Now that the field for the 2014 Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament has been set, it is time for the best sports week of the year as millions try to complete the “perfect bracket.” This year the quest has taken on an even greater significance thanks to billionaire Warren Buffett and the Quicken Loans’ Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge.
But while the odds of selecting the winner in every single game is even greater than that of Vladimir Putin abruptly allowing Ukraine to become a democracy or the missing Malaysian airplane suddenly showing up on a runway in Florida, it isn’t keeping millions from trying to make the perfect picks.
The contest is being capped at 15 million entries, but even if no one gets every game correct, the top 20 brackets will each net $100,000.
To no surprise, the real “big” winners in this competition are going to be Buffett and Gilbert.
While there is no cost to enter, participants must provide their e-mail address and phone number and answer some questions about their mortgage. That means Gilbert’s company will have 15 million new potential customers to send e-mails and contact by phone.
Though Buffet isn’t part of Quicken Loans, he has already received plenty of press to continue stroking his public image.
What will be especially interesting will be to see if any of the 15 million entries can even make it through the first weekend of games undefeated.
Here is a look at five games that could make it tough to predict:
South Regional: #5 VCU vs. #12 Stephen F. Austin
It was just three years ago that VCU was the bracket busting tournament darling that went from the play-in game to the Final Four. This time the Rams are a highly respected fifth seed and many think they could again make a long tournament run. However, their journey could be mighty short if Stephen F. Austin has anything to say about it. The number 12 seed enters the tournament with a 31-2 record and has four players who average at least 12 points per contest.
South Regional: #6 Ohio State vs. #11 Dayton
The Buckeyes have made a sport out of dodging their high-caliber in-state competitors, but this time there is no escaping a date with the Fliers. Ohio State was one of the top squads in the country early in the season, but struggled through the second half and a long tournament run would be a huge surprise. Dayton is one of six NCAA Tournament teams from the Atlantic-10 and will have extra motive against OSU.
Midwest Regional: #8 Kentucky vs. #9 Kansas State
The battle of the Wildcats could be quite an interesting first round matchup and could also lead to one of the most intriguing second round games of the tournament. Considering that they were picked by many as the preseason number one team, that Kentucky enters the tournament as a number eight seed is definitely a disappointment. While they played perhaps their best ball of the season in the SEC Tournament, Kentucky will have a challenging time making a long tournament run. If they are able to get past Kansas State, which played in perhaps the best conference in the country, they could have a date with the undefeated top seeds from Wichita State.
West Regional: #6 Baylor vs. #11 Nebraska
Former conference rivals Baylor and Nebraska face off in a matchup of teams that started strong then slumped before rebounding to make it into the tournament. Baylor started the season winning 12 of 13 and finished with wins in 10 of 11 games before losing in the Big 12 tournament. However, in between those streaks, they were 2-8 with six of those losses to teams in the NCAA Tournament. Nebraska started the season 8-3 before five straight losses put their back to the wall. They answered by finishing the season winning 11 of their last 15 to sneak into the tournament. Given that the two conferences represented are generally ranked as the top two leagues in the country, this could be a very competitive game.
East Regional: #5 Cincinnati vs. #12 Harvard
A team seeded 12th has won a game in the NCAA Tournament 25 times in the last 28 years. Given that former Duke point guard Tommy Amaker’s team is making their third straight NCAA appearance and last year won a game as a 14 seed, they seem to be a prime candidate to post a win from that line this season. Cincinnati won the American Athletic Conference regular season title, but the league received little love from the NCAA Tournament committee and the Bearcats could be hard pressed to advance past the Crimson.