If you’re anything like me, you have an NCAA bracket stained with blood. Mine, I’m afraid, is probably redder than most. I play a limited chalk (higher-seed) game. In the opening round, I mostly pick favorites, but I leave some leeway for teams that I think will surprise.
The bracketeer who went strictly chalk in the first round this year would’ve ended up 25-7 in the first 32 games. I was 23-9, which basically sucks but isn’t that far from the norm. You could say I was “done in” by Connecticut, Gonzaga, Southern Cal, Clemson and Indiana, higher seeds who went down. But I also picked Siena to defeat Vanderbilt, and Western Kentucky to take Drake, two lower seeds that came through in fine fashion.
But it was the other teams I took a flyer on that really hurt me. Faced with a tough Kent State (9)-UNLV (8) matchup, I picked the Golden Flashes, mainly because MAC teams have surprised in the tourney before, and because UNLV’s resume just didn’t tell me enough. Bad guess.
In the Arizona (10)-West Virginia (7) matchup, I went with the Wildcats. I never figured them to get any further, but I thought they were good for one win, based on their PAC-10 pedigree. I definitely underestimated West Virginia, partly because their coach, Bob Huggins, is not really regarded as a strategist. He’s proved himself to be a great recruiter, but in his first season with the Mountaineers, these aren’t really his players. They look very strong, though, just as their resume portended. Another bad guess.
I went with Oregon (9) versus Mississippi State (8) and took a bath there, too. To me, that game was a toss-up on paper, and I was hoping the fickleness of the tourney would play in my favor. Wrong. (Never count on the fickleness of the tourney.)
But where I really got hurt was with St. Joseph’s. With the small but scrappy Philly school playing well at season’s end—with a good-sized front line and good shooting stats—I selected them as the surprise team that would catch fire. I got it into my stupid head that this was the miracle team of the tourney. I penciled the Hawks in for three wins, taking down Oklahoma, Louisville and Tennessee along their way to the Elite 8. Well, if the tourney’s not for fun, then why do we do it? Needless to say, my fantasy jollies are now out of my system.
I had three other teams moving on to the Sweet 16—Gonzaga, Clemson, Connecticut—who, like St. Joe’s, never even made it out of the first round. Add other picks Duke and Marquette, who fell in the second round, and that means I enter the Sweet 16 with 10 viable teams, a .625 percentage. Not the worst, but if I were in an office pool with a lot of other bracketeers, I’d probably be long out of the running.
Here’s the good news where following along the tourney is concerned. I have 10 out of my Sweet 16 still playing. I have 7 out of my Elite 8 still playing. Plus, I have all my Final Four teams still looking strong—North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA and Texas.
You can’t take this bracket stuff too seriously, or you’ll go crazy. It’s nice to have some fun with it. Of course, it’s nice to win a few too.
ACC (4)—Except for North Carolina, they’re done, with Clemson exiting early, and Miami and Duke falling in their second game.
Big East (8)—Louisville, Villanova, and West Virginia remain, but I daresay they’re probably not the three most bracketeers counted on. Notre Dame, Georgetown, Marquette and Pittsburgh are done, but with decent showings. Connecticut took an early powder.
Big 12 (6)—Only Kansas and Texas remain. Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas A&M each won first-round games, Baylor exited early.
Big 10 (4)—Wisconsin and Michigan State remain, and that’s a better percentage so far than most of the other major conferences. Especially interesting since the Big 10 was considered in a down cycle this year. Purdue won one game; Indiana exited early.
PAC 10 (6)—They have three remaining entries, Washington State, Stanford and UCLA, all of whom have played well to get to the Sweet 16. Southern Cal, Arizona and Oregon all lost first-round games, and didn’t look very good doing so.
SEC (6)—Not a good showing here for the home of the reigning champs, Florida, who didn’t even qualify this season. One team remains in the Sweet 16, Tennessee. They’re looking good, but they face a Louisville team that has completed two laughers against Boise State and Oklahoma. As for the other five SECs: Vanderbilt (as predicted here), Georgia and Kentucky were one and done; Arkansas and Mississippi State each won a first-round game and had respectable showings.
Atlantic 10 (3)—Xavier remains; they’ve looked very good. St. Joe’s and Temple exited early.
The remainder of the Sweet 16 comprises single schools from so-called mid-major conferences: Memphis (Conference USA), Davidson (Southern Conference) and Western Kentucky (Sun Belt Conference). While Memphis is still a favorite to advance (albeit with a tough game versus Michigan State), Davidson has a longer haul against taller, stronger Wisconsin, and Western Kentucky takes on UCLA, an improbable task.
Man of the Moment: Stephen Curry of Davidson has poured in 70 points in his first two NCAA games, and the #10-seeded Wildcats have taken down #7-seeded Gonzaga and #2-seeded Georgetown. Fifty-five of Curry’s points have come in the second half. His team has now won 24 games in a row including the regular season.
See you next week.