After a few years away, I’ve decided to
briefly break my long silence to do one of my favorite things—write up my picks
for the entire tournament. Every damn
game. Why now, you ask?
One, I missed the old blog and wanted
to check in. No, I’m not planning on
reviving it or anything, but a quick burst of basketball pontification is
probably good for my soul.
Two, I watched a lot of non-local
basketball this year. Back when I was
blogging regularly I was so busy going to high school games, making sure that I
watched every Marquette, Wisconsin and UWM game, and generally keeping up on
local stuff that I didn’t get to pay much attention to other teams. This year?
Let’s just say I watched a lot of Big 12 games, and that my wife who falls
asleep at 9pm has no idea how well acquainted I am with UCLA (which admittedly
does me no good in the tournament). So
I’m probably more informed about the tourney teams these days than I was back
when I was actually writing about things every day. And it would be a crime not
to put my picks on the record before the tournament starts.
So I’m back. It’s probably a one-off, so the lucky one or
two of you reading this shouldn’t get too excited. Just know that I’m still happily watching
plenty of hoops, but that I sadly don’t have time to write an essay about it
every freaking day anymore.
Before the picks, here’s my traditional
preamble, last posted (gasp—has it been this long?) five years ago:
1) Don’t just completely steal my picks (or anyone else’s,
for that matter). I don’t mind it personally, but what fun is that for you?
Think of it this way–what’s going to be more fulfilling to you: telling the guy
in the cube next to you that you “totally called” Northern Iowa knocking off
Texas A&M, or telling him that some guy whose picks you followed got it
knew that Arizona had a path that would allow them to go deep into the tourney.
Listen to advice from your doctor or your financial advisor, but the NCAA
tournament is supposed to be fun. So relax and follow your instincts.
2) Don’t go crazy with upsets, particularly in the first two rounds. The NCAA
selection committee knows more than you, and they’ve seeded these teams for a
reason. Sure, you’re no fun if you don’t go out on a limb here or there, but picking
14 first round upsets isn’t just bold, it’s stupid. Yeah, you’re probably going
to have a friend that picks that miracle 10-seed that made it to the Sweet
Sixteen, and he’s not going to shut up about it. He’s probably not talking so
much about the 5-seed and the 7-seed that he had in the Final Four who both
lost the first day, though. My picks are notoriously and painfully boring, and
I make no apologies for that, even though someone always inevitably comments
below to complain about my lack of originality and insight every year.
3) Have fun and make some picks for goofy reasons. There are 68 teams in this
tournament, and unless your name is Jay Bilas or Dick Vitale, you probably
haven’t seen all of them. So go ahead and pick Cincinnati to win a game because
you had a really fun weekend in that city once, or pick against Connecticut
because a guy in your office who’s a total dick got his degree there. After
all, last year wasn’t your pool won by that woman in your office who thought
Duke had nice uniforms? See, you need some quirks, too.
Those are the rules. Now on to the picks. Winners are in bold:
Before I get to the games themselves, I’d like to take a
moment to personally thank the NCAA for no longer calling these “first round”
games and confusing us all about what to call every round of the
tournament. Not elevating the First Four
over what they are is a huge step in the right direction. It almost makes me fully accept a 68-team
tournament instead of a 64. Almost.
On to the games:
Vanderbilt (11) vs. Wichita State (11):
Finally, a First Four game that will be delightful to watch! Wichita State is going to be a popular pick
because a) they were legitimately awesome last year, and b) Ron Baker and Fred
VanVleet are very good players who have seemingly been around forever. But I’m going with Vanderbilt here. The Commodores have under-performed, but I’d
put up the talent of Wade Baldwin and Damian Jones as being even better. And Baldwin and Jones are surrounded by more
talent. Bonus points for Brookfield’s
Riley LaChance playing for the Commodores, though I’m raking some of those
bonus points back due to LaChance’s loss of a starting spot and reduction in
minutes this year. Come on, Kevin
Stallings—play the Wisconsin guy!
Florida Gulf Coast (16) vs. Farleigh Dickinson (16): Fun
fact—a few years back when the “Dunk City” FGSU team became national darlings
on their super-fun and super-improbable trip to the Sweet 16, I was one click
away from fully jumping on the bandwagon with an online purchase of a Florida
Gulf Coast jersey. Because that was one
of the most awesome Cinderella teams ever.
