Let’s not mince words here: your bracket is awful. Sure, you thought you were hot stuff during the the few days between Selection Sunday and the first weekend of games, then the balls went up, the carnage began and your bracket ended up in shambles by sundown of the first day of games.
Be honest with yourself, you poured over KenPom.com, scoured the brackets of ESPN personalities such as Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale for some edge — any edge — to win your office pool and earn bragging rights. You of course had a 12-5 upset, because any shrewd bracketoligist knows one of those happens every year. You may have even gotten crazy and picked a 15 over a 2 because you know as well as anyone that in the last two tournaments three of those upsets have happened.
You love college basketball and probably follow it from Midnight Madness until One Shining Moment, but your mother, who picked winners by which team had the cutest mascot is still lapping you in the family pick ‘em contest. Fear not, because I feel your pain as well, but 29-year-old Marc MacLean does not.
He is a civil/research engineer and Florida fan who lives in Panama City and sits tied for third on the ESPN tournament challenge leaderboard with his bracket. Through the first 60 games played in the NCAA tournament (excluding the four First Four games) MacLean has picked 54 correctly, a 90% hit rate that puts him in the 100th percentile in ESPN’s standings. He was perfect in the east region until Michigan St. dropped its Elite Eight contest to UConn, and that is the only Final Four participant he missed on, coming oh-so close to being part of an elite corps that can pick the national semifinalists correctly.
This stat continues to haunt me. Out of 11 millions brackets, 612 got the entire Final Four correct.
— Gracie Blackburn (@Gracie_ESPN) March 31, 2014
It took him about 45 minutes to create the bracket that may earn him a chance to win a $10,000 Best Buy gift card and bragging rights for all time.
“I knew I wanted to pick some upsets and do some things differently than what the majority of people or you know the experts were saying to do,” MacLean said. “After that, it was luck that the upsets that I did pick ended up working out.”
If Florida beats Wisconsin in the national championship game, MacLean will be the winner of ESPN’s contest. The person tied for third with him has Kentucky winning the national title, as does one of the people tied in first place. The other has Wisconsin beating the Gators Monday night in North Texas.
To make his picks as educated as possible, MacLean read articles that gave stats about lower seeds advancing and how many of each seed should be in each of the later rounds. Every year, he does the picks on one bracket with his father as well as one by himself his solo bracket is the one that’s doing so well in 2014.
By the end of the first weekend he “felt like something special was going on,” because all of the wild finishes and questionable end of game calls by referees were swinging in his favor.
As the tournament has gone on, the tweets and the emails have come in from far and wide and he’s gotten correspondence from many people prominent in his life throughout his tournament run, including extended family from all corners of the country. The most important one being the woman who got him started making brackets, his fifth grade teacher, who encouraged her class to fill out brackets back then because her brother in-law was Auburn’s head coach at the time.
“She got our whole fifth grade class to fill out a bracket that year,” MacLean said. “And she had seen in the paper that I had been doing really good with this year’s bracket and she wanted to remind me in case I ended up having some success that she was the one that got me started in it so I thought that was pretty neat.”
Friday night, the nation watched the matchup MacLean said would “make or break” his bracket: Kentucky vs. Louisville. As a loyal Florida fan, picking its biggest basketball rival to go to the Final Four wasn’t easy, but he felt he had to be different than everyone else to stand out in the standings.
“Oh yeah, it hurt me to put em there but I was looking at kinda what the majority of America was picking and it showed the experts and a lot of people really were high on Louisville,” He said. “I tried to figure out at what point I would pick Louisville to get upset, so I knew Kentucky and Louisville played earlier this year with Kentucky winning, and I felt Kentucky was actually playing better basketball towards the end of the year. And every time we played Kentucky it was closer and closer.”
For him it’s not so much rooting for the Wildcats as it is rooting for his own bracket and the picks he made to come to fruition. It’s also given him some extra rooting interest in his beloved Florida Gators.
“I think I’m a die-hard Gator fan so I always root for Florida to win but if it’s even possible I’ll be rooting even harder this year.”