Friday, March 25, 2011

When Winning Is Losing. And Vice Versa.

I do not like Duke. I believe that's what makes me most like the rest of America. In fact, I'm fairly certain the only non-Duke graduate who actively roots for the school is my cousin Geoff, who told me this morning, "Never bet against the Blue Devils." Of course, that seems particularly odd to say today considering Duke was rather surprisingly bounced from the NCAA Tournament last night by Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen. I won't get into the peculiarities like how it could be fair for a No. 1 seed to host a school from Tuscon in Anaheim, or how Duke could have seemingly forgotten to play basketball in the second half when the Wildcats went on a very impressive run.

But I will say this. I was not betting against the Blue Devils. In fact, I was betting on them. And after letting me down the one time I was actually rooting for Duke, it could be a while before I do it again.

As I alluded to in my last entry, I was in a survival pool for this year's Dance in which I fared far better than my actual bracket -- which I haven't even looked at in days -- did. In fact, after a wild Sunday night, I was one of just five people remaining, and I had assumed that of the games Thursday night, Duke was the one sure bet to win. And so, with the chance of winning a $700 prize on the line, I put my hopes with the Blue Devils and watched.

And then that happened.

So yeah, I was out of the running for $700, and even the considerable silver lining of "But Duke lost, which makes everyone happy" wasn't going to comfort me.

Then, there was a window opened about 15 minutes later in New Orleans. I have a soft spot in my heart for the Wisconsin Badgers since several of my friends, my sister and my grandmother are all alums, and if Northwestern is out of the running, which, uh, they were, I'll usually throw my lot with Bucky. But when I noticed that all the remaining participants in the pool had Wisconsin advancing, and that a win by Butler would knock everyone out, I changed my tune.

See, if anyone advanced to Friday I was done completely, but if the five remaining participants all lost in one night, we would have a five-way tie and a split pot. I wouldn't quite be getting $700, but a take of $148 wasn't too shabby, and my decision was made despite the overwhelming temptation to cheer for a team that would offer a basketball scholarship to Christopher "Kid" Reid of the early 90's hip-hop duo Kid N' Play.

What moxie.

Fortunately for me, Butler answered the call in a win that really was never in doubt until Wisconsin made a late rally, which led me to two conclusions, a) While it wouldn't be quite as satisfying as a $700 take from this year's pool, I still managed to win an extremely satisfying $148 -- my best take from a March Madness pool ever, and b) Butler probably shouldn't really be an eight seed.

Granted, the Bulldogs did go a relatively paltry 23-9 this regular season with five losses in the Horizon League, but their comfort and determination on the big stage has become clearly evident in big tournament wins over No. 1 Pittsburgh and now No. 4 Wisconsin. On almost gets the sense that even without Gordon Hayward, Brad Stevens and his boys were simply biding their time until it was March.

At this point, seedings aside, I can't see how one wouldn't give them a fighting chance at knocking off Florida Saturday and landing in their second consecutive Final Four. And once they're there, playing like they are, all things are certain. All I know is that from now on, when I watch, I won't be doing so with so much anxiety.

After all, despite losing, I made my money. It's almost like playing for the Mets.

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