The strangest season in college basketball history has wrapped up with the strangest tournament in college basketball history. I doubt anyone will look back fondly at 2021. Games with no fans in the stands. A tournament hosted by a single state. No Duke. No Kentucky. No Notre Dame, Louisville, or Marquette. Double digit wins in game after game. Where's the drama? Where's the excitement? UCLA put on an impressive run, and delivered the most memorable game of the new millennium, which is not quite so new anymore. The Big 10 sent a record 9 teams to the dance. There was talk of 3 Big 10 teams in the Final Four. Only Michigan made it to the Elite Eight, where they were unceremoniously dumped by a #11 seed. Major pre-tourney favorite Illinois couldn't get out of the second round. Ohio State became the 4th #2 seed in history to lose in the first round.
In the end, it was a dominant Baylor wire to wire against a Gonzaga team that battled to the end. George Callard (GDC 2) is our 2021 Champion after mostly mediocre finishes for most of the last 2 decades. He joins his brother Henry who won it all almost exactly 10 years ago. Gary Rhodes led the pack for rounds 2-4, but fell into 2nd when his predicted winner (Houston) lost in the semi-final. He will become the 1st player in Wimpy's March Madness history to cash in for a Championship shirt for the 3rd time. Hank Heise has been a participant going back into the 90's, and I believe this is the first time to finish in the top three. No one predicted the Final Four of Gonzaga, UCLA, Baylor, and Houston. GDC 2 came closest with 3 out of 4 and and a strong 54 on UCLA to add the Final Four prize of $150 to his 1st place total. The dream final of Gonzaga - Baylor was predicted by no fewer than 33 players. Conditions of Contest limit the payout for the Final Two prize at $300, but I stretched it to $330 this year. All 33 entries which forecast a Gonzaga - Baylor final will be rewarded with a $10 bonus. Those that finished in the overalls will have $10 added to their prizes. The rest will receive a $10 credit towards the 2022 contest. The $10 credit will expire after next year.
It's time to make my annual observances of the other noteworthy events of 2021. Way, way back in the mid 90's, I was one of the first people to urge others to start using a new electronic payment service called Paypal. After a successful partnership for nearly 15 years, that company severed all ties with me in 2011 after discovering (gasp) that this annual competition (and wimpy squares) violated it's policy against gambling. This had the unfortunate consequence of forcing me to require all players to pay by mailing me a check. Trust me, it had been every bit the inconvenience to me that it had been for you. In 2017, a new service emerged, and it's even more convenient than that one owned by eBay. It's called Zelle, and it's a free product of Wells Fargo Bank. Most major banks are using it, or a form of it, and I urge everyone to try it out if possible. It's free for now, although, like that other one, it may not be free forever. More and more players have discovered the convenience of paying their fees from their home computer. I also added the Venmo service this year for those who want to pay via their smart phones.
We had 198 entries, nearly identical to our numbers from 2019. I believe our numbers are stagnant or falling because our demographic is aging. I have been doing this for 34 years. That's over half of my life. A few of the players out there have been with me since nearly the beginning. We need some younger fans. We have a hardcore following, with a great many of our players submitting multiple entries. It's genuinely difficult to bring new players in, because it's just so damn hard! We also usually have the unfortunate timing of coinciding with the Spring North American Contract Bridge Championships every year. It's no secret that a large percentage of our participants are avid Bridge enthusiasts. It's only through the continued efforts of several people who work tirelessly to bring in new blood that keep our numbers up and our prestige high.
Most years, you can predict the National champion simply by inspecting which team in our competition gets the most 1st place votes. A two-year streak was broken in 2019 when Madness favorite Duke lost in the Regional Finals. The trend continued with the loss in the Finals of Gonzaga, undefeated, the pre-tournament favorite, and selection of no fewer than 116 entries (53.4%) Another 50 entries had major disappointment Illinois going all the way. Our National Champion, Baylor, was a mere third on the list with 13 votes. The fourth #1 seed Michigan picked up 6 more. From there, support dropped off significantly. Houston was the most popular with 3 selections. Iowa, Ohio State and Alabama tied with 2. Five teams picked up a single vote: Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and North Carolina.
In case anyone was wondering, no one has yet ever submitted a perfect entry. A perfect score would total 3801 pts. This year, the winning total of 3202 did not come close to the record high score from 2007 of 3626 held jointly by Paul Astorino and Paul Laliberte. Every year around this time, there is talk in the media about how remote it would be to fill out a perfect bracket. This got a lot of hype after Warren Buffet offered a billion dollars in 2014 to anyone who could pull it off. Let me put this to rest. Assuming all teams being equal, there are only 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 ways to fill out 63 blanks. That number is truly tiny. To give you an idea of just how tiny that number is, assume that every man, woman, and child on the planet (all 7,857,120,135 as I write this) started filling out entries. Let's assume that each could fill out an entire bracket in 1 second. That's 60 entries a minute, 3600 entries an hour, and so on, 24 hours a day nonstop. If they started filling out entries at midnight tonight (April 6th), assuming no duplications, this army would exhaust all of the possibilities a little after 3:16pm, June 15th, 2058. Why that's still in many of our lifetimes!
Now lets talk about some large numbers. Filling in blanks is trivial compared to rating each contest. It might surprise you to learn that there are over 10,654,499,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 different possible perfect entries for this competition. That's 55 decimal places! That's a BIG number. That the number is truly inconceivable. For example, if you were to write a different perfect entry on a single piece of copier paper, after only 201,314,300,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 sheets, (truly a miniscule fraction of the above number) the weight of the pile would outweigh the Earth. Of course this number is microscopic when compared to the number of possible imperfect entries - like yours. (126 followed by 87 zeroes). You should note that it is only possible to achieve a perfect score if you submit a consistent entry. Every year players submit entries with their 63 playing their 64 in the semi-finals, or two teams in the 50's playing in the second round. Experienced players try to avoid such careless errors.
