We have come to the annual NCAA college basketball tournament and for the first time since 2009, and on the second time in the 20 years my friends and I have treated these first four days as national holidays, I will not be in Chicago. The combination of being overseas and having an 8-month old baby is as formidable as a well-executed 2-3 zone defense. It’s just too much to overcome when trying to justify flying home for four rowdy days.
It breaks the heart to have to admit such limitations, but that’s life. For the record, this is the biggest upset of the tournament for me this year. And similarly to a 2-seed being knocked out by a 15-seed, I’m sad, but I can always look forward to next year. (I swear, if Michigan St. loses to Montana in the opening round like they did to Middle Tennessee in 2016, I’ll either quit this hobby or just never pick Sparty to do anything ever again.)
There is, however, a unique opportunity for me; one that makes my staying home a blessing. This is Luca’s first March Madness. He is too young to know what’s going on, but I can guarantee he will be on my lap watching games with me for at least some of the tournament. Hopefully this will become a passing on of tradition. As a kid I watched the tournament with my dad. He taught me how to fill out a bracket, what it meant to pick an upset, and the excitement of a single elimination tournament that grabs the country’s attention for a few days each spring. I now have a chance to pass that on to my son, year after glorious year. Luca will not have a bracket this year, but let’s just get him used to adults screaming at the sound of a buzzer beater. You have to crawl before you can walk, after all.
Which brings me to my picks. My psyche needs this annual sporting event the way my mortal soul needs Easter Mass. It promises to be another exciting tournament with some real potential spoilers waiting in the wings. The one that has me most worried is the 12-seed Murray St. against my alma mater, the 5-seed Marquette University. Also, do not sleep on Belmont or UC Irvine. Each of them has enough to win a first game and maybe a second, though judging by my picks below, they do not. In fact, I do not have one double-digit seed going to the Sweet 16 or beyond. But I’ve been wrong about a thing or two when it comes to this game. I have had my fair share of shining moments, as well as choices I just as soon forget. Last year I took it on the chin early when Arizona – a team I had going to the championship game – exited within the first few hours of the first day. I tore up my bracket with such fury, I think I still have some paper cuts. But that’s why we play this game, yes?
My bracket this year is pretty chalky this year. I have three or four early upsets but am looking for the top teams of each bracket to keep things moving forward. I’m calling it a “return to normalcy” after some tumultuous years. Winnings-wise, I hope I’m right. For every other reason, I hope I’m wrong.
Have a look, friends. Here’s how I think things will go down.
3/23/19 Update: I introduced my son to the annual tradition with a nail biter of a game! He's a fan.