In NCAA pools, hearts can get in the way of heads
By Mike Wise,
College, NBA, pickup ball at a temperature-controlled sports club with fluffy towels, steam rooms and filtered water, it really doesn’t matter. I love basketball. I (heart symbol) hoops. I feel I even know the game.
But, except for one aberration over the past two decades (thank you, Miles Simon), I have not won an NCAA pool. This has led to annually wiring funds to some PayPal account belonging to a guy named Rudy, who thanks me for my donation and encourages me to join his friends’ pools.
In pondering why I am 1 for my last 20, it all suddenly became clear during last April’s championship game: For me, every region and every pick is a quandary over whether to follow my heart or my head.
My emotions were with Butler, the kids from Hinkle Fieldhouse, the hoopsters in the heartland.
My logic was with Duke, with Coach K and the Death Star.
As usual, the Death Star won.
Which provided instant clarity, an end to agonizing over brackets forever. I knew that night:
I needed to separate the head pool from the heart pool. I needed to divide the schools: coaches and players I wanted to win (and lose) on one side, the teams I knew had the most logical chance of success on the other.
Yes, I now drop twice as much in entry fees. But at least logic has a chance. I also no longer spew profanity at 20-year-olds on television for ruining one of my pools, because in my other pool there are a group of 19-year-olds whose sorry games I’m happy to curse and berate.
Herewith then — and I don’t do this for just anybody — my keys to ensure your gut-feeling pool doesn’t mingle with your facts-and-logic pool:
My heart says go with an obscure player from a small school whose name is incessantly shouted in the first round by Gus Johnson as if he has just left his mother’s womb; my head says go with a team calmly chatting in the Four Seasons lobby with Jim Nantz, who keeps creepily leaning in.
My heart roots for the 6-foot-6 centers; my head says pick the 6-foot-6 point guards.
My heart says look for a team chaplain on the bench. My head says look for Worldwide Wes in the locker room.
My heart says look for the embodiment of team basketball, four-year starters and fifth-year seniors; my head says take the one-and-done dude who reminds you of Carmelo Anthony.
My heart roots for academic all-Americans; my head says find the lottery picks.
My heart says Converse; my head says Nike.
My heart says my wife’s alma mater (UNC Asheville); my head says Dario Franchitti’s wife’s alma mater.
Oh, a confession: I don’t really have a team. I have glommed onto other people’s teams the past decade because I graduated from Fresno State. The Bulldogs last made the tournament in 2001, and that’s because Jerry Tarkanian grew nostalgic for his alma mater and probation, which followed 2001.
My heart says pick any team whose coach is older than 65 and whose name doesn’t rhyme with buffoon.
In my heart pool, Jim Calhoun and U-Conn. are annually picked to go down in the second round while Scott Drew and benefit-laden Baylor are hopefully back-doored by a Patriot League or Mountain West team early. Whatever school most recently sold its soul to Bob Huggins I usually have creamed by a religious institution in the Sweet 16. Thuggie Bear and West Virginia of course made it to the Final Four last year, killing my heart pool.
My head says pick the coaches with the most hair product, or ones whose banners will be pulled down a few years after they cut down the nets.
That’s not always foolproof. In one of the great emotion-over-logic, karmic finishes of all time, Kansas came back and snatched the trophy from Memphis’s hands in 2008, further proof the gods of the game also think John Calipari’s programs are malodorous.
But then, crime almost paid last year. In what the NCAA had to fear was the apocalypse, Huggins, Calipari, Drew, Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl and Kansas State’s Frank Martin, a Huggins protege, coached teams in the region finals and seriously threatened to make it an All-Cretin Final Four.
I also pick one outwardly arrogant or annoying player to despise each year for no apparent reason other than he best fits the description of the rotten teenager who purposely injured Ralph Macchio in the original “Karate Kid.” (“Sweep the leg, Johnny.” Remember?)
Last year, this player was Purdue’s Chris Kramer, who actually puffed his pectorals out like he was trained at the same Cobra Kai as Tommy and Johnny trained at the in the early 1980s. In previous years, this player was “Psycho T” (North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough), U-Conn.’s Khalid El-Amin, UNLV’s Stacey Augmon, UCLA’s Don MacLean, Duke’s Chris Collins, Duke’s Christian Laettner . . . Duke.
This year’s Sweep-the-leg-Johnny, annoying player is Ben Hansbrough, Tyler’s younger brother — “Psycho B,” if you will. Which presents a real dilemma for me. Because I (heart symbol) his Notre Dame team. They rebound, they make big shots, their best players are seniors and they move and pass. As Jay Bilas said the other night on ESPN, “The ball doesn’t die in Notre Dame’s hands.”
I am still debating whether to kill Notre Dame off in my heart pool and have them going all the way in my head pool or just go deep with the Irish in both pools.
As a rule, though, my heart says to pick the cast of “Hoosiers,” schools no one can find on a map. My head says pick the cast of “Blue Chips” and schools whose arenas have corporate naming rights.
And my head says Kemba Walker, Coach Calhoun and . . . honor code? What honor code?