Having a winning tourney bracket can be slam dunk

March 13, 2007|By Mark Cloud

ATLANTA -- It's the middle of March, which can mean only one thing: green beer on St. Patrick's Day, and time for you to lose 10 bucks in the office college basketball pool.

OK, that's technically two things. But let's not get hung up on technicalities. The point is that this year can be different. You don't have to be just another patsy contributing money to the office pool that Joe, the basketball nerd from accounting, always wins. What if this year you actually won the whole thing and were able to get all up in accountant boy's grill and scream, "In your face, Joe!"

Wouldn't that be sweet?

Well, it can happen - if you know how to make the right picks. Contrary to what you might think, luck has nothing to do with picking the winners of games involving a bunch of 19-year-olds with overactive pituitary glands and back acne trying to throw a ball through a hoop. There is, indeed, a method to March Madness. Follow these time-tested tips for filling out your bracket, and odds are that you'll be the little leprechaun who finds the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that is your office basketball pool.

Use a pencil. You'd be surprised how many people make the foolish mistake of filling out their brackets in pen. Don't do it! Instead, fill out your bracket in pencil. That way, if you pick a team that ends up losing, you can later sneak into the office of the guy who's running the pool, erase your penciled-in loser and replace it with the winner. Get the lead out, people.

Work backward. In completing your bracket, the first thing you should do is pick the team that you think will win the whole tournament. Pencil it in as the champion, but make sure to write the name backward. Then fill out the rest of your bracket, with all the team names written backward. This will not only engender sympathy for you as an apparent dyslexic, but it will also give you some wiggle room. For instance, if you write EKUD instead of DUKE, after they lose, you can claim that you did not pick Duke and instead picked Eastern Kentucky University (Alabama-Birmingham) at Davidson. There's bound to be a winner in there somewhere.

Fill out multiple brackets. With a tournament field of 64 teams, there are 9,222,000,000,000,001 possible combinations of winners and losers. Using simple math, all you have to do to ensure that you win your office pool is to fill out 9,222,000,000,000,001 brackets covering all of these combinations. Thanks to the modern miracle of computers, which were invented by Tipper Gore, who used to be roommates with Tommy Lee at Yale, you can easily complete that many brackets during regular work hours so long as you don't waste any time on your actual job.

Avoid coaches with mustaches. No team coached by a man with a mustache has ever won the NCAA basketball tournament. In fact, Seton Hall is the only team to ever reach the Final Four with a mustachioed coach, which happened in 1989 when Tom Selleck, still reeling from the cancellation of Magnum, P.I., led Seton Hall to within a point of the championship game. Devastated by the loss, the hirsute Mr. Selleck quit coaching and immediately began filming Quigley Down Under.

Familiarize yourself with all the rules. The outcome of tournament games often turns on critical calls by the referees. While even casual fans know basic basketball rules, such as double-dribbling or traveling, there are many rules that even diehard basketball junkies just don't know. Your knowledge of these obscure rules can be the difference between picking winners and losers.

For example, even though a player may not run with the ball in his hands, a player who rubs the ball against his hair and succeeds in getting it to stick to his head via static electricity may run so long as the ball remains on his head. The most famous instance of this occurred in 1981, when Danny Ainge ran the length of the court with the ball miraculously clinging to his head and then, like a circus seal, bounced the ball off his head and into the hoop, giving Brigham Young University a buzzer-beating 51-50 victory over the stunned Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

'Twas the luck o' the Mormons.

Mark Cloud, an attorney, lives in Atlanta. His e-mail is mvcloud@yahoo.com.

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