Filling My Prescription to Fight the Madness

By Justin Cherot

I think my last post proved that as a society we love rubber-necking and seeing the carnage from the accident. The analytics back it up: it was one of the most read articles in PnP’s illustrious history.

The response I received from the subject?  “It doesn’t matter.  I don’t get it.”

That’s literally what she said (yeah, I’m still a little salty).

But whatevs.  There’s no time to be mad.  I have to fill out a perfect bracket so I can cop that billy.  And yes, the bracket I’m about to make will be entered at that link, the pool I’ve played in since 1998, and also a pool with a bunch of people in the hypothetical sports gambling industry that’s not so hypothetical.

And yes.  As I do every time I fill out a bracket (not last year since I was pre-occupied), I’ll be filling this bracket out in real time.

Strap in: it’s about to get real.

And later when I crash and burn on Day 1, I can change the title of this to, “When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong”.

Mid-West

2nd Round (remember, the First Four is technically the first round… yes, I just corrected my own typo… but since it wasn’t published you’ll never seeit… I know, there should be a space between “see” and “it”.  Shut up.)

I’ll move the top four seeds (Florida, Kansas, Syracuse, and UCLA) right along.  Nothing to see here, folks.

Apparently the Selection Committee made the decision to put Pitt as nine seed before this weekend.  They had as impressive a weekend as a team that didn’t make their conference final can have.  Colorado has been very average since losing star Spencer Dinwiddie.  I’ll be shocked if Pitt won’t be favored as a nine seed, and I don’t even think they’ll need the points (yep, I’ve learned a thing or two in my new profession).

I’m drinking the Stephen F. Austin Kool Aid.  I don’t think they’ll be scared of the Rams’ pressure.  Yay!  My first 5-12 upset of 2014.

Not a huge fan of Ohio St. offensively, but they’ll play well enough to get past Dayton.

I got a text from someone this weekend saying, “New Mexico just upset San Diego St.”  Yeah… I’m not even sure that’s an upset.  I think the Lobos handle Stanford.

3rd Round

It’s a shame.  I actually like this Pittsburgh team more than in year’s past.  They’re traditionally blue collar, but this year they’re more athletic and explosive.  Shame they’re running into a buzz saw against the Gators (that said, they’ve definitely been in their share of games where the pendulum could have swung the other way… hell, they just played two of them back to back).

Okay… I’ve got a couple beefs to air: how come UCLA, a team that went 26-8 and finished second in a decent Pac 12, went nearly the entire season un-ranked the entire season?  The Selection Committee ratified that season-long mistake by giving them a four seed.  I reeeeally like Stephen F. Austin… but the Bruins are too talented.

‘Cuse will get over their little malaise and beat Ohio St.  Kansas may not have Joel Embiid, but they’ll still have Andrew Wiggins and Nadir Tharpe… and enough to get past New Mexico.

Sweet 16

Let’s do it.  Let’s pick the Bruins to beat the Gators.  Why?  Again, I love the Bruins’ weapons, and I don’t think Billy Donovan‘s press is going to bother Kyle Anderson.  Actually, by pressing I think Florida will end up making this an up and down game… which I don’t think the Gators want against UCLA.  Yeah, book this one.

I’m going to go out on the limb and say Embiid will be back in the line-up by now.  If that’s the case, I think that makes the Jayhawks clearly better than a perimeter-oriented ‘Cuse.  Even a small little guard like me can admit that an inside presence is important in big games like this one.  Kansas.

Elite 8

Wait.  Crap.  I’m doing it again.  GAH!!!  WHY DO I ALWAYS DO THIS WITH KANSAS!?  WHY AM I EVEN MENTIONING THIS RIGHT NOW!?  I KNOW HOW THIS IS GOING TO END… AND YET YEAR AFTER YEAR, I DO THE SAME DAMN THING!!!!

I have to just close my eyes and ignore the trends that say Kansas disappoints me almost every single year… except for when I anticipated their collapse in 2008… and they won.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.  Knowing this, I’m still picking Kansas to go the Final Four.  Because I’m insane.

WEST

Like the Mid-West, chalk the first four seeds.  I’ve been burned in recent years by NOT doing this.  As I said, I’m not cheating and looking ahead, so I can’t promise that I’ll hold true to this strategy.

I helped pen a mail piece recently for one of our sports consultants, and used George Washington as an example as a team that Vegas undervalues.  They won more or less (depending upon where you look) about 66% of their games against the spread.  Now, that gets overrated slightly when you’re picking straight up, but I think they’ll get by Memphis.

