Maddening good!

I don't want to brag but ...

As today’s NCAA Tournament first round games wrap up … I’m sitting happily in a three-way tie for first place in the Funnest Office Pool Ever, which, for the record, has 60 entrants this year. What’s more interesting is that the three of us at the top are former employees of the place.

Given the number of upsets -- and my knack to pick them -- I was having a ball watching tonight’s games (I was monitoring the changes in our pool's standings online like a stock broker watching the market). I picked correctly on Northern Iowa, Murray State, Wake Forest and St. Mary’s. And I didn’t bite on other trendy upset picks, like UTEP over Butler, or San Diego State over Tennessee.

Only the Notre Dame and Marquette losses were upsets I never saw coming … I had picked Georgetown to advance to the Elite Eight on some influence from my mother -- even though my gut told me Ohio State was the better pick; “Don’t count out Georgetown!” she said. Aye. Should, woulda, coulda.

This afternoon, work kept me from seeing the double-overtime BYU-Florida game (I accurately picked BYU), and that Notre Dame-Old Dominion thriller … But tonight’s games more than made up for them. Every game left me holding my breath!

In that Texas-Wake Forest game, Texas started running all over Wake in overtime, and I figured it was over when Wake went down by eight; Texas was cleaning up. But Wake somehow worked its way back into the game and then won it with a last second two-pointer that sent me dancing around my living room.

And Northern Iowa! It took me little time to fall in love with the play of Ali Farokhmanesh and that team’s scrappiness. When Farokhmanesh hit that winning three-pointer from waaaaay behind the arc, I erupted in a cheer loud enough make me the obnoxious and annoying neighbor of my apartment building.

Still, as fun as it was today, I know it's still early. And my story might be completely different tomorrow.

Traditionally, I’m fairly liberal with my upset picks, sometimes too liberal probably. But this year that appears to be working to my advantage.

I had started filling out my brackets on Monday night but stopped halfway, completely and utterly confused about the direction I was heading (Good thing, too. In my original bracket I had Florida and Richmond winning today.) … So I let my thoughts wander on Tuesday and Wednesday. I continued listening to the gurus on ESPN. I continued to pour over the records and articles in USA Today.

I was still waffling on my bracket as the clock moved into Thursday, having watched the “Idol” results show and proofing 60 magazine pages. Finally at around 12:30 a.m., I completed my bracket with Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Kentucky as my Final Four picks …

In a nutshell, I called my shot to Kates weeks ago, predicting Kansas and Syracuse in the championship game. Now, with the way the brackets are set up, Kansas and Syracuse could only face each other in the Final Four’s semi-final … Even then, Syracuse has faltered down the stretch and they’ve been hurt by injuries. Also, the Big East hasn’t lived up to its hype in the tournament in recent years, and the Big 12, arguably, has been the toughest and most competitive conference in the nation this year -- hence my endorsements for Kansas State and Baylor in the Final Four.

As I have every year, I’ve inserted Kansas in my Final Four with some trepidation -- because, as any Kansas fan knows, their play in the tournament hasn’t always lived up to the hype of their regular seasons (I'm feeling lucky they made it past LeHigh tonight). And yet, here I am, staying loyal and believing again that this could be “the year,” putting them as the national champion in my bracket over Kentucky.

For the record, me, my mother and 30 others have Kansas winning it all in our pool. Nine have picked Kentucky.

We’ll see.

Some good reads ...
a Day 1 at the Dance: Utter Madness
a Wherever he has coached, Self preaches a “magic level”
a Collins’ four years at KU have seen huge growth and change
a Jayhawks may be No. 1, but they can't take it easy
a Kansas is my favorite, but its road to Indy is chock full of roadblocks
a They’re all in it to win it, but a final of Kansas-Kentucky would be shining moment
a NCAA tournament committee had large at-large pool of shallow talent
a More Parity Atop the Bracket, but Less Talent on the Bubble
a A gazillion chances to miss a pick
a Near perfect: 79% got Villanova title in '85

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