Jim O'Donnell: Courting March winners -- hidden keys to bracketing a perfect Final Four

  • Things didn't go well for coach Brad Underwood and the Illini in Friday's loss to Indiana at the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis.

    Things didn't go well for coach Brad Underwood and the Illini in Friday's loss to Indiana at the Big Ten Conference tournament in Indianapolis. Associated Press

Updated 3/12/2022 11:53 AM

THE GRAND WINDSOCKS of the American sports spring once were the Masters, Major League Baseball's Opening Day and the Kentucky Derby.

Now, a greed-driven lockout and some odd stretch runs later, only the Masters retains its stately regalness, especially with Sons of the Confederacy 80+.


A case can be made that pushing into The Big Three are two synthetic underlings: NCAA men's bracketology and NFL mock drafts.

On the spectrum of current world events, both carry all the gravitas of Christina Haack and Tarek El Moussa pulling the plug on HGTV's Home Depot-friendly "Flip or Flop."

BUT FOR THE NEXT FEW DAYS, bracketology rules the roost.

That despite the fact that the words of the late Frank Deford once again ring with their perennial resonance:

"The NCAA men's tournament is the only major sporting event where there's more interest at the beginning than at the end."

That interest will peak as contest brackets are filled out and the 68-team traffic jam fades to 16 this coming week.

SO, AS A SPECULATOR'S SERVICE, an incomplete progressive compendium of tips and insights from "The Insouciant's Guide to Steep March Meltdown":

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Final Four teams don't make it back to the next Final Four. -- As a matter of fact, in the last six tournaments (2015-19 plus 2021), only one has and that was North Carolina in 2016 and 2017.

Thus, Gonzaga, Baylor, Houston and UCLA -- all finalists in 2021 -- become automatic throwouts. -- Elite Eight possibilities, yes, but Final Four?

Recent history says, "No."

Pick the Final Four first. -- An absolute, this-is-a-basketball essential. If you get blown up early, there's always reruns of "Flip or Flop."

(An intriguing aside: A bracket picker can go deep with 16 games correct and 48 wrong -- a hit rate of 25% -- and still have a perfectly set Final Four. The 16 Ws would all have to be those of the Final Four teams.)


FINALLY, IF THE LAST SIX TOURNAMENTS are a correct indicator, to get a perfect Final Four:

Choose one No. 1 seed. -- As long as the selection was not in last year's Final Four;

Choose two of the remaining 11 Nos. 1 through 3 seeds. -- Again, as long as none were in last year's Final Four; and,

Find the Kookallah. -- Of course it's key. Somehow be smart enough, lucky enough or biased enough to identify the sneak seed that will slip through.

Data since 2015 suggests "The Kookallah" will be a No. 5 through 11. (No. 4's must be ghost numbers.)

The list includes: Michigan State (2015 -- a No. 7), Syracuse (2016 -- a No. 10), South Carolina (2017 -- a No. 7), Loyola (2018 -- a No. 11), Auburn (2019 -- a No. 5) and UCLA (2021 -- a No. 11).

PLEASE NOTE, ALMOST ALL all had some sort of significant program whiff of NCAA tournament glories past.

Early bracket busted can hold on to one synthetic consolation prize:

NFL mock drafts will remain, approaching full bloom.

STREET-BEATIN': Had to be heartening for Fighting Illini fans to watch Brad Underwood hit the coaching snooze button during the final moments of the top seed's 65-63 loss to Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament Friday. (Alum and TV analyst Steve Bardo held his tongue on the BTN.) ...

Now it's Erin Andrews who could be the next to defect from the Fox/NFL scheme. A return to ESPN/ABC or a leap to Amazon Prime are possibilities. ...

Les Grobstein bobbleheads are on sale. T-Grobber himself would likely already have a few packing crates of them tucked away in his secret sports memorabilia storehouse. ...

With the fog of free agency blowing through fast-forwarded spring training, the White Sox are a consensus fifth pick to win the 2022 World Series at 11-1. Lucas Giolito is 11-1 to win the Cy Young; the bedraggled Cubs are a staggering 100-1 to steal the Fall Classic. ...

Formidable Frank Calabrese has finally reassigned his underachieving Big Dreaming to trainer Mike Stidham. The final foal of the great Dreaming of Anna shoulda been a champion. ...

Skip Bayless is drawing industry guffaws with his protests that Charles Barkley doesn't know him well enough to dislike him. (If he did, Barkley would probably dislike the no-schtick poseur even more.) ...

And Trip Biggers, on possible implications if yappy Kirk Herbstreit lands the Amazon/NFL "Thursday Night Football" color slot: "It could be the first time we have viewers suffer death by listening."

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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