This is a new semi-weekly column from Leitch. It has words, and pictures. It's called Ten Humans Of The Week. It might or might not work. But here it is.
Two years ago, I wrote a piece for the sadly defunct PLAY Magazine about mathemeticians trying to crack the NCAA Tournament code. They didn't have much more luck at it than you or I did: Ultimately, they said the best predictions are made, amusingly, by Vegas odds. It's Wisdom Of Crowds at its best: Individually we know nothing, collectively, we know something, though it's still not that much more than nothing.
My favorite tip, though, came from a man named Brad Carlin, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Minnesota. He said, essentially, you're better off not watching games at all. "The best handicappers are people who don't watch games," Carlin told me. "The brain is one of the least effective predictive machines we have." That is to say: We bring our own biases, and if we watched, say, Minnesota play well a couple of times, we're going to think they're better than they actually are.
I break this rule all the time. Particularly as the lone Big Ten defender left. I think the Big Ten is a far better conference than anyone gives it credit for — don't think it's ruining basketball as we know it — and I therefore overrate them every tournament. This year is no different: I have Michigan State in the Final Four, Purdue in the Elite Eight and the conference going 6-1 in the first round. (Michigan's the only team I have losing; I have Illinois falling to Gonzaga in the second round.)
The fun part of the predicting the NCAA Tournament is making bold predictions about teams that, by definition, you know absolutely nothing about. North Dakota State is a hot upset candidate this week, though I guarantee you not a single person has watched them play all year. And that's the irony: According to the experts, this makes you a better predictor. To be ignorant is to have no biases at all. No wonder sportswriters are always boasting how unbiased they are.
Pittsburgh's winning this whole thing, by the way. I saw them play a couple times, and I vaguely remember some highlights on "SportsCenter." So I know.
Geno Auriemma. Like most of you, I'm sure, I haven't watched any women's college basketball this year — I should therefore kill in the brackets — so it wasn't until a few weeks ago that I realized that what was happening with the Connecticut women's team. It is worth positing that this might be the single most dominant team in organized top-level sports over the last 25 years. Connecticut is 33-0 and have won by an average of 31 points a game. In the Big East Championship Game, they beat Louisville, supposedly the No. 5 team in the country, 75-36. It's like playing a video game on the rookie mode, but actually running a whole season that way without stopping because you're bored. Are there only 12 good players in women's college basketball and they all play for Connecticut? How does this happen? I think I'd really enjoy a women's college basketball steroid scandal, actually. By the way, at this point, I note my favorite factoid about Geno Auriemma: He said, just a couple of years ago, that he'd love to be a men's coach, but he can't get anyone to offer him a job. Can that possibly be true? On either side?
Jay Bilas. Watching Jay Bilas — an analyst I once loved, thanks mostly to his inspired, Bill Raftery-esque elation during the Illinois-Arizona Elite Eight game back in 2005 — turn into a Billy Packer-like grouchy crank over the last couple of years has been a thoroughly depressing experience. My guess: It started happening during the Duke lacrosse case. I think it legitimately turned Bilas — who took a lot of heat for defending the team before anyone else was — into someone who discovered that he hated everyone in the media, and most of the planet. (That case would do it.) Only this current incarnation of Bilas could turn Dick Vitale into a poor, doddering victim like he did on ESPN's telecast Sunday. Whoever you think is right in that scenario — and I think it's Vitale — Bilas went after him with a sniggering, mocking, oh-you-foolish-old-man vigor that was unmistakable in its smug dismissiveness. Ladies and gentlemen, your next Billy Packer. Shame, too: I loved Bilas in that Dolph Lundgren movie. "I come in peace ... you go in PIECES!"
Todd Bozeman. One of the fun human-interest stories — I love that we live in a journalism world where you have to designate stories as "human-interest" — of the NCAA Tournament involves Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman, who was essentially banned from coaching for eight years after paying players while at California. (Oh, also making "lewd" phone calls to a Cal undergrad. During his time in the wilderness, he served as a scout for the Vancouver Grizzlies. He obviously did a great job!) I'm not sure why this is something to be celebrated, but that's not why I love Todd Bozeman stories. I love Todd Bozeman stories because, while coaching Morgan State a couple of years ago, Bozeman threatened and "shook" a restaurant worker near the Longwood campus for giving his players sandwiches with ham and turkey. "I ain't scared of you country bumpkins. I want my . . . money back!" he screamed. Todd Bozeman does not like your pork or your poultry. Keep that in mind when filling out your pool sheets.