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Opinion

ESPN experts got the brackets right for once

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March 29, 2007

Every year, right after the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament selections are made on CBS, I promptly switch over to ESPN to watch two straight hours of insight and predictions on Bracketology. Within the first half hour of the show, I can tell who everyone in my bracket pool will be picking to make the Final Four. That’s because every single ‘expert’ on there does nothing but pick the favorites, mixing in one or two small upsets that are due more to poor seeding than anything else.

I get a good chuckle out of the fact that none of them step out on a limb, knowing that their brackets would never win an actual pool — until this year. Not one expert picked Florida to lose before the Final Four. With UCLA playing the regionals in their backyard, the consensus was that UCLA would ‘upset’ Kansas in the West. As the hottest team in the nation, everyone pegged Georgetown as their big ‘surprise’ to come out of the loaded East. Everyone except resident ACC homer Dick Vitale, of course. Last but not least, they all had the insight to take Greg Oden and the Ohio State Buckeyes to round out the Final Four.

Four for four. Unbelievable. No, I won’t be winning my bracket pool this year. Foolishly, I strayed from the consensus, and entered a bracket that wasn’t a copy-paste of an ESPN analyst’s bracket. It’s a shame those guys can’t win the free ESPN bracket pool, because if they were allowed to enter, their chalk would probably fill up most of the leaderboard.

But I’m over it. I wonít be winning the big units this year. I’m okay with that. I’ll have to settle for watching the four clutchest teams battle it out in Atlanta, Ga., for the national title. Not too bad for a consolation prize.

Out of the final four teams, there are seven top 20 NBA prospects. One matchup features a blast from the past team in Georgetown, complete with offspring from Hoya legends John Thompson, Jr. and Patrick Ewing, against the freshmen duo of Mike Conley and Greg Oden. The other matchup isn’t too bad either: a rematch of last year’s championship game between Florida and UCLA.

Let’s break it down. In the first game, the 7-foot Oden might finally meet his match in 7-foot 2-inch monster Roy Hibbert. This is the matchup everyone at ESPN and CBS will talk about, but I’ll be focusing on the players who actually lead these two teams. There is a reason Ohio State keeps winning games that Oden plays about 10 minutes in. That reason has a name: Mike Conley. For Georgetown, it’s Jeff Green who will decide the team’s fate. Unfortunately for Georgetown, Green can only guard either Conley or Ron Lewis at one time, and for this reason, Ohio State will be the first team to be slotted into the National Championship game.

Saturday’s nightcap of Florida and UCLA is the game I really want to watch, though. UCLA boast’s the nation’s top defense, while Florida counters with an unfair roster. UCLA has the nation’s clutchest player in Aaron Afflalo, but that’s about the only thing the Bruins have going. UCLA has to fly across the entire nation to play in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, where Florida recently won the SEC Conference Tournament. Ben Howland is the best coach in the nation, but that’s a bit too much to overcome.

That brings us to Florida and Ohio State. Again. Last year’s national champions, featuring everyone that mattered from last year’s team, against the first-year college superstars. Unlike in the Tostitos BCS Championship Game, Florida will be the favorite in this one.

With the crowd being mostly Gators fans, I fully expect Florida to win this thing, completing ESPN’s brilliance. I’ll be rooting them on the whole way, too, because while I went against the grain throughout most of my bracket, I did do one thing right. That’s right, I’ve got Florida as the last team standing in my bracket, just like everybody else. Even though I can’t win my bracket, I can still finish second if the Gators repeat.

I’ll be back next week explaining why Florida should have brought me the silver medal, and how the referees/East Coast bias/Thad Matta’s gum/Billy Packer/Aaron Afflalo totally screwed me.

Mark Haley is a student at UW-River Falls.