I like Harvard, but I’m going with a contrarian pick here and taking Cincinnati.  I know for a fact that this will be one of the most highly-utilized 5-12 upsets.  I might realistically see Harvard as a better team, but pool-wise I’m taking Cincy.  Hashtag strategy.

What to do with Carolina?  I hate that at times they’re overly reliant on Marcus Paige, AKA Damon Stoudamire, Jr.  But he’s so brilliant that he can carry them.  Not really confident on this one, because Bryce Cotton might be a better player.  If they cancel each other out with outstanding play, then it comes down to the other guys.  And I guess I like UNC’s other guys better.  Heels.

3rd Round

We’re going with the Cavs over the Colonials.  Good defense and efficient offense are pretty good combinations in these tournament thingys.

Can’t lie: ESPN is running in the background, and the Spartans are in everyone’s Final Four now that they’re at near full health.  I haven’t decided yet.  As I said, I’m flying by the seat of my pants here.  They’ll beat the Bearcats, though.

I’m a really big fan of Iowa St.  Usually teams that play at a high pace shoot a ton of threes and are somewhat soft.  There’s nothing soft about DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim.  It would take a ridiculous effort from Paige to lift the Tar Heels here… which is possible… but I’m going Cyclones.  Note: I think Stuart Scott’s battle against cancer is courageous, and I applaud his efforts in the fight.  But, Stu: no way Carolina wins the title.  Yes, he said this live on air.

I’m iffy on both Villanova and UConn.  But here’s the thing: I think the Huskies are dynamic enough at the guard position with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright could give the Wildcats fits.  That, combined with numerous years where ‘Nova left a poor taste in my mouth, pushes me towards UConn.

Sweet 16

I wrote earlier in the year that when healthy, the Spartans were the best team in the country.  Injuries slowed that talk way down.  They went almost a month and a half without winning two straight games before winning the Big Ten Tournament title Sunday.  We’re all about “now, now, now.”

But if we’re all about “now, now, now”… why are we just ignoring what Virginia is doing?  They’ve won 16 of 17, with the one loss being the subject of my break-up in OT (oh, what could have been, Maryland).  Give me THAT team.

Cyclone city over UConn, who won’t have enough firepower to hang.

Elite 8

Here goes: Iowa St. to the Final Four.  Virginia is tough and gritty… but Iowa St. is tough and gritty, too… plus they have more talent.  I’m gonna hear it on this one.

South

2nd Round

I’ll chalk the first three seeds, and Oklahoma… but I’ve got one for you: New Mexico St. over San Diego St.  Led by Daniel Mullings, the Aggies have good balance, which they’ll need against a good Aztec defense.  Is this more of an anti-Aztec play?  Maybe.  But it’s like picking horses: taking chalk all the time is a losing proposition.  Plus, if they lose, no biggie: Oklahoma gets the winner next round.

This will be the second straight year Gonzaga loses to a nine seed.  The Cowboys are playing ridiculous basketball since Marcus Smart returned from suspension, and I maaaay have a surprise next round.  Gotta think about it.

I like Nebraska over Baylor (am I getting tired… I’m getting a bit upset crazy).  Shame that these two teams had to play in the first round, because lately they’ve both been rolling.  The difference?  The Bears don’t have Terran Petteway.  That’s a big difference.

Oregon/BYU might be the most fun game to watch in the first round.  The Cougars are 3rd in the country at 84.2 points per game, while the Ducks are 11th at 81.8.  This might be the only play I make all tournament: the under, whatever it is.  Vegas is going to set the total at a nosebleed level, but don’t fall for it.  Postseason basketball inspires less possessions.  I’m guessing the number will be around 163.  Take the under.  Trust me.  Oh… sorry.  And take BYU.

3rd Round

Yerp.  We’re taking the Cowboys.  Arizona has looked mortal in recent weeks, while Oklahoma St. is hitting their stride and have no answer for the Cowboys three-guard alignment of Marcus SmartMarlon Brown, and Phil Forte III.  

We touched on Oklahoma.  I don’t love the Sooners, but the match-ups dictate a fairly easy road to the Sweet 16.

Doug McDermott vs. Petteway is an awesome individual match-up.  Just a shame Creighton has the better team this season.  Blue Jays.

I like teams that can play at different paces.  The Badgers have won games scoring 50’s, 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s… and yes, they even cracked the century mark.  They won’t blink at BYU’s high-tempo offense.  Hell, they might score 100 again.

Wow… Oklahoma/Oklahoma St.?  As I said, I’m not nuts about Oklahoma.  I love Oklahoma St.  Cowboy Up.

And I’ll take Wisconsin’s balance over the Blue Jays’ McDermott-heavy offense.

