Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sports fan has a method to his March Madness

Silver Spring man with a love of basketball and ‘bracketology’ has success with tournament picks

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Charles A. Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
When March and NCAA playoffs begin, Doug McKinney, 23, has brackets on his brain in his office at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda.
At 6 p.m. Sunday, college basketball fans across the country excitedly turned on their televisions to see the field for the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament.

Except for Doug McKinney.

‘‘It was kind of sad,” he said. ‘‘The whole fun for me the last few months was projecting the field.”

That’s because McKinney, a Silver Spring resident and Our Lady of Good Counsel High School graduate, is an amateur ‘‘bracketologist,” a person who tries to predict the tournament’s seeding and match-ups ahead of ‘‘Selection Sunday.”

McKinney, 23, made his predictions on his sports Web site, www.featurepresentationonline.com, which launched about this time last year with his first projected tournament field. This year, McKinney’s predicted field included 63 of the 65 teams ultimately chosen by the tournament committee.

McKinney maintains his Web site, which also has a men’s magazine-like pop culture page and sells branded apparel, around his job at Comcast SportsNet in Bethesda.

In order to project the entire tournament field, McKinney is that guy who watches — or records — a basketball game 2 a.m. on a weeknight between two teams on the West Coast whose fan base does not extend much further than alumni.

During the season, McKinney estimated he watched up to 20 hours of college basketball a week.

McKinney published his brackets each Monday during the season, spending several hours Sunday fitting teams and match-ups like puzzle pieces into brackets that met all of the tournament conditions set by the NCAA.

McKinney has always been a college basketball junkie, but while at Radford University in Virginia, he said he became ‘‘a student of the game,” watching more closely and giving him enough knowledge to try ‘‘bracketology.”

‘‘You have to be aware of everything going on,” McKinney said, including which teams are hot, which have injuries and, perhaps most difficult, how to compare teams if they have not played one another.

Coby DuBose, a contributor to featurepresentationonline.com, offered a comparison: in Division I-A college football, about 120 teams are competing for 64 slots in bowl games; in basketball, more than 330 teams are trying to earn just 65 bids.

‘‘You’ve got to work hard to keep up with it,” DuBose said.

But brackets and the Web site are anything but work for McKinney, his parents said.

‘‘He loves sports in whatever capacity,” said his mother, Debbie McKinney. ‘‘He’s happy to have an outlet like that.”

Debbie McKinney remembers her son as a boy fighting his dad, Bill, for the sports section. Doug went on to become sports editor of the school newspapers at Good Counsel and Radford, where he also had a radio show and worked in the sports information department.

McKinney’s two favorite sports to watch are college basketball and baseball. A Washington Nationals fan, he writes regularly on a Nationals’ fan site. ‘‘He’s very pumped this time of year,” Bill McKinney said.

When Doug is not at work, his parents said he is working on his Web site. It’s a hobby he began by recruiting some of his former writers at Radford. Other contributors, like DuBose, a junior at Clemson University, he found through the Internet. Currently, the Web site has 14 contributing writers, from college students to middle-aged sports fans. McKinney serves as the Webmaster, and has a cousin who helps edit columns. The writers are unpaid, McKinney said, but can write on whatever sports topics they choose.

DuBose tries to write two columns a week depending on his school schedule, and said it is not uncommon for him to get an e-mail from McKinney late at night asking to update an item on the Web site.

‘‘If you get a guy willing to work like that, you want to write for him,” DuBose said.

The Web site changes with the sporting calendar and averages 40,000 page requests a week, McKinney said. But in the run-up to March Madness, featurepresentationonline.com received about 60,000 page requests per week, he said.

McKinney has been mentioned in stories about bracketology and his brackets have been included The Bracket Project, which culls brackets from all over the Web. (According to The Bracket Project, McKinney picked 50 teams within one of their actual seed, including 19 correct. ESPN’s ‘‘Bracketology,” by comparison, picked 48 teams within one of their actual seed, with 19 correct.)

‘‘It’s great to see him get some love,” DuBose said.

One day, McKinney hopes to make featurepresentationonline.com his full-time job, as well as a place where basketball fans go for bracket projections.

This week, however, he’s hoping to use all of the hoops watching he’s done the last four months to do what all college basketball fans hope to do before the tournament starts — successfully predict the outcomes of the brackets. ‘‘Now, I have to take that experience and figure out who is going to win,” he said.

McKinney’s picks

Florida: ‘‘They’re just clicking right now.”

Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh: ‘‘A lot of people are sleeping on them right now” ... ‘‘Virginia Tech can match Kansas’ athleticism.”

Nevada: ‘‘Very talented team, great potential match-up with Texas A&M in the Sweet 16.”

Texas and North Carolina: ‘‘Texas is one of the top five hottest teams in the country. ... Kevin Durant [is so good that he] should be outlawed from college basketball.”

Winthrop: ‘‘If Winthrop doesn’t make the Sweet 16, I’m turning in my bracket.”