Tuesday, March 17, 2015

the world's longest ncaa tournament picks post: 2015 edition!!!!!

“When your legs don’t work, like they used to before?
And I can’t sweep you off of your feet?
Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love?
Will your eyes still smile from your cheek?

And darling?  I will be loving you until we’re seventy!
And baby?  My heart, could still fall as hard at twenty three!
And I’m thinking about how …

People fall in love in mysterious ways!
Maybe just the touch of a hand?
Well me?  I fall in love with you, every single day!
And I just want to tell you I am …

So honey now?  Take me into your loving arms!
Kiss me under the light of a thousand stars!
Place your head on my beating heart!
I’m thinking out loud –

Maybe we found love?
Right where we are! …”

-- “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran … and I am still infuriated, this song did not win record or song of the year, at the Grammy’s last month.  (judge judy voice) That is OUTRAGEOUS behavior sir!  Beyond outrageous!

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Let the madness begin!  I cannot even begin to express how geeked I am for the next two months.  Three weeks of (potential) madness in college hoops, followed by my second favorite sporting event of the year*, Forty Games in Forty Nights (aka the NBA Playoffs)!!!!!  We are truly all winners here!!!!!

Here then, is my NCAA Tournament Predictions Post, 2015 Edition.  A few standard rules:

1. This is what I will be submitting as my main bracket, in any pool I enter.  (Safe bet I’ll enter at least three – The Voice of Reason’s, the one at “Company I Work For”, and if Heath is nice enough, whatever he and his Sportsline folks are throwing together.  Also, a belated congrats on the gig, sir!  Couldn’t be prouder of ya man!)

2. Normally this turns into a running gag of anti-KSU, Mizzou, and Duke jokes.  Sadly, only one of those three squads finished above .500 and qualified for this thing.  Oh Mizzou.  Congrats to your football team, by the way – it’s always a stellar season on the hardwood, when your football team (11) wins more games than your men’s hoops program  (9).  Even my alma mater can manage to avoid that distinction, and it ain’t like Texas Christian University is a hotbed for hoops.

3. I have long believed the key to winning your bracket, is to identify the massive upset nobody else sees coming.  One of the five favorites will crap out earlier than anyone predicts them to.  You identify that flame-out?  You’re in good shape.

My point being, winning your tournament pool isn’t about skill, or knowledge of the game, because nobody watches more basketball than me, that isn’t paid for to watch it for a living.  I don’t remember the last time I failed to fall asleep without catching at least a half of whatever west coast game was on the League Pass or insert-ESPN-channel-here.  I love the sport.  And I’ll be damned if I can ever get these picks right.

Having laid that out, here we go.  Welcome … to the World’s Longest 2015 NCAA Tournament Prognistications Post!!!!!

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(*: my top ten favorite days / events in sports each year?  Glad you asked!  In reverse order:

10. Masters Sunday.  My second favorite day in golf.
9. The Bristol Night Race.  I’ve been known to blow off a Chiefs preseason game to watch.
8. The NCAA Tournament.  Should note, this rises and falls based on how KU and Syracuse perform.
7. US Open Sunday.  No longer featuring Johnny Miller.  Circle me outraged, Bert.  Circle me outraged.
6. Opening Day.  This used to be the unquestioned number one, prior to 2004.  It wouldn’t have been ranked, at this time last year.  Nice job, Boyz N Blue.  Nice job.
5. The first pool volleyball game.  Means summer is officially underway!
4. The Sunday Before Memorial Day.  Monaco, Indy, Lowe’s.  Nothing else needs to be said.
3. The Chiefs Home Opener.  Which has NOT been the same as Number One since 1999.
2. Forty Games in Forty Nights.  AKA The NBA Playoffs.
1. denver at Kansas City.  AKA The Day I Live For.)

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Ladies and gentlemen, please rise, remove your hats from your head, place your hand over your heart, and please welcome The Fray -- or, as The Champ would call them, "The Frye!" -- to perform our National Anthem:


(I am in the decided minority … but I totally dug this three years ago, and I like it more now, than I did then.  What can I say, I’m a weird dude sometimes.)

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The Play In Games.

* 16 Manhattan over 16 Hampton.  Here’s how you know I’m getting damned old.  It’s been fourteen years since Hampton stunned Iowa State to close down night one of the 2001 NCAA Tournament … and I can still remember that game like it happened yesterday. 

I’m taking Manhattan simply because they’re coached by a dude who blatantly lied on his resume … and not only wasn’t fired, they took him back after the lies were exposed, when he left for the South Florida job last year.  When you’re an institution of higher learning with that low of a moral threshold out of your employees?  I have to admire that.  Manhattan is like the Clinton Administration of college basketball.  And I say that as someone chomping at the bit, to cheer an acceptance speech like I haven’t cheered for one since August 17, 2000, at hearing “Yes.  Yes, I proudly accept your nomination to be the next President of the United States!” emerge from the mouth of Mrs. Clinton, a little over 17 months from now. 

(Hang in there kids – we’re only 19 months away, from the grown-ups pulling the big wheel, out of the ditch after sixteen long years of utter incompetence!!!)

* 16 Robert Morris over 16 North Florida.  The last time KU missed the NCAA Tournament (1989, due to probation), they opened the following year’s tournament against … fifteenth seeded Robert Morris.  (UCLA beat KU in the Round of 32, after Robert Morris damned near beat KU, which would have marked the first “15 beats 2” in the tourney’s history.  An honor that went to Richmond a year later when they beat … Syracuse.  Aye yay yay, no me gusta!)  I’ve never heard of North Florida.  I’ll take Bobby in this matchup.

* 11 BYU over 11 Ole Miss.  Kudos to the committee for not screwing up the Thursday / Saturday placement for BYU, as they did a few years ago.  Major boos to the committee for taking a sh*ttacular Ole Miss squad over a far superior Temple team that blew KU out of the building three months ago.  Utterly and totally indefensible, committee.  That’s a fireable offense.

