Monday, March 12, 2012

the world's longest ncaa picks post, 2012 edition

(trick daddy voice) Let's go!

Yes, the best couple weeks of spring have finally arrived, as the NCAA tournament, or excuse me, (hootie johnson voice) toonumunt, is about to get underway.  (Even better?  As soon as this toonumunt is complete, Hootie's gets under way at Augusta!  Yay!) 

As always, as a service to the gambling community and the readers at large, here are my predictions for this year's toonumunt.  A few disclaimers up front:

(1) if you are easily offended by salty language, low-brow humor, and gratuitous cheap shots at the players and fans who represent Duke University, stop reading now.  I'm looking at you mom ... and maybe Dusty J.  If none of those things offend you, please keep reading!

(Oh, and for 2012’s Picks Post only … if you believe the sun rises and sets on Mizzou Nation?  Prepare for some (very) salty language, some (extremely) low brow humor, and (constant) cheap shots that will offend you.  It’s my last crack at those “crackers in Columbia” (thanks Ricky Clemons!)  I’m taking advantage of it.)

(2) this is based on zero scientific research, about five seconds of checking out certain schools, and little to no research outside of any games I may have watched so far this year.  So if you're looking for an ESPN Insider type analysis in helping determine your pick between, say, Wichita State and VCU, I would not rely on this site's predicted winner.

(3) I have accurately nailed the national champion exactly three times in twenty plus years of prognosticating: 1995 (UCLA), 2008 (KU), 2010 (Duke).  I also won the Transamerica gambling pool in 2002 based on somehow not missing a single game in the West Regional, a regional whose Sweet Sixteen lineup was composed of second seeded Oklahoma, third seeded Arizona ... eighth seeded UCLA ... and twelth seeded Mizzou.  The point being, I'm not right very often.  But when I am dialed in, I'm really dialed in.  And finally ...

(4) these picks are what will be seen on any main sheet I enter in whatever pool I enter.  If I enter a second sheet, obviously it will have some variance to it, because only a complete retard would submit the same sheet multiple times in the same gambling pool.  And while my mental health and well-being has (correctly) been called into question on multiple occasions, I am not "the horse on "Family Guy"" level mentally challenged.

Got it?  Good.  Here we go, starting where CBS did last night, in the Atlanta Regional:

Play in Game:

* (16) Western Kentucky over (16) Mississippi Valley StateMississippi Valley State is the school most famous for Jerry Rice.  Western Kentucky is best known as the school that fired its head coach earlier this season, after he lost a game when his opponent played with six players on the floor, and WKU's coach (and entire coaching staff, not to mention players on the court) was too stupid to realize he was playing 5 on 6.  WKU is also the only team in the field with a losing record, which is appropriate, given that the biggest loser in life I've ever had the misfortune to know was "Deadbeat Ex Roommate", and you bet your sweet ass WKU was his family's school.  So why am I picking the Hilltoppers to win?  I have no f*cking idea why.  I just am.

(See?  One prediction in, and already I've dropped the f bomb, the phrase "sweet ass", AND tossed a cheap shot at Deadbeat Ex Roommate!  Salty?  You betcha!  Fun?  (kool aid guy voice) Oh yeah!)

Round of 64:

* (1) Kentucky over (16) Western Kentucky.  What's the over / under on how many years until Kentucky has to vacate every win from this season due to serious recruiting improprieties, two?  Three?  Memphis was tossing aside wins like they were two week old garbage not even a year after Coach Cal bolted for the Kentucky job.  I feel very comfortable in making this prediction: come 2017, the 2011-2012 Kentucky men's basketball team will have as many official wins (zero), as the average Duke player has female sexual partners in a lifetime.  (You will notice zero basketball players appear in Ms. Owen's thesis ...)

* (9) UConn over (8) Iowa State.  Royce White.  There, one person whose name will appear in this post with less mental stability than me.  I like UConn for three reasons: (a) they're the better team, (b) they have nothing to lose (defending national champs, already know they're postseason ineligible next year), and (c) with the game on the line, do you really trust the dude on medication for mental health issues to come through?  I love how Royce White has played this year, and the Twin Cities tattoo has been the best addition to the Big XII all year ... but again, he's on meds people!  For a legitimate reason, not for recreational use!  I'll take the team with sane people on it.

* (5) Wichita State over (12) VCU.  I actually think Wichita State is the best team in the state of Kansas this year.  Not the best coached, that would be KU.  And not the most entertaining to watch, that would probably be KSU.  But the best team is the Shockers.  Who find themselves facing a team coached by a dude named Shaka.  I think this is going to be one of the best games of the round of 64.  Unless Shaka has some magical voodoo trick up his sleeve, it's one and done for the Rams this year.

* (4) Indiana over (13) New Mexico State.  Will not be even a remotely entertaining or competitive contest.  And since I have nothing else to say ... how about a cheap shot at Duke!  What's the difference between a three week old puppy and a Duke fan?  The puppy eventually quits whining!  Hey-yo!  I am on FIRE right now!

* (6) UNLV over (11) Colorado.  Good God, how awful has the Pac 12 got to be when Colorado, an also-ran doormat in the Big XII for decades, jumps leagues, and immediately wins the postseason tournament in its first year?  Either the Big XII is far tougher than people think ... or the Pac 12 is a f*cking joke.  I lean towards the latter.  Congrats Pac 12, on being the first BCS level conference to ever fail to place its regular season champion in the field of 68.

