March 16, 2006
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The Lead Item
Two Words For You:
NATIONAL.  CONSENSUS.

Needless to say, 98.6 percent of fans disagree with my prediction that 1-seed Memphis will lose to 16-seed Oral Roberts.

(Although before yesterday's column, that number was 98.7; could that mean that a tenth of a percent of brackets were influenced? Success!)

Despite that upset pick, I can't emphasize this enough: As your picks are locked in, the most reliable guide for bracket success is to rely on the collective wisdom of all ESPN.com users.

The "National Bracket" is the aggregation of everyone's individual picks, and last year it outperformed 90 percent of all individual entries. This is a staggering number. That comes with a caveat: You will almost assuredly not win your pool following the National Bracket; on the other hand, you will do well enough to earn bragging rights over most of your colleagues.

Weigh that: Your slim chance of winning it all versus your substantial chance of lording your hoops savvy over as many people as possible.

Here are the significant findings from this year's National Bracket:

Final Four: UConn-Nova-Duke
No surprises. And the 4th?
Gonzaga!

With Memphis the trendy pick as the 1-seed to falter, it's an intuitive choice that fans favored the perma-Cinderella Zags (picked over 2-seed UCLA in the Oakland semis and Memphis in the finals).

Sweet 16: "Rock, Chalk, Jayhawk," literally. 15 of the 16 teams are based on strict seedings -- except West 5-seed Kansas over 4-seed Pitt (by a healthy 60-40 margin).

First-round upsets: Only one beyond three "non-upset" 9-over-8 picks: 10-seed Seton Hall beating 7-seed Wichita State.

Number-crunching: Keep an eye out for the margin of popular vote; most are landslides. Tight margins indicates more likelihood the consensus is wrong.

The closest is this first-round game: UAB (51.1) over Kentucky (48.9). Of 2nd-round games, LSU (53-47) and Villanova (53-47) are the only teams picked by a differential of fewer than 10 percentage points.

In the Sweet 16, Gonzaga over UCLA is the only pick within 10 points (53-47). Similarly, in the Elite Eight, Gonzaga over Memphis is the only pick within 10 points (53-47).

Those two stats indicate that fan uncertainty about the West in general (and Gonzaga specifically) is high.

That's great news for those of us who appreciate and value the collective wisdom of the fans but root like crazy for the conventional wisdom to be wrong as often as possible.

It wouldn't be Madness if the consensus were always right.

NCAA First Round
Why are you at work? Go find a sports bar or something. But before you do, read this game-by-game preview of today, listed in handy (and mystifyingly rare) chronological order.

Noonish
Schedule:
12:20 7 Wich St/10 Seton Hall
12:25 6 Okla/11 UW-Milwaukee
12:40 4 BC/13 Pacific

Big Question: Will UWM screw my pool again? Which higher-seed team will be the first to get the boot?

Also: This is the Missouri Valley's best chance for a first-round tournament win. How many MVC-haters are rooting against the Shockers?

2:30-ish
Schedule:
2:25 3 Florida/14 So. Alabama
2:40 7 Marquette/10 Alabama
2:50 2 Tennessee/15 Winthrop
3:10 5 Nevada/12 Montana

CHECK OUT THE QUICKIE EVERY WEEKDAY MORNING!
WHO'S GOT THE MOMENTUM ...
Cuba: WBC Cinderella advances to semis; will face the D.R.
IndyCar: Who would have guessed Carmelo was a fan?
Jason McElwain: Autistic 3-pt ace gets to meet Pres. Bush
... AND WHO'S GOT NO MO'
Barry Bonds: Selig reportedly ready to open investigation
QB Matt Schaub to Jets: NY dreaming; Falcons won't do it
Janet Jones Gretzky: Will be subpoenaed by New Jersey AG
 
Big Question: Was this a conspiracy to have half the SEC contingent moved on (or out) in time for an early Southern supper?

Also: Our first 12-5 game! Nevada has a "Cinderella" vibe; wonder how it feels to be a favorite? (It should ask Gonzaga.)

5-ish
Schedule:
5:10 2 UCLA/15 Belmont
(There's always that weird, West Coast 5 p.m. game that no one on the East Coast ever sees because of local news commitments. Why would the NCAA put trendy West Region pick UCLA in this spot? Does it assume a blowout?)

7-ish
Schedule:
7:10 8 G. Wash/9 UNC-Wilm.
7:10 4 LSU/13 Iona
7:20 3 Gonzaga/14 Xavier
7:25 4 Illinois/13 Air Force

Big Question: Will GW, banished to that 8-seed and a game in Greensboro vs. a UNC school, come out motivated or moping?

Also: How fast after Air Force loses will Cincinnati apologists start whining?

9:30-ish
Schedule:
9:40 6 Indiana/11 S.D. St
9:40 1 Duke/16 Southern
9:40 5 Syracuse/12 Texas A&M
9:55 5 Washington/12 Utah St

Big Question: With two 5-12 games to close the night, which 5 team (if either) will buckle under the pressure and fulfill its destiny?

