We’re now more than halfway through March, which means one of the most exciting events of the year is upon us.
No, I’m not talking about spring break. I’m sure most of the people reading this column are well past that stage of life.
What awaits us in the coming days is the NCAA Tournament, otherwise known as March Madness.
Of course, with the thrilling basketball also comes the millions of brackets filled out by diehard fans every year without fail. All enter their respective picks with hopes of being perfect, but all fall short (or far) from that goal.
After all, our odds of submitting a perfect bracket come in at 1 in 9.2 quintillion. The moment we think our bracket is the epitome of perfection, we’ve likely already lost.
But that’s the joy of it all. Trying to reach for something that, in the end, we have to admit might be unreachable.
Along the way, though, there are surprises that are sometimes even better than a perfect bracket. In these cases, close is good enough.
I’ve seen many stories of people with no sports knowledge succeeding in March Madness office pools, picking teams by mascots and team colors.
To test this phenomenon, I challenged my basketball-inept fiancée Kelsey, who is now my wife, to fill out her first bracket two years ago.
Kelsey barely watches sports, let alone college basketball.
I took her to the 2014 Bedlam game in Gallagher-Iba Arena, and she fell asleep.
“I don’t like watching sports,” Kelsey said. “Sometimes it’s just on at my house, and that’s kind of what I have to watch if I want to watch TV.”
If Kelsey doesn’t sound like a bracketology prodigy, think again.
While my bracket was in shambles after the Sweet 16, she was riding a wave of lucky (or intuitional) picks to the top of our group.
Through some highly improbable means, she correctly predicted three of the Final Four teams. After the Elite Eight, her bracket was better than 91.7 percent of all entries in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge.
If West Virginia hadn’t choked in the final few seconds against Gonzaga, she might’ve gotten all four. Many people overlooked the Bulldogs, citing strength of schedule.
Kelsey’s reasoning, on the other hand, might surprise you.
“I just had never heard of Gonzaga before, and I thought their name was kind of weird.”
The out-of-nowhere pick was seventh-seeded South Carolina.
I laughed when she advanced the Gamecocks to the semifinals, but to be fair, most people would have, too. Of the 18.8 million completed brackets in Tournament Challenge that year, only 0.56 percent had South Carolina making the trip to Glendale, Ariz.
Kelsey had the Cinderella in the national championship game.
Her ignorance turned to pure brilliance.
“I kind of forgot there were two Carolina schools, and I couldn’t remember which one was better,” Kelsey said. “So I moved them both up (to the Final Four).”
As you can see, she didn’t pick these blindfolded. She had an explanation for almost every pick, including Oregon, her predicted national champion.
Kelsey graduated with an animal science degree from Oklahoma State University in May 2017, and before we moved to Green Country, she worked as a biologist at the Medicine Park Aquarium just outside of Lawton.
So naturally, she likes spending time around pets and wildlife.
Her favorite? Ducks.
During her four years in Stillwater, Kelsey routinely made stops at Theta Pond on OSU’s campus to feed the web-footed creatures, which might explain why she picked Oregon to cut down the nets in 2017.
It might’ve also been because she lived in Oregon until the age of 11.
Kelsey grew up in northwest Oregon in the small town of Lebanon, which is less than an hour away from the University of Oregon campus.
However, her favoritism of the Ducks might be misleading to some. Her family prefers the team residing in Corvallis — Oregon State.
I even took her younger brother to see the Beavers play in Oklahoma City during the 2016 tournament.
“We didn’t really like the Ducks,” Kelsey said. “Even though they might have been a little better, we never went with the Ducks. But now that we’ve moved, it’s kind of changed, and we go with whoever is from Oregon.”
Although her magic ran out in the Final Four, Kelsey said she was not upset with the outcome.
She does, however, have a theory as to why Oregon and South Carolina lost.
“I think it’s because I was watching those games,” Kelsey said. “I hadn’t watched the other games, so I think I jinxed it.”
Even with those teams falling short of the final stage, Kelsey’s bracket was better than 65.2 percent of all entries, finishing with 780 points. Not bad for a newbie.
I placed near the bottom with only 440 points, beating out a measly 9.6 percent of fellow March Madness junkies. It is safe to say Kelsey got the last laugh.
She didn’t win an all-inclusive trip to the Caribbean for our honeymoon later that year, nor did she win any cash prizes to help pay off our student loans. Instead, she had to settle for a home-cooked meal of steak and baked potatoes, made by yours truly.
“It’s good to know that even though I didn’t know what I was doing, I could still beat the boys,” Kelsey said. “I was kind of excited, but not as excited as the other people in my family because I was beating them by a lot. I just didn’t really think about it too much.”
Despite her success, Kelsey didn’t participate in the festivities last season year.
“I probably won’t do it again because I don’t want to ruin what I built up,” she said. “There’s a lot of competition in my family, and I don’t really want to contribute to that.”
If she does decide to try her luck a second time, maybe I’ll take her to Las Vegas to make wagers on some of the games.
Eh, probably not. I’m not a betting man.
Maybe this year I’ll have our dog or cat try their paws at a March Madness bracket. Even then, I’d probably find a way to lose to them, too.