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Eng: A Comprehensive Guide to Losing March Madness

Congrats, Louisville. You have deprived my bracket of its last chance at redemption.

That came out a bit shallow, especially given the heart that Rick Pitino’s team just showed us en route to capturing its third NCAA tournament championship. Please forgive me—It was a rough March.

Alas, watching Luke Hancock & Co. celebrate under the raining confetti in those fashion-forward (i.e. ugly) uniforms made me feel like the kid at the carnival who misfired so badly on the beanbag toss that he didn’t even get his consolation lollipop. (Those were dark, dark days…) A Michigan victory certainly would have been this consolation.

I admit my (best*) bracket wasn’t a complete mess. It outdid 52 percent of the brackets entered into ESPN.com’s Tournament Challenge. In addition to selecting Michigan to be the national champion, I also predicted first-round upsets by 12th-seeded Oregon and Ole Miss, as well as long shot victories by 14th-seeded Harvard over New Mexico and (apologies, die-hard Cardinal fans) Cal Berkeley over UNLV**.

Truth be told, my first-round bracket had a few blemishes here and there: FGCU’s win over Georgetown, UCLA’s implosion against Minnesota. Oh, and there was also that Wichita State team that I thought was going lose to Pittsburgh. Yeah. Whoops…Big whoops. Though lamenting over the West region of my bracket has proven oddly cathartic up to this point, it hardly seems an appropriate use of time or resource. No point crying over spilled milk, as they say.

A saving grace of sorts, I predicted the outcome of the tournament more accurately than my female acquaintance, whom I shall more relevantly reference as The Coin Flipper. She had three 16-over-1 seed upsets. (FYI, no first seed has ever lost in the first round.)

Anyways, it’s a good thing that Northwestern State, Memphis, New Mexico and Temple didn’t reach the Final Four. Otherwise, I may have been compelled to pull a Harvey Dent for a day and to see how things would go***. Phewf. I can only imagine the looks I would have gotten.

I suppose the source of my disappointment in my above-average, but hardly outstanding bracket really stems from my high expectations. Amid a fangirl obsession with Nate Silver at the onset of the tournament, I felt as if reading his hot-selling book, “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—but Some Don’t,” and a few of his New York Times FiveThirtyEight blog posts had enhanced my predictive capacity.

Isn’t forecasting the outcome of a set of 63 college basketball games similar to forecasting a presidential election? I would come to realize this to be untrue. Nevertheless, I had high hopes for my bracket this year.

Granted, this year, there were far more Cinderella squads and no truly dominant first seeds. Remember last year’s national champion? Only The Coin Flipper and the completely basketball-illiterate would have bet against John Calipari’s University of Kentucky team, which featured five future first-round NBA draft picks, including Naismith Player of the Year Anthony Davis.

Last year, there was no Wichita State. The lowest-seeded team to reach the Final Four was (who else?) Louisville, seeded fourth in the West that year. There were two first-round upsets of No. 2 seeds last year: Norfolk State’s upset of Mizzou and Lehigh’s upset of Duke. Yet neither of these surprise teams advanced to the Sweet 16.

In light of recent events, I have resolved that I am no Nate Silver. I have no Pete Rose-esque influence on the outcome of the game, nor do I even have a Steve Bartman-esque influence on the outcome of the game. (See: angry Moises Alou leers at Cubs fan.) But here’s the thing: I have my intuition. And hopefully, one year I’ll get it right.

You see, unlike The Coin Flipper, I make my own chance.

* We shall not speak of the other five that I entered into the ESPN challenge. Not to mention the ones I submitted on Yahoo! Sports. I have no life.

** This constitutes the win-win scenario. Since this 12-over-5 game contributed to a near-unblemished first round bracket, I took a victory lap down the Twain North hallway. Had Cal been eliminated, I would have still taken the victory lap.

*** Though I have not made decisions based on explicit chance, I would imagine that shaking an original Magic Eight Ball would be far more enjoyable (and far less mainstream) than flipping a coin—though Dodeca-Face doesn’t have quite the same allure as Two-Face does.

David Eng thinks that the Golden State Warriors will win the NBA Title this season. Let him know why there are some things for which you can’t just follow your own intuition at dkeng ‘at’ stanford.edu.