Category Archives: March Madness

March Madness indeed: Orange keep dancing to the Final Four

Yesterday, I shared with you a piece about the bond my little girl and I have formed as we have watched Syracuse’s run. This morning I am still in utter disbelief that this run continues.

It was surreal. The Syracuse Orange were down 16 to arguably the best defensive team in the land. Malachi Richardson didn’t care. He led the charge in one of the greatest comebacks in Cuse history.

Keep reading for more on this squad.

Madness at its truest: the Syracuse Orange are in the Elite 8

That’s a pretty unbelievable statement, huh? A little over two weeks ago, most people — like the one and only president of the “I Hate Syracuse Fan Club” Doug Gottlieb — were infuriated that this Syracuse team made the tournament at all. Now, in an act of the ultimate middle finger to the world, the Orange sit in the Elite 8.

Have they lucked out a little bit? Sure. But what does that say about Dayton? If they were the seven seed and Cuse was the “awful” 10 seed, then Dayton must really stink, right?

Anyway, it doesn’t matter how or why the Orange is there… they are there. This season is even more special for me on a personal level.

And since this is my blog, I’m going to tell you why.

Keep reading for the greatest daddy daughter bond.

Counterpoint: Let’s Go Kentucky!

Yesterday, Wayniac Nation’s own Mike Dunton gave a pretty convincing argument on why you should be rooting against the Kentucky Wildcats to get to that illustrious 40-0 and win the NCAA Men’s National Championship. Well, folks, I’m hear to tell you that Dunton is stark raving mad and doesn’t know what he is talking about this time.

Let me preface this by making two things perfectly clear. I do not like Kentucky basketball. If you are new to Wayniac Nation, then you are unaware that I am a diehard Syracuse Orange fan. It is my longest sole allegiance in any sport. My disdain for Kentucky is obviously stemmed in the 1996 season. It’s also the reason why Antoine Walker is on my five most hated athletes ever list and why I never cared for Tony Delk or Ron Mercer, and especially that backstabbing Rick Pitino. Jim Boeheim gave Pitino life, and that’s how he repaid him.

I also can’t stand John Calipari. Of course, Coach Cal has become one of the lesser liked coaches, possibly in the history of the game. But my ultimate dislike does not come from the curious ways he has turned around programs like UMass and Memphis and returned Kentucky to dominance. No, my dislike on Coach Cal stems from the one turn he took in the NBA, coaching my beloved New Jersey Nets. His saving grace was that he drafted my favorite Net of all time in Kerry Kittles. He also could do very little with the team in the two and a half years while he was there, and he was supposed to be the savior coming in from UMass. So screw Coach Cal.

That being said, I am rooting for Kentucky to win it all. Why? I have been watching college basketball pretty vividly since 1986. One of the first times I was ever allowed to stay up late and watch a game (of course with a TV in my room, I use the word allowed lightly) was that stupid Keith Smart shot in the Syracuse/ Indiana debacle. I have watched religiously since then, breaking things, cursing out people, and having my stress level from my bracket busting blowing through the roof for nearly three decades. And in that time I have never seen an undefeated season. You know what, I deserve it.

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The generation before mine got to see it pretty regularly. It happened twice in the 50s, and then UCLA and John Wooden pretty much forgot how to lose a game for what, 8 years? Then, in 1976 Bobby Knight and his Hoosiers went 32-0 for the last perfect season in Men’s hoops. People also forget that that season, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights entered the Final Four undefeated, which made for a pretty intense March Madness.

My generation? We got the Wichita State Shockers. Exciting Cinderella story, yes. Did anyone think they legitimately had a chance to win it all and go undefeated having to go through Louisville, Michigan, or Syracuse? Unless you went to or were currently attending Wichita State, that answer is a resounding NO.

We live in an era in where the one-and-done rule reigns supreme. I agree with Dunton on the points he made in regards to the rule and its effects on the game, and I also agree that Coach Cal is perhaps the master at figuring out how to win with a bunch of Freshman. Because of the one-and-done rule, we may never have a shot at seeing an undefeated team again. So I repeat, I deserve this.

