The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 18, 2013

Bracket racket: Beasts, busters and Great Danes

By Jeff Mullin, columnist
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — This is the week American productivity plunges, illegal gambling skyrockets and everyone, from bankers to gray-haired grannies, become an expert on the health status of the backup point guard from Florida Gulf Coast.

Let the madness begin.

The NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship tips off today with a pair of first-round games, and culminates April 8 with the crowning of the 2013 national champion.

Between here and there lies a long, strange road.

The only thing certain is Kentucky will not repeat as champions. The Wildcats did not make the field and instead are the top-seed in the National Invitation Tournament.

Work largely grinds to a halt during the NCAA tournament, as employees spend time at work poring over their brackets, then following the late-week daytime early round action online or on their smartphones. It is estimated March Madness costs employers some $175 million in lost productivity annually.

But there is plenty of incentive for bracket geeks. Fox Sports offers $1 million for anyone who can craft a perfect bracket. If your bracket isn’t perfect but you win their contest, you get $1,000. Yahoo offers $10,000 cash to its winner, while ESPN’s winner gets a $10,000 Best Buy gift card.

Those filling out brackets run the gamut from the hard-core to the casual fan. Statistics nuts fill out their brackets based on scoring margin, strength of schedule, defensive efficiency and a host of other factors. More casual fans might pick their brackets based on the school’s colors or its mascot.

I have never won a dime in our office pool and never will. I have taken both a hard-core and casual approach. I have, in fact, done everything but flipped a coin to decide the winner of each game. And yet my bracket is usually busted by the first TV time outs of the first games.

That said, let’s take a look at this year’s field. There doesn’t seem to be a clear favorite. Five teams were ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 this season. Teams ranked No. 1 lost seven times during the campaign. Louisville, a tournament favorite according to some experts, held that spot for just a week, while Georgetown, being touted by others in the know, never climbed higher than No. 5.

I’m afraid neither of Oklahoma’s teams will make it past their first games. Oklahoma State drew an under-seeded, veteran team in Oregon, and OU will face a San Diego State team with tournament experience, plus a do-everything player in 6-foot-5 guard Jamaal Franklin. In both cases, it will depend upon which team shows up, the OSU team that beat Kansas in Lawrence or the one that lost to Virginia Tech, which finished 13-19; the OU team that beat Kansas at home or the one that lost to Stephen F. Austin.

As for the coolest team mascot in the field, that distinction goes to the Great Danes of Albany.

That said, I’m not doing a bracket this year. I’m tired of throwing my money away. But if I was, I’d pick Georgetown to come out of the South region, Miami (Fla.) to survive the East, Ohio State to emerge from the West and Louisville from the Midwest.

But what do I know? Good luck and good bracketing, just make sure to stash yours behind a spreadsheet or sales report when the boss walks past your desk. And go, Great Danes!

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him atꆱ