Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Bracket? I don't need no stinkin' bracket!

Ten years ago, I had the best NCAA hoops bracket of my life.

I correctly predicted 7 of the Elite Eight -- Marquette, Kentucky, Arizona, Kansas, Syracuse, Oklahoma and Texas. I missed only on Michigan State (having picked Florida instead). I then nailed 3 of the Final Four -- Marquette, Syracuse and Texas (erroneously picking Arizona over Kansas in the West title game, which the Jayhawks won by 3).

And here was the cherry on top: Once the Syracuse-Kansas championship game was set, I made this prediction, in print, for everybody to see: "It says here that Carmelo Anthony will shoulder the load one more time. Syracuse, 81, Kansas 77."

Carmelo had 20 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists as Syracuse won 81-78. That's right: I was off by exactly one Kansas point.

I should have walked away from predicting right then and there, just as Roy Williams walked away from Kansas.

It's been downhill since, as my Oscar pick of "Battleship" will attest. I think the only prediction I've gotten right in the last decade was that the Internet would adversely affect the newspaper industry.

I'm going to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of my dream bracket by doing something radical, something unique, something profound.

Something un-American.

I'm not going to fill out a bracket this year.

The reason? I don't feel like it.

Of course, this means having to hear about everybody and his uncle's brackets and not even being able to follow up by saying, "Yeah, but I had Valpo over Michigan State."

My favorites are the dudes (and dudettes) who fill out multiple brackets. The reason for this is what? To be the Mitt Romney of sports prognostication?

What would me filling out a bracket prove, anyway? Either I go with my heart and predict Marquette to win it all ... or I go with my head and pick against Marquette. In the latter case, if I really care about being right, it would mean rooting against the only sports team I love. What sense would that make?

One reason I had a great bracket in 2003 was that I predicted Marquette to reach the Final Four. It wasn't a crazy pick. The Golden Warriors did have Dwyane Wade, two other guys who would go on to play in the NBA (Travis Diener and Steve Novak) and the best big man to play there in a quarter-century (Robert Jackson). Still, it was hard for me to claim it was an objective pick.

That year, Marquette just so happened to play at the same subregional site as Illinois. I was covering the Illini so, as a bonus, I got to watch the first two Marquette tourney games. Holy Cross, the 14th seed, had Marquette beaten until Diener -- not Wade, who was ordinary at best -- went nuts from 3-point range. I didn't cheer from press row. I NEVER cheered from press row during my entire career. But I did bury my head in my hands in frustration at one point. At another juncture, I had to get up from press row and take a short walk into the hallway because I couldn't take the idea of our best team since the Al McGuire Era losing its NCAA opener to Holy Freakin' Cross.

My buddy, then-Southtown columnist Phil Arvia, later told mutual friends that "Nadel was going crazy" -- suggesting I was ranting and raving on press row. Truth is, I was going crazy, but only inside, and very quietly. Damn you, Arvia ... I'll accept your apology any time.

The Missouri game was a wild OT affair, with the Golden Warriors outscoring the Tigers 21-12 in the extra session to finish with a preposterous 101 points. Again, it wasn't Wade who stole the show. Novak, then  the team's freshman sixth man, introduced himself to the nation by hitting approximately a gazillion 3-pointers.  I was really into that game but, again, not outwardly.

Anyway, I digress. Even though this Marquette team isn't nearly as talented as that one was, if I was picking a bracket I'd have to say my lads would win the national title.

Or I'd have to fill out a second bracket with Louisville, my actual pick, doing so.

So why bother?

I've been called many things over the years, but Mitt Jr. has never been one of them.

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