Should the one-and-done rule change, the only way it would go would be to revert back to the original rule, allowing potential NBA draftees to skip college altogether. There is no way that the NCAA or NBA would ever be able to reach an agreement to make it longer. Should the rule change and go back to allowing high school kids to enter the NBA Draft, our chances at an undefeated season grow even slimmer. In today’s society of YouTube and social media, teams are scouting kids in middle school. LeBron James 10-year old son is basically being harassed by colleges across the nation. Bron doesn’t even know what a college is.

I don’t need to rattle you off stats. If you are filling out a bracket and don’t know who to take because you didn’t pay much attention to this year’s college basketball season, all you need to know is that Kentucky has arguably the best two teams in the nation. You also need to know that Kentucky is so good that Coach Cal doesn’t even need to… recruit kids in a curious manner.

coach cal

“Hey kid,” Coach Cal could say, “Why don’t you come to Kentucky. We are a legendary program. All I need you for is 40 games. I’ll win you a championship and then you’ll get to go make millions in the NBA by the time you’re 19. If you want to stick around for a second year, I will allow it, but I must insist that by the time you turn 20 that you are an NBA Lottery pick and agree to a million dollar contract.”

Tough sell, huh? It’s not about exposure with Kentucky. They have been a legendary program for an eternity. Ever hear of Adolph Rupp? Kenny Sky Walker? Ashley Judd? Kentucky doesn’t just put out top NBA draft picks, they sustain success in the NBA. Rajon Rondo, DeMarcus Cousins, and John Wall are amongst the current NBA elite and Anthony Davis may be challenging as the best big in the game.

If you are going to take the I hate Coach Cal approach, that’s fine, but find me a top program who isn’t under the microscope for questionable recruiting practices these days. North Carolina had a rigorous college academic program they seemed to put their basketball players through in order to keep them academically eligible (and Roy Williams suffered no penalty). Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim is dealing with it now (although I hope they lessen the blow during the appeal process because it seemed like an all out attack on him and not Syracuse). Like I wrote months ago about Tom Brady and Bill Belichik, everybody tries to gain an edge. Call it cheating, call it immoral, but it’s competitive nature and the more high-profiled a system is, the more aware the public is.

An undefeated season becomes even harder because of the opposite effect from the one-and-done rule. What Gonzaga started over a decade ago, has been continued by coaches like Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens and continues with teams like Wichita State today.

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These teams build programs of solid basketball players that won’t dash after one year. They learn team basketball and are mostly in it for the long haul. While the Zags, Butlers, JMUs and George Masons haven’t won a title yet, they show what the advantage of a cohesive team of experience with each other can do. And on the march to the Final Fours, they often take out bigger programs. Call them Cinderella stories, call them underdogs, I call them prepared.

Some people will say college basketball has been down, but I disagree. It is “down” because the playing field is leveling out across the nation. Why do you think a No. 12 seed can seemingly always beat a No. 5 seed? It’s because the same ten schools that dominated college basketball are losing players to “smaller” programs that have shown they can win and hang with the big boys. Why go and be the number four guy in Duke when you can be the head honcho of the feel good story of the tournament? There’s your exposure.

This isn’t about the one-and-done, this isn’t about Coach Cal. This is how it’s always been at Kentucky. And once Coach Cal is gone, it’s going to be how it remains. If college basketball has proven one thing it’s that the elite programs don’t simply disappear. So put you’re hatred aside and realize that we deserve to see an undefeated season.

March Madness: 40-No!!!

Dunton returns for a little pre-Madness rant. He doesn’t want Kentucky to win, unlike yours truly. Today, Wayniac Nation presents to you Dunton’s views on why Kentucky needs to lose. Hold on to your seats, Nation fans, you can bet your March Madness loving’ butts my counterpoint will be coming!

