Iowa City Press-Citizen: UI Engineering Student's NCAA Bracket Among Best in Nation

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Zach Knudtson awoke from his bed, scrambled to his computer and like millions of others, filled out a bracket for the NCAA Tournament.

What he did in those two minutes was either a stroke of genius or blind luck. Either way, the 19-year-old Waukee High School graduate’s unconventional approach has made him the owner of one of the most surprising and successful brackets in America.

Knudtson heads into the Sweet 16 sitting in a tie for 14th place in a pool with an estimated 8 million participants on ESPN.com’s (free) Bracket Manager Challenge.

“I remember a kid from Waukee, for maybe an hour, was like fourth two years ago,” Knudtson said. “I thought that was awesome.”

Get this: The bracket, the last of three Knudtson filled out, was almost never submitted.

Knudtson, who was on a spring break trip with his family in Florida, got up a few hours before the bracket-submission deadline, sprung to his computer and filled out a final round of picks.

“I just made one more really quick, in like two minutes,” he said.

One of his key upsets: West Region No. 9 seed Wichita State over top seed Gonzaga, a result that sent many across the country to tear up their broken brackets.

Knudtson, a freshman engineering major at the University of Iowa, picked the Shockers’ to deliver the upset after catching a couple of their games on television. (He also accurately put No. 12 seed Oregon in the Sweet 16).

A member of Waukee’s state boys’ championship golf team, Knudtson was not impressed with Gonzaga, despite having never seen them play.

“When they (Gonzaga) got the No. 1 ranking before the tournament started, I thought that was kind of a goof,” Knudtson said.

The shocking selection, in part, has Knudtson in the running for the pool’s ultimate prize — a $10,000 gift card to Best Buy.

Surrounded by profile names such as Jordoswagga 2, swzissman 1, and Thegeneral1387 2, there sits Knudtson, near the top under his entry “Fran McCaffery 1” — part joke and part homage to the Hawkeye men’s coach.

Though he has 14 of 16 teams still alive, he lost one of his Final Four teams in Wisconsin. He has Duke over Indiana in the championship game by a final score of 65-60. The only other bracket ahead of him that picked Duke to win it all has Florida in the title game.

Even if he won the contest, a Duke championship might be bittersweet for Knudston.

“I hate Duke,” he said. “I don’t know why I have them winning it.”

So, what would Knudtson do with his Best Buy winnings?

“Buy as many of those $5 movies on clearance as possible,” he said.