James Burns: David nearly picked perfect NCAA bracket

04/10/2009 2:28 AM

04/10/2009 2:31 AM

David Marvulli turned to his girlfriend Natalie Wood, and without fear of rejection or embarrassment, popped the question.

"Baby," David said, grabbing Natalie's attention.

"Would you..."

Natalie's ears perked up, like a lion in the brush.

"Would you...

"Would you take Arizona over Utah? And what about Michigan-Clemson? Michigan, yeah?"

Her answers made for a beautiful marriage -- of man and bracket, of basketball junkie and March Madness.

With Natalie's wisdom of the tricky 10-7 matchups and a few other home-grown guesses, David's bracket soared to heights few in this world ever reach.

First place.

David didn't just win a run-of-the-mill office challenge, either.

No, no, no.

He won one of those big-boy contests on Facebook, finishing tied for first with four others, miles ahead of the other 19,996 entrants.

His score: 181 points out of a possible 192. He missed 11 freakin' points.

"I had a good March Madness, I'll tell you that much," said David, who also finished in the top 8 of 478,184 total Facebook users who filled out a tournament bracket.

"It wasn't quite what I had expected. If I had known it would turn out like this, I would have put some money down on it."

Alas, there was no prize for his powers of prognostication. No pot o' gold at the end of this rainbow.

Sad, I know.

Just a bracket that he'll eventually frame and hang on his wall.

"Might as well," he says.

To put his feat into perspective, David missed just two games in the second round (Florida State, Wake Forest), and none for the rest of the tournament.

Not a single one.

He was David, and his bracket Goliath.

He was perfect coming out of the Sweet 16, whistling Dixie through the Elite Eight and performing cartwheels after the Final Four.

One for each team.

Once North Carolina put the squeeze on Sparty and all those State fans in the national championship game, David was clicking his Tar Heels down victory lane.

"I've filled out a bracket every year since high school," the former Merced baseball player said. "I've had a couple of good years, but nothing ... nothing like this."

So how did emerge from the pack? What was his formula for success?

Well, he started with the no-brainer, picking North Carolina to win it all.

"Too much talent," said David, the rare bracketeer who follows college basketball from December to March. "Too deep. You knew they were going to win it all."

From there, he moved backwards through his bracket, scribbling in his Final Four, Elite Eight and Sweet 16.

Then he jumped back to the first round, scouring the matchups for his sleeper teams.

All the while, David battled a familiar demon that has haunted the selection process since the dawn of Dickie V: the selfish pick.

Is this the year Duke finally breaks through the Sweet 16? Can Louisville really go wire-to-wire as the No. 1 overall seed?

In this case, David's vice was UCLA.

"I've always, always been a huge fan of UCLA," he said. "They were a 6 seed in a pretty weak bracket.

"There were teams in there that could win, like Pitt and Duke, but they're also the kinds of teams that could lose a big game.

"I wanted to go with UCLA. I really did. But after watching their fall from grace, I knew they wouldn't go far."

Of course, to reach the winner's circle took a bit of luck and happenstance too.

He liked Villanova in the East, but rode the Cats all the way to Detroit because his best friend, Andrew Van Wagner, is in law school out that way.

"What's good for Andrew is good or me," David reasoned.

He knew his friend Ashley Phelps, a former Golden Valley water polo player, loooved Memphis.

So he picked Missouri.

In a rout.

And then there were those 10-7 matchups -- Arizona-Utah, Michigan-Clemson -- and the gift of love bestowed upon him by Natalie.

"I asked her what she thought. If she liked Arizona and Michigan," David said. "She said..."

I do.

James Burns is sports editor of the Sun-Star. He can be reached at jburns@mercedsun-star.com.

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