Go Pants! Bracket Challenge – Just Win Baby!

By WILL CASE

“You can’t go against God. It’s tough to do,” said Dick Vitale, the beloved ESPN college basketball analyst, when he picked Loyola over Michigan in last Saturday’s Final Four matchup. Vitale was wrong. But only a little.

While Loyola couldn’t hang on to a second half lead against Michigan, Villanova shot the roof off of the Alamodome against KU and the Wolverines on their way to a second national title in three years.

Indeed, the Cinderella didn’t cut down the nets on Monday night, but several participants in our Go Pants! bracket challenge kept the underdog narrative alive.

Some might say the national championship game failed to offer a thrilling finish to a great tournament. But things were close in our bracket challenge. To determine the top spot in the standings, the ESPN computerized ranking had to revert to the tie breaker — points scored in the final. The beneficiary of that was Max Stamler ’19, who finished in a tie for first place with field hockey national champion and ace goal tender Abby Furdak ’21.

“I just chose randomly,” Stamler said of how he picked Villanova to win. Yes, Stamler was yet another participant who filled out a successful bracket with an “ah, what the hell” mentality.

“I don’t watch much college basketball other than Oregon,” Stamler said of his college basketball fandom. And anyone who follows the ski team roster page as closely as the sports section knows Oregon is Stamler’s home state. “I was disappointed they weren’t in it, especially because of how well they did last year when they made it to the Final Four.”

On his emotions throughout a championship game in which he had pride and a gift card on the line, Stamler said that he didn’t really know he was in line to win until minutes before the final started.

“Somebody told me I was in first before the game,” Stamler reported to us. “I thought that was really cool, especially because I took only five minutes to fill out my bracket.”

An underrated, but all-important, aspect of the final was the tie breaking final score procedure. Had Michigan made a few more shots, Abby Furdak would have come out on top. But it wasn’t meant to be for Furdak.

“There should have been another way it was decided,” Furdak joked when we called to congratulate her after Villanova had cut down the nets. “I don’t watch at all during regular season, but I love March Madness,” said Furdak, the co-first place finisher.

“I made picks based off of past March Madnesses,” Furdak said. “A reason I picked Villanova was because the day I made my picks I happened to walk in and see an interview with the Villanova coach [Jay Wright] and one of their star players [Jalen Brunson].

“I also remember their winning shot two years ago against North Carolina,” Furdak said. “That was awesome.”

When asked if Jay Wright’s excellently put together suits were a factor in her decision, Furdak was the only interviewee who wasn’t completely thrown off by the question.

“I actually didn’t know at all when I made my picks about his suits,” Furdak said, adding without a hitch, “definitely a plus.”

As highlighted before, Furdak might have walked away with the top Amazon gift card had Michigan been able to hit a few of the layups that clanked off the rim or were rejected into the first row. Nevertheless, Stamler’s less-than-kosher prediction of a 69–69 final score got him the top prize.

Albeit only for a few hours, from Michigan’s comeback to Nova’s dismantling of Bill Self’s hapless bunch, Aaron Low ’18 was in first place. Low’s time at the top of the standings was improbable — he almost didn’t enter a bracket because he knew nothing about college basketball.

“Maybe I was just doing my friend a favor,” Low said when asked what led him to enter a bracket into the Go Pants! bracket challenge despite his initial hesitation. And maybe, Low was nagged into submission by one of the sports editors. The world may never know.

Like so many others who finished at the top of our pool, Low filled out his bracket with minimal context.

“I didn’t know much,” Low said about his strategy. “I guess I mainly went with seedings and mostly went with higher seeds unless instructed otherwise.”

Even more so than Renton, Low hadn’t seen more than a cumulative game of basketball in his life. While Villanova’s win pushed Low and many others off of the first page of the rankings, he enjoyed the excitement no less than the next guy.

“Oh, I loved it!” was the way Low described what he thought of the tournament. “I think I’ve watched maybe one game before. I ended up watching a couple. And I watched Michigan beat Houston in the final second. And I listened to Michigan comeback against Loyola on the car ride back with a friend from Chicago to Middlebury last Saturday.”

Toward the other end of the spectrum of college basketball awareness were people like head editor of the newspaper you’re reading right now, Ethan Brady ’18. Brady knew all along who would be cutting down the nets on Monday night.

“I’ve always liked Nova,” Brady said. “They won two years ago in one of the best championships I’ve ever seen. Maybe one of the best college basketball championship finishes ever. I just had a gut feeling they’d win again.”
Brady also picked Michigan to go to the title game as well.