Once again, thanks go out to the players who continue to recruit new players for the contest. It takes a little while to figure out how to put in a competitive entry, but most players come back. Please remember to keep my email address in your online address book. If you change providers, you must drop me a note so that I can update my records, or else you will be like the nearly 2 dozen or so people who didn't get contacted this year because I couldn't reach them at their last known email address. If, during the year, you would like to add someone to my contact list, feel free to forward me their email address. Once their data is in my distribution list, it takes very little extra effort to keep everybody informed. We had a little new blood this year, and some long time players will be coming back. I wouldn't be surprised if we cracked 300 entries again someday.
In 2014, I finally compiled a Wimpy's Hall of Fame, to honor our past champions. While this list is unfortunately incomplete, it does go back for 30 years. New players should note that first time players have won in the past, and experienced players often do quite poorly. This year's champion, George Callard, has been playing since at least 2006. The tournament records on my last two computers don't go back further than that. In 2019 he finished 107th. 2018 champion Joe Sack finished just out of the money in 13th. Other strong finishes by previous champions were Pat Slaven (1992) 17th, Gerry Sexton (2004) 24th, Fred V Kenny (1993) 25th, Nati Nobodies (2009) 26th, and Larry Katzbeck (2012) 38th. From there, we have a few who can only say they didn't embarrass themselves: Jim Ketchum (2002) was 70th. Ryan Gister (2006) was 74th. Other past champions finishing above average were Scott Meyer (2005) in 99th, and Ted Kratochvil (2015) 101st. None of the other past champions who played had much to gloat about: Marty Kelly (2016) 112th, Paul Castino (2011) 172nd; Paul Astorino (2007) 192nd; and two time shirt winner Chris Grande (1999) in 193rd.
Other past champions
Clem "Goose" Gosiewski (1990), Eddie Holman (1996), Michele Russell
(2008), Tighe Carter (2013) Chris Scheuerman
Christina Saville (2017), John Dunbar (2019) all did not play in 2021.
Wimpy, who finished his best ever 4th in 2018, was a miserable 107th. Someone told him to bet heavily on the Big 10. Ohio State 63? Give me a break!
When favorites win, past champions can appear to be brilliant. When there are a bunch of upsets, they appear to be as human as the rest of us. One thing that should be pretty clear, is that past accomplishments are rarely a yardstick for current success. This competition has a rich history, and I have every intention of preserving as much of it as I can.
My challenge was to devise a scoring system which rewards the most accurate picks, while recognizing the importance (but does not overvalue) early round upsets. Long time players know that perhaps the biggest key to the pool is not so much how big a number you put on a team that you thought would win and didn't (although that is a major factor), but more importantly how small a number you put on a team you thought wouldn't win, and did! This year, up until the Final Four, upsets were the norm. That said, your entry probably had little to no chance if you didn't pick Oregon, UCLA, USC, Oregon State, Loyola-Chi, and Creighton, to win at least one game. Those were the keys to 2021, and you needed to have selected most of them to survive the first round. The higher the numbers you put on those 6 teams, the more you were likely to cash in the money. While those teams were critical, you had a chance to jump out of the gate quickly by simply placing decent numbers on Syracuse, Oral Roberts, Abilene Christian, No. Texas and Ohio. They didn't need to be winners in the 30's, but high teens and 20's could put you ahead far enough to coast into the winner's circle. Anyone with faith in the Pac-12 did really well this year. As the tourney progressed, the numbers you placed on those teams you thought would exit early became a critical factor as to whether you would contend or plummet.
Here are my nominations for 2021 No Prize Awards: Wimpy was
getting cocky after finishing in the money for two of the last 3 years. He settled
for 107th, but expects to back in contention next year. If you finished above
average, congratulations, you beat a lot of pretty smart people. There are a lot
of savvy players (and damn good guessers) in this pool. Most have expressed that
the fun is in the competition, and I must agree. While the monetary prize will
be sweet, I believe it is the honor of winning that GDC will remember
most about the 2021 tournament. All top 3 places also
receive the famous 2021 Wimpy's March Madness Champion embroidered shirt,
(not available in stores!) 2021 is in the record books. I am
predicting a Make Wimpy Great Again campaign in 2022 as well as the continued
Wimpy Squares. Thanks to all who participated, and Don't forget
to tell me if you change your email address!
Larry Rothenberg had the highest 1st to last round gain of +127 places, starting in a miserable 169th and moving up every round to a decent finish in 42nd place.
Jeff Gaut started in contention in 9th place and plummeted like a stone a miserable 171 places to finish in 180th place.
Brian Brown had the highest 1st round total (3rd) that did not finish in the money. He finished in 13th.
Pat Slaven submitted more entries than any player this year. Of 22 entries, his highest finish was 17th.
Justin Czapczyk was one of the 13 players who picked Baylor to go all the way. The 100 points he picked up in the final round were not enough to lift him out of last place.
Wimpy was getting cocky after finishing in the money for two of the last 3 years. He settled for 107th, but expects to back in contention next year. If you finished above average, congratulations, you beat a lot of pretty smart people. There are a lot of savvy players (and damn good guessers) in this pool. Most have expressed that the fun is in the competition, and I must agree. While the monetary prize will be sweet, I believe it is the honor of winning that GDC will remember most about the 2021 tournament. All top 3 places also receive the famous 2021 Wimpy's March Madness Champion embroidered shirt, (not available in stores!)
2021 is in the record books. I am predicting a Make Wimpy Great Again campaign in 2022 as well as the continued popularity of Wimpy Squares. Thanks to all who participated, and Don't forget to tell me if you change your email address!