- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

Hey, you. The guy with six different brackets. The girl recalculating the RPI formula on a napkin. The poor, misguided fool listening to Rick Majerus describe a play-in game between Ashley Judd and Spectravision. Put down the printout. Step away from the computer. Pay attention and take notes.

You’re still wasting your time.

This isn’t your year. You. Can’t. Win. We tried to warn you last season — noted that bracketology has yet to be recognized by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, made it painstakingly clear a roly-poly Providence Friar is no match for a hungry, ferocious Pacific Tiger, no matter what Joe Lunardi says.

But you? You didn’t listen. You went with senior leadership, dutifully picked a 5-12 upset, burned some incense before a homemade altar to Billy Packer. And for what? So who’s-that-guy from the IT department — the same moron who thinks Georgia Tech is a software company — can walk away with the office NCAA tournament pool?

By now, you really ought to know better.

As we’ve said before, your college basketball acumen is inversely proportional to your success in the office bracket. Which is why they call it March Madness, as opposed to March Actuarial Sobriety. So don’t make the same mistake twice. Take some chances. Once again, let sweet idiocy — in everlasting lieu of Clark Kellogg — be your guide.

With that in mind, we offer some updated, unconventional (read: Canseco-shamingly stupid) methods for making your picks. Go ahead, bust the bracket. Fact is, you have nothing to gain but cash — at least in theory since sports gambling remains a crime. Unless you’re in Vegas, which is only a short flight away …

Mascot fight club, redux

Last year’s idea was sound. Pit mascot against mascot, furry brother against brother and select squads on the basis of which would win a Discovery Channel-style brawl. Survival of the fittest. Worked for Darwin, works for us. After all, the Nevada Wolf Pack made a light snack of the Michigan State Spartans.

One problem: Some fights are hard to judge. Take this season’s bracket. Is the aforementioned Tiger meaner than a Pitt Panther? Could a Villanova Wildcat punk a New Mexico Lobo, essentially a wild dog?

Last year’s Elite Eight featured one paranormal phenomenon (Duke Blue Devils), one magical creature (UAB Blazers’ dragon), two guys with guns (Oklahoma State Cowboys, Xavier Musketeers) and only four animals. Tough read. We need a food chain, a way to separate the Louisville Cardinals from the Stanford Cardinal.

Try this: Paranormal phenomena beat natural disasters, which wash away guys with guns, who blast poisonous insects, which sting animals with teeth, which chomp animals without teeth, which bully guys without guns, who cut down trees, which fall on pacifist Penn Quakers.

With the above criteria in place, pickin’ becomes easy. The Cincinnati Bearcats (claws and teeth) top the Iowa Hawkeyes (claws and beaks). The Iowa State Cyclones blow the Minnesota Golden Gophers out of their hidey-holes. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons step all over the Chattanooga Mocs, mostly because footwear is no match for hellspawn.

Speaking of fiends, hairsplitting is inevitable. Should the Demon Deacons meet the Duke Blue Devils in the championship game, you will have to determine which ranks higher on Hades’ corporate ladder.

Our advice? Consult Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Or just drop in on a Coach K press conference, where you can ask the Prince of Darkness directly.

Take Oakland in the play-in game

Call it a hunch.

Team GPA

Just kidding. Though the back cover of the official NCAA tournament record book proclaims a commitment to QUALITY EDUCATION and STUDENT-ATHLETES, there isn’t a single grade-point average inside — truly a shame because we always have wondered how the 1990-91 UNLV squad fared in its core courses of car washing and casino greeting.

In reality, inverse academic rank is the way to go. Who cuts nets? Future NBA Draft picks. Who doesn’t cut nets? Biochemistry majors, who are too busy developing the next Viagra (and bless ‘em for that).

Consider: No Ivy League school has reached the Final Four since Penn in 1979. Stanford, an academic powerhouse, flamed out in the second round of the previous three tournaments.

If anyone can figure out how to win an office bracket, it’s the brainy students of MIT. They don’t even have a team. Coincidence?

In essence, picking against scholastic reputation means picking the safety school. Penn vs. Boston College? Take the Eagles. Similarly, Duke figures to cruise — because every student there was wait-listed at Harvard.