(Just wait until we get to a team to come, if you think the inclusion of Ole Miss has me up in arms.  I’d argue including “this squad” yet to appear, is the single biggest gaffe in committee history.) 

Taking a horrific SEC squad whose signature “win” was losing by two at Kentucky, over a team that beat a top eight seed by nearly thirty, is the height of idiocy.  I hate the NCAA with a passion.  (But the tournament you love, right?)  Hell yes I love it.  The lesson?  As always.  #imahypocrite

* 11 Dayton over 11 Boise State.  Wait – Dayton is playing on its home court, in the play-in game, and we’re OK with this?  Let me get this straight – had Syracuse not been tragically deemed ineligible for the postseason, they couldn’t have played in the East (because the regional is in the Carrier Dome).  Louisville can’t open on its home court (they open in Seattle), despite Louisville hosting the first and second rounds, and being a protected seed.  Ohio State is shipped two thousand miles away, instead of getting to open in Columbus (which hosts the first and second rounds).  But Dayton – the LAST DAMNED TEAM IN THE FREAKING FIELD – gets to HOST the play-in game on its home court?  AND if they win (and they will), they have to travel not even a hundred miles, to play in Columbus?!?!?!?!

What in the bluest of blue hells am I missing here?  If I was a Dayton Flyers fan (and I’m not), I’d be ecstatic!  As if coming off an Elite Eight appearance last year isn’t enough – you’re the last team in the field, AND you get THE sweetest draw of any team in the field?  Open at home against an eminently beatable Boise squad traveling 2,000 miles for this one, and then you head up the road a bit, to play an overrated Providence squad, before getting to take on a damned good OU team, and you as the last team in the damned field, get the home court advantage in that one?

Unreal.  Maybe, committee, instead of spending apparently 2/1000ths of a second actually choosing qualified squads for the last five, six slots (again, just wait until we get to “least deserving at-large ever”), maybe you should have noted “whoa – we just gave our last team in a sweet, sweet, sweet path (that is totally unearned and undeserved) to the Sweet Sixteen!”, and done something about it!

Let’s move on.  Dayton at least is an unquestioned deserving team to reach the Field of Sixty Eight.  If anything, they’re this year’s Bradley Memorial Award Winner for Criminitely Grouse Underseeding.  That’s more than “least qualified at large ever” can say.

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The West Regional.

Round of 64:

* 1 Wisconsin over 16 Coastal Carolina.  Funniest tweet of the day on Sunday, had to be ESPN’s Stats Research handle, noting that Michigan State tied the record for fewest points scored in overtime this afternoon, with zero.  The smart-ass responses were priceless.

While I typically abhor Big Ten (Plus Four) basketball with a passion … I gotta give Wisconsin credit.  They’re actually fun to watch.  Frank Kaminsky is a freaking stud.  I love watching Bronson Koenig do his thing at the point.  (Seriously – Mr. Koenig is shooting 41% from three point range.  41%!  That’s insane!  And it ain’t a fluke – in his last five games (all on the road, or at the United Center)?  He’s an incredible 14 for 26 (about 55%), including 5 of 10 in the finale against a more than game Michigan State squad.)

And Bo Ryan is a damned good coach.  Scratch that.  Bo Ryan?  Is a DAMNED good coach.

Having said that … if ever a one seed is going down, to a sixteen, this is a prime candidate, to be “the one”.  Simply because cracking 60 is an issue for the Badgers most nights.  (Then again, giving up fewer than 40, isn’t, so it kind of balances itself out.)

* 8 Oregon over 9 Oklahoma State.  Yo, K-State fan!  You still think Dana Altman can’t coach?  Say what you want about KU, but we haven’t botched a men’s basketball coaching hire … ever*?  And we sure as all hell wouldn’t run off a coach as brilliant as Mr. Altman is, like you did.  How did that Tom Asbury experience work out for you?  How was the Jim Woolridge era?  How was that year of Huggy Bear, before he decided you people were too insane and intolerable, and opted to go to West Virginia of all places?

(*: you can make a credible (and I’d argue legitimate) case that the worst full-time coach in KU history is Ted Owens … who won 66% of his games overall, 64% of his conference games, won six Big 8 titles (back when you had to win the conference to reach the tournament), made 7 NCAA appearances (see previous parenthetical comment), and made the Final Four twice.)

* 5 Arkansas over 12 Wofford.  When in doubt, take the known.  Mike Anderson always has his squads ready for the NCAAs, be it at UAB (upset 1 Kentucky in 2004), Mizzou (Elite 8 run in 2009), and now Arkansas.

* 4 North Carolina over 13 Harvard.  I had a charity event I was at on Saturday afternoon / early evening, and I missed a lot of the KU / Iowa State game.  (I managed to sneak out of the kitchen to catch various moments of it.)  I got home around halftime of UNC / Notre Dame.  What I saw in the last eight minutes of that game, is something I have honestly never seen before.  

Roy Williams had no idea what hit him. 

That game was over.  You give Roy a decent lead with 8 to play (in this case, I believe it was 11 points), he’s going to win 99% of the time.  It didn’t even take Notre Dame three minutes to overcome the deficit, and in a what, five, six minute stretch, they went on a 22-2 run that completely flipped the script.  As much as I despise the man for the way he left KU (he is called The Rat Bastard for a reason)?  Roy Williams is one of the five best coaches in this sport.  He had no idea how to counter, what Notre Dame threw at him.  Which begs the question – is the game slowly yet surely passing Roy by … or is Notre Dame that damned good this year?  (Or both?)

* 11 BYU over 6 Xavier.  Since nobody asked, and probably nobody cares, the Big XII should offer BYU membership now.  (Along with UConn.)  Solves every problem the conference has, in three of the four sports people give a sh*t about (football, men’s and women’s hoops, baseball).

