By Trevor Hass
Gwendolyn from accounting has never watched a college basketball game in her life. She prefers doing crosswords, cuddling with her cat and knitting by the fire.
She doesn’t know who Jimmer Fredette is. She doesn’t know about Kemba Walker, Christian Laettner or George Mason. She had never heard of March Madness until her crush from sales, Marvin, asked her to join a pool.
“Yeah, sure, I’ll go swimming, Marvin!” Gwendolyn replied, but before she knew what had happened she was on Yahoo, filling out a bracket while sipping on some oolong tea.
Gwendolyn doesn’t know about RPI, BPI or SOS. She knows about FLW (four-letter words), ICK (incredible cat-food kiosks) and CRY (cheap, reliable yarn). She also knows about operation OMG (obsessed with Marvin Greeley), and that’s the only reason she didn’t back out.
As Gwendolyn fills out her bracket, she’s naturally drawn to the cats. Kentucky, Arizona, Villanova, 1, 2, 3. Bam. She’s also been known to marvel at the two Cardinals – named Chinanu and Montrezl because her ex-boyfriend was a Pitino fan (she doesn’t get it) – from her back porch on a serene summer suburban night. So there’s her four.
Now wait just a minute. That’s a damn good Final Four. Come to think of it, that’s legitimately what the Final Four’s going to be. Two 1 seeds, two 2s, four talented teams who have been there before. How the heck did she do that?
Gwendolyn doesn’t know when the games are. She doesn’t watch any of them. She has no idea she’s won the pool until Marvin texts her. (They recently exchanged numbers. Big development).
“I can’t believe it,” the text reads, at 12:03 a.m. on Tuesday, April 4.
Gwendolyn’s mind starts racing. “He can’t believe what?” she ponders…why it took him so long to see what was right in front of him? That he hadn’t asked her out sooner? That she was so perfect? Ahhhhhh.
Then the second text comes in, at 12:09. (She was playing it cool by not responding right away, plus her cat needed to be fed).
“So I guess drinks are on you next time, huh?”
What drinks? Next time? Was there a first time? What are these mixed signals?
“Haha, I guess so! Pretty crazy!” she responds at 12:17, still unsure what the heck he’s talking about.
“Wait, do you not know what happened? You won the pool!”
“I WON A POOL?!” (all caps).
“No, the pool. The March Madness pool.”
“Are you not excited? You get $1,000! More cat food for Mittens!”
“Oh yeah, that’s true. So how bout those drinks?” She hesitated on this one, but figured YOLO and went for it.
Marvin said yes, but when they went out they had nothing to talk about. He wouldn’t shut up about that crazy 15 over 2 upset, and she wouldn’t shut up about her cat. They both realized they were better off as friends, and Gwendolyn was actually pretty stoked once she realized she was $1,000 richer. She even splurged on the Sunday New York Times and stayed up to the wee hours of the morning making sure the crossword puzzle was complete.
Once she finished, she cried herself to sleep, and her tear marks smudged the crossword. She still wasn’t happy, but she was a winner, goddamnit. A March Madness genius. And she was the talk of her entire office, but she just smiled and nodded. The tears had disappeared, but the anguish still remained. Gwendolyn wasn’t happy. Money doesn’t always lead to happiness. Only March Madness does that, for true basketball fans.
Gwendolyn will win your office pool. Her name may be Patty, Sue or Mary, but trust me…she’ll win. She’ll claim she knows nothing about college basketball, and she’ll be telling the truth. As much as you don’t want her to win, she will.
You follow these five rules. Follow them closely, don’t veer away from them and throw out everything you think you know about anything. This is a war zone, and there’s a 9,223,372,036,854,777,807 out of 9,223,372,036,854,777,808 chance you won’t pick the perfect bracket.
Don’t beat yourself up. You had no way of knowing Troy would beat Duke. It’s not your fault. It’s just the way it is. Perfection is impossible in life in general, but especially during March Madness. But if you follow these tips, hopefully you can beat Gwendolyn (you still won’t).
1) Don’t pick a 16 seed to beat a 1. Don’t do it. Listen to me. You don’t want to do it. But Gonzaga’s overrated! Daum on South Dakota State can tear them up! Go Jackrabbits, bro! Yeah, I mean if that happens you’ll be a genius and a God. It’s not gonna happen, though. It never has, and it won’t this year. If it does then maybe we can reconsider next year, but for now you just have to resist the temptation.
2) Have at least one No. 1 seed in your Final Four, but don’t have all four there. Don’t be the guy who has all four No. 1 seeds. No one likes that guy (sorry, Dad, I love you. You’re the exception. Go Zags!) Pick a 2 seed. Maybe even a 3, or a 7 or a 9! Go a little crazy. Kentucky, Duke, Louisville and Arizona are actually really, really good 2s, so this year picking one of them shouldn’t be too difficult. On the flip side, don’t pick all non-1s, either. I’m Mr. Upset. I love upsets more than just about anyone, but this is a bad idea. I can just about guarantee at least one 1 seed will make it, and if that doesn’t happen then all of our brackets will be torn to shreds anyway so this is all for naught.
3) Pick a 12 to beat a 5…or maybe two…or three! Only once since 1997 have all four 5 seeds knocked off the 12s in a clean sweep. For whatever reason, it really doesn’t happen. UNC Wilmington, Princeton, Nevada and Middle Tennessee State are all really, really solid teams. They have good guard play, which is imperative in the Tourney, and some of them have already been in the Tournament. You don’t have to pick all four. No one’s asking you to do that. But pick one and see what happens. If you’re right, you’ll be awfully glad you did.
4) Have at least one double-digit seed in the Sweet 16. This comes back to the whole no upsets thing. Anyone can click the buttons to pick all the favorites (except my dad, who loves basketball but allegedly asked my mom if he could auto-select all the favorites and then go back and change a couple manually. Sorry, Dad, the material’s just too rich to pass up). Middle Tennessee State, Iona, Florida Gulf Coast and Wichita State are all definitely teams that could get it done. Take a risk. Live on the edge.
5) Piece of advice No. 5 is very important. In fact, it’s the most important of all, and if you’ve somehow read this far (bless your soul) I highly encourage you to not stop now. Piece of advice No. 5 will change the way you see the world. It will shape your entire month, and you’ll be extremely glad you changed your ways before it was too late.
Piece of advice No. 5: Don’t follow pieces of advice Nos. 1 through 4. Doing so will cause you great suffering and may result in physical pain and emotional distress.
I follow college basketball religiously. I watch much more than I should and circle March on my calendar once mid-April hits. Where does it get me? Nowhere.
Last year, I finished 36th out of 100 in my pool, which was a miracle and by far my best result ever. This year, I’m hoping for the perfect bracket but am realistically expecting to slink back into mediocrity.
I’m not very good at this, even though I desperately want to be. So do the opposite of what I said to do, burn your computer and turn on your TV.
The Madness is here. Gwendolyn’s about to be rich, and you’re about to die trying.