Kansas City had finished giving out berths, people began chewing their pencils, scratching their heads and sweating out their picks for the entryway (ahem, office) pools. UCLA's pretty hot, right? But they'll lose to Iowa St,.second round, easy. Indiana's a goner--Bobby Knight's teams always choke. Tark's back! And you gotta watch out for Appalachian State--a 14-seed always beats a three-seed first round. Always.

And just like that, everybody's wrong. North Carolina wasn't even supposed to be in the tournament--Sports Illustrated billed its first round game against Missouri as a "matchup made for the NIT."

Wisconsin? The Badgers had trouble scoring 50 points a game all year. Gonzaga--they were a Cinderella last year! While the first round was devoid of upsets, the second round was chalk full of them, and the NCAA again looks justified.

The upsets have to be the best part. For all those numbers you crunched, for all the research you did, you couldn't pick Seton Hall--the Hall!--to make it to the Sweet 16. (Only a truly crazy college basketball fan would refer to Seton Hall as "The Hall." March Madness makes you do weird things.)

Last Friday, in a fit of desperation over our malfunctioning television--CBS was the only channel we didn't get--we went to Radio Shack to buy an antenna. Talking with the guy at the counter, we casually mentioned that we needed the antenna for the NCAA tournament. Then he mentioned that he went to school with a guy who eventually became a pretty famous basketball coach--Mike Jarvis, of St. John's.

In my cocky I-won-the-NCAA-pool-in-my-high-school-two-years-in-a-row voice, I mentioned that Coach Jarvis was certainly going places: I picked St. John's to go to the Championship Game. "And who knows?" I added. "They could certainly win. It's March Madness. Anything could happen." It could, and it did. If the guy at Radio Shack even paid attention to my prediction, he'd be cursing the basketball gods, because his high school pal's team got bounced in the second round. By Gonzaga. And I still don't know where Gonzaga is.

Which just goes to show you how great the NCAA tournament is. While the events surrounding the tournament have been somewhat commercialized--"March Madness" is now a copyrighted term--tournament games still have the excitement of a winner-take-all prize fight where the scrawny underdog can top the mightiest of the pack. (The Poulan Weedeater Independence Bowl, it isn't.)

To me, it remains the purest of sporting events and by far the most fun. And you know what? To hell with my picks. Tulsa all the way. Why stop at partial insanity?

--Vasant M. Kamath