Wanna know why Kentucky needs to lose? Keep reading!

#SHABAZZKETBALL

Well, folks, it all ends tonight. What started out as 68 teams is now down to the last two standing. The number seven seed UConn Huskies will take the court against the number eight Kentucky Wildcats to see who becomes the highlight of One Shining Moment. The greatest tournament to date should end with a memorable match from North Dallas this evening as both teams are evenly matched in talent.

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Where they are even in talent, they are world’s apart in team philosophy. Kentucky is a cast of the most athletic freshman in the land while UConn is a veteran team. The raw youth of Kentucky forms an offensive juggernaut with high flying dunks and timely three point shooting while UConn paved their road to the finals with shut-down defense led by a feisty team general always in command. The Wildcats played close games against tough competition all the way throughout while UConn has had most of their games in hand, blowing out the one and two seeds.

So who do I have winning this game?

3 REASON THAT UCONN BASKETBALL WILL WIN THE 2014 TOURNAMENT

3. Veteran leadership.

The Huskies have three players on this team who have cut down the nets before and are poised to do it again. Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey, and Tyler Olander all won a championship in 2011 against Butler. The three were merely freshman themselves that season, yet they all played an integral part in the championship run.  This season, Olander’s role has diminished with Philip Nolan, Ryan Boatright, and DeAndre Daniels really coming into their own, but Napier and Giffey are huge cogs in the Huskies scheme.

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2. That defense is suffocating.

Did you know that since Jim Calhoun took over the UConn Huskies that they still do that zig-zag drill at the onset of practice? You know, that drill you did in high school where one guy dribbles diagonally back and forth down the court and the other guy shifts his feet and smothers him the whole way down? That’s probably why they have shut down every elite team they have faced thus far.

What UConn did to Florida was simply remarkable. They took Scottie Wilbekin out of the game and, in doing so, they completely shut down an offensive power that had won 30 straight games rather easily. They completely disrupted Michigan State’s offense in the Elite 8 by taking away their ability to slice the lane. They also made them settle for jump shots and I’m not talking about those wide open, set threes Adreian Payne was drilling because people were worried about Keith Appling. I’m talking about forced jump shots. Kentucky is young, very good, and extremely athletic. They are also, however, very raw and depend greatly on the sharp shooting of the Harrisons. Napier and Boatright could feast on this type of offense.

The real key will be keeping Julius Randle at bay. Even if UConn does what they have done thus far and shuts down the guards, Randle can dominate on the boards and create second chance shots. He is good enough to keep Kentucky in the game, but I don’t think it will be enough to win the game by himself.

1. SHABAZZKETBALL.

Florida v Connecticut

DeAndre Daniels had an absolutely monster game against Florida (20 points and 10 rebounds), but this team lives and dies with their leader. Shabazz Napier is the most valuable player in this tournament. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. There hasn’t been a better or more important player on the floor in their five games leading up to tonight. Daniels and Boatright have become household names in this tourney, but that is because of the attention which is paid to Napier. He creates points. When he isn’t creating them, he scores them. What he and Boatright have done to opposing guards on defense is what has put UConn in the finals. He smothers ball handlers and isn’t afraid of anyone. He has the star-power and ability to win it all.

There you have it, folks. My last prediction of the college basketball season. Man, I hope I am right because I really can’t stand Calipari. Until next time, remember, the ball is tipped…

The Final Countdown

It’s FINALly here, folks. The Rematch tips off at 6:09 to begin the festivities. It has been one of the most exciting (and baffling) tournaments in a long time. There really is no telling what will happen tonight.

