Adkins scores big with basketball bracket

LOWER SALEM – More than 11 million entries attempted to predict the winners of the 2014 NCAA men’s basketball tournament in ESPN.com’s annual contest.

Only 164 of them did a better job than Lower Salem resident Eric Adkins.

For his eighth and final entry in the contest (which allows up to 10 per person), Adkins picked the Connecticut Huskies to face the Kentucky Wildcats in the championship game, rather than more popular picks like Florida, which was the last team standing in 27.1 percent of the brackets submitted.

Just 0.3 percent of the brackets called for that matchup, and more than half had the Wildcats victorious.

Adkins went with the Huskies over Kentucky’s first-year stars, which is exactly what happened Monday night.

“That’s still going to be all freshmen in a big game,” said Adkins, 38. “So I just went out on a limb and picked UConn.”

It worked. When the smoke cleared, Adkins’ bracket was ranked 165th out of 11.01 million, thanks to his title game prognostication and correctly picking three of the Final Four squads. He would have been perfect in that regard if No. 1 seed Arizona had fended off the Wisconsin Badgers in the Elite Eight.

It was the play of UConn’s guards that had Adkins bucking conventional wisdom with that bracket. He chose Michigan State, Virginia and others to win in his other entries.

“I go every year with backcourt,” he said. “I’ve always thought (Shabazz) Napier and (Ryan) Boatright were the best backcourt in the country.”

Adkins played basketball at Williamstown High School in the early ’90s under Coach Fred Sauro before moving to Bridgeport. He’d been out of the area about 20 years before returning to Washington County two years ago.

While he admits there’s luck involved in filling out a winning bracket, Adkins puts in plenty of research time. He keeps notes on recruiting classes going back several years and is often reading about college basketball online when he’s not watching it on TV.

He also prepares to watch the games.

“I prepare my chicken wings two days before and marinate ’em” so they’ll be ready for tipoff on the first day, Adkins said.