John F. Russell: Make the right picks

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After finishing dead last in our office pool last year, I swore I never again would fill out an NCAA tournament bracket.

But I discovered this week that time has a way of making me forget, even when my co-workers will not.

If I were smarter, I immediately would have thrown away the 2006 bracket I found on my desk last week. But instead, I pulled $5 out of my wallet and took another chance.

It was a choice that brought a few chuckles from the people in the nearby cubicles, but I'm confident that I can make a run at winning the pool this year, or at least do a little better than I did last time around.

I must admit that the idea of making a few more right choices is appealing. It would allow me to leave the grief and misery of last year's bracket behind me.

Besides, what are the odds I'll repeat last year's poor performance? My odds have to be better than the chance Northwestern State had at beating Iowa, right?

The truth is that William Hung has a better chance of winning American Idol than I do of picking the four teams that will face off in Indianapolis on April 1. But March Madness has a way of clouding common sense and making a guy like me feel like I can pick the winners.

Despite my rather pathetic showing last year, I'm still a big fan of the NCAA office pool. My problem is that the only time I watch college basketball is during the NCAA tournament.

The tournament gives fair-weather fans like me a reason to tune into college basketball and witness one off the greatest tournaments in all of sports.

Sure, I would like to win the pool one of these years, or at least finish in the middle of the pack. There is nothing better than getting the office e-mail announcing the top performers -- unless you happen to be the person in last place in total points.

But winning shouldn't be the appeal of the office pool. The pool gives sports fans a reason to cheer and follow schools they have no connection to.

It's funny how something as trivial as a $5 bill can fuel excitement for an event such as the NCAA tournament.

Most office pools pay the winners a couple hundred bucks -- which seems like nothing when you consider the anxiety that comes from watching all those nail-biters.

I could care less about Winthrop or Gonzaga, but for a few hours on Thursday, I cheered for them as if my firstborn child was a student there.

Last week, 64 basketball teams took to the court for the start of the NCAA tournament, and for my sake, I'm hoping that a few of the teams I picked will make it to the Sweet 16.

If they don't, I no doubt will be the subject of office ridicule once again. But if they do, I'll have another good reason to watch college basketball for another week.

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