Final Impressions

Four ways to predict the Final Four

Written by James Combs

A new system may keep your bracket from busting.

Illustration: Megan Mericle


As you’re reading this, we’re about a month away from March Madness. But I’m actually writing this in late October before the official start of the college basketball season. Therefore, I haven’t seen any teams play. I don’t need to, really. I have formulated an entirely new system for making my NCAA Tournament picks by pushing logic aside and introducing fun ways to predict the Final Four. 

Sure, I could tell you that Michigan State returns an experienced group of players from its 2019 Final Four team. That’s boring and would undoubtedly earn me scorn from my managing editor. He’s a University of Michigan grad. While talking sports with him, I avoid using nasty words like Spartans, Buckeyes and Fighting Irish.  

Anyway, I am going to use each of these methods to predict this year’s Final Four.

Think fun vacation 

This method allows us to eliminate some traditional heavyweights right off the bat. Few families choose the plains of Kansas, the cornfields of Indiana or the hollers of Kentucky as their ideal getaway destinations. 

If you’re a fan of surfing and sunshine, UCLA, USC and Miami are obvious picks. Maybe tall, majestic mountain peaks intrigue you. If so, consider advancing Colorado or Tennessee into the Final Four. For fans who love visiting a city filled with bourbon and blues, it would be criminal not to pick Memphis. And if you cannot stay away from slot machines, then you can take a gamble on UNLV. 

Go by team nicknames

Cats have nine lives, so picking a team with a feline-related nickname may be wise. You can choose the Tigers, a nickname shared by Auburn, Clemson, Louisiana State, Memphis and Missouri. Or you can choose the Wildcats of Northwestern, Kentucky, Arizona and Villanova. Weather lovers might opt for the Miami Hurricanes and Iowa State Cyclones, while bird lovers can pick the Creighton Bluejays and Louisville Cardinals. Some teams have nicknames that sound cool even if you don’t know what they mean: the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, the Saint Louis Billikens, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and, my personal favorite, the University of California at Santa Cruz Banana Slugs. 

Coolest celebrity 

By promoting products and setting different trends, celebrities have a tremendous influence on our society. They might as well influence our NCAA Tournament bracket, too. Celebrity sports fans run the gamut, from beautiful women like Kate Upton (Michigan) and Ashley Judd (Kentucky) to famous singers like Katy Perry (Ole Miss) and Garth Brooks (Oklahoma State) to comedians like Will Ferrell (Southern California) and Larry the Cable Guy (Nebraska). Find out if your favorite celebrity is a college basketball fan and advance that team to the Final Four.

Go political

Texas vs. Illinois. Florida vs. California. Georgia vs. Washington. Arkansas vs. Minnesota. What do these matchups have in common? They pit teams from red states against teams from blue states. Yes, some people look at everything through a political lens. If you cannot stand those backward conservatives or smug, uppity liberals, then this may be the method for you.  

There you have it. I hope this new methodology proves successful. But remember, the odds of picking a perfect bracket are on par with scoring a date with Kate Upton, figuring out what a Banana Slug is or my managing editor openly rooting for Michigan State. 

About the author

James Combs

Akers Media Group's James Combs has been a staff writer for several local publications since August 2000. He has had the privilege of interviewing some of Lake County’s many fascinating residents—from innovative business owners to heroic war veterans—and bringing their stories to life. A resident of Lake County since 1986, James recently embarked on a journey to lead a healthier lifestyle. He has lost 60 pounds and walks nearly five miles a day. In his spare time, he enjoys target shooting, skeet shooting and watching his beloved Kentucky Wildcats!

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