The following is a conversation between saber-metrics definition reader Alex Spruiell (a.k.a Black) and Bracketology Associates degree candidate Jimmy Huang (a.k.a Yellow). We’re doing the scouting for every first round matchup so you don’t have to. Because, really, who has the freakin’ time? We’re doing deep dives on mid-majors and all the reasons why top seeds could get taken by surprise, rounding out with Final Four picks.
Better strap in like Vin Diesel. This is your NCAA Tournament Bible with Black and Yellow.
BLACK: We hype up Selection Sunday, but it’s really kind of anti-climactic when you think about it. Most every team that’s making the tournament, save like 7 or 8, knows that they’re going to make it; they’re just waiting to see how badly the committee fucked them on the matchups, or mis-seeding. I mean, can you think of anybody that really and truly got left out this year? And if you say Syracuse, so help me God.
YELLOW: Anti-climatic, says the guy whose team hasn’t missed the tournament since 1995. For the rest of us, working-class, salt-of-the-Earth, “REAL” Americans, Sunday is a bit more bubbly. That being said, this was one of the least controversial selections in recent memory. The point of discussion lies with the seeding. Did the loss to NC State affect Duke’s deserved #1 seed? Not likely. No one is shedding a tear for Syracuse, especially in the city of Greensboro. The OrangeMen will get what they earned: a trip to Greensboro for the NIT. And the scoreboard starts Greensboro – 1/Jim Boeheim – 0, for the record.
B: I’ll admit to that being all the more douche-y coming from someone who literally only worries about the seeds, matchups and coming up with championship hashtags each year. But it’s true. How many times have you ever said, “Yeah, sure, Kentucky made the final. But if Illinois State had gotten in as a 16 seed, this is a totally different conversation, my friend!” Never. And for the record, I noticed that shade about NC State beating Duke and I’m choosing to ignore it. What stands out to you as the toughest bracket a.k.a. the one where seeding got fucked up the most?
Y: The East is easily the “Death Region” this year. Villanova is staring down Duke on the opposite side as a 2 seed, while the space between is littered with land mines and pitfalls. Wisconsin and Marquette pose serious threats to the top seeds in the second round. No one wants any part of Virginia or their defense, Baylor’s lineup of 6’8” guys across the board allows them to match up well against virtually anybody, and, personally, I love SMU. Who do you think has the toughest road to Phoenix?
B: “Well, technically, it’s the Road to Glendale,” he said, like a pedantic douche.
I’m going with the South. UNC, Kentucky and UCLA going 1, 2, 3 is a murderer’s row in and of itself. Those are three of the top 10 offenses in the nation, and easily three of the most storied college franchises of all time. But it’s also the region with the worst possible seeding. Wichita State as a 10? They’re top 10 in offense, defense and overall KenPom rankings. Butler comes in as a 4 seed, Cincinnati is dangerous as a six. Ditto for Dayton at 7. If a double digit seed is going to get out of the first weekend, and into the Sweet Sixteen or Elite 8, I see it here.
#1 Villanova (31-3) v. #16 Mount St. Mary’s (19-15)
B: Official unofficial bracket rule number one, a 16 seed has never beaten a 1 seed. And I’m pretty sure because every 1 seed goes in knowing that, it’ll also probably never happen. But, I’ll admit, if it was GONNA happen, it’d totally be the same year “Cheeto Benito” got inaugurated.
Y: A 16 seed will beat a 1 seed when our buddy Zach’s middle school Canadian girlfriend turns out to be real. The pressure is on the number one overall seed, and defending champ to kick off their journey with positive momentum. It’s a long road to the Final Four and it is crucial for Nova to come off the blocks with a clean start. Get to know Josh Hart, he’s a modern day gem of college basketball.
B: I don’t see Nova having very many issues with either of these teams. You’re definitely right about Hart. He leads the Wildcats in scoring and rebounding (16.9, 6.5), and is one of the best guards in the country. The team has seven upperclassmen, including Kris Jenkins who hit “THE SHOT” last year, and they’ve been in the top 10 the entire season. No need to waste much time here. Nova, by a lot, correct?
Y: No time to waste, my friend. ONWARDS!
