It's the most wonderful time of the year.
Christmas? No. March Madness, the time where office productivity screeches to a halt as hardcore hoops fans fill out dozens of brackets only to lose to the person who picked teams based on mascots, team colors or some other non-basketball related trait.
It's time us basketball junkies found a subjective metric to fight back. Well, look no further. Because this year I'm picking a Final Four based on the team's connection to the rubber industry. Starting from the top left quadrant of the bracket and going clockwise. The team's seed is listed in ().
East Region: Virginia Tech (4)—I'm sure my colleague Erin would rather me pick Duke. But if you recall our Sept. 3 issue, RPN Editor Bruce Meyer did an in-depth look at the Center for Tire Research, a consortium between industry and academia that's proving to be an effective recruiting tool for students looking to join the industry. Recruiting new talent has been a major focus of rubber manufacturers big and small, and I'm pretty sure strong recruiting is what got Virginia Tech to the NCAA Tournament.
South Region: Villanova (6)—The Wildcats are the defending national champions and hail from Philadelphia, just like RPN's defending Executive of the Year William Stockwell. The fourth-generation leader of Philadelphia-based Stockwell Elastomerics Inc. has helped the company reach new heights thanks to a bold decision to embrace lean manufacturing. It's safe to say Villanova has reached some big heights itself, winning two of the last three national championships. (And, yes, I know Villanova is technically about 20 miles west of Philadelphia, but the city held a victory parade for its national championship. It definitely counts.)
Midwest Region: Wofford (7)—One of the smallest NCAA Division I institutions, the Terrier's undergraduate enrollment is smaller than my alma matter, the College of Wooster (a Division III school). However, it's not about size, but location, location, location. Wofford hails from South Carolina, which is the No. 1 tire-producing state in the U.S. with about 110,575 units per day. If that's not a rubber-industry team, I don't know what is.
West Region: Buffalo (6)—Ah, nothing says Western U.S. like Buffalo, N.Y. Many of you may be wondering how the Bison got my vote. Hear me out: Buffalo plays in the Mid-American Conference. League-mate University of Akron did not make the field, but is home to the College of Polymer Science and resides in the birthplace of the rubber industry. If Buffalo makes it to the Final Four, it will help elevate the MAC's profile and in turn help Akron. So, using the transitive property of brackets, Buffalo is a rubber team.
There you have it—Virginia Tech vs. Buffalo and Villanova vs. Wofford in the Final Four. I'll say the strong connection to Akron fuels the Bison to a national championship over the Wildcats. Though do me a favor if you follow my advice: Don't bet the house on it.
Chris Sweeney's key to a perfect bracket is to fill it out after the games are played. Follow him on Twitter @CSweeneyRPN.