In NCAA pools, hearts can get in the way of heads

Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough is not necessarily easy to root for, though his Notre Dame team is.
Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough is not necessarily easy to root for, though his Notre Dame team is. (Reuters)

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By Mike Wise
Wednesday, March 16, 2011; 5:27 PM

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.


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