Seriously, let that sink in.  The Pac 12, a BCS conference, a reputable, respectable conference that as recently as four years ago had its champion playing in the National Championship game ... can't get its regular season champion into the field as an at-large team.  (peter griffin voice) Cracked?  When Larry Scott set out to rebrand the conference, I don't think he had "MEAC of the West Coast" in mind as a slogan.

* (14) South Dakota State over (3) Baylor.  I'm not sold on any of the (3) seeds this year, and can see all of them crapping out in the opening couple rounds.  The one I'm most confident will be going home early ... we'll get to in a couple more regionals.  The one I am most confident that it has zero shot of reaching New Orleans, is Baylor.  The Bears played two fantastic games this weekend ... and barely beat either opponent, needing to hang on to beat KSU*, and seeing KU complete the comeback and regain the lead before the Bears hit clutch free throws to avoid an embarrassing defeat.  Plus there's the Scott Drew factor.  When you look at a coach, and the words "Dale Brown", "brain dead", "dunce cap", and "Dale Brown" come to mind, that is NOT a good thing.  Finally, South Dakota State is the Jackrabbits.  I like that nickname.  Jackrabbits. 

(*: at bowling on Wednesday night, the lovely Kellie asked me who KSU's opponent on Thursday was going to be.  I had a brain fart and couldn't guess.  So she holds up her hand with the wedding ring on it as a clue.  Still no idea.  So she does a "bear claw attacking you" type of motion, and I finally get it.  The lesson?  When the first clue someone gives you about your university is to remind you that if you want to have even five minutes of recreational fun, you gotta put a ring on it?  Reason #1,354 why I did not attend Baylor University.  Reasons #1-1,353 being "they actually made the live bear come out of his cave on my visit ... and it was 110 degrees in Waco that day."  I literally turned to my dad when the Baylor staffer prodded that poor grizzley-like bear out there and said "we're leaving".  It's all fun and games until  you abuse a bear.  Sorry, Baylor.  It was probably for the best we didn't work out.)

* (7) Notre Dame over (10) Xavier.  A total coin flip game.  If this was college football, we'd be getting a "Catholics vs Convicts" type storyline, with Tu Holloway in the Michael Irvin / Warren Sapp "convicts" role.  And since we're on Notre Dame for a paragraph here, allow me state that it is time for the Big East Conference to tell the Irish to piss or get off the pot.  Either they join every D1 league the Big East has to offer, or they get ex-communicated from all of them.  Why the Big East, a conference not exactly hurting for new recruits right now, why they don't tell Notre Dame to join in all sports or leave in all sports, why they allow one mediocre educational institution that hasn't won a championship of any kind since Larry Brown was only on his seventh coaching stop*, is beyond me.

(*: that would be Mr. Brown's inaugural season in San Antonio, preceded by stints at KU, the New Jersey Nets, UCLA, the Denver Nuggets, the defunct Carolina Cougars of the old ABA, and Davidson.  Post San Antonio (stop seven), Mr. Brown has coached the Los Angeles Clippers, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks, and Charlotte Bobcats.  That's a solid laundry list of destinations!  To say nothing of the fact that the man has coached every surviving ABA franchise!  (john davidson voice) That's Incredible!  Yeah.  THAT was a top ten show for a decade.  Anyone who says television today "ain't what it used to be", should be damned thankful that it's not.)

* (2) Duke over (15) Lehigh.  How epic would it have been if Seth Curry's miracle three point attempt had fallen in on Saturday afternoon?  Every person riding Florida State right now because they won the ACC postseason tourney, uum ... did y'all not WATCH the ACC tourney?  Leonard Hamilton is one dumb sombitch.  That last play against Duke on Saturday was a fireable offense.  And again on Sunday, UNC trailing by three with the ball, and FSU doesn't foul!  Put it this way: if Florida State is the best the ACC has to offer (and it's not), then the ACC is going to be done in this toonumunt by Sunday night.

Round of 32:

* (1) Kentucky vs (9) UConn.  Hey, it's the "Show Cause" Bowl!  Calipari!  Calhoun!  The two sleasiest coaches in D1 athletics!  And they're meeting with a berth in the Sweet 16 on the line!  In a rematch of last year's Final Four showdown!  Hopefully CBS puts this one in the national window Saturday at 11am, or at 8pm, because all kidding aside, this would be one helluva round of 32 matchup.

* (5) Wichita State over (4) Indiana.  Tom Crean did one helluva job this year, and over the last couple of seasons, in restoring IU hoops to a national level of prominence.  Having said that, there isn't a shot in hell they deserved a four seed.  This is not a Top 16 team.  And it's not a Sweet 16 team either.  The Shockers keep on, uum, shocking the big boys.

* (6) UNLV over (14) South Dakota State.  I'm a huge fan of Lon Kruger.  But even he has to be shaking his head in disgust at bolting one season too soon for OU.  This UNLV team is good.  They're Sweet 16 level good.  Which is where I'm projecting them to reach.

* (2) Duke over (7) Notre Dame.  Let's give a hand to Mike Brey, the only Coach K assistant to matter worth a damn running his own program.  Unfortunately for Mr. Brey, he doesn't have the talent to pull the upset.  If its possible for a two seed to be grousely underrated, then Duke is grousely underrated.  And as someone who doesn't root for Duke, but doesn't hate them either -- I know, I know, how is that possible -- but as someone with no passion either way about the Dukies, holy shit, what great potential Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight matchup(s) are facing them!  Epic!  Sweet 16 you're looking at Baylor (rematch of 2010 South Regional final) or UNLV (rematch of the game that got Duke over the top), and Elite 8, a rematch of only the greatest collegiate basketball game ever played!  (So naturally, that means Duke survives a scare against Lehigh in round one, and gets upset by Xavier in round two in a rematch of the 2004 South Regional final.  Because that's how it always works.)

