BracketRacket: Keeping hope alive in the NCAAs, even on the occasional bad hair day

Welcome back to BracketRacket, the one-stop shopping place for all your NCAA tournament needs.

Today, we throw down, challenge follicles, solve a Rubik's Cube and kiss the rim, all without breaking a sweat, even after batting the ball around with tennis star and Harvard dropout James Blake. We also refer you to a chilling list of celebrity alumni evil twins.

But before any of it, we defy long odds.



Wow. That didn't take long.

By now, you're probably wishing you'd dropped that $5, or $10, or whatever, on lottery tickets instead of throwing it into the office pool.

Because when someone wins the lottery, they just call themselves lucky. Whoever wins your pool is going to call themself a genius. And you will be hearing about it for the rest of your life.

As the higher-ranked seeds began tumbling down Friday like ... well, like real seeds, we were debating bracket-theology ((at) copyright) with John Affleck, the deputy sports editor of The Associated Press.

It was about perfection being the enemy of good. As it became increasingly clear there wouldn't be a perfect bracket left by the end of the night — merely good ones — we traded messages about what that meant. After Georgetown fell to Florida Gulf Coast, he sent this: "The Gtown result means the last perfect ESPN bracket is gone."

So that's 8.15 million brackets — give or take a few — down the drain. A check of Yahoo! Sports at late afternoon showed 174 perfect brackets at the end of round 1, out of 3.3 million entered, or 0.012 percent. Chances are good they're marred now, too. No word yet on the other big sites, but don't expect much encouraging news.

BracketRacket doesn't know anyone who has all 32 teams still alive heading into the weekend. Neither do you.

The odds against it happening are one in 9.2 quintillion.

But it's out there.

Offline maybe, but somewhere.

Our best guess is a federal minimum-security prison like Danbury, where the kid who came up with the algorithm that bankrupted some investment firm talked a gaggle of his white-collar criminal pals into filling one out. Or locked away in a file drawer at the Beardstown Ladies investment club.

We have to hold on to something.



Today's celebrity alum won his second-round match Friday at the Sony Open, but got to celebrate twice. Sort of.

"I'm still upset for not taking Harvard in my bracket," Blake told AP sports writer Steve Wine at a tournament in Key Biscayne, Fla. "I thought about being silly and loyal, but I was like, 'Be smart and be realistic' I should have gone with my heart."

Probably so. He couldn't have done any worse than those of us who used our heads.

"I was still happy," Blake added. "I'm happy to lose my brackets and have Harvard go a little farther."

The delayed celebration came about because Blake was asleep Thursday night, when the Crimson toppled New Mexico 68-62 two time zones away in Salt Lake City, the first real snowball in what has become an avalanche of upsets,

"But I knew pretty early," he said. "I woke up and got my phone and I had about 10 texts saying, 'Go Crimson.' I was pretty sure they had won."



The tournament has given rise to a little side competition coming up with the best list of celebrity alumni. Sports Illustrated's is pretty good here:,

And we've been circulating one of our own around the office.

But nobody is going to top this one from Buzzfeed here:




The argument for breakout star of the tournament is already heating up. The CBS duo of Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg devoted a good portion of their assignment covering Ohio State-Iona touting Buckeyes sophomore Sam Thompson and he made a pretty compelling case with this:

But don't sleep on DJ Stephens of Memphis. His coach, Josh Pastner, likes to say, "If you're going to play for me, you've got to be quick, you've got to be fast, and you've got to play above the rim." And he's already guaranteed that Stephens, a senior, will win the NBA dunk contest next year because he routinely does this: and this:

We're only two rounds in, but we're giving him the early nod, mostly because of this:



Harvard may be on the other side of the bracket from Kansas, and on the other side of the world when it comes to basketball tradition. But on the theory that it's never too early to begin preparing for an opponent, Jayhawks guard Kevin Young sat in the corner of the locker room by himself Friday, fiddling with a Rubik's Cube. AP sports writer Dave Skretta looked on.

"It keeps my mind clear. It keeps me focused," Young explained ahead of Kansas' tip-off against Western Kentucky.

He picked up the habit while playing at Barstow Community College, relentlessly studying how one of his teammates there solved it consistently.

About all Young will reveal is, "There is a pattern and I memorized it."

He puts his best time at around two minutes, but his teammates are so mesmerized, they think he's even faster than that.

"He can do it in seconds," Travis Releford said.

Or at least what must seem like seconds to a guy like Releford, who told Skretta that he spends his free time bowling.



Thirty years ago, the long hair and short shorts favored by ballers were deemed a grave threat to the future of our civilization. And ultimately it led to this:

In case you've forgotten, or just blocked it out, that's Dwayne Schintzius at Florida, circa 1990. Scary, no?

Then the "Fab Five" turned up as freshmen at Michigan in 1991 with shaved heads and long shorts, and those became the new sign of the apocalypse. What nobody should doubt is that it's been a hot mess ever since, at least stylistically speaking.

But we'll leave the current Zubaz plague on the side for the moment — especially if those college athletic directors so desperate to be hip would do the same — and go straight to the hair of matter.

What's up with this, this and this

If these guys — in order, Gonzaga's Kelly Olynyk, Saint Louis' Cody Ellis and Wisconsin's Mike Brusewitz — aren't careful, one day they're going to wind up looking like this

"Clearly, I work really hard at it," said the appropriately named Brusewitz, who's been growing his hair out since last May and will have even more time to devote to whatever that is now that the Badgers have been eliminated.

"It's not for everybody," he added. "There are people out there that do like it, and there are people that will have their own opinions, but it's my hair and I will do what I want to."

Your call, Mike. This isn't Russia.



Marquette's Chris Otule gets to watch the show close up. He describes it this way: "Splits in the air, kicking his leg up like the dancers in Vegas."

The rest of us recognize that dynamo as coach Buzz Williams working the sideline.

Williams sweats like an iced tea left out on a porch in summer. And while his passion seems endless, his supply of suits is not.

"That's why I take my jacket off," Williams told AP National Writer Nancy Armour, "just so I can maybe have that suit again next year."

It used to be worse before Williams shed 37 pounds, mostly by running, though he concedes he's put a few back on with the hectic schedule of the last few weeks. He's also learned another trick. Williams deploys a brand new dri-fit shirt that Nike provides underneath his button-down. That way, only one of them requires wringing out after the game.

Otule spared Armour from having to watch that postgame ritual by confirming it's "so sweaty," it's "like he actually played in the game."

And you thought players cooperating with the media was a thing of the past.



STATS has the NCAA selection committee's back on the argument over whether too may mid-major programs got into the tournament at the expense of teams from the big-boy conferences.

Five Atlantic 10 teams got in and all five won at least one game. Before this year, the mighty ACC had matched that feat on five separate occasions, and the Big East and Big Ten were right behind with four. But the SEC and Big 12 have nothing on the A-10. Each turned the trick exactly.



"This is a hump we can't get over yet, but we'll keep trying to figure it out." — Notre Dame coach Mike Brey after the Fighting Irish were bounced out of the tournament in the first round for the third time in four years, this time by Iowa State.


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at) and follow him at Litke.