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The highs, lows and pitfalls of bracketology

I managed to abstain from them for the better part of a decade, but a good friend finally talked me into participating in an NCAA Tournament pool.

It marked the third of computer-based, time-consuming activities I avoided like the plague but gave in to in the last two years.

The first was fantasy football, which was followed by fantasy baseball.

But in my inaugural season of participation, I have come to realize that neither holds a candle to the beast that is “March Madness.”

Like many of you, my last three days have been spent in a combination of jubilation and hair pulling.

I ended the first day at the top of my group of bracketeers by using a system heavily geared toward the favorites, with a few upset picks sprinkled in.

I picked Dayton over West Virginia, Maryland over California, Western Kentucky over Illinois and Michigan over Clemson.

My lone miss? I picked Butler over LSU. Nobody’s perfect.

I slept well Thursday night, with visions of collecting the pool pot dancing in my head.

Friday’s games quickly turned my dreams into nightmares.

My bracket looked pretty good for most of Friday. After all, I picked Arizona over Utah. But by nightfall, everything unraveled.

I know Ohio State was a No. 8 seed, and the tournament is known for “One Shining Moment” and all that jazz. But any way it’s sliced, the Buckeyes’ 74-72 loss to No. 9 seed Siena was an ugly one for a team that reached the national championship game just a few years ago.

I also picked Tennessee over Oklahoma State, Southern Cal over Boston College and — against the better judgment of my paper bracket — Florida State over Wisconsin.

Let that be a lesson. Always, always trust your original gut instinct.

But those games were a drop in the bucket compared to Wake Forest’s upset. Really, what happened there? Cleveland State?

That one left me speechless and shy one team for two rounds.

Between days one and two, I went from first to fourth place. Certainly, not as bad as my peers, friends and many of you may have done, but in my head, it was a nosedive.

Saturday brought another mixed bag. Sans Wake Forest, I was right on five of seven picks. Why I picked Texas over Duke, I don’t know. I’ve never been a big fan of the Blue Devils, and wanted to see them go down.

On the other hand, Washington left me almost as disappointed as the Demon Deacons had a day earlier.

After three days of following the tournament like a stalker hunting its prey, I dropped from first to fourth, made a brief return to second and, as of press time, have ninth place locked up.

What have I learned? I learned what all the fuss is about. I’ve learned about the grey hairs it can cause. I am no longer an advocate of the tournament’s Cinderella drawing card.

That has probably been my biggest weakness. I love seeing the underdog pull off the upset and banked on it happening more often that it actually did.

At the same time that my tournament outlook has changed, I also have a deeper appreciation for the amount of skill and luck necessary to win one of these.

It probably won’t happen this year, but for better or worse, I will return for another shot in 2010.

So will several jilted Cinderellas.