Recalling our best bracket buster

March 20, 2013 

The beauty of the NCAA men's basketball tournament is anybody can be an expert. All you need is a pencil (preferably with a thick eraser), a bracket and a little imagination.

You don't have to watch much college basketball to dominate your office pool. If my past history is any indication, the more basketball you watch the more it may hurt you when it comes time to fill out your bracket.

This will be the 11th year we've asked local high school basketball coaches to submit their brackets to compete against current and former staff members at the Sun-Star.

However, this year there will be one bracket missing.

Every year I'd leave a bracket on the desk of former Sun-Star photographer Marci Stenberg. Marci got a kick out of filling out a bracket and rooting on her teams throughout the tournament. In her words, she thought it was awwwesoooome.

After a couple years of seeing Marci fill her Final Four with Cinderella teams I explained to her how she could use each team's seed as a guide when she filled out a bracket. The teams with the ones, twos and threes next to their name had a greater chance of going far than the teams with the larger numbers next to them.

I can still remember her smile when I told her she actually won the pool two years ago.

As many people know, Marci died in December. It's been three months, but it's still strange to look over at her desk and not see her sitting there.

You'd be hard pressed to find somebody in Merced County that had anything negative to say about Marci. In many ways she was the face of the Sun-Star because she spent so much time out in the community taking pictures.

As a way to honor Marci, I'd like to rename our NCAA pool with our local coaches the Marci Stenberg Bracket Challenge.

Once again, we've asked our local basketball coaches to fill out their brackets.

There is no money on the line. Just bragging rights.

Former Los Banos boys basketball coach Joe Barcellos is the defending champ. He's the only three-time winner of this pool.

If the regular season was any guide, this tournament should be unpredictable.

Being ranked No. 1 in the country this year was almost a curse as the top team seemed to lose week after week.

Louisville earned the top seed in the tournament and seems to be the favorite on the early brackets turned in.

However, I don't think we're going to see a clear-cut favorite like we've seen in the past.

Indiana, Miami, Kansas, Gonzaga and Duke are all popular picks to make deep runs.

This is one tournament where the seed doesn't really matter.

My pick is Miami.

I really like the Hurricanes' point guard Shane Larkin, who is the son of former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin. Miami is an older team that is big, physical and has plenty of scoring options.

Unlike Marci, I'm still looking for my first win in this pool.

Shawn Jansen is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at 385-2462 or via e-mail at sjansen@mercedsun-star.com.

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