If schools were beer

This year’s tournament begins on St. Patrick’s Day, giving basketball fans an excuse to drink beer and beer drinkers an excuse to drink … more beer.

As such, it makes sense to get in the spirit — and no, we don’t mean vomiting before noon. As you read through the regions, apply a simple litmus test. Which school sounds like the tastier microbrew?

Illinois Stout? Tastes great, less filling. But not as rich as Fairleigh Dickinson Honey Brown. Pencil in the upset and follow our logic through the rest of the bracket:

• Nevada Pale Ale: round of 32.

• UW-Milwaukee’s Best: Sweet 16.

• Old Dominion Lager: Elite Eight.

• Pacific-O Cerveza: Final Four.

• George Washington: title game.

Like fellow founder Sam Adams, Washington was a patriot — and could have made a heck of a brewer if he wasn’t busy farming hemp. But that’s a substance for another holiday. Try to focus.

Consult the Magic 8-Ball

Church is always good. Online prayer is even better since you don’t have to leave your desk. We suggested as much last year. Unfortunately, the Prayer Warriors of the World (prayer-warriors.org) were unable to push No. 16 seed Florida A&M past top-seeded Kentucky.

On the other hand, the Rattlers managed to bust the halftime spread, netting us dough at a Vegas bachelor party. Talk about mysterious ways.

Point is, a little supernatural help can’t hurt. This time around, try a Magic 8-Ball — or maybe a Magic Infinity Ball (jaked.org/8ball.html) since “Magic 8-Ball” is a registered trademark of Tyco toys, whose lawyers enjoy drafting cease-and-desist letters.

Magic Infinity Ball, will Washington reach the Final Four?

Very doubtful.

Can Alabama survive trendy upset pick UW-Milwaukee?

Probably not.

So far, so good. Oh, and don’t limit your queries to wins and losses. Get creative.

Magic Infinity Ball, will Wake Forest guard Chris Paul impair someone else’s ability to sire children?

Most likely.

Is UConn forward Charlie Villanueva completely hairless, like a naked mole rat?

Signs point to yes.

Did Maryland deserve to make the tournament?

No.

See? The ball knows its stuff. Who needs Andy Katz?

Keep leaning on famous alumni

Universities are measured by the great minds they produce. Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas went to Duke. Geraldo attended Arizona. Both schools are tournament regulars. Again, this is no accident.

Well-known alums can be the difference between NCAA success (Kentucky, Judd) and failure (N.C. State, John Tesh). We told you Kansas would fall short of last year’s Final Four. Why? Two words: Don Johnson.

With that in mind, take a good look at Iowa (Gene Wilder), Michigan State (Jimmy Hoffa), Illinois (Ron Popeil, Roger Ebert) and UCLA (the guy who played Jake on “Melrose Place.”)

Conversely, be wary of Texas (Dabney Coleman), Georgia Tech (David Duval) and especially Florida (Steve Spurrier). As Washington Redskins fans know too well, sunshine only follows Gators to the golf course.

Compare school slogans

Samuel Johnson once called patriotism the last refuge of a scoundrel. Of course, marketing had yet to be invented. As universities scramble to brand themselves — college athletics serving as the hollow-point tip of the advertising bullet — it’s only fair to judge them accordingly.

Louisville proclaims, “Dare to Be Great.” Sounds nice. But what’s with the daring part? Michigan State is “Advancing Knowledge, Transforming Lives.” Swell. While you’re at it, how about advancing past the first round?

Some schools have mixed-up priorities. At Eastern Kentucky, “Students and Learning Come First.” Red flag. Hope basketball comes second. Wake Forest exists “For the Good of Humanity,” even though the tournament takes place for the good of the NCAA’s corporate partners, who have long since swapped their humanity for an extra TV timeout.

When in doubt — or confronted by pabulum like Creighton’s “Pursue the Possibilities” — stick with mottoes that could pull double-duty on a locker room chalkboard. Think UTEP’s “Our Time is Now.” N.C. State’s “Achieve.” North Carolina’s “Kneel Before Zod.”

Oops. Made that last one up. That said, don’t discount the power of positive thinking, especially when it’s tied to a multimillion-dollar sales push. Should your brackets still bust, don’t worry: At Southeastern Louisiana, they still “Have a Place for You.” Dead last. Which is the best anyone can hope for in an NCAA office pool.

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