This year the fiscal responsibility that I showed in not buying that
jersey is finally rewarded as Farleigh Dickinson reminds us that it’s not 2013
Michigan (11) vs. Tulsa (11): I
know nothing about Tulsa, but I know Michigan well. The Wolverines are just good enough to be
annoying, but not much beyond that. So
get ready for at least one more game of announcers talking about how Duncan
Robinson transferred from a division three where he didn’t play all that
much. I know I love repeatedly hearing
that story every time the camera pans to Robinson during any game.
Holy Cross (16) vs. Southern
(16): Buzz off, Bill Simmons.
REGION: First Round
(1) vs. Austin Peay (16): I just hope that during this game we’ll hear
the crowd chanting “Let’s go Peay!” at some point. That legitimately never gets old.
Colorado (8) vs. Connecticut (9): You’re
going to hear a lot of talk about how over-seeded the Pac-12 is this week. I’m not saying that’s incorrect, but that’s
not what this pick is about. I like
Colorado. But you know how everyone
talks about how Michigan State is great in March? How come no one talks about UConn being
pretty darn good in March, too? I mean,
they always seem to get hot at the right time.
And if nothing else, there are few head coaches more fun to watch when
they’re excited than the Huskies’ Kevin Ollie.
(5) vs. South Dakota (12): I’d like to see South Dakota State point
guard and former Wisconsin Badger, George Marshall, get a chance to pull the
upset here. But Maryland’s starting five
is just way too talented for a mid-major to upset.
(4) vs. Hawaii (13): Cal has a talented senior point guard in the
backcourt, two freshman who were McDonald’s All-Americans in the frontcourt,
and has been playing very well over the last month or so. I kind of love the Bears—they’re among my
handful of favorite teams in the tournament.
Hawaii plays in a time zone where it’s impossible to see them, so I have
no intelligence on them. But let's be honest--I was picking Cal here no
matter who they ended up paired with.
(6) vs. Vanderbilt/Wichita State
(11): I’ve already put forward that I
think Vanderbilt wins the play-in game, but both of the potential 11-seeds for
this game are flawed teams. Arizona
beats Vandy because they’re one of the few teams that can keep up with the Commodores’
athletes. And they beat Wichita State
because the Wildcat roster is simply more talented. Arizona is moving on no matter who they play.
(3) vs. Buffalo (14): I could get into analysis of analytics for
both teams, or I could just give a dismissive quip about how I’d rather spend a
week in Miami than a week in Buffalo. I
think I’ll be lazy and go with the latter.
(7) vs. Temple (10): Unquestionably the toughest game to pick of
the first round. Iowa is definitely one
of those situations where the sum is better than it’s mediocre (save for Jared
Uthoff, who I think is phenomenal) parts.
Despite their freefall over the last few weeks of the season, I think
the Hawkeyes right the ship and get past a very solid Temple squad. Is this rational? Probably not, but lots of things in the
tournament are irrational.
(2) vs. UNC-Asheville (15): The only thing I know about UNC-Asheville is
that that were totally fun to watch a few years back when they had 7’7” center
Kenny George who could pretty much dunk without jumping. I’m pretty sure they don’t have anyone that
tall anymore, so I’ll go with Villanova here.
REGION: First Round
(1) vs. Holy Cross/Southern (16): Ducks win big, and as always, reserve forward
Dwayne Benjamin finishes out the game looking like the coolest guy in the
Saint Joseph’s (8) vs. Cincinnati (9): This sucks.
I hate picking against Phil Martelli.
He’s a good coach, and Saint Joe’s flew under the radar while having a
good season in the A-10. But every time
I saw Cincy play this year they were surprisingly solid. So I’ll begrudgingly pick the Bearcats
here. Either way, a good team is going
home at the end of this one.
(5) vs. Yale (12): Sometimes you don't pick a game in the
tournament because of the game itself, but instead do so taking a long view of
the tournament. I actually have seen
Yale play and like the Bulldogs a lot. I
certainly wouldn't kill you for picking them here. But ultimately, I'm looking ahead to the next
round when I want to call an early exit for a Duke team that severely lacks
depth. And Baylor's the more likely team
to get that job done, so I have to pick them here.