* 3 Baylor over 14 Georgia State.  Georgia State got in by winning 38-36 in their conference tournament.  Meaning there is at least one place in this country, with sh*ttier hoops action than a typical Tuesday at Allen Field House East … or the Plaige … or whatever they call that monstrosity in Columbia nowadays.

* 7 VCU over 10 The Ohio State University.  Aaron Craft ain’t walking through that door, to save Buckeye Nation.  Still, a solid season given all that had to be replaced.  Thad Motta earned his salary this year.  As did Shaka Smart (who I think, and I might be nuts (note: might be?!?!?!?!), but I think Shaka Smart is the coach a forward-thinking NBA team should target, and convince him to make the leap to the Association.  Like what Boston did with Brad Stevens (which is looking mighty intriguing right now, if you follow the Association.  He’s got a horrible Celtics squad that held a firesale, tied for the eight seed, with sixteen to play.)

* 2 Arizona over 15 Texas Southern.  Let’s just state Captain Oats here, shall we?  For years, people have claimed Barry Switzer is the worst coach to ever win a Super Bowl.  (He’s not – I’d argue Tom Flores is.)  And people have argued Stevo’s Site Numero Dos’ “good friend”, “Sur” William Callahan, is the worst coach to ever take a team to a Super Bowl.  (He’s not – again, Tom Flores.  To say nothing of Jim Caldwell, Mike Martz, George Seifert (who someone won the Lombardi – twice!), Chuck Knox, and Jim Fassel (who I actually like a lot as a head coach, for what it’s worth).

My question then is this: has there ever been a worse coach, to take a team to a national championship game, than Mike Davis** (who is currently Texas Southern’s head coach)?

Here’s your last fifteen title game matchups (which includes Mike Davis’ appearance):

2014: Kevin Ollie (UConn) vs John Calipari (Kentucky).
2013: Rick Pitino (Louisville) vs John Beilein (Michigan).
2012: John Calipari (Kentucky) vs Bill Self (Kansas).
2011: Jim Calhoun (UConn) vs Brad Stevens (Butler).
2010: Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) vs Brad Stevens (Butler).
2009: Roy Williams (UNC) vs Tom Izzo (Michigan State).
2008: Bill Self (Kansas) vs John Calipari (Memphis).
2007: Billy Donovan (Florida) vs Ohio State (Thad Motta).
2006: Billy Donovan (Florida) vs Ben Howland (UCLA).
2005: Roy Williams (UNC) vs Bruce Weber (Illinois).
2004: Jim Calhoun (UConn) vs Paul Hewitt (Georgia Tech).
2003: Jim Boeheim (Syracuse) vs Roy Williams (Kansas).
2002: Gary Williams (Maryland) vs Mike Davis (Indiana).
2001: Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) vs Lute Olson (Arizona).
2000: Tom Izzo (Michigan State) vs Billy Donovan (Florida).

Hell, let’s go back ten more years, to get us 25 deep:

1999: Jim Calhoun (UConn) vs Mike Krzyzewski (Duke).
1998: Tubby Smith (Kentucky) vs Rick Majerus (Utah).
1997: Lute Olson (Arizona) vs Rick Pitino (Kentucky).
1996: Rick Pitino (Kentucky) vs Jim Boeheim (Syracuse).
1995: Jim Harrick (UCLA) vs Nolan Richardson (Arkansas).
1994: Nolan Richardson (Arkansas) vs Mike Krzyzewski (Duke).
1993: Dean Smith (UNC) vs Steve Fisher (Michigan).
1992: Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) vs Steve Fisher (Michigan).
1991: Mike Krzyzewski (Duke) vs Roy Williams (Kansas).

It’s my contention, if you get there more than once, you’re a legitimate coach – or at least a helluva recruiter – regardless of the sport.  I count eleven coaches who have made only one trip to the National Title Game, over the last twenty five years: Kevin Ollie (2014), John Beilein (2013), Thad Motta (2007), Ben Howland (2006), Bruce Weber (2005), Paul Hewitt (2004), Gary Williams (2002), Mike Davis (2002), Tubby Smith (1998), Rick Majerus (1998), and Jim Harrick (1995).

Let’s dismiss a few from “worst title game coach ever” conversation right off the bat, due to multiple Final Four appearances (meaning, they fell one game short, of getting back to the title game).  So goodbye to Gary Williams, Thad Motta, and Ben Howland.  Let’s also wave goodbye to coaches who have proven to be perennial winners (aka “give them a minimum level of talent, and they’ll reach the Field of 68, far more often than they’ll miss it”), so goodbye to John Beilein, Bruce Weber, Tubby Smith, Rick Majerus, and Jim Harrick. 

So we’re down to three – Kevin Ollie, Paul Hewitt, and Mike Davis.

And given the impossible situation Kevin Ollie walked into last year, he has to be removed from this list too.

So it’s Mike Davis or Paul Hewitt, that’s the worst coach to reach a title game, in the last quarter century.

Gun to my head?  Mr. Davis is worse.  If only because I saw that Georgia Tech team up close and (way too) personal, in the Elite Eight in 2004.  (A game KU led once – for about ten seconds, after the opening tip in overtime.)  But at best, he’s the second worst coach to reach a title game in the last quarter century.  I wouldn’t be bragging about that.

(Also, let’s never again mention that in 1993, an (at the time) hot as hell itself sixteen year old me picked Arizona to win the National Championship.  Let’s never again mention that Arizona went on a 25-0 run in their opener … and lost, to Steve Nash and his Santa Clara Broncos.  That is the first – and sure as all hell the last, time the word broncos, will ever be capitalized and/or treated with a shred of respect, on this site.)