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What have we learned from 2014’s version of March Madness? We definitely now know that the one-and-done rule has leveled the playing field and mid-majors are truly a threat to all of the powerhouses that use to run the tournament. I doesn’t seem that college sports looks for parity, however. They want conference and school domination. Look at what the BCS created in college football. The SEC (most notably Florida, Bama, Auburn, or LSU) made an appearance in the Championship Game seemingly every year. The Frozen Four of NCAA Hockey is the same way as Boston College, Michigan, and Wisconsin always seem to be in the hunt right until the end. Just ask Arizona State or Florida State what it’s like NOT to be in contention for the College World Series. They wouldn’t have an answer because they always are. In college hoops, however, the powerhouse teams have a new crop of their own freshman and a new starting line-up of their own each season making a repeat extremely difficult. Case in point? Not one Final Four team from last year remains in the hunt.

We also learned that I am finally getting this predicting thing down. My actual projections for the Final Four were off (Syracuse, Michigan State, Louisville, and Oklahoma State as the sleeper), however, I did say that the only number one seed that had any chance at a Final Four appearance was Florida. I also said that it would be seeds 4 and lower that would dominate this years’ bracket and sure enough, we have a 7 and an 8 seed playing in North Texas tonight. So who will be playing Monday night to cut down the nets at the end of the Madness?

I really have no freaking clue. So much of me wants to go ahead and put UConn or Florida down as the winner, but I think that is based on my hatred of John Calipari. He seems to prove on a yearly basis that cheaters always win. Let’s look at each team and see what they bring to the table.

#2 seed Wisconsin (30-7): This is a weird Wisconsin team. Bo Ryan has built this club on the grinder philosophy. Year in and year out they put you to sleep with solid defense and long offensive sets. This year they are running more, and Ryan is at last in the Final Four. Perhaps it is because Frank Kaminsky is a match-up nightmare. If Brian Scalabrine, Shawn Bradley, and Dirk Nowitzki mated, you would get Kaminsky. Standing at 7’0” tall, he can burn you in a lot of ways. If you defend him one-on-one, he is going to beat you off the dribble. If you leave him alone, he is going to bury the three. If you let him in the paint, he’s going to post you up and posterize you. Is he enough to beat this surging Wildcats’ team? I don’t think so, but he has the ability to help Wisconsin move on all by himself a la Never Nervous Pervis.

Take a look, folks, this is one of the 4 best players in the 2014 Tournament!
Take a look, folks, this is one of the 4 best players in the 2014 Tournament!

#8 seed Kentucky Wildcats (28-10):

Once again, John Calipari has built an NBA team in Lexington. Way back in late 2013, this team was the Preseason #1 in college hoops. Like many of Calipari’s past free agents, pardon me, rookies, they simply needed more time to gel together and didn’t get off on the right foot. Plagued by inconsistency, this team dropped some big games. Then the Big Dance started and these guys found their rhythm. The NCAA Championship isn’t always about the best team winning, it is about the hottest team surging to victory. Right now, that is Kentucky. They have defeated three teams in a row that were in last season’s Final Four. On top of that, all three of those teams were legitimate #1 seeds in this tourney (Wichita State, Louisville, Michigan). Julius Randle is an absolute beast on the boards (12 per game in the tourney) and the Harrison twins are on fire. Calipari has the best team money can buy in the match-up and Kentucky advances to the Championship.

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#1 Florida Gators (36-2): 30 straight wins, people. The Gators haven’t lost in over 4 months. As many of you are aware, their last lost was to this UConn Huskies team they play this evening. Florida is a much different team than that last meeting: Scottie Wilbekin and Kasey Hill weren’t healthy and Chris Walker wasn’t allowed to play. Since they have been healthy and at full force, they have been literally unbeatable. The only disadvantage I see Florida having is that they have yet to really be challenged in this tournament. Pittsburgh was a good team, but not great. I thought UCLA would really give them a run, but it turned out that they caught fire in the PAC-12 Tourney and ran out of gas by the time the Sweet 16 rolled around. Getting to play Dayton in the Elite 8 was no challenge. As hot as the Fliers were playing, they weren’t good enough to go much further, especially against an elite powerhouse like Florida. Billy Donovan has his squad playing team basketball and all of their cogs are moving together like a well oiled machine. This should be a great game.