(4) vs. UNC-Wilmington (13): If the sentiment of the state of North
Carolina controlled the outcome of this one, Wilmington would roll. Unfortunately, the outcome of this one will
be determined much more by Brandon Ingram’s jump shot than how the citizens of
the home state of both teams feel.
Texas (6) vs. Northern Iowa (11): Hey,
remember when Northern Iowa beat North Carolina and Iowa State earlier this
year? You don’t? Well believe it or not, I’m not making that
up. Yeah, the Panthers weren’t
world-beaters in a down year for the Missouri Valley Conference, but they get
up for big games. Don’t worry, Texas
fans—while this won’t be Shaka’s year, he’ll take your Longhorns far in the
Texas A&M (3) vs. Green Bay (14): Is this a sentimental homer pick or do I
simply disrespect the SEC this much? A
little from column A, and a little from column B. But I honestly don’t think that this is an
unreasonable upset pick. After all,
Green Bay has more talent than it should, given that it has one of the more
terrible campuses in the UW system.
State (7) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (10): Oregon State is a big “meh” for me,
particularly with second leading scorer Tres Tinkle likely still sidelined with
an injury. But VCU’s up and coming coach
is gone, and I’m ready to jump off the bandwagon now. Go Beavers!
(2) vs. Cal State Bakersfield (15): If Buddy Hield releases his half-court shot
.1 seconds earlier last Friday, there's a decent chance we're all talking about
the Sooners' great run to the Big 12 championship right now. The clock can be cruel sometimes.
REGION: First Round
Carolina (1) vs. Florida Gulf
Coast/Farleigh Dickenson (16): Fun
fact—when I was a kid I wanted my parents to let me paint a Carolina blue lane
area in front of the hoop in our driveway.
Instead, we compromised and I was allowed to paint a small black
free-throw line so that I could work on the most boring part of my game. And my parents driveway remained decidedly
USC (8) vs. Providence (9): No more
talented duo in the tourney than Providence’s Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil. USC is one of those crazy teams that is
entertaining to watch, but is actually maddeningly inconsistent. I’ll take the talented duo in this one.
(5) vs. Chatanooga (12): I want to pick a team called the “Mocs,” but
IU is going to win at least one to keep me infuriated with Tom Crean's success.
(4) vs. Stony Brook (13): Kentucky doesn’t start five lottery picks
this year, but they’ve still got more of them than Stony Brook, so I think I’ll
take the Wildcats.
Dame (6) vs. Michigan/Tulane (11): Let’s see—two teams that probably shouldn’t
be in the tournament versus a Notre Dame team that always seems to be a
let-down in the tournament. Geez, can I
just pick none of them? I guess I’ll go
with Notre Dame, but I’m not happy about it.
Virginia (3) vs. Stephen F.
Austin (14): In isolation, it makes
virtually no sense that I own not one, but two West Virginia basketball
jerseys. But I assure you that if you hear
the story behind why I acquired each of them, both acquisitions make complete
sense. Kind of.
(7) vs. Pittsburgh (10): I didn’t see a lot of Pittsburgh this year,
but I feel like they weren’t the most consistent team around. I’m probably wildly wrong about that, as I’m
basing it on nothing more than never being sure how many points Jamel Artis
would score on Fanduel. The Badgers have
been pretty good over the last two months, so let’s keep them moving on. And let’s hope I can get out of work early
enough to watch the game in Plover on Friday night with some pals.
(2) vs. Weber State (15): When you have a point guard whose name is
phonetically the same to that of a legendary jazz musician, you have to pick
REGION: First Round
(1) vs. Hampton (16): Remember back when Tony Bennett was coaching
at Washington State and everyone thought he was cool because he wore a shirt
and blazer with no tie? Yeah, I thought
that was a cool look, too.
Texas Tech (8) vs. Butler (9): I could tell you that I put a lot of thought
into this game, but let’s be honest—of the two teams involved, I’ve really only
seen Butler play, and I can’t pick against a guy with the
crafty-old-man-at-the-YMCA game of Roosevelt Jones. That dude is super fun to watch.
(5) vs. Little Rock (12): Big drum beats Little Rock. (I recognize how lazy and dumb that comment
is, and I apologize.)
