When the leaves ripen red, birds migrate south across the country. When branches become bare, bears go into hibernation.
Spring brings the birds back in, and Westwood native Jake Liker feels the pull of seasonal rhythms to the vain search for perfection. He opens a spreadsheet and reaches out to a tiny legion of a few hundred college basketball obsessives trying to predict the future through months of research.
This is “Bracketology,” the niche step before March Madness: try to guess the seeding of each team in the NCAA basketball tournament. Liker was one of 229 brackets published in 2023 on a website called “The Bracket Project‘, a charming meeting place for the industry professional and humble actuary to compete for their forecasts.
It’s an exercise in futility, said six-year-old veterinarian David Letcka. Study any data you want, but at the end of the day, this practice is subject to human opinion. Pure luck. And usually, Liker says, Selection Sunday is like a disappointing broadcast of “Deal or No Deal” — the bracketologists left feeling like they’d opened the $500,000 case and yelled four-letter words at the TV.
“I would always joke … ‘this thing I do that keeps me sane,'” Liker said. “Or just the right amount of madness.”
So Liker, an NYU law student who was home for spring break, had the lowest hopes as he sat in his living room on Sunday. But once he started comparing the seedings to his bracket, which was submitted 13 minutes before the show started, he turned to his parents in confidence.
“The Gaels of Iona!” he announced.
“At 13thth Sami, the Gaels of Iona”, Greg Gumbel reported back from the television.
And it only. Held. Event.
Liker stayed up until the sun came up again, scrolling through social media. No one had come close to his 382 score. At 4:47 a.m., bracketologist Joe Cook-Shugart tweeted on the Bracketology corner of College Basketball Twitter, “Looks like someone broke the 380 mark this year. Congratulations.”
Liker read that and it hit him. He was that someone. He has broken the barrier. A barrier that no one — not ESPN, not Athletic, not CBS Sports — had ever touched.
Suddenly, an anxious 24-year-old boy trying to find his place in the world was the world’s best bracketologist.
“That’s when I realized,” Liker said, “that I might have done something special.”
He paused for a split second. smiled.
“Special,” he added, “is a relative term.”
Relatively so, in that bracketology is ultimately a tiny practice. Much smaller than your $10 office pool, pick-the-horned-frogs-cause-this-is-the-fun March Madness mayhem.
However, it is “both an art and a science,” as Cook-Shugart put it. Careful research is necessary to accurately project seeding decisions. Bracketology, a concept widely believed to have been founded by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, is a passion largely shared by three groups: professionals who seek out fans for reliable predictions, bloggers who do it for fun, and random guys who have developed a habit.
Liker is somewhere between groups two and three. Like everyone else in these groups, he speaks of Bracketology as a toxic crush—with love, with agony, with an underlying knowledge of the human condition that attracts frustrating quests for the unattainable.
And yet 229 people are fully invested.
“Why do people care about anything in sports?” said Kevin Sweeney, a college basketball writer at Sports Illustrated, when asked why people care about bracketology. “It’s marginally trivial, but it’s something you find community in.”
And Liker’s performance resonated throughout the Bracketology community: all 67 teams were picked correctly and 57 were seeded perfectly. Never achieved before in more than 15 years.
“Believe it from a retired bracketologist, this is insanely hard to do,” Athletic’s Stewart Mandel quoted as saying of the win announcement.
Liker grew up a UCLA basketball fan and joked that throughout college he only came home for spring break to watch the March Madness games with family. In high school, he began to wonder if there was a formula for filling in the perfect bracket.
It doesn’t. It’s not called March Madness for nothing, he noted. But what if, Liker wondered, there was a way to find out what that is begin what did said madness look like?
Almost every year, Liker worked six hours every Monday for six weeks leading up to Selection Sunday, copying data from 95 teams into painstaking spreadsheets.
“He’s as meticulous as any person I’ve ever met,” said Sweeney, who worked with Liker at Northwestern radio.
His odd habit, Liker claimed, had developed to the point where he could recite the profile of most March Madness hopefuls. let’s bite
State of Iowa? 10-11 in Quad 1 (high-profile games as determined by the NCAA) and 19-13 overall, he replied. Both correct.
USC? Three Quad 1 wins and 50 exactlyth in net rating he replied. Both correct.
gonzaga? A quad 3 loss – you get the point.
“Nobody’s ever done that to me before,” Liker laughed while being quizzed. “And now I realize how crazy that is.”
In the days since, Liker has refreshed the bracket matrix Countless times in the standings and he still felt a magical spark when he saw his name at the top.
“I was like, ‘What the hell did I just do?'” Liker said.
For months at law school, he’s felt like a fish out of water among those who have their lives planned out. It was tough and different, and a “real slap in the face,” as he put it, a lively voice that lowered softly.
So this mount was nice. A hobby done better than him tweetedthan anyone had pursued this hobby before.
“Just another good reminder for me and my self-doubt that maybe I’ll be okay,” Liker said. “And I know what I’m doing.”
Source : www.latimes.com