Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Back From the Dead: 2016 NCAA Tournament Picks

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 anymore.

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.


Kansas (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.

Maryland (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.

California (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.

Arizona (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.

Miami (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.

Iowa (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.

Villanova (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.

WEST REGION: First Round

Oregon (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 building. 

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.

Baylor (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. 

Duke (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 near future.

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.

Oregon 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!

Oklahoma (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.

EAST REGION: First Round

North 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 not weird.

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.

Indiana (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.

Kentucky (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.

Notre 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.

West 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.

Wisconsin (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.

Xavier (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 that team.


Virginia (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.

Purdue (5) vs. Little Rock (12):  Big drum beats Little Rock.  (I recognize how lazy and dumb that comment is, and I apologize.)

Iowa 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 this year.

Seton 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.

Utah (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.

Dayton (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.

Michigan 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

Kansas (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.

Oregon (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.

Baylor (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.

Northern 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 year.

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

North 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.

West 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.

Wisconsin (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.
Virginia (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.

Purdue (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.

Seton 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

Kansas (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

Oregon (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.

North 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 expected.

West 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.


Virginia (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.


Kansas (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.

North 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 better. 

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 Valentine. 


Oklahoma (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...


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