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His nearly flawless brackets over the years have earned him the title Doctor of Bracketology, but at the end of the day ESPN bracketologist and Saint Joseph's communications guru Joe Lunardi is more or less an ordinary guy.

Just ask his six-year-old daughter, whose selections beat her dad's last year when she picked bracket-busting Butler because she thought butlers look like penguins, and she likes penguins.

Still, Lunardi's pick proficiency is so well-known that it attracts millions of hits to his bracket during basketball season and has snagged respect among many of college basketball's coaches and fans.

But even Lunardi will admit that intense research and insider information - neither of which his job on Hawk Hill requires - are only half of the equation.

Sometimes a little bit of luck can go a long way.

Yesterday when The Daily Pennsylvanian had a few questions about his selection process and the upcoming hoops season, the Doctor was in.

Daily Pennsylvanian: How did you discover that college basketball could be your niche?

Joe Lunardi: Like many things in life, this happened by accident. I am not a journalist by trade, I'm not a statistician by trade, I'm just a big college basketball fan who loves March Madness just as much as anyone else and always used to play around with these bracket projections on my own. I never realized that it would become such a popular public commodity.

DP: So how did you make the transition from avid fan to a Doctor of Bracketology?

JL: I'm not sure the transition will ever be fully complete because I do have a real job and a wife and a family and a mortgage and all that, but certainly for 10 or 12 weeks every winter I wear this other hat.

And during that time, I'm watching as many games as I possibly can and reading as much as I can on out-of-market teams and talking to other writers and media . and conference officials and even sometimes members of the selection committee themselves and take their temperature about what teams they're thinking about this season, which goes into the work we do for ESPN and

DP: What do you consider the most important factors when making your bracket?

JL: I certainly look at all of the quantitative measures that the committee does: RPI and strength of schedule, conference record, how injuries might affect a good team's standing, non-conference scheduling practices, which have become more important, relative weight of conferences compared to others.

I try and close off the noise of qualitative evaluation of teams which is typically on the order of coaches or media selling for particular teams or particular markets or particular situations. Sometimes getting away from what's in the public press and looking at the data can be just as helpful if not more so.

DP: Who is the most interesting personality you have come across in your years working in college basketball?

JL: I'm a little biased about Phil Martelli here at St. Joe's.

He's certainly no wallflower when it comes to quotability and interests beyond just what happens on the court.

I have also really enjoyed getting to know Dick Vitale, he is absolutely the genuine article. He's exactly the same in person as he is on TV. I know some people don't like his style, but his enthusiasm for the game and for the coaches and for players is completely genuine and I respect that.

There are also a lot of coaches that I am very fond of, including one who spent a lot of time on Penn's campus, Fran Dunphy. He's just a gem of a human being and stands for all the right things.

DP: Who's your bracket buster for this year?

JL: Certainly VCU is getting a lot of attention because of their upset of Duke in the first round of last year.

They have most of their key guys back. Certainly that's a team that can make some noise. Davidson made some noise in the tournament last year and they have everyone.

DP: A lot of people, including yourself, are saying Cornell is the favorite to win the Ivy League. Do you think Penn has a chance?

JL: The first brackets for this year will be posted on or about Nov. 5 and I certainly reserve the right to change my opinion based upon late recruiting and summer and fall practice information, but my inclination at this point is to stick with the Big Red by a shade.

This is not one of those years where Penn or Princeton is head and shoulders above the rest of the Ivy League. This year I guess some people are leaning Cornell's way because of their experience and because of a couple of transfers.

No one really knows what to make of the traditional powers because of coaching changes in the last year or two or teams that are just really young.

DP: What did you think of Penn's fifteenth seed last year?

JL: I do think Penn was under-seeded last year. I don't think the committee did an especially good job of seeing the so-called one-bid conference winners. I think Penn was one of those teams that could have been a line or two higher.

DP: Do you see an Ivy League team rising above the fifteenth or sixteenth spot anytime soon?

JL: Absolutely, but don't think this is going to be that year. There isn't a team that is going to flirt with the rankings or others receiving votes or knock off a Kansas or a Michigan or a North Carolina.

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