Got NCAA Bracket Blues? This One Can’t Miss

Did my American duty and filled out an NCAA Tournament bracket the other day. Started to, anyway.

No sooner did my fingers hit the keyboard than I felt dumb and dumber. I recognized more school mascots than I did players and even teams themselves. Strange, I can name the starting fives of the 1969 Santa Clara Broncos and the 1983 Phi Slama Jamas, but I can’t tell a Connecticut center apart from a Texas off guard these days. No sooner do you get to know these kids than — swoosh! — they’re headed to the land of Nike already.

Frustrated, I decided to try something bold and new to shake my bracket blues.

I started my own NCAA Tournament — with lots of stud upperclassmen and teams that played together a while.

So listen up. Here are the rules . . .

1. Based on their overall records, the top 28 teams of all time are seeded one through seven in each of the four regions. The next eight square off in play-in games to complete the 32-team field. Any ties are broken on the basis of points differential.

2. Each school is allowed no more than two entries – sorry Indiana, Kentucky and North Carolina – in which case they have to be at least five years apart. You, too, UCLA.

3. In games that are too close to call – and they are many — What If Sports is consulted for a second opinion.

4. I’m the commissioner, the game officials and the scorekeeper. All decisions are final.

5. Bitch to Digger Phelps if you don’t like any of the above.

OK, now shake hands . . .

East Regional

Play-in game: 2002 Maryland (32-4 record) versus 2001 Duke (35-4). The Blue Devils beat the Terrapins four times in six tries over the two seasons. Included was a 21-point blowout against the evential national champions. Winner: Duke.

2001 Duke (No. 8 seed) versus 1957 North Carolina (No. 1, 32-0). The Tar Heels edged Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas in an epic title game, but Chris Duhon and Jay Williams pose a considerable problem for their fairly average backcourt. Winner: Duke.

1946 Holy Cross (No. 7, 27-3) versus 1974 North Carolina State (No. 2, 30-1) Too much Tom Burleson inside, David Thompson in transition. If only Crusaders freshman Bob Cousy were a year older . . . Winner: North Carolina State.

1984 Georgetown (No. 6, 34-3) versus 1999 Connecticut (No. 3, 34-2). The Hoyas will destroya inside. Michael Graham and Patrick Ewing abuse Kevin Freeman and Jake Voskuhl early and often. Winner: Georgetown.

1982 North Carolina (No. 5, 32-2) versus 1992 Duke (No. 4, 34-2). What would an all-time NCAA Tournament be without this classic matchup? Some sophomore named Jordan sends the game into overtime, but Christian Laettner wins it at the buzzer. Winner: Duke.

Semifinals

2001 Duke (No. 8) versus 1992 Duke (No. 4). Tournament savvy trumps raw talent. Mike Krzyzewski outcoaches Coach K. Winner: 1992 Duke.

1984 Georgetown (No. 6) versus 1974 North Carolina State (No. 2). So many fouls do the talented Wolfpack draw on his team, Hoyas boss John Thompson finally waves his white towel in surrender. Winner: North Carolina State.

Championship game

1992 Duke (No. 4) versus 1974 North Carolina State (No. 2). Grant Hill sticks to Thompson like ear wax. As a team, the Blue Devils shoot 75 percent at the free throw line, a figure that only one Wolfpack starter (li’l Monte Towe) can match, which is no small advantage in a tight contest. Winner: Duke.

Midwest Regional

Play-in game: 1979 Michigan State (26-6) versus 2000 Michigan State (32-7). Pick against Magic Johnson? I hate to do it, but the Double Zeroes are too deep, too experienced and too well-coached to come up short here. Winner: 2000 Michigan State.

2000 Michigan State (No. 8) versus 1976 Indiana (No. 1, 32-0). Contain Mateen Cleaves, and Sparty goes down with him. In Quinn Buckner, the unbeaten Hoosiers have the just the man to do it. Winner: Indiana.

1941 Wisconsin (No. 7, 20-3) versus 1963 Loyola of Chicago (No. 2, 29-2). The upstart Badgers are patient and disciplined — sound familiar? — but with no starter taller than 6—foot-4 on the floor, I don’t like their chances against a high-octane Ramblers team. Winner: Loyola.

1953 Indiana (No. 6, 23-3) versus 2008 Kansas (No. 3, 37-3). The Hoosiers start an All-America combo guard (Bob Leonard), a dominant big man (Don Schlundt) and two other future NBA players. Danny Manning can carry the Jayhawks only so far. Winner: Indiana.

1960 Ohio State (No. 5, 25-3) versus 1952 Kansas (No. 4, 28-3). Jayhawks pivotman Clyde Lovellette accounted for no less than 40 percent of his team’s points. In the great Jerry Lucas, wide Clyde meets his match. Winner: Ohio State.

Semifinals

1960 Ohio State (No. 5) versus 1976 Indiana (No. 1) . How to chose between two loaded teams that start seven future NBA first-round picks? Two words – insider information. Buckeyes reserve Bob Knight tells Hoosier head coach Bob Knight all he needs to know about his former team. Winner: Indiana.

1953 Indiana (No. 6) versus 1963 Loyola (No. 2). As the first team to play an all-black line-up, head coach George Ireland’s team is tighter than a clam with lockjaw. Make it Chicago Strong in this hotly contested border war. Winner: Loyola.