State (4) vs. Iona (13): Last year I picked Iowa State for the Final
Four, and while traveling to Omaha to attend Wisconsin’s first round game, a
friend and I pulled off to a Buffalo Wild Wings in Iowa and had our pick of
tables as angry Iowa State fans came streaming out the doors after their
surprising first-round loss right as we arrived. The Cyclones won’t be taking anyone lightly
Hall (6) vs. Gonazaga (11): I guarantee you
this will be a popular upset pick.
Gonzaga’s a perennial tournament team, has just finished a four-episode
behind-the-scenes documentary series on HBO, and has two high-scoring forwards,
one of whom (Domantas Sabonis) is the son of one of the best basketball players
to ever walk the earth. I’ve long
referred to them as “Late Night Duke” due to Gonzaga’s status as the easiest
team to see on TV if you’re awake past 10pm. But don’t go with the simpletons
on this one. The Bulldogs had to win
their conference tournament to even be here, and Seton Hall just got done with
a very impressive run to the Big East Tournament championship game. The Pirates are the right pick here.
(3) vs. Fresno State (14): My friend Adam, who always has a gambling
angle, told me back in November that Utah was his national champion futures bet
pick in Vegas. Given Adam’s propensity
to be wrong about these things, that should be enough to disqualify me from
picking the Utes to win a single tournament.
But given the mini-reemergence from senior forward Jordan Loveridge
during the last 2-3 weeks or so, the Utes will be a moderately tough out.
(7) vs. Syracuse (10): Geez, I honestly don’t know on this one. Seeing as I didn’t expect Syracuse to make
the tourney, and Dayton always seems to be better than expected this time of
year, the Flyers get my nod.
State (2) vs. Middle Tennessee (15): Did you see Mark Titus’s joke assertion on Twitter
that Denzel Valentine wasn’t actually hurt earlier this year, but that Tom Izzo
just didn’t want his team to peak before March?
That this seemed like a not-completely-insane theory to some people
solidifies just how bankable Michigan State is in March.
SOUTH REGION: Second Round
(1) vs. Connecticut (8): Kansas won the best conference in America
this year. UConn is the biggest name in
a glorified mid-major conference. Give
me the battle-tested Jayhawks.
Maryland (5) vs. Cal (4): My pal Ferd texted
me right when seedings came out and told me how Maryland was going to absolutely
destroy Cal in this game, basically stating that this was a universal
fact. I politely disagreed and added
that Cal is one of my favorite teams in this tournament. The Bears are peaking at the right time, and
I think Diamond Stone is a total dick after he basically tried to injure
Wisconsin’s Vitto Brown earlier this year.
And good always triumphs over evil in the end. Suck it, Ferd—Cal’s winning this one!
Arizona (6) vs. Miami (3): I’ve got the
winner crossed out three times on my bracket.
How do I break down a solid, nondescript Miami team against an exciting
Arizona squad? Then I remembered that
Miami is coached by the sneaky-good Jim Laranaga. Yeah, I guess I’ll take the Laranaga team.
Iowa (7) vs. Villanova (2): I
admit I don’t feel great about this one, but to me, Villanova is like
electronica music was in the mid-1990s.
You can tell me that it’s the next big thing all you want, but no matter
how much you push, it’s just not happening.
Villanova can (and should) win the uninteresting Big East every year, as
far as I’m concerned. And I’ll still
continue to top out my respect for them at the 3-4 seed level. Seeing as
I never broke down bought a CD by The Prodigy, I think that's more than ample
respect for the Wildcats. But they still lose to an okay Iowa team.
(1) vs. Cincinnati (9): Am I really picking an Oregon team to win
because I think they’re more consistent than the team they’re playing? Good Lord, I think I actually am.
(5) vs. Duke (4): I don’t love either of these teams, but I see
Duke being done in by a) their lack of depth, and b) karma coming back to bite
America’s most hated player, Grayson Allen, in some way. I hope Allen tries to trip Rico Gathers, a
man who’s built more like an NFL defensive lineman than a college hoopster, and
gets appropriately pummeled.
