Mike Lemon won his NCAA tournament pool last year. He also won yours, mine, and everyone else's.
Mike is the defending champ of Yahoo! Tourney Pick'em, which gives him Miles Simon/Keith Smart status around here. He earned the $10,000 payday for submitting the best bracket of 2009. Mike's winning entry is pictured below. He correctly predicted 15 of last year's Sweet 16, then called every winner from the regional semis through the championship game. Mike claims to be a 31-year-old account executive who lives a quiet life in Kansas City, but to us he seems like a visitor from the future.
He graciously agreed to a short interview, and he offered up his 2010 Final Four. When you're playing with house money, you apparently don't mind sharing a few tips…
Q: Did you have a strategy when you approached your bracket last year, or were you simply picking games, looking at match-ups? It's no easy trick to win any pool – even a small pool – when you're picking a favorite (like North Carolina in '09).
A: When making the picks for my fantasy bracket, I'm a firm believer that you absolutely must take it game-by-game. It's all about the match-ups, particularly in college basketball. There are just too many variables to rely on a preconceived favorite.
I wish I could attribute my success to skill. However, anyone who has spent any amount of time around competitive athletics would tell you that in some way or another there is always luck involved. All it takes is one off night or lucky shot and your entire bracket is down the drain…maybe even a bad call. But the officials are scrutinized enough as is so we'll leave them alone for now.
Q: Are you a college hoops junkie or more of a casual fan? From the looks of your Yahoo! fantasy profile, it appears you're a Missouri guy. And yet you profited by picking against them.
A: College basketball has definitely risen to the top in a long list of my favorite sports to watch. I would have to say it has taken over second place, behind only the NFL. Growing up I paid far more attention to the professional sports, but this isn't the golden age anymore. They've evolved into nothing more than revenue generating machines, completely devoid of anything remotely resembling loyalty or love of the game itself. I do, and always have, put a premium on loyalty. Having grown up in Missouri, I love MU, although my mother did her best to raise me Crimson and Blue (Kansas). Love you mom.
It's funny you ask whether or not I picked against my beloved Tigers. I submitted two brackets last year…one with MU winning it all, and then of course the one that won.
Q: Is this the first time you've won a college hoops pool, or do you have a strong NCAA track record?
A: I've won several bracket pools in the past. Mostly just office pools or private games set up amongst friends. Needless to say, they were considerably smaller than Yahoo!'s, and didn't pay off quite as well, either.
Q: Give me your Final Four this year, please.
A: OK…the Final Four. I just finished my first bracket and did it in a game-by-game, rapid-fire manor. The conclusion I have come to is Kansas, Kentucky, Pittsburgh, Villanova.
I believe that Tennessee, Marquette, Kansas St. and Baylor pose some serious threats, too. And Gonzaga would have to be my ultimate sleeper pick this year. We'll see how things work out.
Q: And what's your championship game? Will it make mom happy?
A: Actually I've got Kansas and 'Nova. KU winning, 75-68. So we'll see.
Q: What did you do with last year's winnings? Did you retire? Hopefully you're reporting the haul to the Feds. If not, they'll be on to you now…
A: (Polite laugh). I wish I could say I invested it and I'm preparing to retire in a few months…unfortunately that's not quite the case. I am, however, out of debt – for the most part – and have a few extravagant things to show for it all. And yes, the Feds are on to me.
Q: Any final thoughts? Smack talk? Mizzou hype?
A: There's nothing I enjoy more than great competition, and Yahoo! has the best group out there. Good luck to everyone. I'm sure one of you will take my title this year, but you'd better believe I'm going to enjoy it while it lasts!
Photos via Getty Images
Best bracket wins $10,000, and a perfect bracket wins $1 million (subject to terms and conditions, blah-blah-legal nonsense-blah). If you need us to create a group for you, fine. We've done it. The Roto Arcade Invitational is group ID #55220. The password is "roymarble."