The sportswriters' NCAA flop.

The sportswriters' NCAA flop.

The sportswriters' NCAA flop.

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April 2 2002 4:33 PM

The Picks of the Press, Part 3

Their March Madness predictions weren't any better than yours.

Back in March, Sports Nut wanted to know how well sportswriters could predict the men's NCAA Tournament. So we took the tourney brackets of 15 media professionals and melted them into one. (Click here to see the bracket and read more about our methodology.) How did the writers do? Well, if you had entered the media's bracket in your office pool, you would probably have placed somewhere in the middle of pack. As a group, the writers nailed five members of the Elite Eight and three members of the Final Four. But they flopped in the title game, picking Duke vs. Kansas instead of Indiana vs. Maryland. In fact, they didn't have Indiana getting out of the second round.

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When taken individually, a few of the writers shone. Three of them correctly picked Maryland to win the tourney: Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis, CNNSI.com's Stewart Mandel, and Dallas Morning News' Steve Richardson. Davis and his SI colleague Grant Wahl foresaw Duke tripping before reaching the Final Four, though they thought it would be to Southern Cal instead of Indiana. No writer had the Hoosiers making the Final Four. The Los Angeles Times' T.J. Simers came closest, and he only advanced Indiana to the third round.

If we conduct this experiment again next year, we promise to increase our sample size. We'll even mail brackets to writers if we have to. (Though given the writers' strange mind-meld—i.e., their tendency to think alike—a larger sample may not have made much difference this year.) We'll also encourage our comrades at ESPN.com—surely the most thorough sports site on the Web—to post their experts' full brackets. This morning, Dick Vitale crowed that "heading into the Final Four, I believed Maryland would prevail." But where was Vitale's bracket before the tournament began? [Update: Reader Dan London notes that ESPN posted some of their personalities' picks here—including, strangely, Mel Kiper's—but Vitale's are nowhere to be found. In this midtourney chat, Vitale appears to have picked Duke to win it all.]

Speaking of mind-melds, "The Fray" had some interesting ideas about why our media consortium picked the same upsets. Bert Bloomquist admitted that his bracket looked a lot like the media bracket. He says that the media have a jones for mid-major schools and always picks them in close games. That at least explains sportswriters' strange fascination with Western Kentucky and Pepperdine, both first-round losers.

Reader "Dira Necessitas" says sportswriters think alike for "the same reason equity analysts think alike; they are looking at the same box scores (most recent quarterly reports), rosters (balance sheets), and listening to the same practice reports the coaches give them (management conference calls)."

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Rich Mahady broke down every game. SalukiDale detects groupthink in the media's college football polls, too. Owen S. Good suggests that state-schooled sportswriters favor Ivy League teams because they harbor a secret jealousy of their Ivy League colleagues.

Finally, Captain Ron Voyage calls sportswriters a "disgusting collection of fat, unshaven dullards in grease-stained giveaway golf shirts"—and then says he used to be one. He formulates the "consecutive upset theory," in which writers disproportionately favor teams that have pulled upsets in past tournaments. If Richmond and Weber State had been in this year's tourney, the writers would have flocked to them, too.

Sports Nut promises a full investigation of all these theories right after we take our giveaway golf shirts to the cleaners.