Celizic: Bracketologists are a Casual Fan’s Best Friend

By Mike Celizic
|  Monday, Mar 1, 2010  |  Updated 1:00 AM EDT
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Bracketologists are a Casual Fan’s Best Friend

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University of North Carolina Men's basketball head coach Roy Williams (L) presents U.S. President Barack Obama with a team jersey at the White House.

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The great thing about the Winter Olympics — and the reason we should have them every year — is that they fill up those otherwise empty and boring weeks between the Super Bowl and March Madness.

The not-so-great thing about the Winter Olympics is that that those are the same weeks we normally use to get up to speed on what’s happening in college basketball. Conference tournaments are upon us, the NCAA tournament’s close behind, and I’m not even sure if the old alma mater is in the tournament, on the bubble, or heading for the NIT.

It’s times like these that make me appreciate the world’s most useful nerds: the bracketologists. Thanks to their tireless research and clever use of computer programs, I can go from knowing nothing about the game to knowing every one of teams likely to be in the tournament and which of those I should pay attention to.

I’m not talking about which team is ranked No. 1. Who cares? It’s not like college football, where rankings determine whether you get to play for the championship. There’s a tournament, and even if you’re not in the Top 25, you get to play.

What I’m interested in is where those top teams are likely to go, where they’re likely to be seeded and at which point I can start writing off teams.

And most importantly, is my team going to the big dance?

This is stuff sports fans actually need to know. And if it has to be done with a bunch of acronyms like RPI and SOS, so be it.

Normally I don’t have a lot of use for people who can’t appreciate a thing of beauty unless they can put a Fibonacci number on it, especially when they apply it to sports. And people who spend their lives attempting to predict the NFL or NBA draft or to rank college recruiting classes really have far too much time on their hands. Draftees and recruits don’t become important until they show whether they can actually play.

But bracketologists are a different breed of numbers wonk. These guys actually perform a useful function. I can step into the final week of the college basketball season, go to some Web sites — or just use this one’s — and have a pretty good idea of who’s a contender, who’s a pretender, and who hasn’t figured it out yet.

They won’t get the full tournament field and all the seedings right, but at least they’re in the ballpark. And when you need to cram for the coming tournaments these are good things to know.

Bracketologists aren’t telling you how anyone’s going to play or even if it’s good that they are playing at all. They’re just trying to tell us if they’re going to play and where they’ll be placed in the bracket.

Some of it isn’t any more reliable than a five-day weather forecast. It can’t be. Trying to predict what human beings will do on any given night on an expanse of hardwood flooring in their underwear isn’t an exact science and never will be. If it were, we’d just let the computer tell us who won and forego playing the game altogether at a considerable savings in time.

There are bracketologists who will tell you exactly which 65 teams are going to make the tournament, and in what order they will be seeded. Just don’t get too comfortable with those rankings, because as soon as another game is played, they rearrange the furniture, tossing some teams out and letting others in and moving the sofa from in front of the windows to in front of the door.

And then when the selection committee finally has its say, they tell you why they didn’t get every team exactly in its place.

But which 20-win team doesn’t make the field isn’t really important, anyway. None of the so-called bubble teams are going to win the tournament anyway. I want to know who the real players are, and the bracketologists are the ones who will tell me.

This is important information to the average fan. Don’t take my word for it. Take Google’s.

Search “bracketology” and Google hocks up more than half a million matches. Type in “draftnik” and you get a mere 8,400.

That’s gotta be significant, because, as any numbers wonk knows, the bigger the random number you can put on something, the more important it is.

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