This has been an exciting, interesting, exhausting past few weeks in Nebraska, with both the Husker men’s and women’s basketball teams having a chance to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Amateur accountants have popped up on the Internet, crunching the numbers and deciding what each result means for the Huskers’ chances. Have you spoken unkindly of ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi?
For the Husker women, they’re projected to make the NCAA Tournament, but just barely, and only in the opinion of one person making an educated, experienced and unbiased decision. That person is ESPN’s Charlie Crème. And while there are many people making projections for men’s basketball, for women’s basketball it’s pretty much just Charlie Crème.
As of Saturday evening, Crème has the Huskers as the very last team in the tournament. And remember, his projected bracket will likely have no impact on the NCAA selection committee, which will announce the women’s bracket on Monday evening. The Huskers have a 21-10 record, a remarkable turnaround after winning only seven times last season, but they didn’t do enough to be considered a lock to make the tournament.
You can disagree with Crème — and Husker fans did on social media when he had NU listed as one of the first four teams left out — but you should respect his record, and the work he puts into the projected bracket he posts on ESPN.com.
There was a three-year stretch where Crème says he correctly predicted all 32 at-large teams. For the past two years, he got 30 of 32 correct.
Crème is not out to get your team. His goal is to try and predict what the committee will do based on the season’s results and the 16 criteria the committee considers. When Creme gets it right, it adds to his credibility.
During the season Crème watches games all week, and then does the heavy lifting on Sunday, sometimes starting at 9 a.m. and working past midnight. ESPN releases his updated projection on Monday.
Each week he goes through the process — choosing the teams, seeding them, and slotting them in the bracket — just like the 10-person committee is doing this weekend.
Here is just one example of his knowledge: Crème returned a phone call to a Journal Star reporter on Friday afternoon while sitting in a parking lot in Las Vegas after getting a haircut. Asked about Nebraska, Crème gave a nine-minute explanation of why he has the Huskers as the last team in. And he did so without having the team sheet in front of him.
“If there is any takeaway they should know that I’m not throwing darts,” Crème said. “I’m really invested in this, really invested in the sport, and really invested in this part of the sport. I really, really want to get it right and really want to have a rational for all of my decisions, because that’s what I expect of the committee.”
This is all kind of a dream job — or part-time job — for Crème, who grew up in Upstate New York loving college basketball. Once the basketball season is over Crème says he goes back to civilian life. The 47-year-old has worked in pharmacy sales for 17 years, after previously working in print media and television.
Until the NCAA committee puts out the bracket, Crème is the authority on the women’s tournament. That’s cool, but comes with some pressure. And when he criticizes the committee he’s one of the only ones in the media doing so.
“You’re talking about a smaller fan base, but it is kind of nice to know that pretty much everybody that is involved in women’s basketball is looking my way,” Crème said.
It was Lunardi, the famous bracketologist for the men’s tournament, who Crème credits for him having this job.
In the mid 1990s Crème was living in Philadelphia, and he helped Lunardi with the production of the Blue Ribbon college basketball yearbook. They would rush to publish an issue after the NCAA Tournament field was announced. They’d write profiles in advance for all the teams they expected to make the tournament. In 1995 Manhattan and Santa Clara surprised them by making it to the Big Dance, and they had to scramble to get the magazine printed.
Lunardi told Crème they could never let that happen again, and Lunardi started studying the selection process closely.
“I usually tell people for bracketology you can blame Steve Nash,” said Crème of the NBA star from Santa Clara.
Lunardi got educated on the bracket process, and later started a web site devoted to it. Then ESPN bought his site and hired Lunardi.
ESPN asked Lunardi to project the women’s bracket. He said he didn’t have the time or knowledge to do so, but Crème did. He’s done so since 2003.
“I think at that time there weren’t more than two or three other people in the world that understood the process the way Joe and I understood the process, because he studied it and he went to the NCAA, and I sort of picked it up by osmosis and developed it,” Crème said.
“The whole process was such a mystery, and no one really asked, ‘How are you guys getting to your decisions?’ You get the typical interview with the committee chair on the selection show with, why is team X in and team Y not in, and you get your ESPN analyst furious about certain teams being left out, but no one really said, ‘Well, how are these decisions exactly made?”