By now, most NCAA Tournament brackets look like mine. They are covered in red ink and regret and reality.
ESPN reported that only 1.6 percent of people who filled out brackets picked Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin and Michigan State in the Final Four. Only 14 brackets out of 11.57 million had picked every game correctly leading into the Sweet 16.
It's funny, too, because tournament brackets always start with so much promise. It's the same way with fantasy leagues before the season opener. You check your roster up and down and give yourself a chance. Sure, you took a few gambles along the way. You know there will be upsets because there are always upsets. If you can pick the right upsets, well, you're in business.
Not until later, when it's much too late, with hindsight working overtime, do people realize the error in their ways. If you're like me, you go back and see that you broke a few cardinal rules.
1) Never bet against Duke before the Elite Eight. The Blue Devils were knocked out in the Round of 64 twice in the past three seasons. They started three freshmen this season and had only eight scholarship players who contributed. They lost in the semifinals of the ACC tourney. But it's still Duke. So long as Mike Krzyzewski is the coach, they should be penciled into the Elite Eight every year and Final Four depending on their talent. Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones are among the most talented players in the nation, and they're no longer freshmen.
2) Ignore the hype. For me, this goes straight to Iowa State. They had become a chic pick going into the tournament as a third seed, partly because they appeared to have an easy bracket with UAB in the first round and SMU-UCLA winner in the second round. Fans were outraged about UCLA getting an invitation, but I picked them to win their first game. I had Iowa State beating UCLA, beating Gonzaga and (upset time) beating Duke to reach the Final Four. The strategy blew up when UAB knocked off Iowa State. It doesn't happen if I ignored the hype.
3) Do not underestimate Tom Izzo. The Michigan State coach is one of the best in the nation. Izzo had guided the Spartans to the Sweet 16 six times an two Final Four appearances in seven years going into the tournament. I ignored their 27 victories, convinced myself the trend would pull into reverse and had them losing to Virginia. Note to self: The next time, when it appears Michigan State will have trouble beating a team in the NCAAs, stick with the Spartans for that game, plus one more.
Where did all this get me? A three-way tie for first place ... with five family members who filled out brackets. My wife, who knows nothing about basketball other than Never Bet Against Duke, had three of the four teams remaining. Fortunately, she made enough mistakes in the other rounds that she can't beat me. Same goes with my daughter, who has Duke beating Kentucky in the final.
My oldest and youngest sons are tied with me at the top. My oldest son took Duke, his only team remaining in the Final Four. My 10-year-old took has Wisconsin, Duke and Kentucky remaining with Wisconsin beating Duke in the semis and beating Kentucky in the final. Kentucky is my only team remaining. I need Kentucky to win it all for bragging rights.
It's a gimme.