Bracket champ ‘not really a huge basketball fan'

Rebecca Gentry's bracket


Cutting down the nets after a championship game: a puzzling tradition to Jasper High School senior Rebecca Gentry.


“I was like, ‘The net is usable. Why are they cutting it?’” Gentry recalled after watching the men’s NCAA Tournament regional finals last weekend.

Gentry did eventually learn why basketball teams slice nets after big victories. It’s an excusable mistake for someone who pays a minimum amount of attention to the sport. But if Gentry doesn’t actually sound like a basketball guru, think again. For at least this NCAA Tournament, Gentry knows more about hoops than you do.

Gentry’s bracket, which she filled out for a competition in JHS teacher Aaron Hohl’s English literature and composition class, has only two wrong picks of the 64 games played so far in this year’s tournament. No. 15 Middle Tennessee State shocking Tom Izzo and Michigan State? Got it. Arkansas-Little Rock’s upset of Purdue? Written down in purple pen. Syracuse, the 10 seed that crashed the Final Four? Gentry was riding the Orange all the way.

“Honestly I saw that I had very little mistakes but I didn’t realize it was going to be such a huge big deal,” Gentry said. “That just kind of surprised me. ... I’m not really a huge basketball fan, so it’s just like, ‘I did something right? That’s weird.’”

Gentry is not totally blind to college hoops. She’ll catch games on occasion, but mostly as others are watching them. She can recognize a few teams, but not enough to garner much information about them.

“I’m not the type of person who can be like, ‘Oh, that’s that guy. That’s the type of person who can do this thing and this thing with the basket and the hoop,’” Gentry said. “I have no idea what’s going on.”

To be fair, not many do. Of the millions of brackets in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, 98 percent had Michigan State winning its first game against Middle Tennessee. Less than 1 percent of all brackets picked Syracuse in the Final Four. Gentry has the Orange in the national championship game.

How exactly did Gentry find the magical solution to picking a stellar bracket? As she stressed, not all of it was blind luck. Gentry’s boyfriend is a Kentucky fan, so she’d seen the Wildcats once or twice. She’d also seen Indiana play and felt the Hoosiers could handle UK, but probably not North Carolina in the next round. That scenario, of course, occurred exactly as the Hoosiers slipped past their rival to the south before falling to the Tar Heels the following weekend.

Other picks ... well, for those who have shredded their brackets, it might be time to turn away.

Gentry picked Middle Tennessee State partly because she likes to sport an old MTSU sweatshirt her mom used to wear, but also because she thought the name just sounded better. She nailed Stephen F. Austin’s first round upset over West Virginia because “honestly, Stephen F. Austin just sounded cool,” she said. And the Orange? Who faced Cinderella darling MTSU in the second round?

“I like the name Syracuse better,” she explained.

Lest you think she has somehow cheated — and Gentry has already heard this claim — Hohl has his students fill out their brackets the Monday after Selection Sunday. Hohl then takes the sheets home. The Monday after spring break, which fell this week after the second weekend of the tourney, he passed the brackets back out for the students to grade. Any brackets written in pencil were disregarded. Any with evidence of tampering are also thrown out.

Gentry remembers thinking she had picked poorly because she had missed two games — Hawaii upsetting California and Northern Iowa clipping Texas in another upset that went to the wire and was won on a halfcourt shot. Then she heard the other kids. I did pretty good because I only missed 25. I only missed 20. Her teacher, Hohl, a sports fan who watches college hoops, missed 31 games after the first two weekends.

“I had 31 and she had two,” Hohl deadpanned.

Gentry’s bracket exists only on paper. She didn’t submit any brackets into the numerous competitions hosted by ESPN or CBS Sports or Fox Sports. In all three of those, she’d be the national leader. She could be in the running for Final Four tickets, free trips around the globe and cash prizes. She’ll settle for doughnuts for her and the rest of her first-period class.

“From now on, I’ll be having students enter stuff online,” Hohl said. “I don’t ever want to be in this situation again where I just have a piece of paper to show this kid had this sort of clairvoyance and the ability to pick the future.”

Her final prediction? Villanova earns its first national championship since 1985 with a victory over Syracuse in the title game. If it doesn’t happen, Gentry won’t be upset. She feels she’s done “pretty good” for her first bracket. Ever.

First. And probably last. Why not go out on top?

“Honestly, I don’t know if I’m going to do another bracket because this is stressful,” she said. “This took me like an hour to figure out where the names are going to go.”

More on