You'll be interested to know that while you cost your corporate overlords more than $3 billion last year at Tournament time -- just you, personally -- the estimate this year is that you're going to waste nearly $1 million per minute Thursday and Friday of this week just by existing, regardless of whether you spend a moment watching streaming video of Nevada-Creighton when you should be picking up the boss's dry cleaning.
The consulting firm that gets its name in the blats every year with this mishegas estimates that your employer's most efficient use of you would be to grind your bones into chips to be eaten with a nice onion dip by the board of directors as they watch first-round games in Conference Room A.
That party starts Thursday morning, and I won't lie to you: I really haven't paid much attention to college basketball this year. I've caught my share of glimpses and followed along in the sort of peripheral way that just sort of happens by accident given my job description and that would look, if I cared even a little bit what happened during the regular season, like casual fandom to someone who didn't know what I do for a living -- if you can imagine such a person!
What I'm saying is that the following bracket preview is different from the same animal most years in this space in that I'm not even pretending I know what I'm talking about. I have a sneaking suspicion this will make my bracket more accurate than usual because you know what they say about a little bit of knowledge.
OK, I don't know what they say either. But I think I know a little bit about it.
What I'm really saying is that with March Madness approaching or even surpassing the Super Bowl as the premier sports betting event of the year in this country, you must remember to never, ever use this column as a basis for wagering decisions.
Even the seemingly can't-miss strategy of betting opposite this column's picks is foolish, because once in a while, when you least expect it, I get things right.
Here's the first half of my bracket for the 2007 men's Tournament. I'll post the other half Thursday morning, and then I'll offer running commentary throughout the day as the games are played.
Note: All times p.m., EDT
New Orleans, Friday
(1) Florida vs. (16) Jackson State, 9:40
The defending champs returned all their starters, blew through most of the regular season, stumbled at the end, won the SEC tournament, and enter this show as the overall top seed. One of these days, I tell you, a 16 is going to beat a 1. But this won't be that game. Jackson State's Trey Johnson is a monster scorer, though.
Second round: Win over Arizona
(8) Arizona vs. (9) Purdue, 7:20
Woof! Woof! I know not everybody agrees with me on this, but I think there's nothing worse in the NCAA Tournament than an 8-vs.-9 game between two big-conference also-rans. Here, boy. Go get eaten by a Gator. Good Wildcat.
Second round: Loss to Florida
(5) Butler vs. (12) Old Dominion, 2:40
Everybody knows a 12 beats a 5 every year. I've always thought that had a lot to do with the selection committee's seeding biases, which have tended to move pretty good smaller-conference teams down toward 12 and not-so-great big-conference teams up toward 5. But that bias isn't what it once was, and behold, the committee, which seems to have gone out of its way this year to avoid interesting matchups, has put two of the six at-large teams from non-major conferences in the same game. Feh. Well, I know it's a cliché, but why not: ODU. Butler's a good team, with early wins over Notre Dame, Indiana, Tennessee, Gonzaga and Purdue on its way to 27-6. But the Bulldogs like to shoot the three, and sometimes those shots don't fall. And Butler's lack of size means the Bulldogs can't take advantage of Old Dominion's similar lack.
Second round: Loss to Maryland
(4) Maryland vs. (13) Davidson, 12:20
I like those balanced teams, and Maryland has four who score in double figures. I don't know why I like them. Given the choice I'd rather have one really good guard and one really good big man. But I like 'em anyway. Davidson specializes in high-scoring games. Lots of offense, not a lot of defense. And these Wildcats -- someday there's going to be a whole region with nothing but Wildcats -- haven't lost since a Thanksgiving weekend game at Duke. Then again, they haven't played any ACC teams either.
Second round: Win over Old Dominion
(6) Notre Dame vs. (11) Winthrop, 2:35
Winthrop is the chic upset pick of the Tournament. But for once, Notre Dame isn't overrated.
Second round: Loss to Oregon
(3) Oregon vs. (14) Miami (Ohio), 5:05
When Oregon's on its game, you watch the dynamite guard play and you wonder how the Ducks ever lose. And then they go out and lose. They dropped three straight in mid-February. But lately they're just abusing people. They've won six in a row, and the average score in the last four, including three in the Pac-10 tournament, was 75-55. The Ducks could go all the way. They could also lose to Miami.