Sweet Sixteen:

* (1) Kentucky over (5) Wichita State.  I think.  Wichita State can absolutely win this game, and it wouldn't be much of an upset if they do, to be honest.  I might revisit this one in a second bracket.  I'm probably the only person in America not completely sold on Kentucky as the mortal lock favorite in this event, and here's why: how often does the best team actually win this thing?  Next to never?  (Cue every KU fan reliving the horror of Birmingham, Alabama fifteen years ago ... or Oklahoma City two years ago.)  There's that ... and then there's the fact that I don't think Kentucky is the best team in this tournament.  And unlike most years, the best team IS going to win it.

* (2) Duke over (6) UNLV.  Another game where I can see the mid-major dumping the power six team.  Another game where in a second bracket, I'd possibly pick a different outcome.  I just think Duke / Kentucky for the first time in ages is too damned good to not predict to occur.  Namely because Duke is the perfect type of team to knock Kentucky out.

Elite Eight:

* (2) Duke over (1) Kentucky.  If Ryan Kelly plays, and my guess is a sprained ankle will be fine by this point, Duke is the perfect team to take out Kentucky.  They can attack you inside with the Plumlees and Kelly.  If you switch to zone to shut down the inside game, then Curry and Rivers can kill you from the perimeter.  And one advantage to having as many big, slow white guys as Duke has ... is the "Hack a Davis" plan can be put into play, to limit his effectiveness.  Sorry Coach Cal, looks like you won't be vacating yet another Final Four appearance a couple seasons from now.  But you will be vacating about 40 wins and an SEC regular season championship, if its any consolation.  That, and I really don't think it will take a 100 foot heave of an inbounds pass with 1.2 seconds left in overtime to beat Kentucky this time.  But it'd be damned sweet if it did.

Atlanta Regional Winner: Duke University Blue Devils.

Next up, the Phoenix Regional:

Play In Game:

* (14) Iona over (14) BYU.  Yes, BYU and Iona are now officially the lowest at-large seeds ever.  Sweet!  Granted, it was caused because of BYU's inability to play on Sunday, but still, sweet!  And kudos to the committee for passing on a couple of shitty power six schools, and rewarding mid-majors who had a great season but stumbled in the conference tournament.  I firmly believe any team that wins its league, and the league is ranked in the Top 12 of the conference rankings, should get an auto-bid.  Also, kudos to the committee for not taking a single at-large team with a losing conference record.  Well done.  If you can't win at least half the games in your conference, you have no business being an at-large squad.

Round of 64:

* (1) Michigan State over (16) LIU Brooklyn.  Nice of Brooklyn to stick which borough of Long Island they're located in.  Although if the alternative was people thinking my school was located in Queens, I'd slap a "Brooklyn" on the end of my name too. 

* (9) Saint Louis over (8) Memphis.  Don't get people's love affair with the Memphis Tigers.  This is not a well-coached team.  Will Barton disappears for huge chunks of games.  And they still can't hit a free throw to save their life.  Saint Louis, on the other hand, finished 2nd in the best non-Power Six conference in America (and I'd argue the A-10 is superior to the Pac 12, if not the SEC as well), is extremely well coached, and doesn't beat itself.  I've seen at least three reputable writers' brackets that have Memphis in the Elite 8 and beyond.  That's just crazy talk.  Saint Louis is the pick here to survive and advance.

* (5) New Mexico over (12) Long Beach State.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is going to be one of the best games of the round of 64.  Long Beach is a beast.  They won at Pitt, they nearly won at Allen Field House.  New Mexico is freaking loaded, tying for the top of the Mountain West conference (which just put half its conference in the field).  Both teams love to run and gun, play defense only in limited spurts, and are fun to watch.  This one's definitely going to get air time in the Casa de Stevo.

* (4) Louisville over (13) Davidson.  Thanks to "Sexcetera", I learned about five years ago that sex in public is pretty much legal in the state of Oregon, as long as its within a building and not on a street corner.  Good news, Coach Pitino!  Go after those sleazy Italian restaurant waitresses like Tiger Woods going after a Perkins hostess!  It's on like Donkey Kong!  (Cue every voyeuristic person reading this site scheduling a quick get-away to the lovely state of Oregon in their immediate future ...)

And since I haven't mentioned it in awhile, why hasn't any legitimate news network hired Hoyt and Frank yet?  You mean to tell me Reverend Sharpton (and in the interest of full disclosure, I first look to MSNBC for my news, and I LOVE Reverend Sharpton's show) is a more legitimate member of the media than Hoyt Christopher or Frank Gianotti?  That's an outrage!  FOX News, here's your chance to bring in the sex addict demographic that doesn't watch you because they assume you hate them.  Hire Hoyt and Frank to do a weekly segment on Hannity's show.  Christ, that's an inspired idea!  Can you imagine Ol' Sean's reaction to seeing two semi-retired male porn stars reporting on the latest in the adult industry?  I'd tune in just to see his reaction.  And I know I wouldn't be the only one.  We need more Hoyt and Frank in our lives.

* (6) Murray State over (11) Colorado State.  Both are tremendous mid-level teams that had tremendous seasons.  But Colorado State beat NOBODY away from home.  They had one road win in conference, at league doormat Air Force.  Murray State won everywhere it played this year -- home, road, neutral site.  I expect that trend to continue.

* (3) Marquette over (14) Iona.  I'm not sold on it though.  Marquette as a three seed!  How did this happen?  They haven't been a three seed since Dwayne Wade was getting his ass handed to him in the Superdome nine springs ago.  (My God, has it really been NINE YEARS since Hakim Warrick got away with raping Mikey Lee on that final shot?  Where has the time gone?)

* (7) Florida over (10) Virginia.  How the hell is Virginia in the field?  They beat NOBODY after Thanksgiving!  No seriously, they have ZERO Top 50 wins since Thanksgiving weekend, when they beat Michigan.  Aye caramba.  Florida's rounding into form at the right time -- they've played Kentucky tough twice in the last week (and probably should have won on Saturday), and pounded Vandy.  I'll take the Gators.

* (2) Missouri over (15) Norfolk State.  Tigers fans are upset that KU got the coveted St. Louis spot, and they didn't.  Well life's tough guys.  You're an SEC school now.  Your classless hoodlums and thugs posing as fans Saturday night made that abundantly clear.  The committee sends SEC schools SOUTH, because they're the SOUTHeastern Conference.  Deal with it.  You're the traitorous bitches who decided pimping your school's conference affiliation for a couple extra bucks was more important than loyalty to a conference and a rivalry you've been in for over a hundred years.  There's a price to pay for prostitution guys.  Sometimes that price is a mugshot on JohnTV.  Sometimes that price is easily cured by a pill or some strategically-placed cream.  In your case, it's not. 

Christ, I hate Mizzou.

Round of 32:

* (1) Michigan State over (9) Saint Louis.  Should be your average garden-variety 72-55 layup drill.  Still, helluva season for Rick Majerus and the Billikens.

* (5) New Mexico over (4) Louisville.  Did anyone else watch the Big East finale Saturday night?  Was that some horrific hoops action or what?  Neither team topped 50, neither team could hit a jumpshot even if their life was on the line, and even Bill Raftery and Jay Bilas couldn't cover up the stench coming out of the Gahden.  Louisville is NOT one of the sixteen best teams in America.  They're not even close.  New Mexico wins in a route.

* (6) Murray State over (3) Marquette.  Since I have nothing to say about this particular matchup, did anyone else watch the A-10 finale on Sunday afternoon?  I did, because anytime Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery are broadcasting an event, I tune in.  It should be a Steve Rule.  Anyways, the game is getting out of hand at the end, the Bonnies are just blitzing Xavier, and so Bill and Verne are filling the broadcast with their entertaining banter.  The best part was Bill going off about how much he's going to miss Atlantic City (the A-10 tourney is moving to the Nets' new arena in Brooklyn next year).  It's why I love Bill Raftery so much -- he's upset the tourney is moving because it means he can't spend all night the night before hitting the craps table and downing a steady stream of cocktails.  In Bill's defense?  I'd be pissed at moving from the Boardwalk to Brooklyn too.

* (2) Missouri over (7) Florida.  I hope someone in the blue and orange just f*cking decks Kim English on Sunday.  Not a hard foul, not a rough shove, just f*cking deck him.  Shut that piece of human garbage up. 

Sweet Sixteen:

* (5) New Mexico over (1) Michigan State.  Our first gigantic upset in this region!  I really like this New Mexico team.  Michigan State, not as much.  Although gun to my head, my life on the line, if I had to pick one coach to lead my squad into battle, it would be Tom Izzo, and I wouldn't have to spend more than 2/1000ths of a second making that decision.

* (2) Missouri over (6) Murray State.  Yes, Tigers fans, I am projecting you will at least match the greatest athletic feat in your program's less than illustrious history, and you will at least reach the Elite 8.  You've been there twice in the last ten years (2002, L to OU; 2010, L to UConn), and at least one other time in the previous decade (1994, L to Arizona).  So congratulations.  You will at least match your greatest athletic achievement.  But here's a hint guys: if you want to be taken credibly, if you don't want to be the laughing stock of the SEC, if you don't want the words "perfectly mediocre" tossed around as a program description, like in the Big XII, then you gotta crack the glass ceiling.  ANYTHING less than an Elite 8 for this team is a gigantic disappointment.  Especially since you've got the 2010s version of Bruce Weber running your program.  You've got one crack at it before the implosion begins.  I suggest you take advantage of it.

Elite Eight:

* (2) Missouri over (5) New Mexico.  I can tell you this -- there will be no bigger fan of the Lobos than me for this game.  I want Mizzou to fail.  I want Norfolk State to shock them, ala Northern Iowa in 1990.  I want Florida to pull something out of their ass as time expires, ala Tyus Edney and UCLA in 1995.  I want them to lose in a manner, a fashion, that makes Matt Davison's heroic kick-and-catch in 1997 look like a field trip.  I want this team to be humiliated on the national stage.  I'm rooting for injuries.  I'm rooting for an incredible ending that screws Mizzou, and ensures that they'll leave the Big XII as every bit the utter failure they were while in the conference.

Sadly, I am not going to get what I want.  This Mizzou team is good.  It's damned good.  (It's damned unlovable, completely repulsive, and just the sight of Kim English makes me want to puke, but that's a story for when I visit my psychologist.)  This is the best team Mizzou has ever fielded, or at least that I can recall it fielding.  (There may have been better teams in the 1970s and 1980s, so I apologize if I left one out).  It's this team, or the 1994 squad that steam-rolled the Big 8 and in the final game of the season, demolished KU (who reached the Sweet Sixteen) in Lawrence.

If you don't do it this year, Tiger fan?  Your team is never going to do it.  Good luck.  (Goodbye, and good riddance, and please, let the door kick your ass so high and hard as you're walking out that you have to take off your shirt to shit going forward.)

Phoenix Region Winner: University of Missouri Tigers.

