Tourney picks challenging for experienced, novice fans

By: Justin A. Lawson Journal Sports Writer
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The NCAA Tournament pits 68 teams against each other over more than half of a month for a basketball experience that invokes a plethora of memorable moments. It also awakens millions of people to join bracket challenges to see who can pick the perennial 5-12 upset, this year’s mid-major conference team to crash the Elite 8 and ultimately the national champion. Up for grabs in these contests is literally millions of dollars as websites like offer $1 million grand prize. Office pools, though technical illegal, can fetch thousands of dollars for the winner and for some the top prize is as simple as dinner. That’s what Phil Costantini has up for grabs in his yearly challenge against his wife. When the 32-year-old Auburn youth director lost last year he had to take her to Nordstrom Rack for a new pair of shoes. “We have a man cave type of thing so we put it up on the wall and check it,” Costantini said. “We’re usually busy running around doing things but we both have iPhones so we’re checking and double checking and texting each other and giving each other a hard time.” The NCAA Tournament officially began Tuesday with four first round games but the real action gets underway Thursday. In the meantime, people will be busily filling out brackets using a variety of techniques. Some use plain old knowledge – or at least perceived knowledge. They know that a No. 1 seed has never lost to a No. 16 seed and a five seed has fallen to a No. 12 seed 36 times since 1985 when the field was expanded to 64 teams. “Everyone wants the Cinderella and the 5-12 upset and whatnot,” Costantini said. “I usually tend, even in finances, to be a little more conservative. I’m not that big of a risk-taker so I might have one or two but not as many. I think the media (perpetuates it) because of the past experiences where teams are coming out of nowhere and going to the Final Four that they want it every year. I’m going with the solids.” Filling out a bracket attracts all types of people from the hardcore college basketball fan to the housewife and even the President. Barack Obama has filled out a bracket for ESPN every year since he took office in 2009 and he successfully picked North Carolina in his first attempt. Since then, he has whiffed on Kansas in consecutive years. This season he picked No. 1 overall seed Kentucky to win the title. No matter how people pick their brackets a perfect tournament is nearly impossible. According to, the odds of picking a perfect bracket by always selecting the better-seeded team are about 35.3 billion-1. You could always flip a coin but that would give worse odds, 1-in-100 trillion. “It’s hard to say a strategy because you look at the records and then you look at Vanderbilt beating (Kentucky) in the SEC (tournament) and I go for that,” said Jason Camacho, a 39-year-old landscaper and youth leader at Auburn Grace Church. “Whoever wins the upsets in the tournaments I kind of give them another level up in the next round and it goes from there.”