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Friday, September 19, 2014

Column: Hate Duke; love the Big Dance

This year, enjoy the NCAA tournament for its drama.

March 19, 2014

March Madness is glorious.

The four days of the first weekend of the tournament are without question my favorite four days of the year, and that includes the premieres and finales of “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” respectively.

The buzzer beaters and upsets captivate the country for three weeks, as we fall in love with Cinderellas (Florida Gulf Coast) and individual performers (Jimmer Fredette) alike. But there is an evil, manipulative, life-consuming document that can ruin the tournament for everyone, and more often than not, it does. That document, of course, is the bracket.

Seriously, how often does your bracket leave you happy and content? I've filled out a bracket every year since I was 9 years old. When I was 9, I didn't watch a lot of college basketball (cable was forbidden in the Schmidt household), so my opinion of teams in the tournament was based almost exclusively on what their seed was.

I predominantly picked the higher seed, though at random points in time I would pick the lower seed if I thought the school name sounded cool.

Fast forward to my teenage years. I watch as much college basketball as I possibly can. I look up every team’s stats. I read articles on who the best sleepers are. I have hours and hours of conversations with friends on what their strategies are for that year’s tournament.

And I can guarantee you the difference in success between the bracket I made when I was 9 and the brackets I've made in recent years is minimal.

One of the worst aspects of the bracket is that a lot of times, you can't fully enjoy the upsets. When Lehigh beat Duke as a No. 15 seed two years ago, I was happy because Duke is the worst, I hate them, and they are evil.

But I also had Duke in my Elite Eight that year, so Lehigh's victory was bittersweet for me.

Even worse are the upsets that you back out of. I keep a picture on my phone at all times of my bracket three years ago where I picked Butler (a No. 8 seed) to beat Pitt (a No. 1 seed) and then crossed it out.

Butler went on to beat Pitt in the final seconds after Pitt missed a free throw that would have won the game and then fouled on the subsequent rebound. (How do you foul there?)

There is one situation, though, that traumatizes you more than any other that can occur within a bracket. That situation is the upset that doesn't happen. I don't like talking about this, but I feel I owe it to the integrity of this column to be brutally honest.

It's the 2007 tournament. Ohio State is the No. 1 overall seed. Greg Oden and Mike Conley led the Buckeyes through a dominant regular season, and many picked them to make not only the Final Four but to win the whole thing. Not this guy, though. Not this “bracketologist.”

I had the Buckeyes losing in the second round to Xavier. I was declared insane by my peers, ostracized from lunch table conversations about the tournament. But I maintained faith. Xavier was a strong mid-major program at the time, they were located in Ohio, and they knew Ohio State would overlook them.

The Musketeers made me look like a genius for 39 minutes and 55 seconds. Down two, Ohio State missed a jumper, Oden went for the rebound, fouled a Xavier player and fouled out of the game. If Xavier made both free throws, I would have bragging rights for life.

Xavier made the first. The second was in-and-out. No worries; surely five seconds was not enough time for Ohio State to come down and drain a miracle three and break my heart.

I thought wrong, and that near miss still haunts me to this day.

So this year, don't fill out a bracket. Enjoy the tournament. And, in the name of God, root against Duke.

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