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Use your head, not heart, with brackets

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If you know Brent Chitty, you know that he lives and breathes basketball.

He doesn’t just bleed basketball-colored orange, his blood type is “Wilson.”

So when it came to filling out my NCAA Tournament bracket, I thought I would check with the Columbus East High School basketball coach to see if I could get a few pearls of wisdom from his passion.

The first thing he told me was that with the school district being on spring break, there isn’t the usual commotion that envelops many workplace environments when it comes to filling out brackets.

Even so, he offered this nugget.

“People always have their favorites,” he said. “If you know somebody, you are going to root for them, and that can mess you up. When you get married, follow your heart. When you pick the NCAA Tournament, follow your mind.”

That created some real controversy for me right away.

No. 12 seed Cal against No. 5 seed UNLV.

I didn’t attend Cal (my alma mater is Arizona), but I covered the team for years, and I know many folks around the program. Was I going to fall into the trap that I had just been warned about?

Looking at ESPN’s RPI rankings, UNLV was the much higher-ranked team at No. 22 to Cal’s No. 53. It was obvious I was going to have to work to make Cal my pick.

OK, Cal was 5-5 against teams ranked in the RPI’s top 50, while UNLV was 7-6. A virtual push.

Then I noticed that Cal was 9-3 over its past 12 games, while UNLV was 8-4. Again, everything points to a game that’s going down to the wire.

My pick? Cal, of course. I never said I was good at following advice.

And why not run with it? I have Cal beating Syracuse in the third round (it used to be the second round until they added those play-in games, which are, for some reason, considered the first round) and facing Indiana in the Sweet 16. OK, loyalty only goes so far. I have the Hoosiers winning that one.

As far as my alma mater, well, hello Final Four.

Does it make any sense? Of course not. But what makes sense about most rounds of the NCAA Tournament?

Then again, I don’t think it is a huge stretch that Arizona beats Belmont in the second round, New Mexico in the third round and Ohio State in the Sweet 16. OK, getting past Gonzaga, that’s a stretch.

While I totally respect Chitty’s point, being kind of silly with picks is what makes this whole bracketology deal fun. If I want “chalk” all the way through the tournament, I can just follow the RPI or I can watch ESPN’s analysts pick the four No. 1 seeds in the Final Four.

That has happened once, in 2008.

I used to teach horse race handicapping to various clubs around the San Francisco Bay Area, and I often encountered people who would go to the track a couple of times a year. My advice was simple. Choose a favorite color or number, pick a horse because of its cool name, or go with the one that winks at you. In order to really handicap horses, it takes hours and hours of work poring over forms and tapes. Who has the time?

The same can be said of NCAA bracketology. My experience tells me that those “chalk” picks seldom result in a pool victory. Usually somebody finds that Cinderella team that defies the odds. Will it be Arizona this season? I hope so. Maybe it will be your favorite team.

For the record, I have Florida, Indiana, Duke and Arizona in my Final Four, with Indiana playing Duke in the national title game. Duke wins it all.

My head told me so.

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