Why the person who knows the least about basketball always win the office pool.
The NCAA Tournament begins tomorrow, and I bet you feel pretty good about your bracket right now. You’re doing your last minute research about which first round upsets are most likely, which 1 and 2 seeds might not make it through the first weekend, and how well your favorite team will fare in its potential matchups. Might as well make the reservation for that nice dinner you’re going to pay for with the winnings from your office pool, right?
But, wait. Didn’t Sharon from accounting win last year? How could that be? You read all of Jay Bilas’ predictions, watched Dick Vitale pontificate on which diaper dandies would step up and lead their teams to victory, and listened to a dozen podcasts to make sure your bracket was bulletproof. You were totally prepared while Sharon played the “I like their mascot better” game, and yet somehow you still lost…and I’m going to tell you why.
You see, college basketball is child’s play. I’m not trying to throw shade at any diehard fans out there, I mean it literally…it’s a game played by kids. And these kids have a lot of other stuff to deal with besides basketball. They’ve got classes to attend, papers to write, and futures to think about. While the pros are paid to make basketball their life, these kids are decidedly unpaid (thanks, NCAA) to make basketball just a part of theirs.
Then you start to think about the dynamic of “favorites” vs. “underdogs.” Sure, sometimes the talent gap is simply too wide for the underdog to have even a fighting chance (#1 seeds are 124–0 against #16 seeds), but bring the teams a little closer to parity and anything can happen.
The “favorite” spent at least part of the season in the Top 25. The media, their fans, and they expect to win at least a couple games and hopefully more. That’s a lot of pressure to put on a bunch of 19-year-olds fresh off a biology midterm!
The “underdogs,” on the other hand, are just happy to be in the dance. At this point, they’ve already exceeded expectations. Winning a game or two on the main stage would be the sweet, sweet gravy on top of a pat-on-the-back season. Get a group of talented kids out on the court with nothing to lose, and you might just see sparks fly.
It’s how you get opening days like last year, where 9 of the 16 games were decided by 5 points or fewer, and a mind-boggling 5 of those decided by just a single point. You get overtimes and buzzer beaters, unexpected heroes and unbelievable finishes. Madness.
So when it comes to your bracket this year—you know, the one you’re feverishly working to fill out as we speak—when it comes to deciding which favorites are for real and who are just pretenders, remember this: you know nothing, Jon Snow.
We all want to believe that we’re the favorite to make it to our very own Final Four; the last ones standing with a shot at office pool glory. But at the end of the day, there’s always a Sharon just waiting to snatch the victory right out of your hand. And she’ll probably come into work Tuesday morning after the championship having forgotten there was even a game on.
So please, do me a favor—just sit back, relax, and enjoy the Madness.