No matter how much time you spend working on your brackets, in the end the only ones who are going to make money off of any of this are
the players (ha, joke!) the people who base their tournament-pool choices on the cuteness of the mascots shoe companies and television executives. So why not make your picks like a fan and pull for the teams that speak most to your personal hopes, fears, and dreams?
2. The Midwest
Louisville center Bill Clinton is undersized but feisty.
#1 Louisville vs. #16 North Carolina A&T/Liberty play-in game winner. Pick North Carolina A&T, which made the tournament for the first time in 18 years, if you feel like things are finally looking up for you after a run of bad luck. Pick Liberty if you’re always putting your faith in people only to find that they aren’t who you thought they were (i.e., the kind of person who thinks Liberty star Seth Curry, brother of NBA standout Stephen, could lead them to an upset, but doesn’t know that Seth transferred to Duke in 2010). Pick Louisville if you have any common sense whatsoever.
#8 Colorado St. vs. #9 Missouri. Pick Missouri if you think Hannibal, Missouri’s Mark Twain, is a greater novelist than Oak Park, Illinois’, Ernest Hemingway. Pick Colorado State if you would rather go mountain biking than read a novel.
#5 Oklahoma State vs. #12 Oregon. Pick Oklahoma State, home of a respected veterinary college, if you enjoy the silent, noble company of animals to the gossipy chattering of your fellow humans. Pick Oregon, a low seed despite winning the Pac-12 tournament, if you feel like the big shots never give you any credit for anything you do.
#4 St. Louis vs. #13 New Mexico State. Pick the unusually monikered St. Louis Billikens if you feel like a purple polka dot in a black-and-white world. Pick the New Mexico State Aggies, who share their nickname with a bajillion other agricultural colleges, if you feel like there’s nothing wrong with being normal and that no one likes a show-off.
#6 Memphis vs. #11 Middle Tennessee State/St. Mary’s play-in game winner. Pick Memphis if you wish you lived somewhere with more soul. Pick St. Mary’s if you wish you lived somewhere more scenic, like northern California. Pick Middle Tennessee State if you lived somewhere with a name half as cool as Murfreesboro. No matter who you pick, adopt a mutt from the pound and name him “Murfreesboro.” Time for a walk, Murfreesboro. Atta boy.
#3 Michigan State vs. #14 Valparaiso. Pick Michigan State, coached by Tom Izzo, if you occasionally refer to your “hizzouse” when you meant to refer to your “shizzle.” Pick Valparaiso if your favorite song is “Two ValTickets to ValParadise.”
#7 Creighton vs. #10 Cincinnati. Pick Creighton, alma mater of tough-as-nails Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, if you don’t take any crap from anyone at any time. Pick Cincinnati if you think a little sweetness — a little cinnamon and cocoa in the chili of life, if you will — can improve any situation.
#2 Duke vs. #15 Albany. Pick Duke if you think that successful people get criticized too much in our society — if you feel like you missed the day when they announced it was a crime to make a little money. Pick Albany if you don’t like to have money in the first place.
4. The South
A new University of Florida student checks out his freshman dorm room.
#1 Kansas vs. #16 Western Kentucky. Pick Western Kentucky if you are a dreamer who enjoyed the poorly reviewed Cameron Crowe film Elizabethtown, named after a city where WKU has a satellite campus. Pick Kansas if, like longtime Lawrence, Kansas, resident William Burroughs, your hobbies are heroin and gay prostitution.
#8 North Carolina vs. #9 Villanova. Pick North Carolina, which started the season so poorly it must be considered an underdog in this tournament despite its blue-blood status, if you have ever caught yourself feeling sorry for a corporation. Pick Villanova if, and only if, you have ever watched a PBS science program in an Italian country home.
#5 VCU vs. #12 Akron. Pick Akron if you’ve gone through some hard times but retain your dignity through toughness and an appreciation of the value of hard work. Pick VCU, Virginia Commonwealth University, if you have ever worked an overly hoity-toity word like “commonweal” into casual conversation and then been embarrassed about it.
#4 Michigan vs. #13 South Dakota State. Pick Michigan if you’ve ever bitten into something that seemed delicious (Michigan’s 16-0 start to the season) only to find that it was stale, mostly tasteless, and currently allowing a wide-open three-pointer (Michigan’s defensively disastrous 10-7 finish). Pick South Dakota State if you would like to be able to drive as fast as you want because you can see to the horizon in every direction and police cars are visible from 65 miles away.
#6 UCLA vs. #11 Minnesota. Pick UCLA if you love wearing a jacket and bitching about the weather when it’s 50 degrees outside. Pick Minnesota if you love wearing shorts and going to the beach when it’s 50 degrees outside.
#3 Florida vs. #14 Northwestern State. Pick Northwestern State if you enjoy generic brands. Pick Florida if you occasionally sigh with contentment while gazing o’er a garbage swamp as you destroy your ex-husband’s truck with a chainsaw that you bought in the parking lot of a Burger King.
#7 San Diego State vs. #10 Oklahoma. Pick San Diego State if you spend a lot of time “making deals” on a wireless headset. Pick Oklahoma if you are a Methodist.