#2 Duke (27-8) v. #15 Troy (22-14)
B: HOMER PICK INCOMING: Duke’s going to win, but for the sake of argument, I’ll let you prop up some straw-men before I burn them to the ground like Laurence Fishburne in “Apocalypse Now”
Y: Duke is the hottest team in the nation, and that’s not debatable. Because of the versatility and individual talent of every player, they are able to play position-less basketball. There will be no Lehigh, there will be no VCU, there will be no Mercer today. Duke will set Troy on fire like the Greeks for an easy victory.
B: Oh, wow. I expected you to at least try to make it seem like we suck. I don’t think Troy has the manpower to take Duke out, you’re right, but they could at least make it interesting. Jordan Varnado is their do-it-all forward, and Duke will be relying on Amile Jefferson to slow him down with very little, if any, help. If Jefferson gets into foul trouble, that could cause some issues for the Devils. Conversely, though, Troy has no one to match up with Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard is liable to go off for 30+ at any time, and Grayson Allen is thriving in his bench role. Advantage: Duke.
I feel like I just re-enacted that scene from 30 Rock where Jack has Liz’s contract negotiation with himself.
#3 Baylor (25-7) v. #14 New Mexico State (28-5)
B: An old staple from the fantasy pods I’m bringing back: Scott Drew, “We Sure He’s Good?”
Y: Baylor is loaded with talent and athleticism. And that’s why everyone will rip their own hair out when they show up like they’ve been drinking Hennessy ‘til 5 am the night before. What’s that stench?? Smells like upset to me.
B: That’s Baylor’s brand at this point (well, besides the “other” thing…). Hyper-athletic dudes who look like they could shoulder press a tow truck underperforming in big spots. I call it “Pulling a Dwight [Howard]”. They’re a basically an “urban” Gonzaga in terms of tournament success. Scott Drew is really the only shared factor, so you’ve got to wonder if he’s holding them back, right?
Y: You’re theory regarding Scott Drew is certainly valid. Should the Bears see an early exit, I guarantee NC State will be calling, desperate to try and persuade him to hold our program back for the foreseeable future. NEXT!!!
#4 Florida (24-8) v. #13 East Tennessee State (27-7)
Y: Rick Barry’s son, Canyon Barry, plays for the Gators and shoots his free throw’s granny-style. That alone is enough reason to tune in and watch the Flying Barrys Circus Act. East Tennessee State should not be taken lightly, though. They have the depth to hang around with the Gators and if you can dance close with the “big dawgs”, you kind of literally have a shooter’s chance.
B: Don’t sleep on the underhanded free throw; old Rick shot 90% from the line for his career that way. Florida’s biggest problem is they just lost their starting center/leading rebounder – John Egbunu – to a knee injury. That’s gonna hurt them inside and this team isn’t known for being explosive from the perimeter. I’m open to it, so make your case for ETSU.
Y: ETSU has all the makings of a Cinderella: directional school, efficient shooting from the floor and beyond the arc, won the SoCon regular season and tournament, and playing an over-seeded team. They do turn the ball over a metric ton, and I don’t expect that to change, but the chaos and adrenaline may actually play into their hands. At the very least, they’ll have the crowd behind them.
B: True. Second official unofficial rule: you’ve got to be on the lookout for a juicy 4V13 upset. It’s happened 23 of the past 32 years, including last year when Hawaii beat Cal. And any potential Cinderella needs the ability to thrive in chaos because upsets happen by winning a majority of 50/50 plays. We’re talking loose balls, turnovers, jump balls, inbound plays and capitalizing at the three point line when you’re open and the free throw line when you get there. I like ETSU’s chances to pull the upset here. You’ve convinced me. Yes, the game is in Orlando. I’m aware. But, I think they’ll attack Florida inside, and then take advantage of more efficient shooting to keep them at bay.
#5 Virginia (22-10) v. #12 UNC-Wilmington (29-5)
Y: Third official unofficial rule: a 12 seed always beats a 5 seed. Always. But this is not that upset. If Virginia basketball was a movie, it would be a 3-hour, slow as shit drama where a female journalist tries to expose the corruption in ‘big Tupperware’, while simultaneously attempting to break the glass ceiling. Virginia will win the game, but everyone who watches will lose.
B: That is a near-perfect analogy. For the record, that movie would be called “Sealed”, star Amy Adams, and get an Oscar nomination. In terms of the actual game, this is a pretty interesting matchup. Virginia has the #1 ranked defense in the country and UNC-W, surprisingly, is the #10 ranked offense. Their starting forward, Devontae Cacok, shoots 80% from the field, and this team is almost identical to the one that came close to knocking off Duke last year.