Now to the right side of the bracket, beginning with the Boston Regional ...

Play In Game: none.

Round of 64:

* (1) Syracuse over (16) UNC Ashville.  Do you realize that since that horrific April night in New Orleans nine years ago, Syracuse has failed to advance beyond the Sweet Sixteen?  Do you also realize that if KU wins that game in the Superdome nine years ago, we'd have a picture of Jim Boeheim on Wikipedia as the poster child for "underachiever"?  Few coaches have done less with more talent than Mr. Boeheim.  That will continue to be the case in 2012.

* (8) Kansas State over (9) Southern Miss.  Talk about coming full circle!  Southern Miss is coached by Larry Eustachy, who used to coach at Iowa State, until one night after a loss in Bramlage, he decided to deal with his misery by partying with some shapely co-eds at a sorority house.  Unfortunately for Mr. Eustachy, the pictures leaked online, and he was fired for what occurred that night.  Which is INSANE.  I would hope that if pictures of Bill Self chugging a couple cold ones while a buxom blonde was on each arm emerged, that Sheahon Zenger would look at them and laugh it off.  What ISU did to Mr. Eustachy is an outrage.  It's zues in nature.  (Come on, I made it all the way to page nine or ten before hauling that one out.  Self-control!  It's overrated.)

* (5) Vanderbilt over (12) Harvard.  For Vandy, it's simple: survive the round of 64, and they're going to go on a huge run.  Unfortunately for Vandy, that rarely happens, as they've lost to a double-digit seed three straight years now, and haven't survived the first weekend since the pride of Shawnee Mission South, Matt Frieje, was shooting the rock for them.  I think they survive a decent Harvard team.  They'd better -- this is my sleeper team that I'm riding until the pony keels over dead.

* (13) Montana over (4) Wisconsin.  SCREEEEEEECH!  No, that is not a Dustin Diamond sighting -- its the first car of the train cratering off the tracks.  Every year one region is an abject mess by the time it's over.  Last year it was the San Antonio bracket, which saw three double-digit seeds reach the Sweet Sixteen, and one of them (VCU) make it to Indianapolis.  This year, I think its the Boston region that come crashing apart by Sunday night.  Starting with Montana dispatching the most unwatchable of the unwatchable Big Ten teams.

* (6) Cincinnati over (11) Texas.  Put it this way Longhorns fans -- if this comes down to coaching, you're more screwed than an actress in a Frank and Hoyt interview piece.  Wow, the porn references are just FLYING off the shelf at this point. 

* (3) Florida State over (14) St. Bonaventure.  Part of me wants Texas to win its first game, because watching Leonard Hamilton and Rick Barnes "coach" against each other might set the sport back thirty years.  Also, Florida State is a three?  How?  How did this happen?  How the hell did the Florida State Seminoles beat UNC AND Duke twice each this season?  (Interesting stat on Bracketology yesterday afternoon: only five ACC schools have ever beaten both Duke and UNC twice in a season.  All five reached at least the Elite 8, and three reached the Final Four.  Just saying.  You know, if gambling were legal, and there were betting sites online to place a wager with, that might be useful information.  You're welcome.)

* (7) Gonzaga over (10) West Virginia.  I speak for every Big XII fan when I say "Welcome Back Huggy Bear!"  It's good that we're going to have Bob "Huggy Bear" Huggins in our lives twice a year going forward.  I don't have very many rules in life, but one I would swear by is that "anytime you can add a team to your conference whose fans celebrate huge victories by getting insanely drunk on moonshine* and by lighting furniture on fire, you have to do it."  Yes.  Yes you do.

(*: I've had moonshine once in my life.  Me and "The Voice of Reason" were in St. Louis ten years ago for the KU / Stanford second round matchup.  (You have NO idea how horrifying this game was before tipoff.  Hinrich was hurt, Stanford was grousely underseeded, and Casey Jacobson hit every f*cking thing he threw up on Thursday night.  Plus, KU had nearly lost to Holy Cross in the first round.  Let's just say, I didn't sleep much the night before).  So we head to the Dome, scalp a couple tickets, and the first game up was Tulsa vs Kentucky.  We wound up in the Kentucky section of fans, and about halfway through the second half, a fan hands us a flask and offers us a hit off it.  (Note: in case you've never been to a NCAA postseason game, no alcohol of any kind is served at these events.  Yet another reason the NCAA is the biggest sham alive today -- it happily takes in beer money, but refuses to sell beer.  F*ck you, NCAA rules and practices.) 

Anyways, I take the flask, thank the guy, take a sip ... and immediately feel the need to puke.  This thing was worse than El Presidente brandy, worse than room temperature Montezuma tequila.  This sh*t was so awful that I was actually grateful I had nothing available to mix it in with.  So Gregg's up next, take a swill ... and then just says "yup, its shine" and hands it back, as if he's been drinking moonshine all his life.  It was damned funny -- the alcoholic of the bunch (me) repulsed by the taste of moonshine, and the virtual tee-totaler guzzling a shot like it was water.  OK, I thought it was funny.  Back to the picks!)

* (2) Ohio State over (15) Loyola MD.  Hey, a doctor in the house (rimshot!)  Yeah, you're right: porn jokes are more fun.  So are Duke jokes.  Don't worry, I've got a few queud up for when we reach the Final Four picks.  Speaking of jokes, this contest promises to be one.  I enjoy watching Ohio State play, because they're the rare Big Ten team (along with Michigan State and occasionally Indiana) that can hit a f*cking jumpshot, that doesn't bleed the shot clock down to 2 seconds before heaving up a horrendous 18 footer, and that's a scripted play.  I hate hoops like that.  (I'm looking at you, Wisconsin).  That form of the game sucks.  (Insert your "sucks worse than something affiliated with Duke basketball" joke here.)

