I picked Duke.
Of course I picked Duke.
When you’re 7 years old and Grant Hill is your very first favorite basketball player and the Blue Devils are less than a year removed from Christian Laettner’s epic buzzer beater, you pick Duke.
When you’re in third grade, you don’t know yet that you’ve picked the Yankees of college basketball as your favorite team. You just roll with it.
And so, in 1993, I picked Duke to win it all.
I know this because my dad still has a binder with my brackets in it. My first one was filled out in 1993, months before I turned 9 years old.
I can tell you every team I picked through the year 2000, which would have been my sophomore year of high school. Unfortunately, even though I’ve continued to fill out brackets both online and as a hard copy since 2000, they never made it into the binder. My guess is when you get to those teenage years, sitting around the kitchen table with your dad, rifling through multiple newspapers attempting to gain some sort of edge on the rest of the bracket pickers isn’t considered cool anymore.
Fortunately, I’ve at least got the history of my first eight years of brackets—the formative years, as you might say.
I looked back at them in the last couple days as I’ve coped with a March without the madness, and here’s what I learned: I picked Duke. A lot.
Five of the first eight years, I picked Duke to win it all. Having won the national championship in 1991 and 1992, you would’ve thought maybe things would’ve worked out one of those times.
Not so much.
In 1993, North Carolina beat Michigan. The Tar Heels? It’s a wonder I didn’t just give up on college basketball right then and there.
When I picked Duke in 1994, I almost had it. The second-seeded Blue Devils—who I had pegged to beat Louisville in the title game—lost to top-seeded Arkansas in the championship.
I didn’t pick Duke in 1995. Probably only because it wasn’t an option. That’s the year Coach K had to take a leave, and the Blue Devils finished under .500.
Under .500? That means I couldn’t even take Duke in my NIT bracket. Yes, the binder has my NIT picks, and brackets from the WIAA boys basketball tournament from 1993-2000, as well.
If you want to see a real binder, though, you’ve got to take a look at my dad’s. He’s got NCAA, NIT and WIAA brackets from 1981-2002.
Anyway, in 1995, I had Kansas beating Connecticut in the final. UCLA beat Arkansas.
I didn’t immediately jump back on the Duke train in 1996, though just to show my love, I did have the eighth-seeded Blue Devils winning two games. Love is blind, and I was learning that at a young age. Duke lost in the first round to Eastern Michigan.
The sting of all that was dulled a couple weeks later, though. I had picked Kentucky over Kansas. Kentucky won it all, beating Syracuse. My first-ever correctly chosen national champion. I was 11.
I got real brave in 1997. Duke was back up to a No. 2 seed, but I had it losing to top-seeded Kansas, my pick as national champion. My binder tells me Duke lost to 10th-seeded Providence in the second round and the Jayhawks couldn’t even make it out of the Sweet 16.
Duke, Kansas and Kentucky. Apparently I was all about the bluebloods. Please don’t hold it against me.
From 1998 to 2000, I was fully back on board the Duke train. I could spell Krzyzewski and Wojciechowski by heart. I am virtually certain I cried when UConn beat the Blue Devils in the national championship in ’99.
It’s embarrassing, but I’m willing to put it out there during these uncertain times.
If we were lucky and this was a normal year, we’d still be riding an emotional roller coaster into the second week of brackets right now.
If we weren’t so lucky, we’d have crumpled up our original brackets and gone in search of someone running a Sweet 16 contest.
Anyone keeping a binder of brackets will be missing one from 2020. After conference tournaments were canceled as the threat of the coronavirus was just starting to be realized, the NCAA never put out a bracket this March.
That makes it pretty hard to say who you would have picked to win it all.
I know this: I wouldn’t have picked Duke. So this probably would have been the sixth time the Blue Devils won it all.
Eric Schmoldt is the sports editor of The Gazette. Reach him at eschmoldt@ gazettextra.com.