Iowa (11) vs. Green Bay (14): Sorry to any Texans reading this—I know this
was supposed to be your big Texas vs. Texas A&M game. But this is a weird year in college
basketball, and I actually honestly believe the game I picked could
happen. Green Bay’s luck is running out
now, though. I can’t be that much of a
homer, no matter how surprisingly decent I thought the Horizon League was this
Oregon State (7) vs. Oklahoma (2): I’ve pretty much been saying from day 1 that
Oklahoma was my favorite to win the national championship. They’ve had a rough last month, but hey,
their conference was brutally tough this year.
I’m certainly not crossing the Sooners off in favor of an Oregon State
team that, along with the rest of its conference brothers, has received way too
much respect in the seeding process.
EAST REGION: Second Round
Carolina (1) vs. Providence
(9): Oddly enough, Providence may be the
one team in the country with two players more talented than North Carolina’s
usual roster of highly recruited players.
But top to bottom, the Heels still have more overall talent. And come on—in a year when Donald Trump is
inexplicably leading the Republican candidate in the presidential race, there’s
no way that a school that is commonly referred to in shorthand as “PC” is
making a big tournament run.
Indiana (5) vs. Kentucky (4): This is the
best roster that Indiana coach Tom Crean has had. He’d better not get used to it, because if
history is any guide, this offseason 2-3 players will announce they’re
transferring, one of his assistants will take a job elsewhere, and by the end
of non-conference season Indiana fans will begin their annual ritual of linking
to my post from when Crean left Marquette
and telling me that I’m basically Nostradamus.
Man, do I dislike Tom Crean. Oh
yeah, and Kentucky is actually playing amazingly well right now.
Virginia (3) vs. Notre Dame
(6): In the frontcourt, Notre Dame has
Zach Auguste, a lanky, high-energy guy who looks like he skipped taking his
Ritalin yesterday. And West Virginia has
Devin Williams, a badass dude whose arms look like they were cut from granite
and is the first outstanding player in a long time to regularly sport rec
specs. If you think I’m not picking the
guy with rec specs, you obviously have never seen a photo of me from my days as
a mediocre JV center in high school.
(7) vs. Xavier (2): Part of this is a homer pick on my part, and
part of this is, again, my strong skepticism of anything that happened in the
Big East this year. Don’t get me wrong—Xavier
is no joke, but if you asked me the 2-seed that I’d like to see Wisconsin face,
I’d take this year’s Matt Stainbrook-less (man am I sad he graduated last year)
Xavier over Oklahoma, Michigan State and Villanova every day. Of course, if Xavier wins this one, I still
get to chuckle as I read fans on Marquette message boards electronically
high-fiving over a win by one of their conference foes and un-ironically
pointing out that Greg Gard has never beaten a higher seeded team in the NCAA
tournament. So basically, if this game
happens I win no matter what the outcome is.
REGION: Second Round
(1) vs. Butler (9): I watched a lot of random basketball games
this season, and I think I finally get why people say that teams like Virginia,
who play sound defense and methodically pound teams into submission are
boring. It’s because they are
boring if you have no connection to them.
Yeah, I get that Tony Bennett’s system wins games, and I get that
Malcolm Brogdon has been arguably the best player in the country this year. And if I was a Virginia alum, I’d be making
these points until I was blue in the face.
Because if I was a Virginia alum, a winning team with an epically great
player would be truly exciting to me.
Any reasonable person should want Tony Bennett coaching his or her
favorite team, because winning is fun no matter how it happens. But as some dumbass fan who just wants to
watch something exciting? Sorry—I’m
flipping on UCLA and watching Steve Alford force his son to take eight more
shots per game than he should en route to losing to a mediocre Pac-12 foe with
much less talent. Anyway, Virginia’s not
going down early this year—they’re super legit.
And frankly, they’re actually much more watchable than usual for the
casual fan, even if they’re still not exactly Iowa State-level entertaining.
(5) vs. Iowa State (4): You know how I just said that Iowa State is
entertaining? Incredibly, I didn’t even
notice that they were about to be in the next game I had to write about. In terms of teams that I have no connection
to, Iowa State was my go-to team to watch this year. They’re an up-tempo team with three Wisconsin
natives in their main rotation, they played in the top conference in the
country this year, and their star player, Georges Niang, gets less elevation
than I do when shooting jump shots. If
the Cyclones get hot on any given night, no one short of the Golden State
Warriors is stopping them. The Cyclones
aren’t always hot, thought, and a veteran Purdue team that is peaking at the
right time is just the sort of team that will frustrate them out of the
gym. Take the Boilermakers here.
