The perfect bracket.
This is the holy grail of sports, in my humble opinion. Sixty-three correct picks over three weeks. Correctly picking every upset, every Sweet 16 participant and each of the Final Four.
When I first started paying attention to brackets, I remember contests that would guarantee $10,000 dollars to any player who had the perfect bracket. As the years rolled by and repeated choruses of "One Shining Moment" were sung, the dollar value went up - $100,000 to any perfect picker and then it got to $1 million.
As I would pick my upsets, high seeds and ridiculous homer picks, I could only imagine what I would do with that million dollars … that is until the first round of games on the Thursday morning ended that dream.
Now the perfect bracket is worth $1 billion. Say it with me: "ONE BILLION DOLLARS."
Quicken Loans and uber-rich investor Warren Buffett and Berkshire Hathaway has offered the ultimate prize for the perfect bracket, which can be paid out in 40 annual installments of $25 million or one lump payment of $500 million - your choice. Allow the fantasies of how you will spend that money wash over you. I am imagining a private island which I will name Bracketville.
OK, time to refocus.
So, how does one begin building the perfect bracket? For starters, you must honestly analyze why you fail each year to have a perfect bracket - or even better yet, why your spouse or children who pick based on the team with a dog mascot do better than your bracket. As I examine my picks, I have learned four key lessons.
Lesson No. 1: Stop picking with your heart
I love my Iowa Hawkeyes. As of right now, my Hawks are a likely No. 4 or No. 5 seed, which means they have a shot to play in the Spokane Arena for the first two rounds of the tournament. This could be very unfortunate for my bracket. You see, I love picking with my heart when it comes to the Hawkeyes.
Anytime they have landed a fourth seed or above, I usually slot them for the Elite Eight or Final Four. If they are seeded lower than 4, I almost always give them the second round upset over a top seed before losing in the Sweet Sixteen. If the Hawkeyes are playing locally and I manage to get tickets for the game, there is NO WAY I can't pick them through to the Sweet Sixteen. But when picking for a billion, I may have to acknowledge they are a one-win-and-done team, depending on the second round matchup.
So Gonzaga fans, take note. The Bulldogs are a solid 5- to 7-seed, which means a first round win and probably that is all unless you want to pick with your heart - in which case they will avenge their round two loss to Wichita State last year by landing an 8 seed and beating the Shockers in the second round before marching on to the Final Four.
Lesson No. 2: Don't fall in love with a conference
I fall into this trap each year. You listen to the hype; you hear how this or that conference is the best in the nation and could land three teams in the Final Four. A few years back, I did this with the Big East and I saw my national title pick Pittsburgh bow out in the second round.
This year, with the break-up of major conferences, it is hard to even figure out who is in what conference, much less fall in love with one of them. The Big Ten has gotten a lot of positive publicity, but even as a Midwest kid I have a hard time believing more than one team could get to the Promised Land (unless, of course, the Hawkeyes go on an unbelievable run and … wait … quit typing with my heart) of the Final Four. The reality is that talent is across the country, and in a one-and-done tournament, anything can happen. Putting all of your eggs in one conference basket will probably end the billion-dollar dream.
Lesson No. 3: Limit your underdog love
Yes, we all love the crazy upset. Valparaiso knocks off Mississippi. Princeton defeats UCLA. Weber State takes down North Carolina. Hampton over Iowa State (loved that one as a Hawkeye fan). But we need to be realistic and realize that as great as the upset and underdog story is, it should not litter your bracket.
I fall into the trap of picking multiple upsets so that I can be the smart one to say, "hey, I picked North Dakota State to defeat Syracuse," but the problem is each year we get one or two of those huge, exciting upsets, so if you are battling for a billion you need to be very judicious and choose one, maybe two - but don't go crazy picking five or six. As underdogs go, I always like a team that can score some points, has a couple of key seniors and has some experience in the tourney.
Lesson No. 4: Being seeded No. 1 matters … kinda
This is the lesson I struggle with often. I love to find that 3 or 4 seed that will make the run and win the title, and too often I end up with a Final Four minus the top four teams in the tourney. The reality is that since going to the 64-team format, the No. 1 seed has cut down the nets more than 60 percent of the time. If I am playing for a billion bucks, I am going to have to pick a No. 1 seed to win this tournament. It is just good odds.
At the same time, the last four Final Fours combined have only seen three No. 1 seeds among them, so my advice is to pick at least one top seed to reach the Final Four (two if you are feeling lucky), BUT you need to pick that same team to win the whole thing.
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Will these four simple rules help you win a billion bucks? I would say no. In fact, the odds most experts show for getting all 63 games correct is 1 in 9.2 quintillion (which I am pretty sure is a bigger number than billion).
But maybe, just maybe, this is the year. If it is me, I will kindly ask The Splash to forward all my future mail to Chad Kimberley, c/o Bracketville Island.
For now, Chad Kimberley is a resident of Liberty Lake. He is a teacher and coach.