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#7 seed UConn Huskies (30-8): Nobody is giving these guys a chance, and you can’t really blame them with the way Florida is playing. But there is one reason I am giving them a chance: #SHABAZZKETBALL!!! Shabazz Napier is the best player in the whole Final Four. He has been pretty much the best player on the court in every previous round. He has put up a Player of the Year-type season, but here’s what has happened along the way. DeAndre Daniels has stepped up his game and now Napier has a wing man. Daniels had a monster game against Iowa State in the Sweet 16 and a solid game against Michigan State in the Elite 8. Ryan Boatright has also improved his play over the last few weeks giving the Huskies a very formidable trio. Niels Giffey and Philip Nolan have turned it up and the UConn Huskies have transformed from Shabazz Napier and friends to a well-rounded basketball team. They can key their improved defense and rebounding as the reasons they were able to upset #2 Villanova, #3 Iowa State, and, the team who many considered to be the best team in the tournament (why would I side with Obama? I should have known better), #4 Michigan State. The only thing that is left for them to do is to take down a number one seed, so why not tonight? UConn wins at the buzzer and ends Florida’s 30-game win streak and season.

ncb_g_shabazz-napier2_mb_400So, there you have it. I foresee a #7 vs. #8 final. That being said, should Florida win, it will be simply amazing that we get an all-SEC Final. The SEC was arguably the weakest of the “power” conferences in the tournament, yet all three of their teams were represented in the Sweet 16, now two are in the Final Four, and it is highly likely that Kentucky will get one last chance to figure out Florida on Monday night. Whatever happens, we are in for a great weekend of college hoops.

Till next time , folks, we are one step closer to One Shining Moment!

 

I Caught the Madness and I Like It

Happy Monday, folks. First and foremost, I must apologize to The Wayniac Nation faithful. In my 80 days of blogging (yes, today is day 80) I have not missed a Sunday post. This week was different as we may have just experienced one of the craziest opening weekends of March Madness I can remember. It would have been an injustice to write about it before it was complete, so I waited until today.

The Greatest Team in the Nation
The Greatest Team in the Nation

We did some serious dancing over the last four days, didn’t we? The Mercer Bears busted a lot of people’s brackets, but I still think they became the most beloved team in the nation by taking down Coach K and his Dookies. Harvard shocked the world and took down a heavily favored Cincinnati club. They then put a huge scare into Michigan State, but inevitably the Spartans were their last waltz. There was little doubt in my mind that UConn was going to upset Nova in Round 2 (I’ve said it before and I will say it again, I’m not changing my stance and calling this Round 3). Shabazz Napier is a total beast and he had a total beast game against Jay Wright and his Wildcats. UNC suffered a controversial loss in one of the most bizarre endings to a tourney game since UNC watched C-Webb call a time-out. I think someone needs to be held accountable and removed from officiating for the rest of the tournament. Although UNC fans, like Wayniac Nation’s own Mike Dunton, have argued that they should’t have let their lead slip away in the first place, to lose the game on an officitaing/score table error is atrocious and unacceptable. But the Dance rolls on. The Dayton Flyers became the scourge of Ohio when they took down the beloved Ohio State in a huge upset. Considering that the only people who are Buckeye fans either live in Columbus or are alumni, most of America became enamored with the Flyers. I was, too… until they beat Syracuse. Now they can go to hell for all I care. What a terrible first weekend for me. My Blue Hens, my Orange, and both of my brackets are in the toilet. Well, that’s not entirely true.

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If you remember in my preview, I told you to be weary of the higher seeds, especially the # 1s. That being said, my Final Four is still intact, so despite the whirlwind of upsets I technically have a chance. Before we look at what’s in store for next weekend, let’s have a quick recap of the one through five seeds, since that is essentially your Top 25.

One seeds: Shockers are out — Gators, Arizona, and Cavaliers remain. UVA looks great, but of these three remaining teams, their days are numbered with Michigan State on deck.

