Welcome to BracketRacket.
Think of it as one-stop shopping on game days for all your NCAA tournament needs. We'll have interviews with celebrity alums drawn from sports, entertainment and politics, plus occasional "bracket-buster" picks, photos, news, gossip, stats, notes and quotes from around the tourney sites -- all of it bundled into a quick read that gives diehard fans and office-poolers alike something to sound smart about.
So without further ado:
TAKE THIS JOB ... AND DUNK IT
The business of America is business, and the NCAA tournament is bad for business; ergo, the NCAA tournament is bad for America.
The outplacement firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas proved it by wasting a few hours again this year calculating how much U.S. employers could lose while employees (like this one, via wordpress.com: http://bit.ly/1fYuFac ) obsess over the tournament. In an annual report, the company set the figure at $1.2 billion for every unproductive hour.
"You have employees talking about which teams made or didn't make the tournament. You have other workers setting up and managing office pools. Of course, there are the office pool participants," Challenger's statement cautioned, "some of whom might take five minutes to fill out a bracket, while others spend several hours researching teams, analyzing statistics and completing multiple brackets."
Never mind that the math behind the estimate is fuzzy, or that both academic researchers and corporate managers who looked at the problem concluded the real numbers were considerably lower, mostly because employees tend to make up for lost time by working outside traditional hours.
So what should an employer do?
"Despite all of the scary numbers, Challenger suggests that employers not try to clamp down on March Madness," the statement added. "Initiatives to block access to sports sites and live streaming in order to boost productivity in the short term, could result in long-term damage to employee morale, loyalty and engagement."
Is this a great country or what?
Think the folks in Congress have trouble making up their minds now? Just wait. Nothing gets politicians procrastinatin' and prevaricatin' like the NCAA tournament.
Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia dispatched at least one representative into the 68-team field that began play Tuesday night. California topped the list with five, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas boasted four each, six others had three and Indiana -- a.k.a, the "heartland of hoops" -- had zero.
Generally speaking, elected officials from states with more than one entrant fear voters so much they'd rather talk about raising taxes than which school they're backing. They make picking between them sound like "Sophie's Choice."
That made Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow thumbing her nose at the maize-and-blue recently seem refreshing.
"Oh, Michigan State! Michigan State," she gushed during a groundbreaking ceremony at the university Monday.
"I have to tell you, after yesterday," Stabenow added, referring to the Spartans' win over state rival Michigan in the Big Ten championship game, "we are back. We've got the full team going, Coach (Tom) Izzo is primed and ready and I think we'll take it all."
Just to rub it in, she unveiled the little rhinestone number -- courtesy of MSU Today alumni magazine -- pictured here: http://bit.ly/1eiqiFK
Stabenow received both her undergraduate and graduate (magna cum laude) degrees from Michigan State, so while she might need those Democratic votes over in Ann Arbor someday, it won't be until 2018 at the earliest.
Even then, Stabenow barely cracks the "how-to-alienate-alumni" list. Since-retired North Carolina Sen. (and UNC alum) Brad Miller locked up the top spot in 2012 when he told BracketRacket: "I have said very publicly that if Duke was playing against the Taliban, then I'd have to pull for the Taliban."
DON'T I KNOW YOU FROM SOMEWHERE?
Speaking of "Sophie's Choice," a Pennsylvania high school coaching legend named John Miller could be facing one come early April.
That's when Miller's sons -- Sean, who coaches No. 1 West seed Arizona; and younger brother Archie, who coaches No. 11th South seed Dayton -- could meet in the Final Four. It's a longshot, sure, especially since the Flyers only got off the bubble and into the bracket after winning nine of their last 10 games.
Then again, what were the odds that brothers from a tiny town in western Pennsylvania would wind up coaching in the same tournament? (Short answer: Who knows? The Beaver County (Pa.) Times said it was believed to be the first time that's happened, but added such record-keeping at the NCAA was "sketchy.")
"Sean, you kind of always figured he was going to be a coach. Archie always said he wasn't going to coach," John Miller, who won four state titles and more than 650 games before retiring from Blackhawk High in Beaver Falls, told the newspaper. "It was only three or four days after graduation, though, when we talked. He said, 'All my contacts are in basketball, maybe I should try coaching.'"
After a number of stints as an assistant elsewhere, Archie's best contact (and brother) came through with a two-year deal at Arizona.
"No question, being part of the tournament is going to be great for him," Sean said.
John will be on hand Thursday in Buffalo, when Archie makes his NCAA tournament debut against Ohio State and coach Thad Matta, whom both Millers served under as assistants. But he'll have to settle for watching Arizona's opener Friday against Weber State in San Diego on TV. And even if both boys somehow get their teams to Arlington, Texas, on the tourney's final weekend, John, who still coaches a youth team now and then, isn't making any promises.
"This March Madness," he fumed, "is getting in the way of basketball."
DON'T I KNOW YOU FROM SOMEWHERE (Part 2)?
If Johnny Dawkins and Craig Neal were still playing -- instead of coaching -- against each other, there's no doubt which one you'd pick.
The two will be back on opposing benches Friday night, 28 years after they faced off as players. But it looks like Neal has the upper hand now. His No. 7 New Mexico squad will be a slight favorite over Dawkins' No. 10 Stanford when they meet in St. Louis.
The last time they did -- competitively speaking -- was the 1986 ACC tournament title game. Neal, who kicked around basketball's minor leagues for seven seasons, played for Georgia Tech in that one. Dawkins, who was in his senior year at Duke, went on to win the game and become the ACC tourney MVP in 1986, as well as Duke's career scoring leader until 2006.
Small wonder the Cardinal coach was happy to reminisce with AP's Janie McCauley.
"He was younger than I was, so it was a little different," Dawkins recalled. "We played in a great game. ... It was an amazing environment."
After a nine-year NBA career, the coaching racket hasn't gone quite as smoothly. Stanford finally made the tourney in Dawkins' sixth season there, amid talk that his job depended on it.
STAT OF THE DAY
From 2005 through 2009, a No. 1 seed was like an invitation to the Sweet 16. During that stretch all 20 top seeds got there. More recently, though, the big dogs haven't been quite as lucky, according to research by STATS. One No. 1 has been eliminated in the first weekend three of the last four years. The mighty who fell: Kansas in 2010 (to Northern Iowa), Pittsburgh in 2011 (to Butler) and Gonzaga in 2013 (to Wichita State).
But if it's any consolation, Butler and Wichita State wound up riding those upsets all the way to the Final Four.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
"She'll probably be in tears, so that will be good." -- Peter Hooley, one of four Australians who play for the University of Albany, about how his mother and 20 other family members who got up at 3 a.m. to watch the game back home would react to the Great Danes' win over Mount St. Mary's.
At Dayton, Ohio
Albany (N.Y.) 71, Mount St. Mary's 64
N.C. State 74, Xavier 59
Cal Poly (13-19) vs. Texas Southern (19-14), 6:40 p.m.
Iowa (20-12) vs. Tennessee (21-12), 30 minutes following