(**: the Twitter reference I sent out last night regarding Ron Popeil?  Mr. Reason drove 12 hours to Atlanta to attend that Final Four ... and sat next to Ron Popeil, for the action.  #themoreyouknow)

Round of 32:

* 1 Wisconsin over 8 Oregon.  If this game was being played in Portland or Seattle, I’d probably pick the upset.  Oregon is scary good, especially when their perimeter game is hitting at a 35% or better clip.  (And they usually do.)  But in a building less than five hours from Madison?  I’ll take the Badgers.

* 4 North Carolina over 5 Arkansas.  Look it, Arkansas is a damned good team, and they’ll be a tough out for anyone.  But when your strength is to go up-tempo, emphasize the fast break, and not give a damn how deep into the shot clock you go, is there a WORSE matchup than against a Carolina team – and more specifically, a Carolina coach – that hasn’t noticed a shot clock in 25 years of running a program?  Arkansas wants to run?  Roy will be the happiest man in the building if that happens.  Arkansas tries to slow it down?  Roy will out-scheme and de-pants Mike Anderson, if he tries that.  This matchup has “giving them the business” written all over it.  Something like 95-51.  A result that you never see coming … but in hindsight, admit was very foreseeable. 

* 3 Baylor over 11 BYU.  A battle of religious institutions of higher learning, only one of which I chose NOT to attend ... because they drug that poor live bear of a mascot out of his cave on Friday, August 12, 1994, when it was 112 degrees outside at barely noon on the clock!  Baylor gets the edge solely because they don't ban players for getting high, enjoying a glass of wine, or enjoying a night of frisky fun with the opposite sex without putting a ring on it.  Those things matter.  Well, at least to me.  #morallybankrupt

* 2 Arizona over 7 VCU.  I can absolutely see the winner of this game, taking the West Regional a week later.  Both squads are that good.  But neither one is going to be cutting down the nets at Staples, in two weeks.

The Sweet Sixteen:

* 1 Wisconsin over 4 North Carolina.  This is the second toughest pick of the post.  What a contrast in styles!  UNC wants to top 90 every chance they get; the next time a Bo Ryan coached team tops 90 on purpose, will be the first.  Two of the five or six best coaches in the business on display, on a truly neutral court (neither campus is within 1,500 miles of the Staples Center).  This West Regional reminds me of a West Regional from twelve years ago, when Arizona, Duke, KU, and Notre Dame played three epic games, culminating with me, Mr. Reason, and The Sister I Never Had welcoming home the West Regional champs at Allen Field House at 4:30 in the morning (I forget which it was) on Palm Sunday, or Easter Sunday. 

This region is freaking loaded.  I can make an argument for any of the top eight seeds to win it, and BYU, Wofford, and Harvard won’t be easy outs.

* 3 Baylor over 2 Arizona.  Total guess.  Baylor is the ultimate hit or miss team – they’ll flame out in round one, or they’ll reach a regional final.

The Elite Eight:

* 3 Baylor over 1 Wisconsin.  If Rick Barnes can break the glass ceiling and reach a Final Four (which, incredibly enough, he has managed to do ... in 2003), if Kelvin Sampson can break the glass ceiling (one year earlier), if Quin Snyder can notch eight million cracks in the glass ceiling without it quite giving way (ditto ... when Mizzou lost to OU in the West Regional Final)?  

Then it’s Scott Drew’s time. 

You don’t keep making Elite Eight’s, unless you know what you’re doing***.  At some point, that point has to be acknowledged.  And at some point, you’ll take the next step.

And for those of you who think I’m nuts?  How many KU / Illinois / Tulsa fans said for way and far too long, that Bill Self was an Elite Eight coach, and nothing more?  That the Elite Eight was his glass ceiling?

He shattered that bad boy in Detroit seven years ago against Stephen Curry’s Davidson squad.  Scott Drew is about to ensure some bonded and certified roofers are needed at Staples, when this regional ends.

West Regional Champion: Baylor Bears.

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(***: at least, that’s what CBS wants you to believe, when it comes to Sean Miller and Arizona, who has reached three Elite Eights in the last few years, and has yet to break through.)

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The South Regional.

Round of 64:

* 1 Duke over 16 Robert Morris.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  

* 9 St. John’s over 8 San Diego State.  Either way, this is a really compelling second round matchup.  St. John’s gives Duke fans nightmares every other year, when they face them in the Garden in early January.  And if it’s San Diego State, you’ve got one of the best defensive units in the country, more than capable of springing the 8/9 vs 1 upset we seem to get once a year nowadays.  Circle me giddy for this one, Bert.

* 5 Utah over 12 Stephen F. Austin.  I’ve always wondered what the F stands for.  Fun?  Favorite?  F*ck?  I’m hesitant to take Utah here; SF’inA can absolutely win this game.  But Utah is one of my eight teams I think can win this (hootie johnson voice) toonumunt.  (The others?  Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Iowa State, Wisconsin, Villanova, and Notre Dame.  Your champ will be one of those seven, plus Utah.  And for those of you who accuse me of being a biased homer incapable of separating emotions from facts in evidence?  You will notice the word "Kansas" does not appear on that list of teams.)

* 13 Eastern Washington over 4 Georgetown.  (good ol’ jr voice) Good God almighty!  Is that the Thomas the Train Wreck Memorial Regional music?!?!?!  Yes.  Yes, it is.

* 11 UCLA over 6 SMU.  OK, let me vent here a bit.  UCLA is THE single worst at-large team the NCAA has ever invited to its party.  This team has NO business whatsoever, playing for a championship.  They went 3-11 away from home.  They lost every meaningful game they played, save for beating Utah at home.  They’re 2-8 against the Top 50, their RPI number is so sh*tty, it should be RIP.  They’re a toilet clog of an offense, and a matador of a defense.  There is not one single justifiable reason for UCLA to be in the field.  Not one.

