It occurs to me; here at 35,000 feet and on my way to Chicago, I have never shared my March Madness picks in this space. How could I let such an obvious staple of my life escape this corner of cyber space? A symptom of the madness I suppose. Too focused on the games to take a step back.
Plenty - if not all - of you know by know that tradition my friends and I began in Chicago in March 1999: spending the first four days of the annual NCAA college basketball tournament submerged in games, food, beverages, buzzer beaters, busted brackets, and ridiculous side bets to keep blowout games interesting. In the early days, before television signals were fully digital and the games broken out amongst four networks, I managed to split TV signals across six televisions in our house so we could watch every minute of every game that weekend. It was glorious. At our peak, we had up to thirty people jammed in to one basement TV room in a Chicago brownstone duplex. In 2008, we managed to get the legendary Gus Johnson to record a personalized message to our group; one of our high water marks to be sure.
In the years since we started this most wonderful of annual traditions, I have only missed it once: the year I was in Italy. (I came a hair's-breadth away from purchasing a last-minute ticket home but decided against it.) And though attendees of years past have moved on to more responsible phases of their lives, they still talk about those days with great fondness. There is but a handful of us left who religiously gather in March, but we gather and take in the weekend at a pace fitting our age. If we tried to go at the pace of, say, 2002 or 2003, it would damn near kill us.
As I mentioned, poring over my brackets for the one hundredth time, trying to spot the unsuspecting upset that gives a someone that extra edge in the final standings, I realize I have missed out an opportunity here. And that’s a shame because there have been years where I really knocked it out of the park. The obvious corollary being the years where my bracket is nothing but a sea of red ink. I’m talking about some incredible “What Were You Thinking?” years. I will never live down the year I picked Murray St. over a Bill Self-coached Tulsa team because I had dreamed it the night before. Seriously. You can’t make these things up.
So let’s change that right now. I am taking a cue from my good friend, Hockeyfight. He provides necessary analysis and humor each year, capping it all off with a final bracket, or as our group calls it, “a map.” (There’s a story there that I will share at some other time.) My posting is not as elaborate, witty, or stylish as his, but it’ll do.
Therefore, friends, behold, my 2016 picks: