Posted by: trevormeers | March 15, 2010

Secrets to a Biased Bracket

This weekend marked a holiday in which millions of Americans bond together to celebrate a piece of bureaucratic paperwork: Selection Sunday. Crowds of fans gather around their TVs and computers to see the bracket that matches the country’s seven or eight legitimate national-title contenders and 50-some other teams in the upcoming NCAA basketball tournament.

As Tournament Time 2010 lands on us, Iowa basketball fans find themselves feeling a lot like conservatives in recent elections. There are precious few people to root for. Iowa State is coached by A Really Nice Guy, but mainly spends its time talking about how great Hilton Magic was back in the day. The Iowa Hawkeyes were recently demoted to the Saturday morning church league, where they have an excellent chance of finishing in the top half next year. Drake has put The Keno Anomaly in the rearview and returned to being that quiet school in Des Moines for rich kids. Northern Iowa is good, again. But none of us can actually think of anyone we know with any ties to the school.

Around SW of Mingo Headquarters, we pull for the Cornhuskers, which leaves us little to do at tournament time but speculate about whether the Husker women (ranked #3 in the country) might beat the Husker men.

So plenty of us in these parts enter the NCAA tournament with no dog in the fight. But there are ways to pick a team in any given game (beyond automatically going for the lower seed, betting your mortgage payment on a team or, heaven forbid, choosing the cutest mascot). Use these handy rules when deciding which team to cheer for in a game you otherwise couldn’t give a rip about:

The Celebrity Rule – Because we’re Midwesterners, we instinctively look askance at anything originating from SoCal. Thus, we root against any team that has a cheering section that could use Joan Rivers as an emcee. USC is the prime offender under this rule, filling its football sidelines with celebs ranging from Will Ferrell to Snoop Dog (a pairing that might make a great wacky buddy-cop comedy, I might add).

The Good/Bad Uniform Rule – Michigan is one team you can cheer against for no other reason than the fact that they violate this rule thanks to the Fab Five (already violators of The Blatant Cheaters Rule) saddling the world with the enormous basketball shorts trend. True, we didn’t really need the high-and-tight look John Stockton single-handedly kept alive for a decade too long, but we also don’t need basketball teams in gauchos. I’ve rooted against the Arkansas Razorbacks ever since their mid-90s teams took shorts to new extremes, wearing enough fabric to outfit a clipper ship.

The George From Hoosiers Rule – Why do I root against Penn State at every opportunity? Because of this somewhat complex rule. In Hoosiers, George tells Coach Dale, “Look, mister, there’s… two kinds of dumb, uh… guy that gets naked and runs out in the snow and barks at the moon, and, uh, guy who does the same thing in my living room. First one don’t matter, the second one you’re kinda forced to deal with.” Translation: You can let a team live in peace until one of its most obnoxious fans comes into your living room and starts trash talking everyone else. Penn State fell under this rule when a Nittany-centric maniac moved to my town and dedicated himself to converting everyone to his sports worldview. Ergo, I’m pro-whoever-is-playing-Penn-State. (Full disclosure: Cornhusker fans themselves frequently run afoul of The George From Hoosiers Rule.)

The Vacation Rule – If a team comes from a place I like visiting, I’ll root for them when I stumble onto a game. That makes me a fan of the likes of Utah, Colorado State and Wyoming (but never the U of Colorado; see The Dorm Full Of Felons Rule). Because I love traveling in the West, this rule has the added advantage of making me root for underdogs on nearly every occasion. Locales prone to outdoor adventure aren’t prone to breeding big-time basketball programs. Cross-reference this rule with the next rule to understand where I come down in two situations: Rick Majerus’ Utah Utes and Steve Alford’s New Mexico Lobos.

The Frumpy Coach Rule – Always pull for the team with a coach that looks like he just got done teaching seventh-hour chemistry and Introduction To Fitness to freshmen. Again, following this rule ensures you’ll almost always pick the underdog. Big-school coaches are federally mandated to wear tailored suits and $100 haircuts. Because of this rule, Rick Majerus’ Utah Utes were a no-brainer. They came from a great vacation destination and were coached by a guy who looked like he’d be a hoot to go bowling with. Steve Alford’s New Mexico Lobos, on the other hand, qualify as a winner under The Vacation Rule, but are a clear violator of The Frumpy Coach Rule.

The Clannish Vengeance Rule – A true sports fan can nurse a grudge longer than a tribesman still seething about an insult in the fifth century. Therefore, if a team did your team wrong at any point in the memorable past, you have a right to loathe that team for eternity. When you’re really stuck picking a team in a game, dig deep for offenses. One stray elbow may be enough to get a team on the root-against list. Example: Oklahoma fans should always pull against Michigan State because of that nasty hit the Spartans put on Eduardo Najara a few years ago in the tournament. Was it actually intentional? Look, do you want to find a reason to pick a favorite team or not?

The Irritating Alum Rule – Producing a real jerk is enough to make you root against a team. Georgetown, for example, is a clear go-for-the-other-guys opportunity. The Hoyas have produced Patrick Ewing (“Sure we make a lot of money, but we spend a lot of money”), Dikembe Mutombo (Wag that finger one more time, pal, and….) and Allen Iverson (‘nough said). This rule becomes very useful in the tournament’s latter stages, when pretty much only big-time schools remain. Because of their historic success, they’ve almost certainly produced famous alums, making it easy to pick one that rubs you wrong. (By the way, Bill Clinton went to Georgetown, too.)

Keep this list beside the remote control for the next three weeks, and you’ll find something to cheer about in every game, thanks to putting a little method behind the March Madness.

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