I don’t even know where to begin.  Other than acknowledging the obvious.  How the hell is UCLA not only a legitimate at-large team … they aren’t in the First Four?  How?  NCAA committee, you left out Temple (who beat KU by pushing 30) for a team that scored seven – seven! – total points in a half against Kentucky?  (Even KU managed double digits in each half, in our 38 point woodshed beating against Kentucky.  As did every other squad Kentucky faced.) 

Say what you want about Indiana’s inclusion – they beat SMU, Butler, Maryland, and Ohio State.  What is UCLA’s best win?  Oregon or Utah at home?  They lost to Alabama, lost to Gonzaga, lost to Arizona twice in the last month, got routed at Utah (only scored 39!), got boatraced by Kentucky (down 41-7 at the half), got pounded by OU, pounded by UNC, and their only non-Pauley win of a credible nature was at Stanford!  (They also won at USC, and beat fellow tourney team UAB on a neutral site.)

How is UCLA not just an at-large team … but safely in the field?

And yet, I’m taking them to win.  And again – for those who believe the bullsh*t and lies that the committee doesn’t factor matchups into the pairings?  I give you Larry Brown, in his first NCAA tournament game since he left Kansas … facing the squad he coached, and took to the Final Four (1980), before he coached Kansas.

* 3 Iowa State over 14 UAB.  I’m guessing Fred Hoiburg won’t be taking a 2,000 mile drunk fest home, like poor Larry Eustachy did in 2001.  And speaking of Ol’ Lar -- have we confirmed he handled the committee screwing his Colorado State team ok?  (I’d have taken Temple over UCLA, and Colorado State over Ole Miss, for the record.)

* 10 Davidson over 7 Iowa.  I choose not to remember the last time a Davidson team entered the tournament seeded tenth.  (Pause).  Just know that their final crap-out at the table involved me literally collapsing onto the floor at Stubbs out of the recliner, and pounding the floor as tears rolled down my face – or, for those scoring at home, the exact same reaction Coach Self had, on the hardwood in Detroit, that late March 2008 Sunday afternoon, as for like the only time ever, Stephen Curry missed a three with the game on the line.

* 2 Gonzaga over 15 North Dakota State.  Guessing this one gets the 9:30 CT tipoff that nobody stays up to watch.

Round of 32:

* 1 Duke over 9 St. John’s.  It won’t be easy, but Duke will survive and advance.

* 13 Eastern Washington over 5 Utah.  Because, in the words of the Fidelity Ad guy,“why not”?

* 11 UCLA over 3 Iowa State.  And the overpass through the mountains just collapsed, killing everyone on board the fifty car-length train.

* 10 Davidson over 2 Gonzaga.  Is this really an upset?  I argue it’s not.

The Sweet Sixteen:

* 1 Duke over 13 Eastern Washington.  KU’s run in 2008 through the Midwest saw them face a 16 (Portland State), an 8 (UNLV), a 12 (Villanova), and a 10 (Davidson).  Duke’s potential run to Indy might actually be easier than that.

* 10 Davidson over 11 UCLA.  I put the over/under of fans of either squad being in Reliant at 500.  And I’d bet the under.

The Elite Eight:

* 1 Duke over 10 Davidson.  Just because the regional turns into a train wreck, doesn’t mean the best team doesn’t survive and advance.  KU did in 2008.  Duke will in 2015.

South Regional Champion: The Duke Blue Devils.

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The East Regional.

Round of 64:

* 1 Villanova over 16 Lafayette.  This Villanova team is phenomenally good.  Gun to my head, I’d say right now they’re the second best team in the country … which is exactly what the NCAA said as well.  Good job, committee!  That’s a couple Tommy Points for you!

* 8 NC State over 9 LSU.  There’s only one team in this tournament I am less confident about risking a prediction on, than NC State.  (We’ll get to that team in the final regional.)  NC State can beat anyone.  They won at Louisville, won at North Carolina, blew Duke out of the building.  They also lost at home to Clemson, got blown out at BC, lost 7 out of 10 in January and February, and are coming off a 24 point ass-kicking by Duke.  I’m taking them to win this game for reasons only God knows, because I can’t offer any, other than Johnny Jones might be the worst Power Five coach, and given some of the flotsam, jetsam, and riff raff the SEC employs in addition to Mr. Jones, that’s saying something.

(That, and neither of these teams is beating Villanova in the Round of 32.  At worst, it’s a small mistake.)

* 12 Wyoming over 5 Northern Iowa.  One of two Wayne Allyn Root Memorial Games in the field this year, that either (a) are guaranteed to happen, or (b) highly likely to happen.  (We haven’t gotten to the second one yet.)  With a healthy Larry Nance Jr, a ridiculously underrated tactician in Larry Shyatt (note: I may have watched a Mountain West game or five trying to fall asleep the last few months), and the potential for a home-court edge (Seattle is much closer to Laramie than wherever in Iowa Northern Iowa is … and if you’ve ever been to a NCAA Tournament game, you know the non-partisan crowd always roots for the underdog, unless there’s a common shared interest (aka “KU and Wichita State play at the same venue”, like last year in St. Louis).

Every man and his drunk uncle is picking Northern Iowa to at least reach the Sweet Sixteen.  Seth Davis of CBS and SI has them in the Final Four.  (And in the interest of fairness, it isn’t that absurd of a stretch, to see Northern Iowa reaching Indy.  They’re good.)  But they just seem too trendy for me.  Circle me a contrarian on this one, Bert.  Circle me a contrarian.

* 4 Louisville over 13 UC Irvine.  Not sold on this one at all.  Louisville is in free fall and isn’t surviving this weekend.  Plus, UC Irvine is known as the Anteaters.  I love that nickname.  And anyone who’s spent a day or two in Omaha for the College World Series in their life (hey, that’s me!), knows their fans travel really well.  And Irvine is a helluva lot closer to Seattle than Louisville is. 