Two seeds: Nova and Kansas have gone home (without Joel Embiid, I projected Kansas was not making it out of the first weekend) — Wisconsin and Michigan remain. Considering the Wolverines should have been a one seed, there is no surprise here.

Three seeds: These guys took the biggest hit. In case you forgot, let me remind you that Duke has been eliminated after being knocked out by the 14th seeded Mercer Bears in one of the most exciting games of the tournament thus far. Cuse and Creighton have also been bounced. If Tyler Ennis drove the lane instead of pulling up for a terrible shot, my prediction of a Cuse/ Florida showdown was highly likely. Alas, the Orange suffered another close loss to a team they should have beaten. Iowa State remains, however their days may be numbered without Georges Niang.

Four seeds: All four remain. This is not a surprise at all. These are the strongest seeds in the tourney, and I have Michigan State and Louisville pegged for the Final Four.

Five seeds: Zero remain.

The end result of the opening weekend of the tournament is that only 12 of the Top 25 in the nation remain in the hunt for the 2014 NCAA Championship. That is absolutely insane. The slate of games for the upcoming weekend is titillating, so let’s take a gander at what we have in store. (It’s always exciting to find a use for the word titillating, isn’t it?)

Chomp chomp
Chomp chomp

The South: #11 Dayton vs. #10 Stanford is not a match-up anyone had projected and probably had a hand in ending the chances of the billion dollars from Warren Buffet (Well, that and the 1 in 9.4 quintillion chance of predicting a perfect bracket, but I digress). The exciting part of this game is that we know for sure we have a double-digit seed in the Elite 8. I would have to think the Cardinal, coming out of the ultra competitive Pac-12, has the upper hand. Speaking of the Pac-12, the #1 Florida Gators will have their hands full with the #4 UCLA Bruins. I have this slated as the second best game of the Sweet 16. UCLA has already taken down current number one seed Arizona to win the Pac-12 tourney. They aren’t afraid of anyone. Billy Donovan has his Gators looking like the ’06-’07 teams. I think this match-up is going to be great.

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The East: 

I had the #3 Iowa State Cyclones making a deep run in the tourney, but as I said, Georges Niang’s season ending injury puts them up against the wall. Shabazz Napier is playing out of his mind, and he should help #7 UConn eliminate the last three seed standing, but it won’t be easy. The #4 Michigan State Spartans versus #1 UVA Cavaliergame I have pegged as the third best game of the Sweet 16. The Cavaliers’ defense is suffocating and their offense is clicking, but Michigan State is playing some good ball. Yes, they struggled with Harvard, but if you have watched tournaments past, everyone struggles with Ivy League schools, just ask Georgetown (I don’t care if the Orange are in the ACC now, screw the Hoyas). Tom Izzo is poised to add a seventh Final Four appearance to his already impressive resume. Adriean Payne is playing awesome ball right now as well and should lift the Spartans to a match-up with the Huskies.

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The Midwest: Athough the actual #1 seeded Wichita State Shockers were bounced, this bracket still has two legit one seeds going in the Sweet 16. The #11 Tennessee Volunteers don’t stand a chance against the #2 Michigan Wolverines. I think the loss to the Spartans and the coinciding loss of a one seed in the Big 10 (That’s Actually 12 but Adding Even More) Tournament has this team playing like last year’s runner-up squad. All eyes will be on the best game of the weekend, however, as The King of the Cheaters and his #8 Kentucky Wildcats take on the #4 Louisville Cardinals. Kentucky is the most inconsistent team in the nation as Julius Randle and the Harrison Wonder Twins should be enough to have gotten them a higher seed. But they don’t always come out and play a solid game from start to finish. Louisville, the AAC Conference and Tournament Champs, still have the nation wondering how they are a four seed. The bottom line is that Kentucky could be an awful, 2-win team but they would still bring everything they have to this huge in-state rivalry. It will be the game of the Sweet 16 and the ensuing Michigan versus Louisville Elite Match-up may be the game of the tournament.

