Ages ago in Internet time -- in the long, long ago of 2014 -- a couple of cats filled out a March Madness bracket. In one of the most ridiculous tournament years in memory, where favorites continually fell to underdogs, the cats somehow pulled it out by correctly identifying a No. 7 seed, the University of Connecticut, as the winner of the whole thing.
It might have seemed like a joke, but you didn't see any of the experts picking UConn, and we received emails -- yes, multiple! -- from readers who used the cats' predictions and won their bracket pools and sometimes even dollars because of them. Some winners even went so far as to donate a portion of their winnings to local cat shelters, an act that's eternally appreciated by this author.
This time around? It's going to take a miracle for any cat shelters to see any amount of winnings. My cats are either incomprehensible geniuses or they've lost their touch celebrating their victory the last couple of years. Let's dive into this mess together.
Don't worry, there will be photos of cats. And also a puppy, but you'll have to wait for that part.
This is Winifred Burkle, though, you can just call her Fred. She's the cat who picked UConn in the 2014 finals, so we've got some continuity here. This is her younger brother, Ezio Auditore, who we adopted last October...
...and whose behavior you can likely figure out if you're familiar with his namesake.
Whether you're familiar with how this works or not, though, it's pretty simple to explain. Brackets are printed out. Treats are then placed on each match-up in the bracket, one at a time, and whichever team has their treat eaten by a cat advances. This has been done enough times now to know there isn't a pattern to which treat the cats will go for depending on which direction our prognosticators are coming from, or which treat is closest, or anything like that. It's either random or purposeful, and whether the cats know what they're doing or are just very adorable doesn't matter much for bracketing purposes.
Each region is its own sheet of paper, which helps keep things legible and also makes sure there is some separation between the treats. You know, so our cats have some time to think things over and make the call they mean to.
Things actually started out pretty alright, with No. 1 seed Kansas taking down No. 16 seed Austin Peay. No. 8 Colorado slipped by No. 9 Connecticut, and No. 5 Maryland took down S. Dakota State. Our first upset came when No. 4 California failed to entice Fred against No. 13 Hawaii, but things got back on track for the favorites with Arizona (No. 6), Miami (3), and Iowa (7) advancing next.
No such luck for No. 2 Villanova, though, as Fred just preferred UNC Asheville.
In the second round, Fred went with Kansas over Colorado, and an upset of Arizona over Miami. She also went with Hawaii over Maryland and UNC Asheville over Iowa, so yes, there sure is a No. 13 and a No. 15 in Fred's Regional Semifinals down south. You'll never guess what happens next:
You know what, it's not random. That cat is sassing the hell out of us in that photo and by predicting No. 13 Hawaii to face No. 15 UNC Asheville in the Regional Finals. This guarantees that a back-end seed is in the Final Four, and Fred went with Hawaii for those honors.
Don't get me wrong, it'll be amazing if this happens. Just feels like Fred is messing with us after her early career success, though.
Fred had one more region to play with, and that one also started out looking pretty normal. No. 1 Oregon over whichever of the First Four teams made it out -- these predictions were made before those games were played, but thankfully, the cats didn't pick any of those teams anyway. Then there was No. 9 Cincinnati over No. 8 St. Joseph's, No. 5 Baylor over No. 12 Yale, and No. 6 Texas over 11th-seeded Northern Iowa. Normal!
Then things start to get a little weird: UNC Wilmington, at No. 13, over Duke. No. 14 Green Bay toppling third-seeded Texas A&M. Seeing seventh-seeded Oregon State lose to No. 10 VCU isn't so bad, but, because she apparently has a thing for No. 15 seeds this time around, there was also Cal State Bakersfield over No. 2 Oklahoma.
We quickly go from weird to Fred just burning this whole thing down, with Cincinnati taking down the West's top seed, Oregon, followed by UNC Wilmington over Baylor, Green Bay over Texas, and Cal St. Bakersfield over VCU. If you're keeping score at home, that's a Regional Semifinals where the top seed is a 9. Then, again, we get a 13 against a 15 in the Regional Finals, and just so she wasn't being too repetitive, this time, Fred picked the 15.
To be fair to her tastes, No. 13 Hawaii vs. No 15. Cal St. Bakersfield would be the greatest left side of a Final Four ever.
Let's see if Ezio can do any better. Or, at least more realistic. His first round featured just one upset, so that's an auspicious start to things: North Carolina, Providence, Indiana, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, and Xavier all advanced here, with 14th-seeded Stephen F. Austin University scoring the upset over No. 3 West Virginia.
Things get a little more bracket-ruining from then, but not to the point Fred managed. No. 9 Providence downs the region's top seed, North Carolina. No. 5 Indiana advances over No. 4 Kentucky. Notre Dame ended the dream of Stephen F. Austin, and No. 2 Xavier took care of Wisconsin.
Ezio went with Indiana over Providence in the Regional Semis, as well as Notre Dame over Xavier. So, you have an improbable Regional Finals, but again, it would be fun to see No. 6 Notre Dame make it to the Final Four. Not to mention that they are the highest-ranked seed we've had picked for the Final Four to this point.
Spoiler: they are the highest seed picked for the Final Four.
If you would like to see photographic evidence of the moment I said, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" to my cat, here it is:
That's Ezio picking No. 16 seed Hampton over Virginia. The Midwest is in disarray after one prediction. Texas Tech (8), Purdue (5), Utah (3), and Dayton (7) managed to survive the upset purge, but No. 2 Michigan State and No. 4. Iowa State joined Virginia on the sidelines for the rest of the tournament. So, we've got a second round where the highest seed is a four, and the No. 16 and No. 15 are still kicking.
Texas Tech would mercifully get the nod over Hampton, and Dayton would take down Middle Tennessee, putting an end to those shenanigans before they could make it to the semis. Purdue and No. 11 Gonzaga joined those two in the Regional Semis, with Purdue advancing against Texas Tech and Dayton putting down Gonzaga.
No matter what happened here, Notre Dame was going to be the top-seeded team in this cat-picked Final Four. Dayton ended up seeing its treat eaten instead of Gonzaga's, though, so at least Ezio managed to produce two single-digit seeds on his side of the bracket.
Here's a photo of the Final Four and the bracket thus far, before anything else can go wrong with it. It's also only uploading upside down, which is pretty fitting tbh.
You already know that Fred, in the throes of chaos, is going to choose Cal St. Bakersfield over Hawaii. They're seeded 15th -- there was never another choice for her. After her selection, she then proceeded to attack the backdrop we setup for these photos.
She is beyond our help.
Ezio also went with the upset, with No. 7 Dayton over No. 6 Notre Dame. We sure do have a Cal St. Bakersfield vs. Dayton March Madness 2016 Finals prediction right here, yup.
Luckily, Fred has had the keys taken away from her, and they've been handed to Brian Floyd and his goldendoodle puppy for the Finals. As an added bonus, Aspen the Puppy, just shy of nine weeks old, made her selection on video. The flannel toy represents Cal St. Bakersfield, and the dinosaur is Dayton.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME ASPEN COME ON.
You know what, just use this bracket. Pick Cal St. Bakersfield to win it all. You're not going to win your bracket anyway, so you might as well just be the one who wins when the team literally nobody but cats and a puppy thought would win it all does just that. Plus, are you going to go against what super adorable cats and a good dog suggest?