“I picked Michigan to go far because it felt like their year and they were on a hot streak,” Brady said. “I picked UVA in the Final Four, but so did a lot of people. I didn’t see that one coming.”

Following the pattern that we’ve talked about ad nauseam these last few weeks, add Brady to the list of those who didn’t follow the action that closely this year but whose bracket still rose to the top. In terms of the exact amount of college basketball Brady had seen prior to the tournament, he answered firmly: “Zero.”

“I mean, I’m familiar with basketball,” Brady said. “I know which programs are good and I was cautious with the upsets I picked. I only picked upsets when I felt comfortable with the program. I also tried to figure out where teams were poorly seeded and made my picks accordingly.”

One aspect of Brady’s bracket that post-tournament bracketologists will note is that he picked a disproportionate number of teams from Texas to advance.

“I have a soft spot for Texas teams,” Brady said. And that soft spot paid off at times.

“That’s why I picked [correctly, we might add] Texas Tech to go to the Elite Eight,” Brady explained.

However, when asked why he didn’t pick Texas A&M over North Carolina, Brady demurred.

“That was my one failure in this bracket,” he said. “I don’t know why I doubted them. I was thinking too rationally. Or not rationally enough.”

Benjy Renton ’21 was the unlikely leader in the clubhouse at numerous times during the tournament’s first weekend. Renton entered the championship game tied for eighth and with a shot at finishing in the top five. Unlike Low, who was going to enter a bracket because of persistent badgering, Renton was a few minutes away from not even entering a bracket at all.

“I was genuinely surprised at how well my bracket faired,” said Renton, who’s not letting the modicum of minor fame his bracket’s success has brought him get to his head. “I thought autofill was a poor strategy. But it turns out it worked to an extent.”

Renton and Low embody one of the things we hoped to accomplish with the student body wide bracket challenge. He went from almost not filling out a bracket, to excitedly watching as Jay Wright’s bunch cut down the nets on Monday.

“I guess it’s kind of cool,” Renton said. “I remember one of the most emotional games was the one where Kansas beat Duke. I was watching it in a hotel room in South Carolina and it was quite a miracle when they won.”
Renton and the folks who picked Villanova to win it all watched and listened to Monday night’s thumping of Michigan with excitement and glee.

In the first rendition of the bracket challenge article, we addressed how there appeared to be a correlation between being clueless about college basketball and being at the top of the Go Pants! standings. However, it seemed there was equal opportunity bad luck as well. Ben Yamron ’21 is one example. Despite finishing dead last in the bracket challenge, Yamron was a good sport and talked to us about his reflections on the tournament.

Yamron actually managed to correctly predict that a 16 seed would pull off an upset over a one. Unfortunately for Yamron, he picked No. 16 Radford over national champion Villanova and No. 16 Penn over Final Four participant KU.

Asked about his thoughts on why he picked two 16-seeds to beat 1-seeds, Yamron said “I just wanted to see something amazing happen.” He then paused before saying, “Didn’t pan out.”

To be fair to Yamron, he “didn’t know that a 16 has never beaten a one seed.” Like so many others who don’t religiously follow college basketball, Yamron said he considered using the autofill button to assist with his picks.

Apparently, some of Yamron’s fellow swimmers took advantage of the autofill option, especially in earlier, closely seeded games.

“I don’t follow too much college,” Yamron said. “I played all through my childhood so I thought I knew all the ins and outs and it wouldn’t be that hard to predict. I guess I got a little cocky.

“Just randomly, I think I could’ve done better. Odds are if you picked randomly you would have done better than me.”

Some may look at the fact that their brackets, like Yamron’s, were total busts. In the case of the first-year at the bottom of our bracket challenge, only two — just two! — teams he picked to go to the Sweet 16 were still alive. None of the teams he picked for the Elite Eight were still kicking. But down here where the sports section is relegated to the back corner of the newspaper room of Hepburn basement, we think that Yamron’s feat is almost as impressive as picking 14 of the 16 Sweet 16 participants correctly.

“I mean,” Yamron began when we speculated about how impressive it is to finish in the bottom percentile of the 17 million people who filled out a bracket, “it’s not easy to do what I did. I guess you could say there’s a talent to it depending on how you spin it.”

Well, that’s all folks. Thanks for playing in the first annual Go Pants! bracket challenge. We hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as we did.

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Go Pants! Bracket Challenge – Just Win Baby!