Magic Johnson and I were standing at the buffet in the Lexus Lounge at Staples Center before the Lakers beat Dallas on Sunday, and were discussing college hoops, of course. Thirty years after leading Michigan State to an NCAA championship, Earvin is picking his alma mater to go far this year. “If they get their inside game together, they’ll be fine,” he said while deciding between the Kobe beef (of course) and the lamb. For Magic, bracketology is easy. He picks with his heart and his heart loves a very good team.
Not so easy for the rest of us. If I picked with my heart, I would always go with Duke, but in my bracket this time around I have Coach K (easier to spell) safely through only two rounds.
I also wasn’t really keen on Cinderellas and dark horses because while those wins are good for tissue sales, I just don’t see many happening this year. So I went with power, strength of schedule, and wins.
It’s sometimes helpful to do this annual ritual with a friend. It’s a good bonding process. My friend Keith and I spend hours—on the phone or BlackBerry—discussing teams and strengths and who sucks and who doesn't. We don't always agree and the arguments are therapeutic.
I also asked my friend Jimmy Kimmel to show me his bracket and, lo and behold, he did the same thing, basically. Why Kimmel? Because he’s sports savvy, smart, loves the discourse, and, honestly, I wanted to interrupt the productivity of Jimmy Kimmel Live to see if it would break him. It didn’t.
Kimmel's staff, like most of America, has an office pool. Jimmy is rooting for Arizona State this year since his alma mater, UNLV, didn't get a bid. And while most of his bracket is chalk, he says he is obsessed with one of the play-in teams, Alabama State. "My favorite thing about this year’s tournament," Kimmel says,"is Alabama State's center, Chief Kickingstallionsims. His full name is Grlenntys Chief Kickingstallionsims, Jr.--which loosely translates to "Try Fitting This on the Back of a Basketball Jersey."
As for the way Kimmel picks: "I look at all the team names and circle about half of them. Works like a charm."If you don’t like his method, with the advent of computers and the Internet, preparing your brackets is reasonably easy.
I say reasonably because there are some flaws. For one, many of the “printable” brackets are really not printable. They come out as one side at a time or they cross the borders of a traditional page. Crossing borders doesn’t work for Lou Dobbs or bracketologists.
In picking your brackets remember these things:
Consider which teams your team has beaten. For the exception of Memphis, if they haven’t beaten a few ranked teams during the regular season, knock them out.
Find out where they are playing in the early rounds. If you’re Duke and playing in the South, you’ve got yourself a couple of home games early. Traveling is no fun when you’ve got to run up and down the court for 40 minutes.
Guards, to me, trump size. Quick guards who can organize their teams seem to always advance. So do good rebounding teams because, quite simply, if you don’t have the ball…well, you get it, right?
Going with experienced coaches always helps as well. Check to see how many times they’ve been under the glare.
And be wary of Internet sites and blogs that claim to know everything. Remember, everyone has a computer and anybody can spin anything. It only takes a forefinger to cut and paste, usually from other sites that were cutting and pasting from other sites who were...well you get the idea. Stick with the pros.
Having said that, I am not a pro. I am like the rest of you—a passionate fan and observer of the game, but if I knew what was really going to happen, I’d take what money we all have left and go to Vegas for a few weeks.
In the end it is very simple: The teams play in underwear and the one that scores the most points wins. Or, as one legendary coach said decades ago about James Naismith’s game: “There are only two plays— South Pacific and put the ball in the basket.”
Pat O'Brien has been a broadcaster for more than three decades, including many years as the co-host of Access Hollywood and The Insider. A former anchor for CBS Sports, he is also the author of Talkin' Sports: A B.S.-er's Guide. He divides his time among Los Angeles, New York, and Nantucket.