THE SPORTS DOCTOR- Bracket creep: Is it gut reaction, bias, or insecurity?

Ty Lawson.

Since my March 5 column, I've got nothing to say about Dave Leitao's dismal record– or about his March 16 "resignation."

But stop the presses– Ty Lawson has turf toe! Does this spell disaster for UNC? Could a torn joint capsule cost the Tar Heels a shot at the national championship? Will the buzzards gorge on the bones of Marquette or fill up on Oklahoma's Blake Griffin? The mind reels.

It's that time again, the time when all of America's spare money and brainpower is funneled away from invention and industry and into Cinderella stories and sure things. According to the gambling site, an estimated 40 million people will wager over $12 billion on NCAA brackets this year. That averages out to $300 per bet, which is a little steep, but even if your wager is only $10, you've got a lot of thinking to do.

With so many people and so much money in the mix, finding the edge to win the office pool is a daunting task. It's a little late now to take expert advice into consideration, but all the advice in the world isn't worth a hill of beans when it comes to brackets anyway. If you relied on bias and instinct when picking your Sweet Sixteen, you're far from alone.

The Wall Street Journal's Dan Shanoff identifies five stages of bracket-picking: pre-existing bias, gut reaction, second-guessing, paralyzing insecurity, and resignation. Do you recognize yourself in Shanoff's five-step program? It's okay, you can admit it; I surely have.

I usually like to keep my bracket a secret, because who needs to more embarrassment, right? This year, in the spirit of goodwill and solidarity, I'll chance the humiliation and share a few of my picks and the dubious reasoning behind them.*

In the first round, I have VCU over UCLA, not because Sports Illustrated makes the same choice, but because when Virginia faces off against California, I'm not giving the West Coast the time of day. So what if UCLA is seeded higher than VCU? I have a conscience.

The same is true for my pick of Maryland over California. I'm no fan of the Terps, but if I were a rapper, undoubtedly I'd participate in the East Coast/West Coast throwdown.

But my bias only extends so far. I have both VCU and Maryland losing in the second round, to Villanova and Memphis respectively. I may be loyal, but I'm not stupid. Even though VCU is being touted as the team with the most potential to upset, Villanova usually does pretty well, and I don't think this year is any exception.

Lucky for me, I don't have to rely on my hatred of Boston College to justify their being ousted early. I swallowed my revulsion and predicted they'd emerge victorious over USC in the first round, but I'm sure BC will fall to Michigan State in the second. When it comes to Michigan State, I'm ambivalent, so in the third round–

Will they lose to West Virginia? Again, setting aside my aversion for the Mountaineers, I have them steamrolling Dayton in the first round and upsetting Kansas in the second. Why the upset? Better the enemy you know, that's my philosophy. West Virginia rarely misses an opportunity to humiliate Virginia schools, so why should Kansas be any different? I don't have WVU getting its comeuppance until the third round, when I'm sure the Big Ten will finally produce.

Cutting to the chase, I have Pitt's upending UNC in the Final Four and facing off against Louisville. Of course I'm second-guessing those choices and wondering if I should have UConn in the final– or maybe even Memphis. Will Duke be able to pull it out of the fire and embarrass everyone? Or will Oklahoma prove everyone wrong? The old insecurity is already kicking in, and I'm not even finished second-guessing myself yet. 

So my secret is out, and lucky for everyone else who fills out a bracket, there's always someone who does a little worse. I don't anticipate winning any pools, but I live in the hope that I haven't embarrassed myself too badly, and years of rooting for UVA has taught me that avoiding total humiliation is better than nothing.

*Betting on college basketball is illegal, so any inference that The Sports Doctor contributed to an office pool is for illustration only. Honest.