HOUSTON – You say your NCAA Tournament bracket is in shambles? All that research and study started to crumble way back at Michigan State vs. Middle Tennessee State? Boy, is this story going to make you envious.
Meet Rebecca Gentry, a senior at Jasper High School in southern Indiana, and the young lady who buried you – and you, and you – with her predictions. As first reported by the Dubois County Herald, she filled out a bracket for an English literature class the day after Selection Sunday. She missed Northern Iowa beating Texas at the buzzer. She missed Hawaii beating California. And that’s all she’s missed.
(UPDATE: This story was orginally published before the Final Four games were played. Rebecca missed the North Carolina-Syracuse game, but correctly picked Villanova winning the national championship, leaving three total incorrect picks.)
Two games. Two. Had Northern Iowa not hit a half-court Hail Mary, she might have only missed one. She was all over Syracuse, on top of Middle Tennessee State, had Little Rock in her hip pocket, was onto Yale. Her Sweet 16 was THE Sweet 16. And Elite Eight. And Final Four.
So now you’re wondering what sort of college basketball junkie they have in English class at Jasper.
“I am not really a sports person,” she said over the phone Thursday night.
For instance, does she know anything about seedings? Syracuse at No. 10? “Nope.”
Can she name one player in the Final Four? “Uhhhh …. no. I know faces and stuff. I really don’t know much beyond that.”She’s not a Final Four expert, then? “I didn’t know there were levels. I didn’t know there was best eight, or whatever. Or Final Four. I didn’t realize there was any of that. I thought they just kind of played basketball.”
For that matter, has she ever seen a basketball game in person in her life?
“I think I might have went to one in middle school, if that counts. Actually I have been to one in high school. The Globetrotters were there. I think that’s what they were called. And I worked the concession stand once, but I didn’t get to see any of the game because I was mostly handing out nachos.”
But she did fill out a bracket because it was for bonus points. “When he first handed the assignment out, I thought I’m not doing this, I don’t know what any of this means, maybe I’ll copy somebody’s.
“That thing is pretty stressful. I had no idea where any of the names went and I had to have people help direct me where I needed to put the names at because it was really confusing for a girl that does not like any sport.”
Next thing she knew, she was watching her picks cut down the nets in the regional. And about that net-cutting business...
“They had the ladder up. I think it was Villanova. I looked at some of the people I was with and I’m like, 'Guys, why are they cutting that net down. Is there something wrong with the net I don’t see?' They said, 'Rebecca, they cut the net down when they win.’ And then they started explaining how they put it on the trophy and I thought that was the coolest thing I ever heard.
“So now I know about the net.”
Feeling humbled yet?
“It still hasn’t really sank in that this is actually happening,” said Aaron Hohl, her teacher. “It’s kind of overwhelming for me and I’m just the teacher. I don’t think she really realizes the magnitude of what she’s done.”
Said Rebecca, “I thought I was already failing with two mistakes.”
This is all on the level. Hohl has the kids fill out their brackets in ink each March, then takes them home for spring break. After break, he hands them out for the students to mark, then asks the class how it went. That’s when Rebecca held up her hand and said she’d missed two.
“I kind of rolled my eyes. OK, let me see it,” he said. “I sat down and took a look at this bracket, and my jaw just dropped.”
Other things began to fall into place. How he had noticed a green sweatshirt Rebecca had often worn, with the letters MTSU on it. “Only recently have I noticed that she’s been wearing a Middle Tennessee State sweatshirt through the entire school year,” he said. “It gets more and more strange as time goes on.”
So what’s her secret? “It was a little bit of instinct, a little bit of guessing,” she said. “And pure luck. I had no idea what was going on half the time with my bracket.”
Her bracket shows two lines drawn through Texas and California, the teams she missed. Also, she had started to write Utah over Gonzaga, but scratched it out and changed her mind. A friend told her Gonzaga.
Stephen F. Austin over West Virginia? “One of my friends kind of liked them. Honestly I just liked the name of that team better.”
Little Rock over Purdue? “I do not like Purdue. That was a pretty obvious one.”
Middle Tennessee State over Michigan State? “My mom actually almost went there for college and I’ve seen a little bit of the campus from pictures she showed me and stuff. I kind of chose that one because my mom loved that team.”
Yale over Baylor? “I thought if they’re a huge college for academics and stuff, they’re probably going to be pretty good with basketball.”
Indiana over Kentucky? “That one was a hard decision. My boyfriend is a huge Kentucky fan. He has shirts upon shirts and he has a little stamp on the back of his truck for Kentucky. I just thought my state of Indiana would beat Kentucky.”
Syracuse in the Final Four? “Actually, that was one of my guesses. I had seen a few games of theirs, just a few. Ultimately, I thought I’m going to make Syracuse go pretty far. Nobody else is going to think that Syracuse is going to go anywhere so I’m going to make them go somewhere.”
For the record, she has Villanova beating Syracuse in the championship game. Sorry, North Carolina and Oklahoma.
So now her fame spreads in Jasper.
“My boyfriend’s pretty jealous right now because his bracket is totally over,” she said. "But hey, I got mentioned on a radio station and I got put in the newspaper, so that’s good for the next 15 years. I’ll hang that on my refrigerator.”
Plus, her teacher is impressed.
“He might be giving us doughnuts, so that’s always a plus.”
So now comes the Final Four, and the chance for Rebecca to really make championship confetti out of her bracket. This teenaged hoop seer of seers will be watching, right? Right?
“If I have time.”