A Method to the Madness

Katherine Mann '19
Columns Editor

My father was a sportswriter –all sports, but later in his career, primarily horseracing – and used to take me to the track when I was a kid. Mostly I read the Babysitter’s Club while he worked, but we sometimes went to the paddock to look at the horses before a race, and he occasionally let me pick a horse for a two-dollar bet. He taught me how to look at a racing program and made modest attempts to introduce me to odds and pedigrees. But I was immune to any of that; I only ever picked the prettiest horse. A classic Bay is second only to a true Roan, in case you’re wondering about my preferences. I didn’t win a lot.

Almost thirty years later, my March Madness methods are barely more sophisticated. I understand how unlikely it is for a sixteen seed to beat a one seed. I’m not naive enough to pick whatever the hell MSM is over Villanova. But I feel compelled to treat the whole process like a “whodunit.” One-seeds are way too obvious. Sure, they may have motive, means, and opportunity, but no crime writer worth her salt would have UNC turn out to be the perp. Anything that obvious is totally devoid of entertainment value. We’re looking for someone stealthy and below the radar, but not so unlikely that you wouldn’t recommend the book to a friend. No one (except me) predicts a four seed like, say, Florida, to win it all. But even those who picked Villanova (maybe next year, Wildcats) can appreciate such a plot twist.

Suffice it to say I’m a sucker for an underdog and will reach for any reason to pick one. Why not Bucknell over West Virginia? I mean, I know someone who went there, so…clearly a good choice (except not at all). Those of you who picked Xavier can relate. Although, that only worked out because Maryland decided to wear hideous uniforms. Not the prettiest horse, am I right?  Even as I write this, Creighton is being embarrassed by URI, bolstering my underdog theory. And nine-seeds, well, you’re as good as picked, because in my mind, you’ve got the best underdog chance. (Somehow Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, and Seton Hall didn’t get the memo.)

Sometimes my underdog theory just isn’t up to the task, however, and I have to rely on drama and personification to get the job done. Butler and Winthrop are clearly just two British blokes slapping each other with white gloves. Obviously, Butler’s going to win. My fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Baylor was pretty badass, so Baylor ought to be able to take out SMU and Duke. And Purdue is just some poor, scared, naked chicken ready to go to the fryer. Enough pluck to beat Vermont, but no match for carnivorous Iowa State. (Or so I thought.)

Other stupid reasons for making picks include: Miami is warmer than Kansas; Marquette has a “q” in it and South Carolina does not; Saint Mary’s is too pious; UCLA is close to where my brother lives; Villanova sounds like “villain” and therefore must lose to Florida (the hero of my story); Louisville has horses (you knew we’d come back to that); and Iowa has corn. Corn never wins. (Except corn syrup, of course. It’ll beat all of us in the end.)

I am not a sports person. I don’t play softball, so I don’t know why they still let me go here. I have never, in fact, played any sport to speak of that didn’t end in tears, face bruises, or possibly flower-picking (think soccer at seven years old). Football is just extended brain research (thanks for the knowledge, NFL), and baseball has way too much spitting for a classy dame like me. I only care about basketball when I have a bracket, and five bucks makes me care exactly the right amount: as soon as I know I’m out, I can quit watching and return to Golden Girls on Hulu.

By the time this goes to print, the first two rounds will be history, and my status as worst bracket-picker will be immortalized on ESPN.com. I’ll be rooting for Florida, Louisville, and UNC to carry me through to the Final Four, since Maryland has decided to suck (seriously, was their strategy to frighten the other team with all that yellow?). In all likelihood, my bracket will just end up as a marked-up piece of paper that distracted me from my Con Law reading. (Not nearly as bad as, say, being distracted from Con Law during Con Law by the Princeton-Notre Dame game. You know who you are.) But if Florida somehow wins, or even gets close, my eccentric style of picking teams will be vindicated, and I’ll have every incentive to repeat this nonsense next year.