Round of 32:

* (8) Kansas State over (1) Syracuse.  Uh oh, Thomas the Train just veered off the tracks!  Quick, we need some Rescue Heroes to save this region!  Rocky Canyon, Billy Blaze, come on down!

* (5) Vanderbilt over (13) Montana.  From the "not even Stevo can make this sh*t up" file: care to guess what Montana's head coach's name is?  I'll give you the first name: Wayne.  (dramatic pause ...)  And we're back.  His last name is Tinkle.  Yes, tinkle.  It's not quite as funny as the "Let's Go Peay!" chants anytime Austin Peay makes the postseason, but it has potential.  (Also, here's hoping he's more capable of piloting a vehicle after a glass of wine than a Mizzou coach whose name sounds similar to "Tinkle".)

* (3) Florida State over (6) Cincinnati.  I really, really, really wanted to pick the Bearcats here, but just couldn't pull the trigger.

* (2) Ohio State over (7) Gonzaga.  A tremendous second round matchup.  Just tremendous.  Gonzaga can win this game.

Sweet Sixteen:

* (5) Vanderbilt over (8) Kansas State.  Once again, in case I haven't stated in print before, let me make sure this is out there for the world to read: I commend Kansas State University for whipping Mizzou's ass every time they played this year.  Not beat them in miraculous fashion, like KU managed in what might be the final Border War battle ever -- whipped their ass.  Beat them like a government mule and stole their 40 acres to boot.  Good for you, KSU.

* (3) Florida State over (2) Ohio State.  Should be an extremely entertaining contest.  Hell, this might be THE best game of the entire tournament -- two teams that love to run, can play staunch defense when they have to, and are entertaining as hell to watch.  And if you had "never" in the "when will Stevo describe a Big Ten basketball team as "entertaining as hell to watch" pool, sorry.  Hey, I'd have taken "never" also.  But the Buckeyes are actually entertaining as hell to watch.  Wisconsin, since you'll be long since out of this toonumunt, take some notes.  Please.  Before I have to gouge my eyes out watching one more abortion of a performance by you.

Elite Eight:

* (5) Vanderbilt over (3) Florida State.  It won't be as high profile (or anticipated) as my other projected Elite Eight matchup on this side of the bracket, but it will be every bit as entertaining.  The long-overlooked third team in the SEC meeting the long-overlooked third team in the ACC.  Giggity.

Boston Regional Winner: Vanderbilt University Commodores.

Which leaves one region left to go, the St. Louis Regional ...

Play In Games:

* (16) Lamar over (16) Vermont.  What a great moment Saturday night, and I'm not talking about Bob Knight eating an ice cream cone in the middle of the broadcast.  No, it was Knight genuinely moved over his son taking Lamar to the Dance.  I thought it was neat.  Hopefully Pat is as testy in the postgame pressers as his dad was after a defeat.

* (12) South Florida over (12) California.  How the hell are EITHER of these teams an at-large?  South Florida just played one of the worst games I've ever had the misfortune to witness against Notre Dame.  Cal got pole-axed by Colorado.  If the Pac 12 was going to get an at-large, it should have been Washington, since, I don't know, they won the damned conference outright.  And South Florida, holy Lord.  This is a brutally awful basketball team.  Brutally awful.  They'll win a 45-42 slugfest that noone outside of the state of Wisconsin can stomach to watch.

Round of 64:

* (1) North Carolina over (16) Lamar.  I think Lamar will hold its own ... until the under eight timeout.  Then it's go time.  Put it this way -- this Carolina team is so f*cking talented that John Henson played TWO MINUTES in the ACC semis and finals, and they STILL nearly won the damned title.  This team is scary good.  Scary good.  As in "there's only two coaches in America who could choke with this much talent, and one of them is Jim Boeheim" good.  The other one?  (Cue every UNC fan cringing in fear ...)

* (8) Creighton over (9) Alabama.  Could be a really entertaining contest.  Alabama's not bad.  And Creighton's pretty good.

* (5) Temple over (12) South Florida.  If Temple does not win this game by 20 points or more, I will refund the full price of this column to every reader.  And despite how unwatchable his team is, kudos to Stan Heath for getting South Florida into the tourney and saving his job with a miracle season.  Heath got a ridiculously bum deal at Arkansas.  Glad to see things working out for him.

* (4) Michigan over (13) Ohio.  Although I'm not sold on it in any way, shape, or form.  If the Michigan team that showed up Saturday (and barely showed up Friday) takes the floor on Thursday, Ohio will win.  Not a good way to start the postseason guys, barely beating an Illinois team that quit on its coach three months ago, and then getting tuned by 25 points by your most hated rival, a game so uncompetitive that Jim Nantz of all people was mocking your 12th man scoring seven points (or five more than he had all season).  Not a good start to the postseason Michigan.  Not good at all.

* (11) NC State over (6) San Diego State.  Steve Fisher's done one helluva job, losing four starters (including lottery pick Kawhi Leonard), and still winning the Mountain West.  An even better job?  Is what Mark Gottfried just pulled off at NC State.  He's doing this with Sidney Lowe's players.  In case you don't know anything about Sidney Lowe, let me fill you in -- if Mr. Lowe is not the worst coach to ever be put in charge of a D1 program, he's in the top three.  He couldn't recruit, he couldn't outscheme a corpse, and he wore a horrendous all-red suit jacket that literally burned your eyes if you were watching in HD.  Somehow, Mark Gottfried overcame all that, and got this team into the toonumunt.  Good for you.  I always thought Mr. Gottfried got a raw deal at Alabama.  It's nice to see good people succeed.