Second round: Win over Notre Dame
(7) UNLV vs. (10) Georgia Tech, 12:25
The Runnin' Rebels are mad about this middling seed. I think they're right, and I think this veteran team is going to pull one of the big upsets of the weekend by beating Wisconsin Sunday, near-home-court disadvantage and all.
Second round: Win over Wisconsin
(2) Wisconsin vs. (15) Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, 2:45
Want to know who the George Mason of this Tournament is? It's Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Just kidding. There won't be a George Mason of this Tournament. That only happens once in a blue moon. That's what made it so special, get it? So all those "Who is this year's George Mason" articles? Total waste of productivity.
Second round: Loss to UNLV
Midwest Sweet 16: Florida over Maryland, Oregon over UNLV
Midwest Elite 8: Oregon over Florida
(1) Kansas vs. (16) Niagara, 7:10
I don't get this. Niagara had to win the play-in game to get here, so the Purple Eagles must be the 64th team in the field. So instead of playing the overall top seed, Florida, in the first round, they play Kansas, the fourth-ranked top seed. I guess I get that the seeds are supposed to be ranked the same way on every line -- the best at each seed is in the Midwest, and so on down to the worst in the West. I just don't think it should be that way. The worst 1-seed should play the best 16, which must be Jackson State. That would slightly increase the chance for the historic upset. It also would make for more even brackets, theoretically, if the best at each seed didn't keep going to the same bracket. I'm the only one who cares about this, right? Also: Purple Eagles? And by the way: I think Kansas is going to win the whole thing. I don't care that the Jayhawks don't have that one go-to guy. They have like eight go-to guys.
Second round: Win over Villanova
(8) Kentucky vs. (9) Villanova, 9:30
Second round: Loss to Kansas
(5) Virginia Tech vs. (12) Illinois, 7:10
Illinois is going to have to do it without Chief Illiniwek. Not just the mascot. This week the school voted to dump the Indian-head logo too. No chief? Too tall an order. If a Big Ten team is only worth a 12-seed, how about letting in another Colonial Athletic team or something?
Second round: Loss to Southern Illinois
(4) Southern Illinois vs. (13) Holy Cross, 9:30
Holy Cross isn't going to be the George Mason of this Tournament, but it could very well be the Southern Illinois of this Tournament. This could create an awkward situation for Southern Illinois, which may have to settle for being the Xavier of this Tournament, whatever that means. Despite the seeding, I don't think this is the best Southern Illinois team of the decade.
Second round: Win over Virginia Tech
(6) Duke vs. (11) Virginia Commonwealth, 7:10
VCU is one of those teams built for early-round upsets. It's a pressing team, and that can rattle opponents who are already feeling some nerves. It comes down to the Rams hitting their shots, which lets them set up the press and force the tempo. This isn't your usual Duke team, but what it's not can be overstated. The Blue Devils are still pretty good, they have a very good big guy in Josh McRoberts, and they're not likely to rattle easy. A loss wouldn't be a shock, but I'll go chalk.
Second round: Loss to Pittsburgh
(3) Pittsburgh vs. (14) Wright State, 9:30
Pittsburgh has that rare beast, a good true center in 7-footer Aaron Gray. The Wildcats -- I mean, Panthers -- will be too much for the scrappy Horizon League champs and probably too much for Duke, but then they'll run into a tough assignment next week against their old coach.
Second round: Win over Duke
(7) Indiana vs. (10) Gonzaga, 9:45
Didn't this get settled last year?
Second round: Loss to UCLA (Didn't that get settled last year?)
(2) UCLA vs. (15) Weber State, 7:25
Wildcat alert. Weber State doesn't figure to put a scare into the Bruins, who could very likely be headed to another Final Four, though I'm not picking them.
Second round: Win over Gonzaga
West Sweet 16: Kansas over Southern Illinois, UCLA over Pittsburgh
West Elite 8: Kansas over UCLA
Tomorrow: More Wildcats!
Previous column: Penguins stay in Pittsburgh
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