When it comes to NCAA tournament brackets, there are two types of people. There are those who only fill out one sheet, because they see it as some sort of integrity issue (or perhaps as a test to prove how much they know about college hoops). And then there are the people who fill out as many brackets as possible with the hope that one of their ridiculous permutations will win their office pool.
Ive long suspected that the first group is comprised of joyless schoolmarms and deposed despots. The dictatorial, one-bracket-per-costumer ethos is about as fun as having a single bite of ice cream before putting the lid back on and sticking it in the freezer. Its un-American, frankly. We are a country of unrepentant excess. If one bracket is good, surely 12 would be better.
As a staunch supporter of the multiple-sheet system, Ive already filled out several brackets for myself, as well as one for my dog (predictably, she likes the Huskies and Hoyas) and one for my cat (she has Purdue winning it all; shes always been a fan of their chicken). If someone tells you that youre only allowed to complete one sheet, ask himher why heshe hates freedom -- then call the authorities and inform them that youve discovered an enemy of the state working on domestic soil.
Alas, for the purposes of this column -- which aims to explain my addled thought process for the NCAA Tournament -- the CSNPhilly.com editors have asked me to choose a single bracket. They said it would be simpler that way. Im obliging them -- mainly to buy time while I wait for the Feds to arrive and charge them with treason.
In the South Region, I have No. 12 VCU over No. 5 Wichita State. The Rams made it to the Final Four last year, and they knocked off Drexel (sniffle, sniffle) in the CAA Tournament Final. I like Shaka to get past the Shockers. I also have No. 14 South Dakota State beating No. 3 Baylor. I saw the Bears play once this season. They wore loud neon-yellow uniforms that hurt my eyeballs. Meanwhile, SD State has a terrific guard named Nate Wolters LINK (21.3 ppg) and calls itself the Jackrabbits. Good enough for me. (This is highly scientific stuff.)
I reluctantly picked Duke to win two games, though I have the Blue Devils being upended by UNLV in the Sweet 16. The Runnin Rebels share the ball (third in assists in the country) and have quality wins this year over UNC, Illinois, Cal, New Mexico and San Diego State. Plus, it will give UNLV a chance to avenge its loss to Duke in the 1991 Final Four. As a longtime Rebels fan (I have family in Vegas), Ive always hated Duke for ruining UNLVs perfect season that year. Ive held a grudge against Coach K and the Blue Devils ever since. This will be the Rebels Count of Monte Cristo moment - only without the killing and Machiavellian revenge plot. Otherwise, it will be just like that.
In the end, and like almost everyone else, Ill take Kentucky to win the South Region. John Caliparis kids play excellent defense, score well (10th in the nation in field goal percentage) and have one of the best players in the country in Anthony Davis, who averages a double-double (14.3 ppg, 10 rpg).
I hate this region. No one stands out. It features arguably the weakest No. 1 and No. 2 seeds (Michigan State and Missouri respectively). I could see any one of five schools MSU, Mizzou, New Mexico, Louisville and Marquette reaching the Final Four. Its as though the selection committee channeled the Joker from The Dark Knight, dumped a bunch of teams into close quarters, gave them one sharp stick, and said here, you figure it out.
In the first round, Im going with chalk. I came awfully close to picking No. 12 Long Beach State to upset No. 5 New Mexico -- then I remembered that Steve Alford has the Lobos playing extremely well right now. Theyve won 25 of their last 30 games, and they have Drew Gordon in the paint -- a 6-9, 245-pound senior who averages a double-double (13.4 ppg, 10.9 rpg). In fact, Ill take the Lobos to win three games (over LBS, Louisville and Memphis) and reach the Elite Eight.
My bracket gets a little messy in the second round. Im not sold on Big Ten basketball in general or Michigan State in specific. I have Memphis -- an extremely athletic and deep team that has seven players who see more than 21 minutes of action per game -- upsetting the Spartans.
I like Marquette a lot, and a potential matchup against Mizzou could be one of the most entertaining games of the tournament. I toyed with pushing the Golden Eagles past the Tigers, but talked myself out of it. Give me Mizzou to squeak past New Mexico and reach the Final Four.
Got a disquieting email from Bodog.com the other day. It said the public likes Florida State and the odds of the Seminoles winning the tournament have already dropped from 401 to 301 as a result. That made me pause, because I also like Florida State, and the public is usually a gambling euphemism for suckers with disposable income.
I dont have disposable income, but I am a sucker for the Seminoles. They were the only team to ever beat dastardly Duke and UNC twice in the same season. FSU won the ACC Tournament, and the Seminoles play great defense, particularly on the perimeter. They have two excellent guards in Michael Snaer and Ian Miller, and a big-body down low in 6-10, 240 pound senior forward Bernard James. Ill take Florida State to upend Syracuse and its many different controversies and reach the Final Four.
In other East-related predictions, I have No. 11 Texas -- one of the most unpredictable teams in the field -- upsetting No. 6 Cincinnati, No. 10 West Virginia defeating No. 7 Gonzaga, and No. 5 Vanderbilt, which beat Kentucky in the SEC Championship, reaching the Sweet 16.
The Temple Owls seemed pretty pleased to get a five seed, particularly after an uninspired loss to UMass in the A-10 Tournament. I'm picking Fran Dunphy's guys to win the first round game, but I don't feel all that hot about it after USF thumped Cal in the play-in game on Wednesday night. If Temple proves me right and wins, it looks like more trouble for the Owls in the second round. Michigan shared the Big Ten title with Michigan State and Ohio State, and the Wolverines have quality wins this season over both of those schools, as well as Memphis and Wisconsin.
The rest of the bracket is mostly chalk. I have Purdue pulling a small upset over St. Marys, and I wouldnt be surprised if Creighton gives UNC a tough game in the second round before the Tarheels win. The Bluejays lost just five games all season, theyre first in the nation in field goal percentage, second in team assists per game and seventh in points per game. They also have one of the best players in the country: 6-7 sophomore forward Doug McDermott (23.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg).
I have UNC reaching the Final Four after beating Kansas in the Elite Eight in what should be a nightmare for the nation. If it happens, brace yourself for the Why did Roy leave Kansas? story to be done at length by every media outlet in the country. Prepare for it by buying earplugs or noise-canceling headphones.
FINAL FOUR and FINALS
I said I love FSU, right? And I do -- just not to beat the Tarheels for the third time this season. Give me UNC over the Seminoles and the Kentucky Wildcats over Mizzou. In the finals, Ill take Kentucky to beat UNC. John Calipari finally wins a national title -- at which point the NCAA will no doubt uncover various infractions and Calipari will flee to yet another school (or perhaps a professional team based in New York City). You know the movies with the old 1920s-era scofflaws who talk like this: mah, youll never catch me alive, see? Reminds me of Cals ability to avoid the NCAA coppers.
E-mail John Gonzalez at firstname.lastname@example.org