Hall (6) vs. Utah (3): Jakab Poeltl is great and all, and his
teammates have finally been helping him out down the stretch, so the logical
choice is Utah here. But I just have a
gut feeling that Seton Hall keeps playing over their heads. Yep, that’s the sort of crack analysis you’re
getting from me.
Dayton (7) vs. Michigan State (2): Izzo in
March, yadda, yadda, yadda.
SOUTH REGION: Sweet Sixteen
(1) vs. California (4): Call this one a fear pick. I’d like to pick Cal, but they’ve got a much
less certain path to even get to this game than Kansas (that’s right Ferd—I’m
less confident about Cal beating Maryland than I showed in the text that I sent
the other day). So out of
self-preservation, the Jayhawks are the pick here. But if you're in a
pool where boldness counts for something, go ahead--pick the Bears. You
could make a lot worse choices.
Miami (3) vs. Iowa (7): Miami is a
rock-solid team with no real stars. Iowa
is a semi-solid team with one real star (Jarod Uthoff) and another guy (Peter
Jok) who can randomly go off for about 27 points on any given night. Am I
actually picking Iowa to win because of their talent? Yeah, even I’m confused now.
WEST REGION: Sweet Sixteen
(1) vs. Baylor(5): Shield your eyes, because the lighting yellow
incorporated into uniforms on both sides in this one is going to be utterly
blinding. Normally this would be where I
would pick Oregon to lose, as I think they’re a 1-seed due to circumstance this
year, as no one really jumped out and claimed those four coveted spots. But Baylor?
Eh, maybe if Rico Gathers was healthy and playing like his old self, but
not with Taurean Waller-Prince having to carry that much of the load and
Johnathan Motley's playing time still being inexplicably inconsistent.
Northern Iowa (11) vs. Oklahoma (2): I could justify this one by talking about how
a senior-laden team with a star player (Buddy Hield) who took a leap to the
next level reminds me a lot of my beloved Badgers last year. And if you’ve spoken to me at all this year,
you know that I do believe those things and think that’s why Oklahoma is going
far this year. But for this game? Yeah, I picked an 11-seed to get through to
this game. I can’t justify taking
Northern Iowa any further, no matter who they’re playing.
Carolina (1) vs. Kentucky
(4): All the pundits are talking about
how this has the potential to be an outstanding game, and Kentucky is probably
North Carolina’s biggest roadblock en route to the Final Four. And as much as I hate to agree with
conventional wisdom, I think this has potential to be an outstanding game, and
that Kentucky is probably North Carolina’s biggest roadblock en route to the
Final Four. Kentucky would almost be a
sympathetic team here, given that two of their key players are seniors, and
they haven’t just been blatantly out-talenting other teams this year. Then you remember that Kentucky is just
taking a short break from its annual tradition of having groups of 18-year-olds
hang out on their campus for a year before heading to the NBA (you know, sort
of how Skal Labissiere has taken a break from being a useful basketball player
until the last 3-4 games of this year).
At the end of the day, Brice Johnson’s grabbing 20 or so rebounds and
the Tarheels are moving on, even though this one will be every bit as close as
Virginia (3) vs. Wisconsin
(7): Bob Huggins seems like kind of a
jerk, but he’s a hell of a basketball coach.
His West Virginia team reminds me of his early Cincinnati teams, in that
you never think of them as one of the best or most talented teams, but they
always seem to be standing around as winners at the end of the game. That’s essentially what happens here. I have them taking out my Badgers, who fought
the good fight this year after losing a ton of talent from last year’s team and
having to fight through plenty of turmoil caused by Bo Ryan’s scandal-filled
exit. But truthfully, West Virginia’s
probably my biggest lock to advance to the Elite Eight regardless of who they
play here. The Mountaineers are just
rock solid, even if you never took the time to notice them.
MIDWEST REGION: Sweet Sixteen
(1) vs. Purdue (5): Get ready for lots of crotchety middle-aged
white guys (like myself these days, I suppose) proclaiming that this game is
this round’s best example of basketball “as it was meant to be played.” Two teams that are pretty sound in every
facet of the game and who seem to be riding momentum heading into the tourney
should be fun to watch. But Virginia
actually has the pieces to back up its 1-seed this year, so I see them moving
on, no matter how huge and awesome Purdue’s interior players are.