* (14) Belmont over (3) Georgetown.  I entered these picks all fired up that I'd be the only person in America to see Georgetown's early exit coming.  Then I notice that Mark Titus called it at Grantland, that Stewart Mandel has Belmont in his Sweet 16 at Sports Illustrated, and I thought "Stevo, that's ok.  It just means you aren't completely insane".  So I'm agreeing with those experts, and calling Belmont over Georgetown.  Yes, I have two three seeds crapping out on day one, and a third one crapping out in the round of 32.  Color me unimpressed with the three seeds this year.

* (10) Purdue over (7) St. Mary's.  Just a hunch.

* (2) Kansas over (15) Detroit.  I have absolutely no idea what to make of this Kansas team.  They are absolutely capable of losing this game.  And that's my fear, that Mizzou finally cracks its glass ceiling in a year KU lays a stink bomb in the first round again.  That would be all kind of levels of wrong.

Round of 32:

* (1) North Carolina over (8) Creighton.  Now THIS is gonna be an entertaining as hell contest!  I just don't think Creighton has enough to spring the upset.  But they're going to be in it at the under four timeout.  This is going to be a 76-72 game with three minutes to play.  Just like Washington / UNC last year in the second round. 

* (5) Temple over (4) Michigan.  A battle of two decent teams who both flamed out horrifically last weekend in their respective tournaments.  I think Temple is the slightly better team, hence the pick.

* (14) Belmont over (11) NC State.  Last year I took a 13th seeded Belmont team to the Elite 8.  They got demolished by Wisconsin in the round of 64.  The lesson?  I haven't learned a damned thing from last year to this year, I guess.

* (2) Kansas over (10) Purdue.  I am praying this is Purdue.  St. Mary's presents a laundry list of matchup issues for KU, not the least of which is the presence of Matthew Delladevoda to neutralize Tyshawn Taylor.  Then again, I'm just praying KU makes it to this point.  Detroit is not going to be an easy first round opponent.

Sweet Sixteen:

* (1) North Carolina over (5) Temple.  Nothing to see here, move along people.

* (2) Kansas over (14) Belmont.  Oh sweet merciful Jesus, it's another double digit school that starts with the letter B.  Maybe I'm overreacting, but when your team has lost to two of those teams in the last seven years, its cause for alarm.  Leading to ...

Elite Eight:

* (1) North Carolina over (2) Kansas.  KU can win this game.  God knows I will be rooting with every ounce of energy, alcohol, and a medicinally legal product in sixteen different states that I can muster for KU to win this game.  I just think UNC is this good.  The one advantage KU will have is the crowd.  And if this was the first showdown against the Rat Bastard?  I'd probably pick KU to win.

But we've been there, done that, in 2008.  Not even those of us who are thoroughly disgusted every time Roy's images appears on TV (hey, that's me!) can truly hate the guy after the classy way he handled that defeat (and handled the championship game).  Basketball is a simple game.  You can scheme, you can plan, but at the end of the day, the team with the most talent tends to win.  Carolina is the most talented team in this tournament.  And in this region.  Which is why they're going to win it.

St. Louis Regional Winner: University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

Final Four:

* (2) Duke Blue Devils vs (2) Missouri Tigers.  As promised, I scoured the internet for the best Dukie jokes I could find.  Here’s my favorites:

* How does a Duke fan normally greet a UNC fan?  “Welcome to McDonalds, how may I help you” (rimshot!)

* Why did the Blue Devil cross the road?  Who cares – the bigger question is, how did he post bail? (rimshot!)

* A hot girl from Duke, a hot girl from Carolina, and a hot girl from  State all sit down at a bar.  Who gets served first?  It’s a trick question – there are no hot girls from Duke!  (rimshot!)

* Duke Football! (rimshot!)

* What did one Cameron Crazy say to another?  Something gay. (rimshot!)

* Three Dukies are traveling to a game, and agree to share a hotel bed for the night.  The Dukie laying on the right wakes up and screams “I just dreamt someone gave me a hand job!”  The Dukie on the left screams “Oh my God, me too!”  The Dukie in the middle says “that’s funny – I dreamt I was skiing” (rimshot!)

* What stops Duke cheerleaders from going to Jenny Craig?  The door frame (rimshot!)

* This one’s not a Duke joke, but it’s damned funny:

A guy in a bar sees a gorgeous girl, and approaches her, and begins to hit on her.  In the course of conversation, she reveals that her name is Carmen.  She also reveals that she named herself.  Incredulous, the guy asks how she arrived with the name Carmen.  “Well”, she says, “its because I like cars and men!”  Carmen then asks the guy what his name is.  “Beerf*ck” (rimshot!)

Come on, that one was legitimately funny.

* A young boy is removed by protective services from his home.  When asked if he wants to live with his father, he replies “no, he beats me”.  When asked if he wants to stay with his mother, he replies “no, she beats me too”.  Finally, the boy is asked who he wants to live with.  “The Duke football team” (rimshot!)

* Why don’t they celebrate Christmas on the Duke campus?  Because they can’t find a virgin or three wise men (rimshot!)

And finally …

* What’s the difference between a Duke basketball player and a rooster?  A rooster says cock-a-doodle-doo, a Dukie says any-cock-will-doodle-doo (rimshot!)

OK, hope everybody had a good laugh.  As for the first national semifinal, this would be a tremendously entertaining game.  And its where I believe Mizzou will come to the end of the road.  Duke 82, Mizzou 77.