The West: This is a boring bracket. The #2 Wisconsin Badgers seem like they have a big advantage over the #6 Baylor Bears and their crossing guard uniforms. Seriously, they could land a plane with those uniforms. Wisconsin, in my opinion, was ranked way too high, so I could see Baylor pulling off the upset, especially after the way they decimated Creighton and the best player in the nation in Doug McDermott. Everyone says I am nuts for not believing in the #1 Arizona Wildcats. They have yet another tricky match-up versus the #4 San Diego State Aztecs. Arizona looked really good against Gonzaga; however, if you remember from my preview, I had Gonzaga losing to Oklahoma State, so that outcome wasn’t much of a surprise. I think Arizona wins both of their games this weekend and rounds out the Final Four before losing to Louisville.

The greatest thing about this March Madness thus far is everything I just typed is most likely wrong. And in all honesty, I hope it is. My two teams are out and my brackets are weak. What will keep me most interested is a Dayton versus Tennessee Championship Game. Well, that and watching One Shining Moment and getting the chills like I do every year (well, except for that one Jennifer Hudson monstrosity).

Until next time folks, don’t forget Opening Day is just a week away!

The Madness is Taking Over!!!!

Hide the women and children. The Madness is quickly approaching. We are just hours away from what could be one of the more bizarre and entertaining Final Four’s in a long time. Thanks to Mark Few who put a small school named Gonzaga on the map, mid-majors are no longer a joke. This tournament is pretty stacked and that spells bad news for the higher seeds.

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I don’t see a scenario that a number one seed pulls it off this season. I don’t know if it is because the Selection Committee is slipping or there is simply more parity in hoops these days (I like to believe the latter), but there are deeper seeds that keep rolling, rolling, rolling down the river (get up, ooo ooo, get up ooo ooo) at full speed. In fact, since Kansas lost Joel Embiid, I don’t think even a two seed has a chance. And this, my friends, is what makes The NCAA Tournament the best sporting event in the world.

Now, I’m not saying a #1 seed can’t win it, nor am I completely ruling out Florida or Arizona as the next champions. I’m merely trying to tell you that if you think Florida, Arizona, Virginia, or Wichita State have a clear road to Texas, you are out of your mind. I think that a 4 seed is going to win it and I agree with our Commander-in-Chief (said no one ever) on his final’s match-up prediction. So without further ado:

FOUR TEAMS THAT COULD CAUSE THE #1 SEEDS A LOT OF TROUBLE:

MIDWEST: the #4 seed Louisville Cardinals:

Slick Rick
Slick Rick

Remember these guys? They are coached by Rick Pitino the Elder and happen to be reigning National Champs. How these guys got a four seed is beyond me. At the onset of Selection Sunday, the “experts” had Louisville grabbing the last #1 seed after Michigan lost. Alas, sports experts are the new weathermen and are seemingly right 10 percent of the time. The Cardinals drew the 4 seed.

The Cardinals finished the season 29-5 but it was how they rampaged and ransacked the AAC in their last 5 games of the season that gives me reason to believe that these guys are ready to defend their championship. They started by disheveling SMU who was in the Top 25 at the time (incidentally, SMU is the biggest snub I can remember in a long time but like a nerd in an 80s movie, they aren’t going to the Dance). They then dismantled a Top 25 UConn Huskies team by nearly 40 points. In the AAC tournament they continued their domination with 61-point first round massacre over Rutgers. 61 POINTS!!! IN A TOURNAMENT GAME!!! I don’t care what conference you play in or what team you are playing: to win a game by 61 points against a conference rival in a tournament game makes you a powerhouse and a serious threat to cut down the nets in Texas. Next up was a 29 point win over Houston, and a ten-point victory over UConn once again to win the AAC Championship. This team has veteran leadership who have been through a Championship run before. They have a very tough bracket and a possible match-up with Calipari and in-state rival Kentucky, but they have just as good a chance as anyone to be back in the Final Four.

