“Fresh keg in the kegerator and friends en route from Wisconsin. See the world on Monday,” — Eric Baldwin.
Can you hear that? That’s the sound of thousands upon thousands of hardcore college basketball fans and casual viewers alike filling out their 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship brackets.
Thursday marks the start of March Madness. All across the United States, countless people will “call out sick” to work and flock to their friend’s place or a local bar to sweat 16 college basketball games from noon EST on. On Friday — unless they’ve lost a Final Four team — they’ll do it all again.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the tournament. Anyone can fill out a bracket, regardless of how much they actually know about college basketball, and even better, anyone can win.
The poker community is intrinsically connecting to the sports betting world — for better or for worse — and this weekend is one of the biggest sports-betting weekends of the calendar year. PokerNews reached out to a handful of poker players to get their thoughts on the upcoming tournament, and we also polled our own staff. Thanks to the New York Times, ESPN, and NBC Sports, we can also give you picks from Nate Silver, United States President Barack Obama and Phil Ivey.
Good luck with your own brackets, and just a hint: don’t follow Rich Ryan. He has no clue.
Who’s your “Cinderella” team?
Rich Ryan: Oregon
Eric Baldwin: None
Brett Richey: Bucknell
Brent Hanks: Colorado State
Donnie Peters: Ole Miss
Brett Collson: Bucknell
Barack Obama: None
Phil Ivey: None
Nate Silver: Oregon and Colorado
Ryan: The return of Ducks point guard Dominic Artis is huge. They’re a completely different team with him on the floor.
Peters: After watching Ole Miss defeat Florida to win the SEC title, I'm officially on the Marshal Henderson bandwagon. The kid definitely plays with a chip on his shoulder and can be a wildcard at times, letting his emotions get the best of him, but when it's do-or-die time night in and night out in the tournament, this can all be a good thing.
Hanks: Louisville goes down to Colorado State!
Collson: Mike Muscala can definitely carry the No. 11 Bison into the third round. If he gets hot, they could go further.
Silver (from the stats): Oregon and Colorado are the only double-digit seeds with a greater than 17% chance to reach the Sweet 16.
Which No. 1 seed will be the first to bow out?
Peters: Kansas / Gonzaga
Ivey: Kansas / Gonzaga
Ryan: It’s never a good feeling to be on the most populated bandwagon in this tournament.
Peters: I just don't think Gonzaga is that strong, and I have them losing in the Sweet 16. I have Kansas also losing in the Sweet 16, but they have a much harder bracket than Gonzaga, so it's a little more justified.
Collson: I think this is the year Gonzaga advances past the Elite 8, and I don't see the Jayhawks doing the same.
Obama: This is where my Big Ten bias comes through. Even though [Kelly] Olynyk is a great big man — he’s got great hair, does a great job — I think Wisconsin is going to pull off the upset.
Silver (from the stats): Gonzaga has the lowest chance (52.5%) of reaching the Elite 8.
Which region is the hardest?
Ryan: Any region that has VCU as a No. 5 seed has to be tough as nails, right?
Peters: Kansas, Georgetown, Florida, Michigan, VCU, North Carolina, Villanova... the list goes on and on in the South Region. This region has six really tough top-25 teams, and three of the top-four seeds I believe have a shot at winning the entire thing with Kansas, Georgetown and Michigan.
Collson: Louisville, Duke, Michigan State and super-sleeper St. Louis? Can't wait to watch this one play out.
Who’s your tournament MVP?
Ryan: Cody Zeller
Baldwin: Tony Snell
Richey: Gorgui Dieng
Hanks: CJ Leslie
Peters: Gorgui Dieng
Collson: Russ Smith
Ryan: Front-court play is paramount in the tournament, and it doesn’t hurt that his pick-and-roll partner is Victor Oladipo.
Peters: I have Louisville winning it all, so I'll ride out Dieng to the end. He'll be right on point to average a double-double throughout the tournament and a force inside on the defensive end.
Collson: Russ Smith. As a Syracuse fan, I can't stand him. But I can learn to forgive if he wins me heaps of money in my bracket pools.
Who’s in your Final Four?
Ryan: Duke, New Mexico, Florida, Indiana
Baldwin: St. Louis, New Mexico, Kansas, UNLV
Richey: Louisville, Pittsburgh, Florida, Indiana
Hanks: Duke, New Mexico, VCU, N.C. State
Peters: Louisville, Ohio State, Georgetown, Miami
Collson: Louisville, Gonzaga, Florida, Miami
Obama: Louisville, Ohio State, Florida, Indiana
Ivey: Louisville, Ohio State, Florida, Indiana
Silver: Louisville (53%), Gonzaga (33.5%), Florida (37.5%), Indiana (52.2%)
Ryan: I’m starting to run out of darts.
Baldwin: New Mexico
Hanks: N.C. State
Silver: Louisville (23.8%)
Ryan: Indiana has a fairly easy bracket and two very solid players. I like their chances.
Peters: I have Louisville in a rematch with Georgetown. Earlier in the season, Georgetown beat Louisville by 2, but this time I think the Cardinals will get their revenge and cut down the nets.
Collson: Russ Smith and Peyton Siva form the best back court in the country in my opinion, and few teams are as deep as the Cardinals.
Obama: I’m going back to the Big Ten, I think this is Indiana’s year.
Ivey: Defense wins championships, and from what I’ve seen this season, Louisville and Florida definitely have the best D in the country.
Who are you picking? Let us know in the comments below.
Photo courtesy of ESPN.