It seems like everyone you meet “won [their] bracket a few years ago” on some spectacular buzzer-beater, Cinderella bracket buster, or from a frustratingly stupid strategy (“I pick based on mascots!”) this time of year. I don’t buy it. There is no way you picked Dayton in 2014 because “the flyers fly high!” or Jabari Parker and the Blue Devils to lose in the first round to Mercer. Yet, somehow everybody this week has a story.
Which brings me to my girlfriend. This girl watches about as much ESPN as Dorn does the Playboy Network, but she, like so many of us, claims to have “won it like two of the last three years.” This would be fine if it wasn’t accompanied by a completely blind arrogance, as she struts around asking me if I need “help” finishing my bracket.
This year my sports fan of nine hours girlfriend has decided to put her money where her mouth is. Literally.
Here are the terms: Whichever bracket ranks in the higher percentile nationally (or accumulates the most overall points with the standard ESPN scoring system) wins.
If SHE wins: I will contribute to the reduction of Kanye West’s $53 million debt, buying a very authentic (and idiotically expensive) pair of Yeezy 350 boosts (the ones Nick Young didn’t wear in an NBA game that look like Nike Fly Knits).
If I win: She willingly (consent!) will act as my personal alarm clock for the month of April. I might become a morning person.
As a follow-up to my first March Madness preview, here’s how I think the Sweet 16 will play out through the National Championship. This can serve as an explanation for the tonal shift next month’s articles may have, if I’m still employed.
Kansas v Maryland:
Maryland on paper is about as talented as any team in the country, sporting two likely first round draft picks (Trimble, Stone) and experienced depth on the wings. Unfortunately for Terrapins fans, this team, after starting the season with their highest pre-season ranking since the turn of the century, has been better individually than as the sum of its parts. Kansas is too big, too athletic, and far too experienced to exit this early. Plus, I’d take Bill Self over Mark Turgeon (who has not advanced past the first weekend in over a decade) even if the teams were more evenly matched.
Winner: Kansas. Maryland has about as much of a chance as white dick with a Kardashian.
Arizona v Villanova:
Yes, Arizona is a 6 seed, but they face an 11 seeded Wichita State less than 48 hours removed from a play-in game, and the most over-seeded team in the field, Miami (Miami is statistically the worst offensive rebounding team in the field of 64, play-ins not included.) The Wildcats are an experienced bunch, led by senior guard Gabe York and senior All Pac-12 center Kaleb Tarczewski. Alonzo Trier is developing into a star in Tucson, and at least on paper, Arizona is the more talented team (from an NBA prospect and recruiting ranking standpoint). But is this finally the year Nova avoids a high seeded catastrophe? Since 2008, Jay Wright and company have bombed their first weekend worse than After Earth, and last week’s upset loss to Seton Hall (in which Villanova led by two with 21 seconds left and the ball, only to commit an unheard of 5 second violation without advancing) bring up memories of past crunch time collapses.
Winner: Villanova. I hate myself even more for this than after publishing my Warriors article.
Oregon v Duke:
Oregon will face little resistance in the first two rounds, though I feel they are the biggest “reach” one seed in the tournament. The Ducks, led by sophomore forward Dillon Brooks, blitzkrieged a completely overmatched Utah team on their way to the PAC 12 tournament championship last weekend, inexplicably eclipsing Michigan State for the last #1. Duke, after surviving the
notoriously undisciplined Baylor Bears Yale, will likely have the two best overall players on the court at most times (Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen fresh off of his disappointing Super Tuesday). They must overcome a severe rebounding disadvantage without senior center Amile Jefferson, and the red hot PAC 12 champions.
Winner: Duke. Goes against all I believe, but sometimes the way the bracket falls changes your plans. Trusting Coach K and the strength of the ACC gauntlet vs. the PAC 12.
Oklahoma v Texas A&M:
Oklahoma will treat the first two rounds like pre-game shoot around, lackadaisically rolling to the Sweet 16. A&M, on the other hand, will face an extremely physical, big (especially if Cam Ridley is able to return) up-tempo team implementing a patented Shaka Smart press in the Round of 32. Texas is a very talented group, earning a 6 seed while perhaps their best player, Cameron Ridley, spent much of the second half of the season out with a leg injury. A&M and their top 10 defense sneak by the Longhorns with or without him, but will be beat up like coeds dating Johnny Manziel. Oklahoma and their #1 ranked 3-point attack will push past the step-slow Aggies.