Y: I’ll have my people reach out to Amy’s people. “Sealed”!? Who doesn’t want to lie about having watched that? “Hey, did you watch “Sealed” with Amy Adams?” Oh…yeah. It was…good. So, um, relevant to today’s world.
Any silver linings for UVA?
B: If you’re Virginia, the one thing you’re happiest about is that Michigan State is on the opposite side of the bracket. Izzo has had their goat for almost half a decade. So, if you’re going to make a run at your first Final Four since the days of Ralph Sampson’s mustache, this seems like a good time to do it.
#6 SMU (30-4) v. #11 USC (24-9)/Providence (20-12)
Y: Pony up, homie! The Mustangs play small ball, score and defend. A team that puts the ball through the hoop and keeps them out of their hoop. That results in wins. Basketball is a simple game. Disclaimer: USC is still a dangerous team should they make it out of the First Four against Providence. (Spoiler: It doesn’t really matter. SMU is better.)
B: Score more than the other guy. That’s the name of the game. SMU is a dangerous six seed. All five guys in their starting lineup are capable of putting up 15+ on you, they’re big, they’re athletic, they can shoot. Semi Ojeleye is their best player and I watched him in the years before he transferred from Duke. He’s extremely athletic, can jump out of the freaking gym, is stronger than he looks on the boards, and a much improved shooter.
#7 South Carolina (22-10) v. #10 Marquette (19-12)
B: South Carolina has the guy with the best Key and Peele name of the tournament: Sindarius Thornwell. He sounds like the main character in a sequel to “Attack the Block”, or Idris Elba’s new by-the-book partner on “Luther” played by John Boyega.
Y: Sindarius Thornwell, mah lawd!!! I always fall in love with one dynamic SEC player thinking they can carry their team into the second week. SEC basketball can be trusted like ‘mild’ spicy food in Thailand. Or female hookers in Thailand. Marquette over the Gamecocks — print the shirts.
B: Yeah, this probably isn’t an official unofficial rule like 5V12, or 1V16, but don’t trust an SEC team not named Kentucky. Even Florida. South Carolina is a great defensive team, but struggles to score. They’re best bet to win this game is keeping Marquette off the three point line and keeping turnovers low so this thing stays in the half-court. Any track meet Marquette will win going away, setting up Coach Wojo versus Coach K in the 2nd round.
#8 Wisconsin (25-9) v. #9 Virginia Tech (22-10)
Y: Oh, how I wish Buzz Williams coached my team. In his first year as the Hokies head coach, he had a squad of walk-ons battling every single night in the ACC. Two seasons later and they’re back in the dance as a 9 seed. Welp, the Badgers don’t give a fuck about their Cinderella story. Good defense and good 3-point shooting will vault Wisconsin to the second round.
B: That’s pretty succinct. Wisconsin should win this game. Tech lost their second best player – Chris Clarke (11.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG) – and that seems like a lot to overcome. Bronson Koenig is Wisconsin’s version of Perry Ellis, in that I’m sure he’s been in school for damn near a decade by now. With him and Nigel Hayes, I don’t see Wisconsin losing this early.
#1 Kansas (28-4) v. #16 North Carolina Central (25-8)/UC-Davis (22-12)
B: Things I Say Every Single March – “I’m a really big fan of this Kansas team”
Y: How can you not love this blue blood? Frank Mason, Jr. is a bulldog of a point guard and teammate Josh Jackson will be playing at the next level next year.
B: The real X-factor here is Landen Lucas. Everybody knows what you’re going to get from Mason and Jackson, but Lucas could go out and get you 25 and 15 if necessary. He’s not a real defensive presence (Jackson leads the team in blocks), but he doesn’t need to be. Combine that with Devonte Graham’s outside shooting and it’s hard to find a flaw with this team. They seemed to win just about every big game they played this year and Bill Self is one of the greatest coaches in the sport. I’d cape up for Central, but it’s really not worth it.
#2 Louisville (24-8) v. #15 Jacksonville State (22-14)
B: Louisville’s back in the tourney after a self-imposed hiatus last year. It was a whole thing; there were hookers involved. You might’ve heard about it. And having Rick Pitino involved in a scandal involving prostitutes is central casting like a motherfucker.