In all seriousness here for a second … yes, I despise Mizzou.  I hate them with a level of intensity really only seen in my life for the denver broncos or an Andretti.  And even on Marco, I’ve softened my stance.  (Although I still despise his father with an unhealthy passion.)  Which is why I’m so f*cking mad that Mizzou is leaving.

I understand why they’re leaving.  I can’t blame them for leaving.  But I can hate them for doing it.  On Facebook this weekend, when I left a few anti-Mizzou comments designed to tweak Tigers fans, I got the predictable response of “you’re just jealous”.  Jealous?  Of Mizzou?  In the words of renowned feline attorney Mousy McDermott, “You have to be kitten me!” (rimshot!)

I’m not jealous of Mizzou.  I’m pissed at them.  I’m pissed that they are voluntarily walking away from the greatest rivalry in collegiate sports.  This isn’t a rivalry because two damned good teams play eight miles from each other, like Duke and Carolina.  This isn’t an in-state battle for supremacy, like FSU – Miami, or a battle for bragging rights in the city, like UCLA – USC.  This rivalry is founded on what every great rivalry thrives off of – pure hate.  It dates back to before Kansas was a state, let alone had accredited universities.  For Mizzou to decide that its future is not tied to Kansas is infuriating.  I would hope it would be infuriating to every fan of this rivalry.

Sheahon Zenger, Bill Self, Chuck Weis, please gentlemen, ACT like gentlemen.  Renew the Border War.  There’s still time to salvage every sport save football for next season.  Grow up, act your age, and meet Mizzou halfway.  Please.

* (5) Vanderbilt Commodores vs (1) UNC Tar Heels.  This one could get out of hand early.  This one could get really ugly early.  I have a feeling this one is not going to be remembered as a “good game” with a “great finish”.  Tar Heels 92, Commodores 65.

National Championship Game:

(2) Duke Blue Devils vs (1) UNC Tar Heels.  In a season that has been defined, for better (nope) or worse (hell yes) by the destruction of long-time rivalries – no more OU / Nebraska, no more Texas / A&M, no more KU / MU, fears of no more Georgetown / Syracuse, Pitt / West Virginia – it is fitting that just as college football’s title game came down to bitter conference rivals (LSU / Alabama), that college basketball’s final game feature the same intensity, the same grouping.

Duke.  Carolina.  For EVERYTHING the sport has to offer.

Believe it or not, Duke and Carolina have NEVER met in the NCAA tournament before.  That just blew my mind.  With all the Final Fours these squads have, all the Elite 8 appearances, to never once meet up in the NCAAs seems impossible. 

Which is why this is my predicted title game.  In a season that has seen the impossible come to be (thanks to selling out for the almighty dollar in Mizzou’s case, and jilted lover syndrome in KU’s case), it has to go out by giving us the improbable.

Honestly, is there ANYONE who loves this sport who wouldn’t spend 48 straight hours creaming their pants over this matchup? 

I spent two years living with a Duke fanatic.  As a KU fan, I immediately converted into an anti-UNC person nine years ago, when the Rat Bastard took a gigantic whiz on that whole “I’m a Jayhawk for life” pledge from 2000 and left for the UNC gig.  Needless to say, I will be rooting for Duke if this matchup occurs.  (Contrary to what the running Duke jokes would have you believe, I don’t hate Duke.  I actually like the Blue Devils.  I just love tweaking a certain someone who reads this site, if only because the email response blasting me for taking cheap shots at Duke guarantees a trip to Dustyland.)

But North Carolina is the best team in this tournament.  They’re the most talented.  They’re supremely coached.  Again, go back to the ACC Tourney the last two days.  How many other coaches in America can lose a player the caliber of John Henson, and STILL win game one, and have the ball with a shot to tie as time expired in game two?  I can think of about 9, maybe 10 coaches, that could do that.  Coach K.  Roy.  Tom Izzo.  Bill Self.  Ben Howland, current malaise at UCLA be damned.  (Sorry, but you don’t reach three straight Final Fours unless you can flat out coach.  Especially in the “one and done” era we currently live in.)  Brad Stevens at Butler.  Dana Altman at Oregon, the most underrated coach in America.  Maybe Thad Motta.  Probably Rick Pitino.  Definitely Jim Calhoun.  On a good day, if the wind is blowing perfectly and the sun is exactly at the two and ten position, maybe Jim Boeheim.

That’s it.  Just once in their two Hall of Fame careers, can we as fans let Roy and Coach K battle on the national stage for all the marbles?  Please?**********  I don’t ask much.  But other than a Kansas / Mizzou national title game that, let’s be honest, 80 percent of the nation could care less about, but our 20 percent would … well, as my buddy Pickell would say, “let me put it this way”.  Tuesday April 3 would see the single day record for sick leave in the KC Metro area set, and whatever the current record holder is (I’m guessing it’s Monday, October 28, 1985) wouldn’t even be close.
So if we can’t get what we want … maybe we’ll get what we need.  Which is a championship for the ages.  Carolina 94, Duke 93 (OT).

National Champions: The University of North Carolina Tar Heels.

Until the next post, which is pretty much guaranteed to be a “Smash” recap since “Smash” airs in less than an hour, be safe.  Have fun.  Tip your waiter.  And remember, when it comes to crappy jokes that make you cringe, you can NEVER go wrong with “Poker?  I didn’t even kiss her!” (rimshot!)  Come on, you knew I couldn’t put out a fifteen page post loaded with shitty one-liners without dropping that classic in there …

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