Also: How quickly will the entire country be sent from the Duke blowout to other games that are a wee more competitive?

Oral Surgery
You'd imagine leading yesterday's column with something like "I'm picking Oral Roberts to beat Memphis" would elicit a fun range of e-mail responses. Here are some of the more interesting excerpts:

"QUIT RIPPIN' MY SCHOOL! Seriously, we will win that game because we're supposed to. May we have a little respect please?" (Alvin from Memphis)

"I would just like to tell you that after reading the Quickie today, I too changed my pick to Oral Roberts." (Graham from Kansas)

"Why all the Memphis hate? When has a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament ever gotten as much disrespect as you have dished on Memphis since Sunday?" (Wayne from Memphis)

"Please take a quick look at [Memphis'] defense stats and see if you still feel as confident. ... This smells like a recipe for disaster for poor ole Oral Roberts." (Jeff from Cordova, Tenn.)

"A 16 will win, but it's Albany over UConn, baby! I believe in the Great Danes!!!" (Jeff from Scottsdale, Ariz.)

"We ORU fans in Tulsa have had that same gut feeling!" (Noah from Tulsa)

"When Memphis makes it to the Final Four, I want a major apology." (Jeff from Memphis)

Rocket vs. ... Iona?!
Interesting dilemma: Do you keep one eye on what could be Clemens' final game tonight?

Then how will you find room to keep, uh, four eyes on the NCAA games that will happen at the same 7:30-ish start time?

Did you ever think you'd prioritize, say, Iona hoops over Roger Clemens' career finale?

It's not just Clemens: The entire U.S. team is in a predicament today's NCAA teams can relate to: Win or go home.

What would be the comparable NCAA Tournament humiliation level if the U.S. doesn't beat Mexico, loses the tiebreaker and has to head home before the semis?

1 losing to a 16? No way.
2-15 upset? Eh ... almost.
3-14? Sounds about right.

Bracket Picks
Let's see if I can top my performance from last season, where I started 15-1 on the first Thursday, then went into a death spiral after gloating in the "First in the Q" spot on Friday. The final judgment:

ATL: Rd 1 (Duke, GW, Cuse, LSU, WVA, Iowa, Cal, Texas). Rd 2 (Duke, Cuse, WVA, Texas). Semis (Duke, WVA). Champ: Duke.

OAK: Rd 1 (Oral(!), ARK, Pitt, Kansas, SD St, Zaga, Marq, UCLA). Rd 2 (ARK, KU, Zaga, UCLA). Semis (KU, UCLA). Champ: UCLA.

DC: Rd 1 (UConn, UAB, Wash, Ill, Mich St, UNC, Wich St, Tenn). Rd 2 (UConn, Ill, MSU, Tenn). Semis (UConn, MSU). Champ: UConn.

MINN: Rd 1 (Nova, Wisc, Nev, BC, Okla, FLA, G'town, OH St). Rd 2 (Nova, BC, FLA, G'town). Semis (Nova, G'town). Champ: Nova.

Final 4/Champ: Nova d. Duke

If you read one story today, make it Pat Forde's outstanding "Best Cast/Worst Case" analysis for all 64 teams. Great stuff.

Tournament Challenge
Last chance! Sign up now for the "Daily Quickie Readers" group of ESPN.com's Tournament Challenge.

More than 9,000 fans have joined in, shattering last year's total by nearly 50 percent. In another group? You get to play up to 5 entries; don't leave any unused! Be a part of one of the largest single pools in the country!

Click here to sign up! (Search for the group name "Daily Quickie Readers.")
Workplace productivity:
Outsourcing killing U.S. competitiveness? Nah: It's estimated that U.S. offices will lose $4 billion in productivity due to the lure of the NCAA Tournament.
 
 
Today on ESPN.com
Quickie: Live!
NCAA Tourney scoreboard
Page 2 Index
 
Thursday Upset Watch
Oklahoma
UWM has done it before
 
Indiana
All tapped out for Davis?
 
Gonzaga
Xavier is no pushover
 
Florida
Known for early chokery
 
Any 5 seed
Will curse end this year?
 

NFL moves: As expected, LB Willie McGinest joined his ex-coach in Cleveland, continuing the Browns' offseason extreme makeover.

More: QB Jeff Garcia joins Eagles as backup. Solid move for Philly, given McNabb's increasing fragility. Think Jeff will take T.O.'s old locker?

Marbury fires back: "If coach is comparing his career to my career, he's got like a 20-year edge on me. To me, that sounds like there's a lot of insecurities going on."

More Marbury: "I think it's personal now. I don't think it's about basketball anymore." And I think someone's trying to get suspended for insubordination.

A congressman sent Bud Selig a letter questioning his role (or even culpability?) in MLB's Steroid Era. Expect Bud to react defensively.

The Clippers may have gone from punch line to playoffs this season, but the Suns showed them how far they are from contending: 126-95.

In the national bracket analysis, can some statistics guru please explain why that 53-47 spread pops up so commonly?





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