Winner: Oklahoma. Lon Kruger officially becomes the least interesting coach remaining in the field.
UNC v Kentucky:
Clash of the Titans, the matchup everybody outside of Bloomington wants to see. Sorry Hoosiers, you still have Tom Crean and Dwayne Wade’s eligibility has expired, your rivals from the south move on to the Sweet 16. UNC is perhaps the best built team to challenge Kentucky. The Wildcats feature the best backcourt in the nation, with sharp shooting Jamal Murray and experienced point guard Tyler Ulis, big blue has been curiously weak on the front line, a staple of past Calipari-led teams. UNC has perhaps the best, and deepest, group of bigs in the tournament, with Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson, Justin Jackson, and former 5-star recruit Isaiah Hicks. The Tar Heels feature a balance of senior leaders (Marcus Paige, Johnson) and young athletic guards (Berry, Britt) rarely found on teams comprised of elite talent. Kentucky is, well, Kentucky. Eight rotation players were rated in the top 50 or better in their graduating class, while Kentucky has arguably improved as much or more than any team in the nation since the start of the season. Skal Labissiere and the jump shot of Marcus Paige (shooting a career low this season) will be the x-factors.
Winner: Kentucky. Every time Calipari has made the tournament in Lexington, he’s reached at least the Elite 8. UNC lacks a go-to scorer and is the worst 3-point shooting team in the entire ACC. Kentucky makes just enough shots, and free throws, to close out the 1 seed.
West Virginia v. Xavier:
Defensively, WVU and Coach Bob Huggins are my favorite team in this year’s tournament. The Mountaineers press from whistle to whistle, utilizing full line change substitutions (similar to 2015 Kentucky) and thrive off of turnover points, earning the most of any power five member in the field. Devin Williams is an absolute beast up front, coming off a 30-10 game against Kansas in the BIG 12 conference championship, Xavier’s jump shooting and dominant finesse style will face a major test. Led by Trevon Bluiett and Edmond Sumner, the Musketeers are one of the most offensively efficient teams in the nation, averaging over 81 points per game. To put this in proper perspective: Xavier averages nearly 15 points per game more than #1 seed Virginia.
Winner: West Virginia. Huggy Bear makes his way back to the Elite 8, Xavier folds against the press like Hilary in front of Congress (soon).
Virginia v. Purdue:
Purdue squeaks into the Sweet 16 behind a seemingly endless collection of 7 footers led by Senior AJ Hammonds. Virginia, coming off of an ACC tournament loss to UNC, in which at one point the Cavaliers offense went nearly 5 minutes without a made field goal, will continue Coach Tony Bennett’s grind-it-out style of conservative (Jeb Bush level interesting) offense and smothering defense. The worst offense left in the field, Virginia will struggle to win comfortably over any tournament caliber team outside of the first round.
Winner: Virginia. Seth Greenberg moans the “excruciating to watch” style, and reminds us all why he’s no longer coaching.
MSU v. Utah:
Probably the least intriguing matchup of the entire Sweet 16. Utah is coming off of a performance perhaps only surpassed in ineptitude by 1940 France (“Let’s hide behind this wall, they’ll never think to come up behind us!”). MSU has the most complete roster in the tournament, the best shooting 5 Izzo has put on the floor in a decade, and led by the nation’s most valuable player, Denzel Valentine. While Utah features sure-fire first round pick Jacob Poertl, the Utes will be overmatched at the guard and wing positions, while Tom Izzo has proven (7 Final Fours in 17 years) himself as perhaps the best tournament coach in modern history.
Winner: Spartans. Comfortable win setting up what seems like a yearly Elite 8 matchup for the Spartans and #1 seed Virginia.
Kansas v Nova:
Ecstatic to finally make it back to the third weekend, the Wildcats run up against a better version of themselves. Similar stylistically, Kansas brings a far deeper and star-heavy lineup to the floor, with Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis likely the best players for either team. Bill Self has made it past the Elite 8 once since winning the national title in 2008, the same year Jay Wright last made the Final 4. Kansas is bigger, more athletic, and the more physical team.
Winner: Kansas. Perry Ellis finally makes a Final 4 in what must be his 7th year of eligibility.