Y: Hookers aside, Pitino is one legendary coach. His teams never have an issue with motivation. As previously stated, their issue is hookers. Ironically, Jacksonville State sounds like the kind of school hookers might have tried attending at some point but I doubt any of them made the squad so the Cardinals are safe.
B: Given what I know about northern Florida, that sounds about right. Louisville gets the money shot.
#3 Oregon (29-5) v. #14 Iona (22-12)
B: Oregon drew the short straw in the “Late Season Injury that Fucks with Your Seeding” Kenyon Martin Memorial Sweepstakes. Obviously, every talking head has said this, but losing Chris Boucher is a big deal. He was top 20 in the nation in blocks (2.5 BPG) and shot over 40% from three as a stretch four, leaving them vulnerable defensively and less versatile offensively. He was their second best player. Long story made shorter: it sucks.
Y: Tragic story for Oregon, but they should still take care of business. Iona feels like the Wake Forest of the MAAC: capable scoring, defense optional. Also, pour some out for your ACC bros.
B: Yeah, I won’t weep too long for Oregon. They still have Dillon Brooks on the wing, and Jordan Bell inside. I watched them eviscerate Arizona in February and came away convinced they were a Final Four team. Their ceiling is lower, sure, but that fucker is still pretty high. They should handle Iona, easily.
#4 Purdue (25-7) v. #13 Vermont (29-5)
B: Barring some Porzingis-style ringer out of Estonia, I’m pretty sure Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan is the best draft prospect that people aren’t talking about, and should be. He went from plump to shredded like a black Marc Gasol. Now he’s a walking double-double (18.5 PPG, 12.6 RPG) and basically what State fans wish BJ Anya was.
Y: In 2006, Vermont head coach, John Becker, moved his family of four to Burlington for a $7000/year, director of operations job with no benefits as a 38-year-old. Who does that? I mean, good for him but, seriously, who does that?!
B: Word? So, what you’re telling me is this guy has a tendency to make rash decisions? Like maybe NOT doubling Swanigan? Or worse yet, putting a guard on him? Peace out, Catamounts.
#5 Iowa State (23-10) v. #12 Nevada (28-6)
B: I have trust issues with Iowa State. They’re that on-again, off-again relationship that makes you wonder wonder “God, why the hell don’t they just break up for good.” Like Phil and Melo. It just feels like I’ve been burned so many times before with all of the Hoiberg teams that were overhyped, underperformed or both. Part of me wants to pick this upset, but my gut is saying that would be a bad idea. Is there a case for Nevada?
Y: The other Wolfpack will be facing some adversity. They have a powerful offense averaging 80 points per game but it hasn’t fared too well against other tournament teams, only managing a 1-2 record. The jury is reminded to remain impartial without bias, but that’s hard to do given the Cyclones 12-5 upset history. Iowa State’s point guard, Monte Morris (16.3 PPG, 6.1 APG), is a true floor general and has led his team through the gauntlet that is the Big 12. He should be able to do the same here.
#6 Creighton (25-9) v. #11 Rhode Island (24-9)
B: I had almost forgotten this, but Rhode Island was a top 25 team when the season started. People had them tracking much higher than an 11 seed, so this matchup seems like upset city.
Y: If you only use one of our upset picks, let this be the one. I honestly believe that the seeds could have been reversed just as easily.
B: They probably should be. Creighton has looked terrible since losing PG Maurice Watson (12.9 PPG, 8.5 APG) in January, which is understandable, but not excusable. Rhode Island is going for the old cliche of “peaking at the right time”. Solid strategy, Cotton. Should work out pretty well for them.
#7 Michigan (24-11) v. #10 Oklahoma State (20-12)
Y: Momentum is everything in sports. Along with Duke, the Michigan Wolverines have become the darlings of the talking heads for a deep run into the elite 8. I’d wager this is due to the hot streak in the Big 10 tournament. D.J. Wilson looks like a player that has figured out his role on this Michigan team, affecting the game with his defense and causing match-up problems on offense. I like Michigan over the unimpressive Cowboys.
Can you make a case for the Cowboys?