WEST: the #9 seed Oklahoma State Cowboys:

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Don’t let the 21-12 record fool you. Oklahoma State is the best #9 seed in the tourney and may be better than most of the 7 and 8 seeds as well. They have a tough bout with Gonzaga in the Round of 64, but with all their cogs moving they should get past them for a showdown with the #1 seed Arizona Wildcats. I love Arizona as they are a perennial Sweet 16 pick in every losing bracket I have ever done (I believe my lifetime record is 0-72).  They are beatable, however. Yes they are 30-4 and to win 30 games in that legit PAC-12 Conference says a lot about their skills. Three of those losses, however, came to NCAA Tournament teams. They were all close games but they still lost to Oregon, in-state rival ASU, and UCLA for the PAC-12 Championship. The inability to put away big-time regular season games leaves the door open for Oklahoma State to pull the upset.

We all know they have Ron Artest, Jr. (aka Marcus Smart), but let’s face reality, he’s also a stud. He and senior Markel Brown bring some serious game with the ability to score and the leadership to guide this team. They will give Arizona a run for their money.

EAST: the #4 seed Michigan State Spartans: 

It pains me to say this. You must know how I feel if you read my piece on March 11 entitled “Let’s Party Like It’s 1999!” My Delaware Fighting Blue Hens would have been better off being a lower seed because they have a better shot against the 3 seeds than they do against the 4s. Alas, Blue Hen Nation will give the Spartys a run, but probably fall short. Trust me, folks, I hope I am wrong on this one.

The sad truth is that no one is playing better ball than the Big Ten Tournament Champion Spartans. They took down Michigan in the Championship Game with ease inevitably costing the Wolverines a number one seed. The 26-8 Spartans are on a 5 game roll and are really past the injury woes that hurt them midseason. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling are two well-rounded seniors set to lead the charge. Tom Izzo hates not being in the Final Four more than any other coach and Michigan State has the tools to not just make the finals, but win it all.

SOUTH: the #3 seed Syracuse Orange:

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Come on, what did you expect? This isn’t a pure homer pick though as I have valid reasons. The unfortunate dilemma for Cuse is that Billy Donovan has this Florida team cruising like a 75-year old on 95 South in Boynton Beach: taking out everything in their way. The Gators are the # 1 seed that I think has the best chance to win this tournament, but they are in a tough bracket. They will need to go through Pittsburgh and UCLA to make it to the Elite 8 and then Cuse to get to the Final Four.

Ok, enough about those jort-wearing, Budweiser guzzlers. Losing to N.C. State was the best thing to happen to my guys in Orange. This team had no legs left, I said it TWO WEEKS ago. Jim Boeheim ran with a seven man rotation all year and aside from CJ Fair, none of the others had played a full season. They simply ran out of gas. This was evident in the final 20 seconds of their first ACC Tourney game against the Wolf Pack. They were chucking shots that were hitting nothing but back board if anything at all. It was excruciating to watch, but what I saw was a team desperate to win and end the game because they had nothing left. Now, they have had a week to rest. People forget that this team was 25-0 and beat Duke. They have all-world freshman Tyler Ennis running the ship and looking to prove that he should be in the same sentence as Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins. Any Cuse fan knows that Cooney is the x-factor. If he is hitting his shots, Syracuse becomes more deadly because that opens up Jerami Grant to run and slash through the paint. When Ennis, Fair, and Grant get rolling it energizes that 2-3 zone and then it’s all over for whoever Cuse is playing.

Now take it easy. This is not my Final Four prediction. You got to be nuts if you think I’m going for a billion smackers with Oklahoma State in my Final Four. But these four teams can present a huge obstacle for all of the teams they will face. I do think Louisville finds a way to repeat though… hopefully in a victory against the Ass Kickin’ Chickens of Delaware.

Enjoy your next two days of hookie from work, America and let the Madness begin!!!