Tempted to take the Cowboys here… really tempted… stop it… wow… I can’t believe I’m doing this…

Oklahoma St.

East

2nd Round

I’m still shaking from the last pick.  But I really do believe in their talent.  I need to buy some orange shirts.

Chalk the first four seeds… and pause while I see who St. Louis plays…

(Quick aside: Albany, Texas Southern, Xavier, and Iowa advance).

… and Xavier beats St. Louis.  The Billikens have looked pitiful the past couple of weeks, and their swag has to be slightly diminished (I’m so dope I can un-retire the word “swag”).  I would probably pick NC State over St. Louis, too.  In horse racing, we call this a “coupled entry”, and I’ll ride ’em.

I think UMass beats Iowa.  I really hate Iowa, UMass and Tennessee, so…

Good point guard match-up with Texas and Arizona St. if you like that kind of thing between Isaiah Taylor and Jahii Carson.  Might not look like it if you look at the stats, but trust me: Taylor has a chip on his shoulder akin to Justin Cherot after a break-up (yeah, I am getting tired).  He’ll show up for this match-up.  And the Longhorns move on.

I’m going to use lazy logic and say Kentucky has way too much talent to lose against Kansas St.  Wow, that’s lazy.

3rd Round

I have a feeling that Kentucky beating Wichita St. will be a popular upset pick.  I’ll stay away from the shocker and take the Shockers.

Louisville will man-handle my coupled entry.

God, this region is brutal.  I’m finally understanding what the analysts were talking about.  Duke will probably cover the spread against UMass… and it’ll probably be close to double-digits.

Michigan wrecks Texas.

Sweet 16

Tasty.  A chance for the Shockers to get redemption against the Cardinals.

I sent a text to my friend Jen (who is like my March Madness consultant) and I told her, “I don’t know who I’m going to pick because the match-ups matter, but I have a slight lean to Louisville as a contrarian pick.”

Throw that lean out the window.  Reasons:

1) I love getting a higher seed to advance as a contrarian pick.
2) The motivation factor.  The Shockers are out for some payback after losing to the Cardinals last year in the Final Four.  Nearly everyone’s back.  The stories about “last year’s heartbreak” will be ridiculous leading up to this game.

Shockers in a mini-shocker.

This thing is getting extra super long because I like telling stories, but here’s one more.  The first hoops pick I gave out with confidence to people in the industry was Duke -7 over Michigan at Cameron earlier this season.  I literally went to sleep and didn’t watch the game because I was that sure.

Yes, that was really early in the season, but I’m not sure the advantages and mismatches have changed.  The fact that the Blue Devils somehow lost eight games with Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood on their roster befuddles me.  Pound for pound, I think that duo is stronger than Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson, III.  Plus, Duke is also better defensively than they were early.

I like Michigan.  I just like Duke a bit better in this match-up.

Elite 8

The team concept vs. individual talent.  If this were the NBA, then yes, I would take Duke in a heartbeat.  But there’s reason for pause in college.  I think Gregg Marshall will be able to scheme against Parker and Hood in a way to make the other guys beat them.

So yes… I have the so-called weakest one seed going to the Final Four.

Final Four

I guarantee NO ONE ALIVE has this Final Four.  I think I’ve finally outdone myself.  But again, this is a year without a team that really jumps out at you.  I think earlier in the year I listed teams that I wouldn’t be shocked if they won.

It’s fitting that I left Oklahoma St. and Iowa St. off that list.

I edited an article for my company that essentially had Oklahoma St. and Iowa St. ranked second and third in the Big 12 based upon composite ranking systems in probably top to bottom the best league in the country… with obviously Kansas being No.1.  I think part of my selection process did have to do with a little bit of league bias.

The things you notice at 1:50 am in the morning.

I think Wichita St. is a walking, talking case for true team basketball.  If they survive this thing, they will have gotten past teams with bonafide NBA players without necessarily having one of their own.  They’ll have to get past at least two more to win it.  The first one is Okie St.’s Smart.  Not an easy task, but the Shockers have the bodies to throw at him.  Yes, Shockers to the final.

If Kansas/Iowa St. face each other (and they will, because I’m getting that billy), it’ll be amazing.  One thing was apparent in that last match-up: the two teams do not like each other.  The difference?  I’m assuming Embiid will be back.  The Jayhawks fought hard and hung around for most of the game WITHOUT THE PROJECTED NO.1 PICK IN THE NBA DRAFT!  Have to think the Jayhawks win.

And you know what?  Why not come full circle?  Why not completely jump off the bridge and pick Kansas to win it all?

This was fun.

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