B: I’ll give Michigan credit where it’s due: winning your conference tournament right after surviving an actual plane crash is some of the most metal shit I’ve ever heard in my life. If I was going to try and convince you to take the soft upset here, I’d start with Juwan Evans. He’s got a pro-ready game, similar to a poor man’s Chris Paul and he steered Oklahoma State to the 8th ranked offense in the nation (85.5 PPG). All that being said, I’m taking Michigan. Their rotation isn’t as deep, but they have proven they can keep up with the scoring pace regardless. They average the fewest turnovers in the nation and play WAY better defense than the Cowboys, who are outside the top 300. WOLVERINEEEEEEESSSSSSS!!!!!
#8 Miami (21-11) v. #9 Michigan State (19-14)
Y: That guy in your office that brags super loud about how he only fills out one bracket? He’s the same guy that’s going to tell you Michigan State is going to make a run to the Elite 8 because “March is Izzo’s month”. “Trust me, dude. It happens every year”, he’ll say while not getting the hint that he should just answer his emails and let me listen to Comedy Bang Bang in peace. Don’t listen to that dude. That dude is wrong.
B: Wait…we don’t work in the same office anymore. Did someone replace me? Miles Bridges is an absolute monster but I think old Jimmy “Shuffles” Larranaga will find a way to contain him. In this post-season ACC/BIG10 challenge, advantage goes to the ACC. U oughta know.
Y: I wouldn’t say replaced; more like phased out. That position was pretty redundant. Miami struggles to score for long stretches in almost every game they play, which is why that 1V8 in the second round is probably their ceiling, but they’re more disciplined and experienced than the Spartans. Wins over Duke, UVA and UNC, albeit all at home, are nothing to sneeze at.
#1 North Carolina (27-7) v. #16 Texas Southern (23-11)
B: All I know about Texas Southern is that they made one of those “Remember that time we solved racism?”-type movies about their team from the ‘60s that started five black guys. And for the record, I want NO parts of complimenting Carolina when I don’t have to. Thinking about it alone makes my neck hurt and I think I’m getting a rash. But I’m going to do it anyway because I’m a fucking professional.
Y: …Uh, hard pass???
B: Fine. **takes thirty second swig from jug of tequila** Alright, so, Carolina is the best rebounding team in the nation with the most per game (43.5) and the highest rebound margin (12.7). They’re second in team assists per game (19.0), and won what most people consider the country’s most difficult conference, the ACC, while playing an equally intense non-conference schedule (Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Indiana – all wins). ACC Player of the Year Justin Jackson (18.8 PPG) is a stud inside and out, even if he has a tendency to disappear at times. Joel Berry is a fantastic point guard who WILL be on an NBA team next year. Kennedy Meeks and Theo Pinson are anchors inside, with Isaiah Hicks as a more than viable X-factor. They have a 12% chance to the win it all, per ESPN Statistics and Information, which is the highest of any team in the tournament. Anything less than a Final Four is a disappointment, and if their run ended there, it STILL might be a letdown for most casual fans.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find a quiet corner in which to rage vomit.
#2 Kentucky (29-5) v. #15 Northern Kentucky (24-10)
B: Unpopular opinion alert: John Calipari is not a great basketball coach. He’s a good coach, great motivator, a fantastic recruiter, but he’s not on the same level as Krzyzewski, Roy, Pitino, Self and Boeheim when it comes to X’s and O’s. Discuss.
Y: I get why you’d say that. His teams are always loaded, and he only has one title to show for it. But he has been to at least the Elite 8 every year except two, and sends a little league’s team worth of kids to the league each year.
B: Like I said, not denying he’s good at talent identification or development. I just think I’d rather have somebody else making strategic decision for me in the last 2 minutes. With a tough Wichita State team, they need to be technically sound to get out of this weekend alive. Regardless, this Kentucky team has Malik Monk and, honestly, you don’t need much else.
#3 UCLA (29-4) v. #14 Kent State (22-13)
B: What’s the over/under on how many times Lonzo Ball’s dad Lavar will get shown on TV during the tournament? I’m taking the over, but I want to know how long I’ll have to wait to get my money.
Y: Definitely taking the over on that one. I’d set the line at 12.5 TV appearances before halftime. You can’t avoid the Ball family at this point, but a lot of casual fans will actually watch this UCLA squad for the first time (Damn, West Coast scheduling). Lonzo led the nation in assists (7.7), and is destined for the league next year. TJ Leaf led the team in scoring and should be fully healthy after an ankle injury. UCLA’s in a loaded bracket but primed for a deep run, with a Kentucky rematch looming in the Sweet Sixteen.
