Page 2 staff

You've made your picks. You've seen ESPN.com's expert picks. You've even looked over the ESPN.com user "national bracket." Now the real fun begins.

Page 2 is putting our office pool picks out there, for everyone to see. And if dollars aren't on the line, pride sure is.

Our participants will be sending in their comments throughout the tournament, proclaiming their greatness (or, more likely, wondering where it all went so terribly wrong).

So check this page frequently to see how we're doing – and how we're feeling about it.

FINAL FOUR PICKS
Here's a rundown of our participants' Final Four picks, and their overall scores so far (in parentheses).

  • Kieran Darcy: Illinois, Wake Forest, UNC, Syracuse (760)
  • Dan Shanoff: Illinois, Gonzaga, UConn, Syracuse (610)
  • Bill Simmons: Louisville, Syracuse, Illinois, UConn (600)
  • Scoop Jackson: Illinois, GA Tech, UNC, Duke (590)
  • Brian Murphy: Illinois, GA Tech, Villanova, Syracuse (560)
  • Skip Bayless: OK St, GA Tech, UNC, Duke (530)
  • Jeff Merron: BC, GW, UNC, Stanford (410)
  • Patrick Hruby: Arizona, Wake Forest, UNC, Duke (390)
  • Monday Bluster
    Kieran Darcy 12:56 p.m. ET: So I think I'm going to take this thing. I might finally win a March Madness bracket competition.

    Feels good. I'll take it. Though I think I'll fall just short of any financial reward for my picks this year. Louisville's win over West Virginia pushed a couple people ahead of me in another "competition."

    I'm pleased with my picks. And I expect they'll continue to hold true, with UNC and Illinois meeting in a final showdown that so many of us want to see. But I can't get all that excited about those picks. They're two No. 1 seeds, after all. And they're clearly the best two teams in the country -- although that doesn't guarantee that either one will even get to the national championship game. That's what's great about the NCAA Tournament.

    What I'd really be excited about is if I had picked the two darkhorses. Cinderellas they are not, but Louisville and Michigan State both emerged from the shadows to become championship contenders in the past couple weeks. If you picked them, be proud. I would be.

    I'd love to root for them next Saturday. But I don't think I can. And not because of my bracket. Because, as much as I enjoy the Cinderellas, this is one year where I really want to see the heavyweight bout. UNC vs. Illinois. One game, for all the marbles, between the country's two best teams.

    BACK IN THE BRACKET
    If you want to read previous installments of the Bracket Bluster, check out these links:

  • Friday, March 25
  • Monday, March 21
  • Friday, March 18
  • Thursday, March 17
  • Wednesday, March 16
  • Just seems fitting this year.

    Scoop Jackson 11:11 a.m. ET: You had to be here. I warned y'all earlier about how the City was OC (outta control, not Orange County) about the Illini playing here in the Crilla (aka: Chicago). And after the game Saturday night ... trust me, you had to be here.

    Every paper, every radio show, every news segment, every thing. All Illini, all the time. To be honest, right now, for this past weekend, for the way they won, because of the way they won, the Stylin' are bigger than the Bulls ever were. Bigger than the Bears in 1985. I've been in this city 41 years and I've never experienced anything of the magnitude that they brought. Yes it is and will be short-lived, and even if they win it all, it won't carry over into something that will eclipse what Mike Ditka built or what Jordan established. But for one weekend, for one Nick Nolte/Eddie Murphy period (48 hours, get it?) nothing in the history of Chicago sports compared to this.

    At this point it isn't about brackets, it's about ball. Damn a bracket. My phone has been ringing since Luther Head dropped a three with 3 minutes left in what looked like the season. Who's left in my original four? Two. 50% ain't bad, is it? 2 outta 4 (really 3, but I can't claim L'Ville because I don't have proof, but y'all know) left ain't bad, is it? Illini and UNC balling on Monday ain't bad, is it? As bad as my 65 picks were, I ain't mad. Can't be. Because, no disrespect to the process, but after this weekend all of this bracketology became irrelevant. Who cares? After watching those eight teams play the game at the level they balled, I'm pulling for whoever. This is so not about my picks anymore. But if I picked right, if this time next week I still got two teams standing, believe this: None of you all will ever hear -- or read -- the end of it.