Seton Hall (6) vs. Michigan State (2): I’ve
given more respect to Seton Hall than any other Big East team, but there’s only
so much respect I can dole out to them.
Plus, have you guys heard that Tom Izzo has a pretty good record in
March? Yeah, news to me, too.
(1) vs. Iowa (7): Holy crap—I actually picked Iowa to get one
game away from the Final Four? The same
Iowa that I’m not entirely sure can beat Temple in the first round? Did I mention that I was on some pretty
strong painkillers last week? That might
have something to do with that insanity. Yeah, going to have to go with Kansas
here, even if Perry Ellis underwhelms me in virtually every way. Calm down,
Kansas fans--even if you go to the Final Four by default, you’re still going.
Oregon (1) vs. Oklahoma (2): I was all-in
on Oklahoma after their second game of the season, and I’m not hopping off now,
especially against a 1-seed that inspires some of the least amount of
confidence in the history of 1-seeds.
The only thing that derails the Sooners is if there’s any truth to my
wild, totally unsupported conspiracy theory that Ryan Spangler’s inconsistency
is attributable to him fixing games for the mob. But outside of help from organized crime, I
don’t see the Ducks advancing.
Carolina (1) vs. West Virginia
(3): I was in college at Wisconsin when
Dick Bennett was coach, so I appreciate a solid, workmanlike team that
overachieves. West Virginia is a solid,
workmanlike team that overachieves, so I appreciate them. But there are limits to how far a solid,
workmanlike team that overachieves can go.
And the regional finals are where a talented, athletic team will final
take out the solid, workmanlike team that has overachieved.
Virginia (1) vs. Michigan State (2): Tony
Bennett is a reasonable, rational guy.
And it’s a good thing he is.
Because just about anyone else in his position would have spent this
past Sunday night in the emergency room with a fractured hand from punching a
hole in the nearest wall and using a smartphone with their off-hand to send 68 boxes of glitter to NCAA headquarters.
That would be an average person’s response to getting placed in the same region
as Michigan State for the third straight year, particularly when lots of people
think the Spartans deserved your 1-seed this year. And a less well-balanced man than Tony
Bennett would probably completely lose his mind after losing to Michigan State
again this year, because that’s unfortunately how the game is going to go. But Tony Bennett won’t take this lying
down. He’ll keep grinding. And after 2-3 years of him working so methodically
that we don’t even noticing how strong he’s becoming, he will end the NCAA as
we know it. I have no idea how this will
happen, and neither does Tony Bennett right now. But let this be a warning to the NCAA—you’ve
been messing with the wrong guy.
Kansas (1) vs. Oklahoma (2): Kansas has
beaten Oklahoma twice this year, including a triple overtime game on January 4th
that was probably the best college basketball game I’ve seen in a decade. So really, I could justify picking this one
either way—choosing Kansas based on history, or going with the old bit about
how it’s really tough to beat a team three times in one season. In the end, I’m going to pick Oklahoma on the
theory that they’re due. Kansas is
probably a slightly better team than the Sooners, but they’re not 3-0
Michigan State (2) vs. North
Carolina (1): A classic NCAA matchup
if there ever was one. Both teams are
built with the goal of constantly going to the Final Four, and now they’re both
here. Ultimately, North Carolina’s depth
and athleticism will finally be the one thing that wins out over Michigan
State’s March super powers and the all-around greatness of Denzel
(2) vs. North Carolina (1): I’ve kind of backed myself into a corner
here. I don’t like to take the
favorite—particularly in a year when there’s no clear-cut best team in the
country. So rather than riding a North
Carolina team that was one of the two locks for a 1-seed this year, I’m going
stick with the team that I said back in November was my pick to win it
all. Yeah, they’re not coming into the
tourney as hot as a few other squads, and some of the hype has worn off, but
that’s a great moment to buy low on a team.
Here’s looking forward to Buddy Hield giving us all a goofy grin as he
hoists the championship trophy on April 3rd.
Enjoy the tourney, everyone! You
know I'll be doing the same...