Let’s just all hope and pray Ol’ Rick can find an Italian joint with a waitress willing to savor the canoli, so to speak, wherever they’re staying in Seattle.

* 11 Dayton over 6 Providence.  If Dayton wins even one game in this tournament, every member of the committee should be barred for life, from ever serving again.  Again – home court in the play-in game.  Virtual home court as an ELEVEN SEED in the true first and second rounds.  Un-blanking-believable.

* 3 Oklahoma over 14 Albany.  If the Big XII gets a team to Indy, OU might be the best pony / puppy / rooster / rubber chicken, to wager on.  I truly believe Baylor’s getting there.  I’m sorely tempted to pick OU as well.  They don’t have a weakness.  Or, excuse me.  (jaron rush tattoo voice) Weakeness.  They don’t have a weakeness.

* 10 Georgia over 7 Michigan State.  This Georgia team is rock solid, as is this Spartans team.  This might be one of the two or three best games of the tournament, to be honest.  I am really looking forward to spending at least two hours of quality time watching this one.  Either team can win this game … and either team can run to the Elite Eight, out of this slot.  They’re both that good, and that underseeded.  I’m taking Georgia as a flyer.  This is a true coin flip.

* 2 Virginia over 15 Belmont.  Report: Stevo hates NCAA Tournament squads whose institution of higher learning formal name begins with a B.

(And while I am bringing that up, let me point out, that KU has not only made 26 straight tournaments (a NCAA record), they’ve advanced out of the first round 24, of those 26 trips.  Only 2005 (Belmont) and 2006 (to the most criminitely underseeded team of all time, Bradley), did KU fail to win at least once.  (And Roy was 14/14 in winning at least once, in the tournament.)

Even more impressive to me?  KU has NEVER worn any color of jersey other than white, in its first game, in those 26 appearances.  (john davidson voice) That’s incredible!  The worst seed KU has had, is an 8 (in 2000, when they beat DePaul in overtime, before losing to Duke.)  It’s one thing to qualify every year.  It’s another to never even have to sweat, Selection Sunday.  KU hasn’t had to do that, in 26 years!  

And as if that isn't insane enough?  Every single KU squad under Bill Self has been a protected seed (Top Four or higher)!  Twelve straight protected seeds under Coach Self, to go with the three straight to end Roy's tenure.  FIFTEEN straight protected seeds!  Unbelievable.)

The Round of 32:

* 1 Villanova over 8 NC State.  NC State can win this game.  They won’t, but they have the talent to do it.  Especially if Villanova freezes up behind the arc.

* 12 Wyoming over 4 Louisville.  This could be one sneaky good late-Sunday matchup.  Really sneaky good.

* 3 Oklahoma over 11 Dayton.  Will be much, much closer than you’d expect.  I love both of these squads potential.  I just happen to think Lon Kruger is a slightly better coach than Archie Miller … and Ryan Spangler is the best player on the court.  Sometimes?  Talent trumps everything.

* 2 Virginia over 10 Georgia.  In my other bracket (note: I usually submit two, to account for outcomes I want to pick in my main one, but lack the manhood to do it), I will probably take Georgia to win this.  I love this Bulldogs squad.  They gave Kentucky their truest test so far two weeks ago.  Georgia had them on the ropes, in Athens.  Let’s just say, it’s going to take, in the words of Dick Enberg, “a Herculian effort here!”, to knock UK out of this tournament.

Thankfully for those of us who root for one of the other sixty seven schools that participate in this blessed event, there’s at least five squads capable of doing it … and I think Kentucky will have to face at least one of the five, to reach 40-0.

The Sweet Sixteen:

* 1 Villanova over 12 Wyoming.  Personally?  I think it’s cool that the best Big East team entering the tournament in pushing a decade, needs to win at the venue that helped launch the Big East to, uuh, big-time status, in order to reach the Final Four.  Villanova reaching a Final Four on Syracuse’s home court.  That honestly should bother me far, far more than it actually does.

* 3 Oklahoma over 2 Virginia.  First team to 35 wins?  This game might set the sport back sixty years.  We might have a white-out at some point, and sadly, that’s not a joke.  There might be a legitimate white-out in this contest!  (White-out: when one side plays five white guys, against five other white guys, on the other side.  White-out.)  And neither squad calls the Ivy League or the KKK Rec League home!

I love this Oklahoma team.  I honestly thought they’d win the Big XII this year.  Still a helluva year finishing 3rd, and reaching the Elite Eight (if my pick is right).

The Elite Eight:

* 1 Villanova over 3 Oklahoma.  OU and Syracuse.  Not exactly a history you’d expect would interact with each other … but it does.  OU lost the Elite Eight matchup in 2003 to Syracuse, a few miles away from the Dome in Albany.  The last time OU reached the Elite Eight?  They blew out Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen (2009).  Villanova and Syracuse?  A history you’d definitely expect would interact with each other, as conference foes for pushing 25 years, before Syracuse bolted for the ACC.

The Big East fan in me (via Syracuse), wants Villanova to win.  The Big XII fan in me (via KU), wants OU to win.  When in doubt, take the best team.  Villanova is the better team.  They’ll probably play four ridiculously tight contests to get to Indy … but they’re gonna get there.

East Regional Champion: The Villanova Wildcats.

One last regional to go.

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The Midwest Regional.

Let me note up front: this is the regional where my bracket will sink me to the bottom 10% of the gambling public … or elevate me to the top 1%.  Life demands you have to take risks.  It helps to weigh the rewards of gambling, before you risk … and I have weighed the rewards, the pros and cons, of how to differentiate my bracket from 92.46% of the others that will be submitted.  I think I’m right on the Thomas the Train Wreck Regional being the South.  Being right about that, however, won’t win the tournament pot.  You’ve got to nail the massive upset we all know is coming, for one of the top four, five, six teams in this tournament.