    Dan Shanoff 11:06 a.m. ET: This is how much basketball I watched this weekend:

    The regional finals are like ... a McGriddles: Tantalizing on the outside, filling on the inside. And when they're gone? Yes, I'm left wanting more.

    Stop hounding me, teenaged McGriddles harlot! Your spell may not work on your doofus co-worker, but it has burned an imprint on my memory.

    And it only took 23 viewings.

    Nevertheless, I'm left wanting more hoops. I thought it couldn't get better than Louisville's comeback over America's redneck sweethearts from West Virginia. Then Illinois happened.

    Then I figured that nothing could top Saturday's action; Sunday wasn't quite as good, but it was enough to feed my jones for exciting finishes.

    So I'm left feeling a bit like I did after the 2004 ALCS: It can't possibly get any better, but I'll tune in, just in case.

    (Wait: You wanted to hear me lament the state of my bracket? You're a week too late. Now I'm in it for the Crazy Endings, and I don't care who wins.)

    Skip Bayless 11:03 a.m. ET: For me, the only saving grace of the weekend was that I had the privilege of watching the three best single-year Elite Eight finishes in tournament history. Then again, none of the three involved one of my Final Four picks.

    For me, the biggest surprise of the weekend was that Michigan State handled Duke. It finally came clear that Coach K had an offensive weapon he didn't know quite what to do with -- J.J. Redick. Duke's offense has never been geared to create off-the-pick shots for one outside shooter, and Delaware State showed everyone how to snuff Redick in the first round. You get physical with him, rough him up, frustrate him. ACC teams played him straight up and he ate them up. But without Redick, Duke couldn't score consistently.

    The one team I did not see coming was Tom Izzo's Michigan State. This is what's so great about the college basketball playoffs -- and so awful about the college football system. In basketball, you can struggle all season, as Michigan State did, then catch fire in March and win it all.

    Illinois toyed with Michigan State in East Lansing, and then the Spartans lost at Indiana and to Iowa and I quit paying attention. Now they're playing the kind of defense and disciplined offense that could make them, to mix metaphors, a wolf in Cinderella's clothing. They have experienced athletes and they can make free throws.

    Yet I still say that if Vermont hadn't shocked Syracuse, Syracuse would have been too much for an Izzo team that hadn't quite found itself yet. That's March Madness.

    Arizona choked. West Virginia got choked by Louisville's second-half, full-court, man-to-man press. I still say Oklahoma State would have beaten Illinois, but what do I know?

    And I still say the Louisville-Illinois winner will be irrelevant if North Carolina -- my only Final Four team -- can take Michigan State seriously enough to stave off the Spartans. If Roy Williams' team doesn't win it all, Williams should have to give back this year's salary. McCants finally showed up against Wisconsin. Marvin Williams, who doesn't even start, might be the best player in college basketball. Sean May is a bull.

    And I will remind you one last time: My pick to win it all, Georgia Tech, handled Carolina in the ACC tournament semis.

    I know, I need to let it go.

    Patrick Hruby 10:55 a.m. ET: Gotta say, I'm feeling pretty good about my Arizona championshp pick right now. What a dominating performance against Illinois. I missed the last 90 seconds of the game. The Wildcats won, right?

    Jeff Merron 10:41 a.m. ET: Man, oh man, what a great weekend. Great hoops. But more importantly, UNC is on a roll, the last hope of my tattered, shattered bracket.

    If I could sing I would. Instead I'll just wax lyrical. You know the tune. I'm sure Julie Andrews would make a fine singing sideline reporter.

    The Heels are alive ... with the games of juniors,
    With hoops they have sunk for the last four games!
    The Heels fill my heart with the games of juniors
    McCants Felton May, ne'er forget those names!

    I go to the Heels when my bracket's busted
    I know I will see what I've seen before!
    In 1957 1982 and 1993
    And I'll forget '04!