John Chidley A blog about reading, writing, pop culture and sports.


March Madness: Day 12 – Some valium for the Madness?

We’re four days away from tip-off of the Final Four in the NCAA’s men’s division I basketball tournament – and my bracket is done.

Specifically, my bracket ended when the Duke University Blue Devils dropped the Baylor University Bears 78-71 on Sunday night.

I had picked Baylor to move on to the National Semifinal, and having already lost my other Final Four picks - Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse – to upsets big and small, I was officially shut out.

Miraculously, I finished in a three-way tie for first place.

That’s right, this year’s edition of March Madness has had so many twists and turns that all six of my fellow poolies have been eliminated with three games still remaining in the tournament. Everyone picked Kansas to win, and most had the Jayhawks beating Kentucky in the Final.

As I’ve said in previous posts, my bracket strategy relies heavily on going with the favourites. I don’t know nearly enough about NCAA basketball to offer any kind of dissenting opinion to the experts or competition committee, so I just go with the flow.

Of course, this leaves me wide open for upsets wrecking my chances of victory. In that department, the 2010 tourney has been exceptional.

In fact, 18 of the 60 games so far have seen the lower seed prevail. By comparison, there were a total of 16 upsets in the entire 2009 tournament, including Michigan State (#2) overcoming Connecticut (#1) in the National Semifinal. The year before that, 2008, saw just 13 upsets.

Most surprising is that the only top seed left in the entire tournament is Duke, the team that all the experts had picked for an early exit.

In any event, this has been an incredible tournament, even if my stake in its outcome has been settled well before the whole thing is over.


March Madness: Day 1 – Ignorance is bliss

Ohhhhh yyeeaaahhhh!!!One of the most peculiar periods in the Canadian sporting year is the last two weeks of March.

That’s when, like everyone else in the civilized world, Canadians become obsessed with the NCAA’s Division I basketball tournament. However, unlike our neighbours to the south, we can come at it from an oddly objective place.

Let me explain.

Obviously, there are no Canadian schools in the tournament. There are rarely Canadians to root for, either. Like following the National Football League we’re left to our own devices to figure out which teams to pick. We are unfettered by any kind of loyalty or regional bias.

Really, in general, Canadians are blissfully ignorant of college basketball until about early March. There’s little coverage on Sportsnet or TSN. Only hardcore basketball fans who seek out games on the Score or online have any real knowledge of the NCAA game. Everyone else gleans what they can from American shows like Pardon the Interruption or Around the Horn. Our focus is, and always will be, hockey.

Does that stop Canadians from participating in March Madness pools? Not even a little. Practically everyone I know has at least one bracket, and suddenly basketball is on all kinds of TV channels. After all, there is no better way to while away the time once your NHL team is eliminated from the playoffs.

My only NCAA allegiance is to Syracuse University Orange. Not because of Carmelo Anthony, but because of their lacrosse team. After all, that’s where Gary and Paul Gait went. Not to mention the Powell boys. Also, it’s kind of local to Toronto. I guess that's nice.

Aside from that small preference for the Orange, I can enjoy the tournament bias free. Heck, I’m even indifferent to Duke University which, according to ESPN’s Bill Simmons, people hate.

Personally, I enjoy the fact that as a Canadian I can operate from a point of objective ignorance: It means that I rarely over-think things. My judgement is never clouded by preference or conflicting sources of information.

If 75% of users are picking a team online, it sounds good to me. I’ll never be tempted to pick an underdog, since, hey, I don’t know anything beyond the seeding. Historical trends? Don't know, don't care. It’s wonderfully liberating.

My strategy is to pick teams I’ve heard of, relying on the assumption that if they're on my radar up here in Canada, they must be good. Failing that, I go with the higher seed. If two well known teams meet at some point in my bracket, I follow the lead of my fellow online users. When I feel particularly daring I’ll take an underdog (usually a 12 seed over a five) but that’s as wild as I get.

It’s actually a pretty good system. It leaves me open to upsets, but that’s rarely a problem beyond the Sweet 16.

Now I can just sit back and enjoy the show, along with my free health care. The beauty of being Canadian.