And more specifically, nail who pulls it off.

Round of 64:

* 1 Kentucky over 16 Manhattan.  In the words of the late, great Randall Carlyle Wakefield: “I may be stupid … but I ain’t that stupid.”

* 9 Purdue over 8 Cincinnati.  Kudos to the Bearcats for safely making the field, and all the best to coach Mick Cronin.  Get well soon coach.  Too much AJ Hammons in this one for Cincy.  And also, nice rebound year, Coach Painter. 

* 5 West Virginia over 12 Buffalo.  Bobby Hurley and Huggy Bear have met in this tournament before – the Final Four in 1992.  I’m betting on a different outcome this time, than Duke’s blowout win over Cincinnati was, 23 years ago.

* 4 Maryland over 13 Valparaiso.  Valpo was a 13 seed, in Oklahoma City, a little over 15 years ago, when Bryce Drew hit the miraculous three to beat Ole Miss.  (My alma mater followed that up by getting depantsed by Florida State, and KU followed that up two days later by losing to Rhode Island.  Me and Oklahoma City were not exactly “on speaking terms”, after that brutal March 1998 weekend.)  I don’t envision a repeat this year, of that amazing moment in time back in the day.

* 6 Butler over 11 Texas.  UT is the most maddening team in the country.  They’re also the least possible to predict an outcome for.  They have the talent to beat anyone, anywhere.  They have a head coach would could get outschemed by a four year old anytime, anywhere.  I have quite a few friends who attended UT; I work with one co-worker who’s a proud Longhorn.  Her comment to me Friday, after the epic collapse to Iowa State?  “Only Rick Barnes can lose that game.  Only that (naughty string of words) Rick (bleep!) Barnes, could lose that game!”  Her comment today, when I asked how UT would fare in this tournament?  “We’re losing by 30.  That (string of naughty words) had better be fired.  They won’t get one more penny out of me, until we Mack Brown his ass.”  

UT alumni everyone!!!!!!

* 3 Notre Dame over 14 Northeastern.  And since I have nothing to add, how about a St. Patrick’s Day joke?  Two Irish guys walk by a bar.  (Pause).  Hey, it might happen someday (rimshot!)  (scott hall voice) Hey yo!

* 7 Wichita State over 10 Indiana.  God, I wanted to pull the trigger and take Indiana.  But that would have (stewie griffin voice) roo-eened my ultimate Wayne Allyn Root Contrarian Pick for this tournament.

* 2 Kansas over 15 New Mexico State.  The Aggies are three seeds too low.  KU wins a far closer than expected opener.

(And your KU Factoid of the Day!  The last three times KU has opened in Omaha, they have reached the National Championship Game – 1988 (W vs Oklahoma), 2008 (W vs Memphis (OT)), 2012 (L vs Kentucky).  Only 2008 was expected, to be a Final Four run.  I now return you to the Midwest Regional Selections, presented by whatever last corporate shill the NCAA hasn’t whored itself out to, to glean an extra couple pennies off of.  The NCAA – making the United Way look upright, ethical, and legitimate since 1938!!!!!)

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Actually, this post would be remiss, without this:


#muckfizzou

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The Round of 32:

* 1 Kentucky over 9 Purdue.  Might be close for a half.  Maybe even to the under eight.  Kentucky’s just too good, to lose in this spot.

* 5 West Virginia over 4 Maryland.  Ooh.  Ooh!  Ooh!!!!  Two schools that thoroughly despise each other, routinely have brawls in the stands at their annual football (late, great don fambrough voice) throwdown, showdown, hoedown, they call their game, and two teams that absolutely can make Kentucky reach for their “Oops, I Crapped My Pants” diapers next Thursday or Friday.  (In case you’ve forgotten, Coach Calipari’s first rockstar Kentucky team got flogged like a government mule by Huggy Bear’s West Virginia squad, in the 2010 East Regional Final.)  Circle me giddy for this one, Bert.  Circle me giddy.

(You know what?  I haven't mocked Mizzou nearly enough.  Enjoy!


#muckfizzou)

* 3 Notre Dame over 6 Butler.  50.01% of me is confident in this pick.  49.99% of me thinks I blew this.  100% of me, though?  Thinks whoever emerges here …

* 2 Kansas over 7 Wichita State.  I am in the minority of KU fans, in that I think Bill Self is an, uuh, selfish prick, for refusing to schedule Mizzou.  Really Bill?  You’re acting as childish and pathetic as The Champ and I are, in our ongoing disagreement.  It’s actually more embarrassing and pathetic than our dispute, quite frankly.  But at least when it comes to those (marcus spears voice) hoodlum, thug, and thieve 90 minutes east of this fine metropolitan area, your feelings are understandable.  (As are mine, when it comes to The Champ.)  They walked out on you, and on your program, in a beyond disrespectful manner.  Believe me – I GET IT!.  I get that you want to b*tch slap Truman so violently hard, his mother can hear the slap hundreds of miles away, at whatever African preserve his mommy is enjoying retirement in. 

But the refusal to play Wichita State, coach?  Is worse than acting childish and pathetic.  It’s worse than embarrassing. 

It’s gutless. 

It’s exposing you as having a pair the size, of a speck of glitter. 

Having said that, this is my Official Wayne Allyn Root Contrarian Pick of the Tournament.  Every man, his drunk uncle, and slutty pumpkin of a cousin, is taking Wichita State to win this game.

I’ll take the (rock) chalk, thank you very much.

(Pause).  What?  (Pause).  Really, another one?  OK!  Hit it!!!


#muckfizzou

The Sweet Sixteen:

* 1 Kentucky over 5 West Virginia.  This one smells like your 85-83 overtime “whoa, really close scare!” kind of contest, that the better team survives and advances from.  Having said that, did you know the last five teams to enter this tournament undefeated, have failed to win the National Championship?  Did you know Kentucky has never won a SEC regular season title, SEC postseason title, and the National Championship in the same year? 

