Anyone can fill out a March Madness bracket. That's the appeal of the whole thing, really: you don't need to follow along with the college basketball season in order to enter an office bracket pool or fill one out online or compete against your friends. That works for someone like me, whose knowledge of college basketball is limited to knowing Marcus Camby played for UMass during my childhood, and that if I don't root for Ohio State my fiancé's family might receive me less warmly.
We can get far more oblivious as to the NCAA's goings on, however. We could ask cats -- as in, feline house pets -- what they think of March Madness 2014, and see what kind of bracket that gets us. No, I didn't ask them with words, nor do I believe my cats are magical beings with predictive powers -- everyone knows only octopus can do that. Instead, I had them vote with their stomachs, and setup a treat-based bracket for them to, well, consume, rather than fill out.
This is Kitty Sanchez.
You might remember her from her predictions for the 2013 MLB season. As a 10-year-old cat, she's the wily veteran in this situation, though, it is her first foray into both the college ranks and basketball. She was joined in filling out a bracket by the one-year-old Winifred Burkle, otherwise known as Fred.
I split the bracket down the middle, with Kitty handling the South and East regions, while Fred took on the West and Midwest. Don't worry, I checked the treats' labels before starting: both Kitty and Fred were under their daily intake for treats for their respective weights by the end of this. At the least, this means the NCAA can't sanction my cats for their participation in this bracket, because they did things the right way.
To get the cats to pick winners for each match-up, one treat was placed on each of the two teams on a printed out SB Nation bracket. Each region was its own page so the cats had some room to work with, and the treats weren't too squashed together and/or indistinguishable to our hungry participants.
Kitty was up first with the second round of the South region, where No. 1 seed Florida was set to take on Albany (whom Kitty had selected earlier, as the play-in was our test round for the cats and this experiment). This was a crucial moment for both Kitty and this entire affair, as picking between a No. 1 and a No. 16 correctly would show whether she had enough of a grasp of the situation to get the little things right, or if she was about to set the tone for one screwy bracket.
Luckily, she went Florida, and we were off. Kitty also picked No. 9 Pittsburgh over No. 8 Colorado and took No. 5 VCU over no. 12 SF Austin. Her first major upset came with No. 13 Tulsa felling No. 4 UCLA, and in the Battle for Ohio, No. 6 Ohio State triumphed over No. 11 Dayton. Last, No. 10 Stanford defeated No. 7 New Mexico, and in her most significant upset, No. 15 Eastern Kentucky took out No. 2 Kansas. Bold bracketing, Kitty Sanchez.
Pittsburgh would go on to defeat Florida, giving us our first ousting of a No. 1 seed, and even more reason for our master chef Spilly to love cats. VCU took down Tulsa, ending their story before they could overcome much of anything. Ohio State slipped past Syracuse, while Eastern Kentucky made it out of the third round by downing Stanford.
In the regional semi-finals, VCU thanked Pittsburgh for taking out Florida by downing Pitt, while Eastern Kentucky continued their improbable, treat-fueled dream by sending The Ohio State back to The Ohio. The South's Final Four representative was set when Kitty, after much thought, picked No. 5 VCU to topple Eastern Kentucky, ending their phenomenal, albeit brief, hypothetical run.
Kitty Sanchez wasn't done yet. She had to get through the entire East before yielding the floor to Winifred and her appetite. Once again, Kitty selected a No. 1 to get out of the first round, with Virginia knocking Coastal Carolina off. No. 8 Memphis would oust George Washington, with No. 5 Cincinnati slipping past No. 12 Harvard. The East's first major upset came when No. 4 Michigan State fell at the hands of No. 13 Delaware, and after a return to normalcy with No. 6 North Carolina taking out Providence, Kitty went upset again and knocked No. 3 Iowa State off the map in favor of No. 14 NC Central. UConn, at No. 7, would advance past St. Joseph's, and No. 2 seed Villanova took care of business against Milwaukee.
