By Dan Shanoff
Page 2

There were 3 million entries in ESPN.com's 2006 Tournament Challenge. Only four correctly predicted all four Final Four teams.

Four. Let me illustrate that with decimal points representing the percentage of entries that got all four teams right:

.0000013

The national "consensus" bracket, aggregating every entry, was 0-for-4. I was a sorry 1-for-4. Jay Bilas? Pat Forde? Andy Katz? All 0-for-4.

Tournament Challenge
TC Front Page
TC Leaderboard
"National Bracket" picks
Russell Pleasant's picks

I've always dreamed of getting all four Final Four teams right. But even in the most obvious years, I've never come close.

To get it this year? Please. This was, by far, the hardest year ever to predict the Final Four.

You didn't have to get just George Mason right. You also had to combine that with predicting (1) Duke going down and widely unknown LSU emerging; (2) Villanova faltering and Florida coming through; and (3) UCLA emerging from the wide-open Oakland region.

All that and foresee George Mason surviving in a region that included Michigan State, UNC and the most talented team in the field, UConn.

So as you sit around your office or dorm or house wondering, "Come on, nobody could have gotten all four teams right," you'd be wrong yet again, just like you were about most of the rest of your bracket.

However the rest of their entries might look, however they finish in the grand scheme of the Tournament Challenge, these four folks can at least say that they not only picked George Mason to make the Final Four but also called Florida, LSU and UCLA to be there with them.

Who are these savants? The group includes 15-year-old Ethan Stokke (you can cry now); Mark Rawlings, a guy with a George Mason e-mail address (you knew there'd be one); and Al Nolf, a guy who -- despite picking the entire Final Four -- isn't even close to winning the Tournament Challenge. (Not that he can't claim a moral victory.)

Folarin Campbell
AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson
Russell Pleasant was one of the select few to predict the Final Four, including George Mason.

But only one of the four is at the top of the Tournament Challenge leaderboard:

Russell Pleasant, from Omaha, Neb.

Pleasant is a 46-year-old test engineer for cable systems, and when I spoke with him Monday, he sounded as genuinely tickled by this whole situation as his name suggests he would be. (Click here for his bracket.)

Pleasant's perfect picks started with a case of mistaken identity. He had seen George Mason play his hometown team, Creighton, earlier this season -- and lose. But he confused George Mason with George Washington -- he thought he had just seen the Colonials, not the Patriots. And despite the loss, he walked away impressed.

When the brackets came out, Pleasant was all set to take George Washington when he saw that other George on the bracket, too. Compounding the situation, there was his favorite team, Georgetown. He took all three to the Sweet 16.

Then he ran into the type of land mines that burst millions of brackets each year -- and he sidestepped them all.

He picked LSU over George Washington. Why? He loves Glen "Big Baby" Davis. Again, what the rest of us found out weeks later, Pleasant knew before the tournament even began.

He picked his Georgetown team over Ohio State but simply couldn't see them stopping Florida, his pick as the overall champ (beating UCLA in the title game). Pleasant sticks by his Florida pick even now, in the face of the George Mason juggernaut.

"I like [Florida's] size, I like their team experience and I really like their coach," Pleasant said. And who's to question him? You, Mr. Missing-10-of-the-Sweet-16-and-All-Four-Final-Four-Teams?

Meanwhile, much like the rest of us, he simply felt UCLA had the "better team" in its otherwise wide-open bracket. But I couldn't shake my original question:

"But what about George Mason?!?!"

Pleasant said he was just looking for a Cinderella: "If Creighton had gotten in, I would have had them as my Cinderella team."

More Pleasant Picks
Perhaps you'd like to join me in the Cult of Pleasant. If you think he has some extra-special insight into future sports results, check out his picks for some upcoming champs:

NCAA Player of the Year: Adam Morrison
NBA Champ: Miami Heat
MLB Champ: New York Yankees
Next year's Final Four winner: Creighton

Uh, on second thought…

(You know, that "on second thought" snark is precisely the reason my picks stink. Maybe it's time to believe the guy who picked George Mason, along with the other three, when he says to watch out for Creighton?)
-- D.S.

(You may now take a timeout to reflect on the fickle hand of fate on the steering wheel of the bracket fortunes of us all. Hum the Applebee's tune if you feel so inspired.)

Pleasant continued: "I figured that one Cinderella team would get into the Final Four, and why not George Mason?"

So let's recap: Other than seeing them lose in person in Omaha to Creighton, ESPN.com's Tournament Challenge leader called the biggest Cinderella story in NCAA Tournament history because he figured, "Why not?"

And yet, that's a better rationale for Bracketology than anything I've heard from the experts. And since none of those experts called George Mason (or even came close), I'm inclined to buy into Pleasant's system.

Logically, I asked if there was a system. Like most of you, he looked at each matchup individually. Unlike you, me and most everyone else, he had the Nebraska-sized "onions," as Bill Raftery might say, to pick Mason to the Final Four.

But then he revealed something that should make you question the very reason you bother.

Pleasant only started filling out pool sheets last year. He had mulled over bracket picks in his mind in other years but had never actually participated in a pool until last year -- and not on the national stage of ESPN.com's Tournament Challenge until this year.

So if you're trying to learn from the best to enhance your future bracket picks, the formula is one part mistaken identity, one part guts and one part making sure to balance your Cinderella pick with picks that are reasonable, though not obvious.

Finally, I asked Pleasant if he thinks he could springboard from his newfound bracket fame into a full-time career making predictions.

"Hey, why not? I think I would do a good job."

Are you going to disagree with his predictive powers?

Dan Shanoff is a columnist for Page 2. His "Daily Quickie" commentary appears every weekday morning.




Dan_Shanoff
Dan
Shanoff
MR. PERFECT