Brackets cause baldness! Well, some stress

Bracket. Busted.

According to scientific research (Editor’s Note: There is absolutely no “scientific” or “research” to what I’m about to say), those two words are used more frequently in the month of March than any other time during the year.

Yes, it’s that part of the calendar again, when millions of Americans sharpen their pencils and do their best to guess how the NCAA basketball tournaments are going to go. (Editor’s Note: These are mostly done online now, but I can’t reasonably say, “sharpen their mouses,” can I? Or, is it “mice?” “Meese?” “Mouscatillionaires?”)

It is an annual rite of passage across these fruited plains. Americans, diehard sports fans or not, all believe they can break down what’s about to transpire during “March Madness” by studying matchups, analyzing strengths of schedule or picking the team with the cutest mascot. And, you know what, they’re all right.

There is no rhyme or reason as to what happens during this crazy tournament every year. You like going with the favorites? Good luck with that. Flipping the script and just picking the underdog for every game? Yeah, well, that will make you feel really smart when the upset happens, but what about the other 80 percent of games in the first few rounds?

Really, this is mostly about having fun with co-workers, friends and family, right? It’s about putting in whatever amount of money, if any, is determined beforehand, and feeling like you’re part of something that’s both exciting and potentially lucrative. And, if you catch lightning in a bottle and get off to a really great start to the tournament, it’s also about watching how highly you rank on whichever website is hosting your brackets.

But mostly it’s about fun. It’s about that opportunity to talk trash to your opponents if your picks go right, and looking for an exit strategy to avoid some people at all costs if things go poorly. Personally, I’m looking to move to Istanbul for a few weeks until all this March Madness goes away.

Let’s just say I’ve taken a little ribbing for my selections up to this point of the tournament. My predicted champion? Virginia. I could have picked Indian River to win this thing, and they would have the exact same chance of cutting down the nets going into this weekend, as Virginia went home faster than our own Tom Maglio when he feels like it’s naptime.

I also had Maryland taking part in this weekend’s festivities, for the record, and they are now sitting on their couches and cursing over how bad their brackets look right now. My alma mater, Temple, was one I had my eye on, but they didn’t even make “The Dance” this year, so at least I didn’t bet away my dignity by selecting them.

So, what makes this tournament so baffling to those attempting to predict its outcomes? Well, I’d start with the human factor.

Men and women who participate in sports do not care if they are predicted to lose a game to a bigger school in the tournament. This is their time to shine, and they have won a lot of games with their coaches and teammates, so many of them play like they have something to prove to the world.

On the other side, those athletes who suit up for the “powerhouse” schools often have an unbelievable amount of pressure attached to their tournament rides. If that underdog team is still hanging around in a close game late, well, nerves can get a little on edge.

I also have a personal opinion that so many of the star players from the big schools leave early to go to the NBA, so those small school teams that have been playing together for years have an advantage in chemistry and trust. They know where player X will be. They know player Y can make that shot on the perimeter. They know where to go when they need to go there.

Plus, I think there’s a conspiracy in play by some of my friends to make me look like a fool every March — like my shenanigans on St. Patrick’s Day don’t do that enough. Regardless, I catch myself cursing at my brackets every year at this time. Then I catch myself filling out another the next.