Duke v Oklahoma:
Another extremely similar matchup. Both teams severely lack rebounding and front court depth, as Oklahoma center Ryan Spangler is more of a stretch 4 than a true 5, and Miles Plumlee is athletically limited in an expanded role for the Blue Devils. Both teams rely heavily on the outside jumper, hoisting (and making) more threes than any other team in their respective conferences. What Oklahoma has, though, is perhaps the best player in the country in senior Buddy Hield. Duke, with their tattooed Kevin Durant doppelgänger, Brandon Ingram, is led by all underclassmen, with only senior Matt Jones ranking in their top 5 overall scorers. In this matchup, I want the best pure scorer in the country, and the experience 4 starting upperclassmen gives Oklahoma.
Winner: Oklahoma. The 90% of the nation that hates Duke basketball purely out of spite can exhale.
Kentucky v. West Virginia:
WVU center Devin Thomas will dominate the young and far less physically imposing Kentucky front. The Wildcats are more dangerous than Caitlyn Jenner driving against the press, with the guard play to exploit the obvious holes left by an overly aggressive defense. This will come down to the rebounding battle; if Kentucky can keep it close, minimizing second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass, the Wildcats should make enough perimeter shots to pull away. X-factor here is Isaiah Briscoe, in my opinion. The kid has been slicing through SEC defenses, possessing a rare finishing ability perhaps only rivaled by Peter North.
Winner: Kentucky. The Mountaineers have a harder time scoring than “bulking season” Dan Regester.
Virginia v MSU: Virginia looks for revenge after being eliminated at the hands of Tom Izzo’s Spartans in both of the last two tournaments. Unfortunately, as my cunt of an aunt just found out, sometimes the third time, be it marriages or basketball, is not the charm. This is the best MSU team Virginia has faced in the last three tournaments, with Bryn Forbes providing an outside threat unlike any modern Izzo roster. Denzel Valentine has evolved into a better jump shooting Draymond Green (at least at the college level) and the Spartans are an astounding 7-2 in the Elite 8 under Izzo overall. Brogden and Parrentes keep it close early for the Cavaliers, but similarly to a coed’s sexual experience with me, the ending will just be another disappointment.
Winner: MSU. First three-time fucking in Charlottesville since the lax team lost their house. (Too soon?)
Kansas v Oklahoma:
Can the Sooners keep shooting? That will be the question on everyone’s mind during championship weekend. At times, Buddy Hield and co. seemingly cannot miss, pouring in double-digit threes in 19 of their regular season games — a new BIG 12 record. Kansas will be the most athletic opponent OU will have faced in the tournament, with Selden twice proving a thorn in Hield’s side in the regular season. Kansas is clearly the deeper and more talented team, but the three-point shot can be an affirmative action level boost when falling. Kansas on the shoulders of upperclassmen Ellis, Traylor, Lucas, Selden and Mason, rebound their way to a championship appearance.
Winner: Kansas. And Wayne Selden’s uncle goes fucking insane.
Kentucky v MSU:
The Spartans and Wildcats will feature more NBA talent than a 76ers game. Denzel Valentine is the best player for either team, but Kentucky features unmatched depth and the ability to play 10 deep with top 50 caliber talent (in their respective recruiting classes). Coach Calipari is highly underrated from an X and O standpoint, transforming his typically post-heavy offensive slog into an up-tempo jump shooting team in the course of one season. The Spartans start perhaps the most improved player in the BIG 10 in senior Matt Costello, while freshman Deyonta Davis might be the most physically impressive big for either team. The last time Kentucky won a national title was also the last Calipari starting 5 to feature a true senior. This will be an instant classic.
Winner: Kentucky. At the buzzer, Big Blue shocks the Spartans and again reaches the national championship from an unlikely seeding.
Kansas v. Kentucky:
I can’t fight this feeling anymore — this may finally be the year Bill Self has put it all together in Lawrence. The Jayhawks are balanced, ranking in the top 25 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency, top 3 in the BIG 12 in turnovers forced and offensive rebounds, and turn the ball over as little as any team not named Virginia. Kansas plays 5 juniors or seniors in their top 8 rotation, compared to just two for Kentucky (Lee + Poythress). Kentucky will need a historic performance from both Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray while both underclassmen deal with bigger (Selden is nearly 8 inches and 60 pounds larger than Ulis, making defending the opposing ball handler nearly impossible) and more experienced Jayhawks on both ends of the floor.
Winner: Kansas. My cock screams “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” all of April..
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