#4 Butler (23-8) v. #13 Winthrop (26-6)
B: I’m going to go out on a limb here, and call Butler the most dangerous 4-seed in the tournament compared to Florida, WVU, and Purdue. The Bulldogs have the lowest turnover rate in the nation and average over 75 PPG. Winthrop’s best win was a 4 point squeaker over NIT bound Illinois. This is not the 4v13 to get cute with; take the high seed and move on.
Y: Butler has been the best program in the state of Indiana for quite some time now. People should have known not to overlook the Bulldogs when they kept winning after Brad Stevens left. The 4 seed is well deserved, as they’ve beaten #1 Villanova, not once, but twice!
#5 Minnesota (24-9) v. #12 Middle Tennessee State (30-4)
B: The committee thinks they were slick, putting all these upset teams from last year in as 12 seeds, trying to trick people into getting Cinderella crazy. Since 1985, at least one 12 seed has beaten a 5 seed in all but four tournaments; I am aware. But the slipper is only supposed to fit one girl; that’s the point of the god damn story. For every year there’s a George Mason, a VCU, or an 8th seeded Syracuse in the Final Four, there’s four more that had 1 or 2 seeded Duke, UCLA, Carolina, or Kentucky. Putting 5 double digit seeds into your elite 8 doesn’t make you look even 35% as smart as you think it does. VERY rarely are top teams mis-seeded. The key to a good bracket is having watched enough regular season for most teams to know when a matchup is bad or a team is seeded lower than their talent.
Y: You know I love my underdogs, especially the ones that make repeat appearances. This is pretty much the same team that knocked off Michigan State last year in “The Game That Fucked 10 Million Brackets”. That’s an upset pick that rewards you for paying attention instead of just collecting your money when it’s over. The Blue Raiders will take care of the Gophers the way Bill Murray couldn’t in “CaddyShack”.
B: Directional school, senior and junior heavy rotation that goes 8 deep, three of whom average over 15 PPG, and they ended the season going 21-1. To say they’re on a roll would be pedantic as hell. Their upset last year had longer odds than this against a Michigan State team that was better then than Minnesota is now. The Gophers have strength inside with Reggie Lynch and that’s about it.
#6 Cincinnati (29-5) v. Kansas State (20-13)
B: I have never in my life spelled Cincinnati correctly on the first try. It’s the opposite of Mississippi. All I know is they have the 4th ranked defense in the nation and just played SMU tough in the conference title game.
Y: K-State didn’t look half bad last against Wake Forest. But I’ve watched enough of the ACC to know, the Demon Deacons Swiss cheese defense tends to create that optical illusion. Cincinnati reminds me a lot of Louisville with their stifling defense and hyper-efficient offense with four dudes in double figures. Check out their assist numbers!
#7 Dayton (24-7) v. #10 Wichita State (30-4)
B: When I say teams got fucked by the seeding, people probably think I mean Wichita State, but I don’t. Really it fucks over Kentucky because they play a team they would normally see in the Sweet 16 in Round 2. This South Bracket is that kind of a fever dream. There’s always one.
Y: I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to my man, Chase Mank and his UD Flyers. Charles Cooke and the Atlantic 10, represent. That being said, the Shockers are ranked in the top-20 in every statistic that matters. Shoot, I even like them to shock Kentucky in the 2nd round.
#8 Arkansas (25-9) v. #9 Seton Hall (21-11)
B: This is one of those matchups I know nothing about. I’ve watched maybe three minutes of each team, the records tell you nothing, and the seeding is too close to be helpful. I guess I could go mascots, but “Pirate versus Razorback” feels like it would be a draw, depending on whether or not the pirate was drunk.
Y: I also know nothing about either squad, and even if I did, I’d still have a hard time picking this one. So, I’m sticking to my rule and putting out Arkansas by virtue of being an SEC school. They get the benefit of the doubt during football season. Now, they get to prove me wrong.
B: Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado leads the nation in rebounding (13.1 RPG). That seems like it will be relevant at some point, since neither of these teams can shoot. Seton Hall in a toss-up.
#1 Gonzaga (32-1) v. #16 South Dakota State (18-16)
B: Things I Say Every Single March – “I don’t trust this Gonzaga team at all.”