And did you know that none of this is going to matter in three years, when Coach Cal has to vacate yet another conference championship, yet another entire season, for recruiting violations that even an institution so corrupt as the Mafia, is blushing in embarrassment at what said institution is?

Seriously – who is more corrupt: the NCAA, or Whitey Bulger?  The NCAA, or Tony Soprano?  The NCAA, or Michael Corleone?  The NCAA, or (insert Mafioso here)?

The NCAA … or Coach Calipari?

(Definitely the NCAA.  (allard baird voice) Without question!  Without question – the NCAA!)

* 3 Notre Dame over 2 Kansas.  This honestly might be the best game of the tournament.  Only one of these teams can beat Kentucky on 24 hours preparation.  And that team ain’t the Jayhawks.

They barely stayed within 40, with 24 weeks, of preparation.

The Elite Eight:

* 3 Notre Dame over 1 Kentucky.  I cannot get over those last eight minutes, of the ACC Tournament finals.  And I am the last person who tries to read anything into a conference tournament result, especially when neither squad has anything to play for other than pride.  (Notre Dame / UNC ain’t exactly an unfriendly rivalry, like Duke / UNC would have been.)  This team has just “had it” all year.  This Notre Dame team is really, really good.  They fear no one. 

They have one loss (out of five) that’s a “disgrace” – they lost by 30 at Duke.  It happens.  Their other losses?  On a neutral court to 6 seed Providence by 1.  At 2 seed Virginia by 6.  At Pitt (when they were still a viable team to get a bid) by 4 to close out January.  And at Syracuse (in their essential tournament game) by 5, after the postseason ban was announced.  Not a single truly awful loss in there.

The other three seeds in this tournament?  Are all from the Big XII (OU, Baylor, Iowa State).  I’d take Kentucky against any of them.  The team directly ahead of that glut of three seeds on the, uuh, seed line, is another Big XII squad, Kansas.  (And I fear we’d lose by more than the 39 we lost by, in November, in a rematch.)  Notre Dame is the one three seed that can end Kentucky’s run.  (I’d argue Arizona is the only two seed, that could do the same.)

Give me the Fighting Irish.  Even if I have to vomit, while doing so.

Midwest Regional Champions: The University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

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The Final Four.

* 3 Notre Dame over 3 Baylor.  Admit it – this matchup intrigues you, beyond the Catholics vs Baptists matchup my family gets to play every major holiday.  (Thank God, we have a truce for Easter.  Catholic drinks, Baptist food, at a “who actually gives a sh*t” house.  The way it always should be.  I love compromise sometimes!)  Two sleeping giants in this sport, about to wake wide, uuh, awake.  I can see either squad winning this game.  I’m taking Notre Dame because they’re the better team.  And because, while I think he’s underrated?  I wouldn’t wager $0.01 on Scott Drew, in a meaningful game situation, to get the play call right.

* 1 Duke over 1 Villanova.  If I’m a TBS executive?  I’m drooling over these two Final Four matchups.  Hell, I’m drooling over them, and I’m creating them in the (brett voice) “vivid imagination” my mind can conjure up.  I like Duke in this spot … but I’m not married to the pick.

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The National Championship.

* 3 Notre Dame over 1 Duke.  I can’t stress this enough – and I realize how hypocritical it is.  

I cannot get past the last eight minutes of the ACC Championship Game.  

I know overreading a conference tournament result is insane ... only, doesn't this kinda, sorta jolt you wide awake into reality, like UConn four years ago did?

Kentucky has had moments, where they looked unbeatable.  Notre Dame?  WAS unbeatable, those last eight minutes – in Carolina, against Carolina.  Roy Williams had no credible response, to what he was seeing.  I’d never seen that before, with a credible tournament team, under his watch.  (He was beyond clueless, in 2010 … but that UNC team might have lost to a rec team, if we’re being fair here.)  Notre Dame absolutely baffled one of the five best coaches of my lifetime.  They beat Duke 2 out of 3 matchups this year – losing only at a true road site.  They have a coach with a  Duke background (just adds to the intrigue). 

It adds to the intrigue, because do you really believe Mike Brey will pull a “deer in the headlights” performance like Mike Davis against Maryland, like Paul Hewitt against UConn?

Maybe he will.

I’m betting he won’t.

Because you’re a bridesmaid … until you’re the bride.  

You’re Bill Cowher, fourteen years on the job, championship-less … until suddenly, you’re the last team in the field, that wins three roadies and a Super Bowl, to get the Lombardi.  

You’re Jim Boeheim, losing two heart-breaking national title games (1987 vs Indiana on Keith Smart’s jumper; 1996 vs Kentucky) that can’t win the “Big One” … until Hakim Warrick rapes Mikey Lee, on an (almost) final desperation three, to win the “Big One”.  

You’re Coach K, what – seven Final Fours? – without a title, until suddenly, you pound the Fab Five into the ground.  You’re Dean Smith, unable to cut the nets … until a freshman named Michael Jordan nails the second biggest jump shot of his career, to give you a title.

You’re Roy Williams … until Sean May becomes an unstoppable force for three weeks, and gets you over the hump. 

Or you’re Bill Self, with Elite Eight apperances at three different schools five different times in eight years (2000 w/ Tulsa; 2001 w/ Illinois; 2004, 2007, and 2008 w/ Kansas) before you finally break through.

National Champion: The Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

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No matter who you root for though, we can all agree on one thing.

The only defining theme song of a sport that even approaches "One Shining Moment" ... is nothing.


#rockchalkalways

Enjoy these three weeks, fellow hoop fans.  They may be painful, they may be ecstatic ... but they are always guaranteed, to be memorable.

You people have no idea, how much I cried, when that shot linked above, nailed nothing but net ...

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