When we gathered in 2007 for the first Mock Bracket session, it was like being temporarily invited into a secret society. We would be the first allowed to peer behind the blue curtain (somewhere in Indianapolis there is a warehouse filled with blue draping, bunting and carpeting) and see just how the selection committee chose the NCAA tournament field. And like eager kids we dove right into the whole thing, giddily voting to select teams, digesting every bit of minutiae off the nitty gritty reports, arguing our positions with passion.
By the end of the night, which was actually in the wee hours of the next morning, hepped up on caffeine, bleary eyed and in need of an adult beverage, we were about ready to put anyone in the field just to finish the darned bracket.
I often wondered if the actual selection committee did the same -- just threw up their hands at some point, and said, "Close enough. Let's get a beer."
I wouldn't blame them. If there is a tougher job in sports -- caddying for John Daly, maybe -- I'd like to hear it. Seriously, the last time Selection Sunday ended without controversy or complaint was when? Rumor has it Utah State was ticked back in '39 when it drew Oklahoma.
Someone is always going to be left out or slighted, hate their draw or hate their location. The post-bracket-reveal outrage is as much a part of the Selection Sunday holiday as the unveiling itself, now made so much more instantly gratifying thanks to the ability to share pithy angst in 140 characters or less.
And so on Sunday, the tradition continued.
But honestly, in this of all seasons, how could this bracket be anything but slightly flawed? There's a reason Warren Buffett chose this year to offer $1 billion to the person who could name every tourney winner.
It has been wildly unpredictable, frequently controversial and occasionally even volatile. Pinning down this year into a printable, easy-to-read, clean and geometrically pleasing bracket is about as easy as tacking a noodle to the back of a dolphin. So there was no way the committee could get this thing entirely right.
And they didn't.
My top three beefs:
• There is phoenix rising -- surging Oklahoma State and Kentucky, both rounding back into form after some midseason bumps and bruises -- but no Phoenix. Wisconsin-Green Bay, which played four NCAA tournament teams and beat two of them (Tulsa and Virginia) is out, but an injury-depleted BYU, which lost 11 games, and an NC State that played hardly anyone, are in.
• We started this season talking about a team that could go 40-0 and then when one actually went 34-0, the masochistic branch of the committee laid out the region. In the way of Wichita State and Gregg Marshall's return to the Final Four ... just John Calipari, Rick Pitino, Mike Krzyzewski and John Beilein. Too bad they couldn't exhume John Wooden.
• There is supposed to be room for an eyeball test, a subjective measure of a team's worth. But in some cases the committee clearly borrowed Mr. Magoo's eyeballs. Louisville and Michigan State are 4-seeds?
But the truth is, the complaining is really a one-day event and a complete waste of breath. By Tuesday, the shunned teams will move along to play out their alphabet soup of other tourneys (NIT, CBI, and so forth) and by the end of the week, the tourney will unfold before us.
And it will win. It always does.
No matter how much a committee may seem to foul it up, the NCAA tournament is the ultimate No. 1 seed, undefeated for life. It never disappoints (OK, except maybe that year that Butler and Connecticut conspired to take the basket out of basketball).
There will be upsets and comebacks, buzzer-beaters and controversies, epic individual performances and heart-wrenching losses. The "serendipity of the tournament," committee chair Gary Walters called it back in 2007. The Princeton athletic director was defending the games that look intentionally set up for maximum appeal (for example this year, Rick Pitino going up against his former assistant, Steve Masiello, in the second round; Dayton getting to play Ohio State; a potential Nebraska-Creighton matchup in the round of 32; or maybe a Villanova-Saint Joseph's Holy War in the same round) but really the term applies to the whole thing.
Where else can you get both the AARP set (Jim Boeheim, Steve Fisher, Cliff Ellis, Mike Krzyzewski and Bo Ryan, all legally senior citizens) and the just-learning-to-shave crew (Jamion Christian, Archie Manning, Masiello and Shaka Smart, all under 40)?
Here you can play Six Degrees of Larry Brown -- Kansas' Bill Self and Calipari both coached under him; Tulsa's Danny Manning and Colorado's Tad Boyle both played for him -- even without Larry Brown.
Mike Davis might have to endure a First Four game with Texas Southern, but he's in the tournament; the entire state of Indiana, where he worked a few years back, is not.
And only in the NCAA tournament can you get a player that averages 26.9 points (Creighton) and a team that averages 62 (Cal Poly) and the 1987 most outstanding player (Steve Alford) against the 1988 most outstanding player (Manning). So rather than bash the committee for the mistakes, we might as well just cut to the chase and celebrate March.
It will beat the odds every time.
Maybe even Warren Buffett's.