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March Madness extends to Alameda

By Daniel Waldman

Few predicted which teams would end up in the Elite Eight. Graphic courtesy of the NCAA
Few predicted which teams would end up in the Elite Eight.
Graphic courtesy of the NCAA

Every year, with the annual NCAA Men’s College Basketball tournament nicknamed ‘March Madness,’ a 63-game single-elimination tournament between the top teams in college basketball, comes a nationwide competition to pick the entire tournament, known as a bracket, correctly. Using random guesses, one has a 1 in 9.2 quintillion chance of guessing all of the outcomes correctly, and it doesn’t get much easier even with base knowledge of college basketball.

Against those odds, multibillionaire Warren Buffett made a bracket competition with a tantalizing prize should someone have chosen correctly- $1 billion. As a result, this year’s competition fielded more entries than ever, and even extended its reach to Alameda High School.

Nathan Dang entered the competition with “no knowledge of college basketball” and ended up finishing second in his group, according to the student, a junior.  How did he have so much success? “Probably because I don’t know anything,” he said with a laugh.

His reasoning, he explained, is that he didn’t know which teams were better and which teams were worse, and he ended up picking many upsets that people with knowledge of the game would be too conservative to pick.

Every year, a team goes unexpectedly deep into the tournament, and many a bracket is made or broken by picking these “upsets.”  In 2006, George Mason made a surprise run into the semifinals, knocking off perennial standouts Michigan State and North Carolina on the way.

In 2009, Butler shocked the world by making the championship game, and then managed to pull it off the next year, against astronomical odds. In 2014, Connecticut made a surprise run, emerging from the middle of the pack to win the entire tournament.

Even with the unusual upset density this year, freshman Miles Yakura still managed to win his bracket competition, netting $40 in prize money. How did he do it? “My bracket was actually really bad, but so was everyone else’s, so it evened out,” Yakura said.

In fact, none of the teams he had making the Final Four even got there. Surviving off of a strong third round score, Yakura watched his lead dwindle until the semifinals, when Connecticut’s upset of top-ranked Florida eliminated all of his competition and left him alone at the top.

Freshman AJ Tong, however, experienced a fate that many go through every year: the team he pegged as eventual champion, the Duke Blue Devils, was eliminated in the first round by the surprising Mercer Bears. “It was definitely disappointing,” said Tong, adding, “It’s tough to keep up the hope when you’re dealt such a huge blow that early on.”

America has been fascinated with the tournament for years, and with ratings skyrocketing for the tournament, there’s no telling what the NCAA might decide to do with the tournament to increase revenue. Rumblings have been heard to expand the tournament to 72 or even 96 teams in future years. Asked about the possibility of a perfect bracket then, Dang responded with just two words: “Good luck.”

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