This could be the year, I dare suggest, when the old lady who brings in the homemade cupcakes and sets them in the office kitchenette picks the entire NCAA tournament correctly. The odds of nailing all 63 games are one in 9.2 quintillion — never knew there was such a number, which I’ll remember when assessing Jay Z’s net worth — but given the unprecedented possibilities of anything happening in any round, I’m thinking Warren Buffett might have to eat at Taco Bell for a meal or two after agreeing to pay $1 billion to anyone with a perfect bracket.
I’ll have a great time watching advanced-metrics nerds lose their asses. I’ll have a better time watching Jay Bilas and Doug Gottlieb brought to their knees. We’ve reached the point where knowing absolutely nothing about college basketball gives you a much better chance of picking March and April winners than making a healthy living covering the sport. Have a dartboard? Know a palm reader? Those are wiser methods than heeding talking heads.
With air time and web sites to fill, the analysts have been complaining about seedings, such as why defending champion Louisville is seeded fourth in the Midwest Region when Rick Pitino has the Cardinals playing as well as any team in the field.
“Absolute shock,” CBS’ Seth Davis yelped the brackets were unveiled.
“I cannot believe that Louisville, based on eye test, could be a No. 4 seed,” ESPN’s Dick Vitale said. “I think they deserved so much better and I thought they should have been much higher. Louisville definitely got a raw deal.”
“To suggest Louisville is not in the top 12 teams in the country just boggles the mind,” Bilas said.
“NCAA selection committee says it doesn’t care about RPI that much, but that’s the ONLY reason they seeded Louisville as a 4. Ridiculous,” tweeted Nate Silver, the ESPN numbers-cruncher.
Pitino was so taken aback just one night after lobbying for a No. 1 seed — “I judge it from the eye test,” he said — that he declined comment. He also might have been ticked off that Minnesota, coached by son Richard, didn’t make the field.
Please. Get over yourselves. Does seeding even matter anymore when the tournament is a crapshoot? As NCAA selection committee chairman Ron Wellman reminded the snipers, “Last year, two of the Final Four teams came from the four line. That could very well happen again this year. Louisville finished the year exceptionally strong. If anybody watched Louisville pay the last couple of weeks of the season, you could easily predict that they cold be a national championship contender again. We look at the total resume.” Seedings are the byproduct of a team’s body of work. Louisville played in something called the American Athletic Conference, a pit stop on the way to the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the committee clearly wasn’t a fan of the AAC. Why do you think SMU, one of the great stories of the regular season, was the last team out?
“When I saw Louisville (as a No. 4 seed), I kind of figured that they didn’t have a lot of respect for our conference,” said Larry Brown, back in mopey mode after this unexpected omission. Or maybe the NCAA has a long memory about Brown’s controversial time at Kansas, where the program was slapped with sanctions and was banned from the 1989 NCAA tournament a year after winning the national title.
If anyone has a beef, it is Wichita State, which has rampaged to 34-0 as the first undefeated team to enter the tournament in 23 years and has been rewarded with two murderous early assignments. The Shockers get a third-round game against the winner of underachieving-yet-dangerous Kentucky and a tough defensive team in local rival Kansas State, then a possible Sweet 16 game against Louisville. If they survive, they’d likely have to beat Duke or Michigan to reach the Final Four. Gregg Marshall and his players have said they can beat anyone and shold be viewed as a national championship favorite. If they win it all, no one can say they didn’t earn it.
“It’s a stacked bracket, but we didn’t anticipate an easy task,” Marshall said.
“I feel like I have something to prove, and my teammates have something to prove,” Wichita State star Cleanthony Early said. “And when you will be facing programs that people think you can’t beat, those are the types of challenges you need to prove yourself.”
Until I saw the brackets, I thought WIchita had a championship shot. Now I doubt it. Only one No. 1 seed, Florida, reaches my Final Four, thanks to the career-best work of coach Billy Donovan and some Gators-friendly bracket breaks in the South Region: No. 2 seed Kansas may be without big man Joel Embiid for most of the tournament, while No. 3 seed Syracuse has forgotten how to shoot and score. No way top-seed Virginia wins the East with Michigan State, finally healthy, suddenly resembling the typical Tom Izzo teams of springtime. I think Louisville gets over its deep, dark disappointment and continues to pass the eye test, beating Jabari Parker and Duke — did Coach K really draw a technical foul for heaving a marker? — in the Midwest final. And in the crazy-open West, I’m going with an eighth seed, Gonzaga, because I have to walk on the wild side once in the Warren Buffett era and also because John Stockton’s son, David, plays for the Zags.
Unless, of course, North Dakota State beats them in the West final, across the street from Disneyland, then goes on to beat Louisville in the Final Four and Michigan State for the national championship.
Oh, and did I mention how much I like Iowa State?
If I possibly can be serious, I’m taking Louisville to repeat. First reason: Best coach. Second reason: hottest player, Russ Smith, whose nickname is perfect for what we’re about to witness the next three weeks.