#2 Georgetown vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast. Pick Florida Gulf Coast if you’re pursuing a rap career primarily so you’ll be able to credibly refer to shrimp as “scrimps.” Pick Georgetown if you’re wearing a sweater and still think St. Elmo’s Fire is a bitchin’ movie.
6. The West
Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan relaxes with a swim.
#1 Gonzaga vs. #16 Southern University. Pick Gonzaga if you’re the kind of person who yells at your friends when they throw a plastic water bottle into a trash can even though there are no recycling bins for miles around and it’s just one goddamn water bottle, OK? Pick Southern University if you live north of the Mason-Dixon line and are feeling a little silly.
#8 Pittsburgh vs. #9 Wichita State. Pick Pitt if the idea of winters that feel at place only in a Cormac McCarthy novel — The Road was filmed outside Pittsburgh — doesn’t concern you. Pick Wichita State if a team called the Shockers doesn’t offend your traditionalist sports sensibilities and/or if the sight of alumnus Joe Carter hopping around the Skydome bases in exultation gives you goosebumps.
#5 Wisconsin vs. #12 Ole Miss. Pick Wisconsin if you’ve ever worn three pairs of socks to cut down a tree. Pick Ole Miss if you ever tole someone you miss the ole days.
#4 Kansas State vs. #13 winner of Boise State/La Salle play-in game. Pick Boise State if you think mac ‘n’ cheese gets all the attention that should be going to mashed potatoes. Pick La Salle if mac ‘n’ cheese tastes pretty good from where you’re sitting. Pick Kansas State if you’re always sneaking up on people.
#3 New Mexico vs. #14 Harvard. Pick Harvard if you find it funny to call this game Math vs. Meth. Pick New Mexico if you would be offended by that coinage but are too busy fighting a cactus.
#6 Arizona vs. #11 Belmont. Pick Arizona if you’ve ever wanted to peer down over the ridge above the pass as the riders approach, your rifle pressed tight to your shoulder, your heart beating wild in your chest. Pick Belmont if you think you can ride through that pass on a horse made of lightning.
#7 Notre Dame vs. #10 Iowa State. Pick Notre Dame if you think using the Rudy score in a commercial is something the FCC needs to deal with. Pick Iowa State if you know that two of the greatest athletes in college sports history were Cyclone wrestlers.
#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Iona. Pick Ohio State if you don’t care what people say about you so long as they respect you. Pick Iona if you believe in conspiracy theories like “some universities exist only to provide vowels for crossword puzzles.”
8. The East
Bucknell’s female athletics programs only recruit women named Nell. None of them have ever won a game.
#1 Indiana vs. #16 winner of LIU-Brooklyn/James Madison play-in game. Pick LIU-Brooklyn if you find yourself making specific arrangements so that you can watch Girls as it airs, and not on HBO GO. Pick James Madison if you have an uncle who makes his own moonshine on occasion and you’ve sipped it without shuddering. Pick Indiana if Hoosiers Hoosiers Hoosiers Hoosiers Hoosiers Hoos…
#8 North Carolina State vs. #9 Temple. Pick N.C. State if you were or feel like you were raised by wolves, and their “Wolfpack” team name makes you feel accepted and appreciated in a way that you haven’t since Jeff sat with you during lunch in sixth grade. Pick Temple if you’ve ever made another human bleed because they insulted the Philadelphia Eagles’ nickelback. Hell, pick Temple if you like to fight people for no reason at all.
#5 UNLV vs. #12 California. Pick UNLV if you’ve ever seen one of those “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas” commercials and said to your buddy Derek, who’s sitting next to you, “Hell yeah, it does, bro, best place in the world, pass me another cold Coors Light.” Pick California if you are emotionally or sexually excited by a second-round matchup of Golden Bears and the Grizzlies, which would happen if Cal and Montana both won.
#4 Syracuse vs. #13 Montana. Pick Syracuse if you work in an office and the pretty PR girl who sometimes gets a salad at the same time you do went to Syracuse. Pick Montana if you enjoy large, open spans of land unblemished by nothing other than buffalo and men named Ennis.
#6 Butler vs. #11 Bucknell. Pick Butler if their smiling, bespectacled, dorky but confident coach is basically what you see when you look in the mirror on your best days. Pick Bucknell if you look in the mirror and see a fancifully dressed British royal named Lord Horatio Q. Bucknell IV because you have taken a great deal of acid.
#3 Marquette vs. #14 Davidson. Pick Marquette if, when the new pope was elected, you took the opportunity to brag to everyone about how progressive your Jesuit high school was. Pick Davidson if you would wear khaki shorts on a date.
#7 Illinois vs. #10 Colorado. Pick Illinois if, at some point in your life, you’ve compared someone to Michael Jordan even though they have absolutely no business being compared to Michael Jordan. Pick Colorado if the guy who gave you the Lord Bucknell acid was a ski instructor named Chad.
#2 Miami vs. #15 Pacific. Pick Miami if you like spring break. Pick Pacific if you LOVE spring break (or you can’t get over the fact that there’s a school called “the University of the Pacific”).