Championship game

1963 Loyola (No. 2) versus 1976 Indiana (No. 1) . The Ramblers are the only team to play five guys from start to finish in an NCAA championship game. The Hoosiers’ pressure defense begins to take its toll in the second half. Winner: Indiana.

South Regional

Play-in game: 2007 Florida (35-5) versus 2013 Louisville (35-5). The Al Horford- Joakim Noah tag team proves to be too much for a game Cardinals squad. Winner: Florida.

2007 Florida (No. 8) versus 1966 Texas-El Paso (No. 1, 28-1). The Miners have a small margin for error – long live Willie Cager! – and it’s smaller yet in the backcourt. Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey have a field day against an undersized back line. Winner: Florida.

1994 Arkansas (No. 7, 31-3) versus 2012 Kentucky (No. 2, 38-2). Freshman point guard Marquis Teague and the Wildcats succumb to 40 Minutes of Hell – but just barely. Winner: Arkansas.

1980 Louisville (No. 6, 33-3) versus 1996 Kentucky (No. 3, 34-2) In a match made in Bluegrass heaven, The Untouchables bring Darrell Griffith and the Doctors of Dunk down to earth. Winner: Kentucky.

1962 Cincinnati (No. 5, 29-2) versus 1946 Oklahoma State (No. 4, 31-2). The deliberate pace suits the d-minded Bearcats and their ball-control offense. Paul Hogue neutralizes 7-footer Bob Kurland in a middle, and the Cowboys die a slow death. Winner: Cincinnati.

Semifinals

2007 Florida (No. 8) versus 1962 Cincinnati (No. 5). The o-challenged Bearcats are fed to the Gators, who prove that seed numbers mean next to nothing in a competitive tournament. (Got that, Nate Silver?) Winner: Florida.

1994 Arkansas (No. 7) versus 1996 Kentucky (No. 3). Only a select few teams have the talent and numbers to beat the Razorbacks at their own game, but Tony Delk, Walter McCarty, Antoine Walker and friends are one of them. Winner: Kentucky.

Championship game

2007 Florida (No. 8) versus 1996 Kentucky (No. 3). How good is this Wildcats team? So good that they would be 3 1/2-point favorites against the 2013-24 Philadelphia 76ers on the road. Nine will go on to have NBA careers. Winner: Kentucky.

West Regional

Play-in game: 1939 Oregon (29-5) versus 1990 Nevada-Las Vegas (35-5). That the Runnin’ Rebels are here tells you something about the tournament. The Webfoots have some size and lots of experience, but their backcourt comes up short against Greg Anthony and company. Winner: UNLV.

1990 Nevada-Las Vegas (No. 8) versus 1972 UCLA (No. 1, 30-0). Some say the unbeaten 1973 Bruins are a tad better than this group. I say it makes no difference. Winner: UCLA.

1944 Utah (No. 7, 21-4) versus 1967 UCLA (No. 2, 30-0). Some say the once-beaten 1968 Bruins are a tad better this this group. I say it makes no difference. Winner: UCLA.

1959 California (No. 6, 25-4) versus 1956 San Francisco (No. 3, 29-0). All-America centers Darrall Imhoff and Bill Russell will hook up in the NBA Finals years later, the result much the same. Winner: USF.

1942 Stanford (No. 5, 28-4) versus 1943 Wyoming (No. 4, 31-2). High flyer Jim Pollard faces Chuck Taylor Award-winner Kenny Sailors in a matchup of future NBA stars. In the end, the Cowboys have no answer for Don Burness, another first-team All-America. Winner: Stanford.

Semifinals

1942 Stanford (No. 5) versus 1972 UCLA (No. 1). Bruins reserves Larry Hollyfield and Sven Nater step up against an undermanned Indians team. Winner: UCLA

1956 San Francisco (No. 3) versus 1967 UCLA (No. 2). As the only Don to average in double figures, Russell is forced to play both ends of the floor. Lew Alcindor takes the clash of titans and the Bruins advance with surprising ease. Winner: UCLA.

Championship game

1967 UCLA (No. 2) versus 1972 UCLA (No. 1). King King or Godzilla? The ’72 team has the edge in depth and at the wing positions. The older version boasts a better backcourt and the most dominant force in college basketball history. Figure two overtimes to settle this one. Winner 1967 UCLA.

National semifinals

1992 Duke (No. 4) versus 1996 Kentucky (No. 3). Blue Devils versus Wildcats? Coach K versus Ricky P? C’mon, does it get any better than this? Payback is sweet for that old Kentucky home, as Laettner’s late-second shot rims out this time. Winner: Kentucky.

1976 Indiana (No. 1) versus 1967 UCLA (No. 2). While the Hoosiers have few if any weaknesses, a dominant big man can pose a challenge for them. It just so happens that the Bruins have the greatest one. Kent Benson, say hello to soon-to-be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Winner: Bruins.

National championship game

1996 Kentucky (No. 4) versus 1967 UCLA (No. 2). As deep and talented as the Wildcats may be, they don’t rebound the ball particularly well. They also face an impossible dilemma at the defensive end, where the 6-foot-8 Walker and the 6-foot-10 McCarty cannot handle the 7-foot-2 Alcindor on the blocks. But if the defense collapses around him, then Lucius Allen and Lynn Shackelford play pop-a-shot at the perimeter. The underdogs make a game of it before the Wizards of Westwood pull away late. Winner: UCLA.

Take a bow, head coach John Wooden. Now that’s one shining moment.

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