It's Joe Lunardi time. He's the ESPN brainy and brunette Bracketologist we hear from every day from now until Selection Sunday of the Men's NCAA Basketball Tournament. Joe doesn't seem to do much for ESPN the rest of the year. Maybe this is his full time job, a two-week gig, which I would take. He brings science, calculus, and maybe even some basketball insights to his predictions of which 64 teams will be selected to the greatest show in sports, March Madness. Last year, he predicted 63 out of the 66 teams that made the field. This a guy who doesn't get to sit in the austere NCAA meeting at which these teams are selected. He just hangs out and figures out, perhaps via Bill James baseball algorithms, which teams belong in based on a gaggle of esoteric and sometimes disjointed factors such as RPI (whatever this stands for), strength of schedule and wins out of conference.
Although Joe doesn't look like a hoops player, he has a pleasant, midwestern look and demeanor. So I like him. He seems friendly. He's an average Joe, like your typical Joe on your Block, Joe Six-Pack. Except he's got this Bracketology Gig every year. Joe is a ritual. He's like when pitchers and catchers report to major league baseball, when kids go back to school after the summer, an annual ritual embedded in the fabric of American life. Joe is probably a lawyer or statistics major. Maybe a college hoops stud by I doubt it. How did he get this job, anyway? Who is he? I don't know and I don't think anyone cares. He's too irregular a presence in our lives to research this.
Joe brings drama to this process every year with his daily "Last four In, Last Four Out" predictions. This year he's posting these on the ESPN Big Board. You will hear about this every day for the next week as teams on the "bubble" play themselves into an out of the tournament with wins and losses. Joe must drive bubble teams crazy. He tells them how close they are to missing a chance of a lifetime, and how close they are to realizing it. He teases them, cajoles them. "Virginia Tech better win at least one game in the ACC tournament or they'll set a record for the most consecutive years being a bubble team and just missing being selected as one of the Chosen 64." Virginia Tech could be 30 and 0 at this point and Lunardi would still have them on his list of Last Four In at best. It wouldn't seem right any other way.
Joe is our juice for the next week as he is every year for this one week. He is our barometer, thermometer, speedometer, and odometer. He is our candle, our Bible, our short-term consultant. He is Joe Jiffy Lube.
I look forward to Joe this week like I do every year. And in a funny way I look forward to when he's gone until another year goes by and he appears again. There's a familiar and pleasant rhythm to Joe's role in my life that I treasure. He's on my Last Four In List forevermore.