The third round of the East was book-ended by chaos, with both No. 1 Virginia and No. 2 Villanova losing to Memphis and UConn, respectively. Cincinnati would advance against Delaware, however, with North Carolina moving on past NC Central.
In the regional semi-finals, Cincinnati defeated Memphis, while UConn beat out North Carolina to setup the regional finals. UConn improbably came out ahead here, thanks in no small part to Kitty's destruction of nearly ever major seed on the board beforehand. Kitty Sanchez's half of the Final Four was set.
Now it was Fred's turn to finish the job on her side of the bracket. Her bracket was, on the whole, far more favorite-heavy than Kitty's. No. 1 Arizona went over No. 16 Weber State, and No. 8 Gonzaga advanced in the first round. No. 5 Oklahoma took down North Dakota State, No. 4 San Diego State advanced against New Mexico State, and No. 6 Baylor took down No. 11 Nebraska. It was starting to look like she was all favorites, all the time, but then No. 14 Louisiana was her selection over No. 3 Creighton, and No. 10 BYU defeated No. 7 Oregon. The budding trend stopped abruptly with No. 2 Wisconsin taking care of business against American.
As you can see, Fred's stomach led her to No. 1 Arizona against No. 6 Baylor in the regional finals, giving us our first chance for a No. 1 seed in the Final Four, as well as just our second No. 1 to qualify for the Sweet Sixteen. At the moment of truth, Winifred Burkle selected...
...No. 1 seed Arizona, guaranteeing the presence of at least one of the four top seeds in the Final Four.
The Midwest required significant play-in time, since three of the four play-in seeds were located here. Cal Poly (16), Xavier (12), and Tennessee (11) made it per Fred's treat tasting, but all three lost to No. 1 Wichita State, No. 5 Saint Louis, and No. 6 UMass, respectively. At least the cat found you appetizing once, y'all.
Finishing off this initial round was all favorites over underdogs, except for in one instance. No. 8 Kentucky over Kansas State, No. 4 Louisville over Manhattan, and No. 3 Duke over Mercer all fit the bill, but No. 15 Wofford took down No. 2 seed Michigan. I can only assume this is due to the cat toys my fiancé's Ohio-dwelling family purchased for Winifred this past Christmas. There will be an NCAA investigation into this matter.
No. 1 Wichita State took down Kentucky, followed by No. 4 Louisville defeating Saint Louis. UMass advanced against Duke in a 6 vs. 3 match-up, while Texas did what Michigan could not and moved on against Wofford. Wichita State would make it to the Elite Eight, giving us our third No. 1 seed there, while UMass would join them. This was Fred's moment to do something bold, and put yet another non-1 seed into the Final Four. In the end, though, she played it safe, and UMass fell, setting up our felines' Final Four.
At this point, Kitty was full, disinterested, or both, and as you can see above, Winifred Burkle was raring to keep on picking. Or eating. Same thing, honestly. So, the decision for which of the two should get to pick the National Champion was made for us thanks to Fred's youthful exuberance.
No. 5 VCU was set to take on No. 7 UConn in the South vs. East portion of the Final Four, while No. 1s Arizona and Wichita State clashed in West vs. Midwest. To keep things fair given Fred's positioning on the floor, the bracket page was flipped so that both selections were an equal distance from her, and she could pick the school/treat on her left or right to advance them, like so:
This is Fred selecting UConn over VCU, putting them in the National Championship. Either way, they would be set to face a No. 1 thanks to Fred's earlier bracketing, and that No. 1 would be Arizona.
This was it. Fred's love of No. 1 seeds against Kitty's earlier bracket chaos, in which seeding meant very little. Would Fred stick with what got her to this point, or was it time for a swerve?
It's hard to see given where she put her head, but check the way her neck cranes as she chews. Swerve it is! According to these cats, UConn is your soon-to-be-crowned National Champion. Prepare your brackets and bets accordingly.