Y: That you do! Gonzaga basketball is the equivalent of Oregon football: dominant on the west coast, no one really watches them, and they will underachieve in the post-season. Don’t count on them making out of the West with the likes of Arizona looming on the opposite side. Notre Dame could even give them issues in the Sweet 16 if they got hot from deep.
B: There are just some things that I realize are monumentally stupid but I’m resolutely firm about. I don’t think great QBs are named Mitch, the next great American tennis player is never coming because kids think tennis is boring, and Gonzaga is just not destined to make a Final Four while I’m alive. They’ll win this game, and maybe a few more. But for them, the ceiling is the roof.
#2 Arizona (30-4) v. #15 North Dakota (22-9)
B: Both Dakotas are in the tournament. Has that ever happened before? I always figured the collective population of those states was like 45, so they could only send one or the other.
Y: That’s a great question. I’m willing to bet it has never happened before. With all due respect to the Dakotas, making the tournament will probably be the highlight of their year. Unless the barley harvest is particularly robust. Or Old Faithful goes super volcano sooner than planned. I still love North Dakota State for giving my Eagles Carson Wentz, though!
B: I looked it up. Three times each they’ve made it, and it’s never happened. Neither of them has ever won either, for the record.
#3 Florida State (25-8) v. #14 Florida Gulf Coast (26-7)
B: I wish, instead of record versus the top 25, ESPN gave you a teams record in its last ten games. That tells me way more important information for the tournament than how they did compared against how the coaches and USA Today voted two months ago.
Y: You only need to know one name: Dwayne Bacon. You heard it! FSU’s shooting guard’s last name is Bacon. And he’s every bit as delicious as advertised. Again, Bacon!! I rest my case.
B: Might want to put a little more effort into that defense, Marcia Clark. Bacon is great (rimshot), but he’s struggled of late and so have the Seminoles. They played .500 ball to close the season and squirrel away an outside shot at the regular season ACC title. They play down to their competition on a regular basis, only one player averages more than two assists (X. Rathan-Mayes, 4.8 APG), and they only shoot 35% from three as a team. Their one marked advantage, size inside, is neutralized by FGCU. I’m feeling an in-state upset here, personally, but I’ll stick to conference lines. FEELS OVER FACTS. THAT’S THE NEW AMERICA
#4 West Virginia (26-8) v. #13 Bucknell (26-8)
B: Huggy Bear has his team playing a maniacal press with the highest turnover margin (8.2), turnovers per game (20.44), total steals (353) and steals per game (10.4). Bucknell already turns it over 13 times a game in a weak league. Even if they get fouled, they only shoot 68% from the line as a team. If I were Bucknell’s coach, that Mountaineer press would be giving me very vivid nightmares. They’d be giving up layup after layup and, for some reason, Jeff Goldblum is there, but he doesn’t LOOK like Jeff Goldblum. And apparently there’s a physics test at halftime that I didn’t study for.
Y: Cue up Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’. You just described what may be the biggest blow out of the first round. Bucknell players may as well brush up on their kinematics formulas for that physics test. Better use of their time.
#5 Notre Dame (25-9) v. #12 Princeton (23-6)
B: This might be recency bias, or something, but I expect Notre Dame to make a deep run into this tournament. They play good defense without fouling, their offense is near-immune to being sped up, and their lineup, as always, is littered with upperclassmen who’ve been here before. They do everything Princeton does, just better.
Y: You took the words out of my mouth. I love the way Notre Dame has been playing, they’re a well-coached squad with plenty of experience. They avoid turnovers like their punishable by stoning and shoot a high percentage. Bonzie Colson is their go-to-man when they need a basket, who dominates the paint, and steps out to hit threes. I like the Catholics to shut the Ivy League out from the tournament.
#6 Maryland (24-8) v. #11 Xavier (21-13)
B: I don’t know how to feel about Maryland anymore. Maybe I never did. There was a two year span where I hated them, then I was indifferent for a decade, then I got mad that they left the ACC like some turncoats, and now I don’t care again. It’s like being in a really shitty haunted house – you’re startled, not scared, but mostly you’re just bored.
Y: So what’s your pick? I’m going with Xavier on this one. Strictly by listening to my gut and firmly believing the Terps will manage to shit the bed. Melo Trimble (17.0 PPG, 3.7 APG) will try his best Kemba Walker/Jeremy Lamb impression to extend Maryland’s stay into the weekend, but he won’t have enough help to get there.
B: I guess it comes down to who you trust more between Trimble and Trevon Bluiett from Xavier. Xavier really struggled to close the season, losing six straight after Edmond Sumner went down, then dropping to Creighton in the Big East tournament. Maryland didn’t do much better, closing the season 4-6 and losing to Northwestern in their conference tournament. Gun to my head? Maryland, I guess. Fuckin’ turtles….
#7 Saint Mary’s (28-4) v. #10 VCU (26-8)
B: On the opposite side of the spectrum from my main man Sindarius, I think Jock Landale might be the whitest name I’ve ever heard. That’s some Wesley Uppercrust, III type shit. That name comes with a country club membership, a love of mayonnaise, and a pre-owned Volvo station wagon.
Y: Good ‘ole Jock’s favorite movie is Tin Cup, so you might be on to something. This one is a toss-up for me. I consulted my pocket expert, a quarter. Sometimes the only thing you can do is flip a coin. Not the most scientific way to decide, but Saint Mary’s is my pick.
B: One of the top five Don Johnson movies! Tin Cup! Saint Mary’s has the 2nd ranked defense in the nation, which could be a “conference-they-play-in” thing because Gonzaga is #7 and the WCC outside of those two is microwaved garbage. VCU was second in the A10, but Shaka Smart ain’t walking through that door.
#8 Northwestern (23-11) v. #9 Vanderbilt (19-15)
B: Here’s how bad Northwestern basketball has been in the last 50+ years: I’m, like, 93% sure the last time they had a winning record in conference play, black people had JUST gotten the right to vote. I mean, we’re about to lose it again, but still.
Y: Our nation has come a long way since then. And then again, maybe not. Every single journalist you read, see on TV or follow on Twitter went to Northwestern, so the liberal media will have you believe this is a feel good story. Not fake news: I like Northwestern to advance over a Vanderbilt team that is completely over-seeded, some might even say not deserving of making the tournament.
B: I’ll pick Northwestern if only because Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ son is on the team and Veep and Seinfeld are my shit. Keep dancing, Wildcats
B: The Final Four is in Glendale/“Just Say Phoenix” this year. So, the honor of the played out “they could be playing at home” narrative goes to Arizona. Although, a whole lotta good that did Michigan State in ‘09 or Butler in ‘10.
So, let’s cut through all the bullshit: who’s your Final Four?
Y: I actually do like Arizona to be playing in front of their home crowd coming out of the West. Neither of us believe in Gonzaga, and the Wildcats should be able to take out Oregon in the regional. The rest of the party is the blue bloods: Duke, Kansas, and UNC. Mid-majors can play Cinderella all they want in the first and second round, but I still think the major conference powers prevail in the end.
Do you have any party crashers in your Final Four?
B: We have identical lineups in the Final Four. Fourth official unofficial rule, never go all 1 seeds. It makes logical sense but I’ve seen it happen literally once in my entire life. At least one 2 seed or lower has to crash the party. I like Duke to beat Villanova in the Elite 8 out East when the Wildcats have no one to matchup with Jayson Tatum, one-on-one. And that pick is only like 45% homerism, which is at least 20% less than usual. In the South, UCLA will get past Kentucky (again), but run into baby blue boot to the face from UNC in the regional final. I’m tempted to pick West Virginia to upset Gonzaga in the Sweet 16 in the West, but have Arizona moving on to the Final Four, regardless. And, finally, Kansas will take care of business in the Midwest, though having the easiest path there, in my opinion, should help considerably.
Y: Up and down year, but the best teams and coaches usually tend to end up where they should be. We could talk title, but people really love that first weekend. Chaos all over the place, and you could find some of the new stars in college basketball, coaches and players. Tomorrow should really be a national holiday.
B: Totally agree. I mean, even Duke was an underdog once upon a time (**cue dramatic eyeroll**). And UNLV whooped their monkey asses so it happens to everybody. Who knows what could happen. We’ll probably come back and read through this and shake our heads at how stupid we could be to think we could know even 3% of what’s going to happen this weekend. The odds for a perfect bracket are in the god damn TRILLIONS, for Christ’s sake.
Y: Hey, at least we tried.