By: Chris Dagonas
Like millions of other North American males, I took part in a mid-March ritual a couple of weeks ago.
No, it was not a vasectomy.
I filled out a March Madness bracket.
Against my very vocal objections, the school board for which I work made March Break a week earlier than it should have. I had to work on St. Patty’s Day, for God’s sake! Less importantly, but more to the point, I also had to work during the first two days of the NCAA tournament.
My only insights into the results came from sneaky glances at my phone. And, as we all know by now, those results were… fascinating.
Stephen F. Austin bouncing VCU (Huh?) Jeremy Lin’s alma mater Harvard knocking out Cincinnati (Wha-?) Mercer beating perennial favourites Duke (But how?) And in the game that will be forever known as the Ohio civil war, the Dayton Flyers edged Ohio State (How the-?)
That was just round one!
I managed to find some couch time on the weekend, bore witness to even more surprises, as Stanford knocked out Canada’s favourites, Andrew Wiggins and the Kansas Jayhawks, and Dayton continued their roll by beating Syracuse to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. Suffice it to say, my bracket, along with my billion dollar dreams, were completely busted. I guess I won’t be commissioning that solid gold Jay Fiedler statue after all.
The teams, and the fans, got a few days to breathe, but the games start up again tonight.
We are left with sixteen teams, and some real evidence of what to expect from them in the next few games. But first, some mid-tournament honours.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee
Stokes is a Tennessee native who was highly recruited coming out of high school, but still only ranked as the number 11 player in the country before the season. Remember, this is supposed to be the draft class that changes the universe. Stokes is averaging 21.5 points and 16 rebounds through two games, and Tennessee is looking much tougher than anyone had expected.
MOST VALUABLE COACH
Scott Drew, Baylor
Drew’s influence began just after the Patrick Dennehy-Carlton Dotson incident. Drew replaced then-coach Dave Bliss, and inherited a team that voluntarily limited its number of scholarship players and removed itself from post-season play. The Bears won just one game in 2004, Drew’s first season as coach.
Since then, however, Baylor rebuilt its program about as well as, or better than, anyone could have hoped. They have made two Elite Eight appearance in the past four years, and also won last year’s NIT (the tournament for the next-best 64 NCAA teams, and no joke). Big shout out to Burlington, Ontario’s own Brady Heslip!
This season, Drew has lead his team to big wins against a solid Nebraska team, and they ran player-of-the-year candidate Doug McDermott’s Creighton off the court by 30 points. An upset over Wisconsin is entirely possible, but 1-seed Arizona has been very impressive. Regardless, Drew’s shepherding of a once-lost program deserves immense praise.
C – Adreian Payne, Michigan State – The big man has range, and went off for 41 in Round 1.
F – Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee – You already know.
G – Kyle Anderson, UCLA – Magic 2.0, the 6-9 point guard has multiple ways to beat you.
G – DeAndre Kane, Iowa State – A triple-double threat every time he steps on the court.
G – Branden Dawson, Michigan State – Caught fire against Harvard for 30 points.
THURSDAY NIGHT PICKS
I play basketball on Thursday nights (PIPPEN AIN’T EASY!) but I will race home to catch the second half of the early games, and the entirety of the late games.
(11) Dayton Flyers vs. (10) Stanford Cardinals
Dayton is the team on many people’s lips, but they’ve won both games by a combined total of 3 points. That does not inspire much confidence. Stanford, meanwhile, knocked out a highly-favoured Kansas in round 2. I’m taking Stanford here.
(1) Florida vs (4) UCLA
Neither team has had much trouble so far, but this is a classic matchup. Florida plays tough defense and eats the clock, while UCLA runs the floor. Anderson will be the best player on the court, plus the Bruins have a player named Tony Parker. For real. I smell an upset here, and not just because this whole tournament reeks of upset juice. UCLA takes it.
(6) Baylor vs (2) Wisconsin
How can I go against my man Scott Drew? I can’t. Baylor is rolling, and will keep it going against the Badgers.
(1) Arizona vs (4) San Diego State
Will SDSU’s Xavier Thames score 30 points? If not, the Aztecs will struggle to keep pace with an excellent Arizona squad. I’m guessing he won’t. Arizona advances.
FRIDAY NIGHT PICKS
Will I stay home on Friday night and watch these games, in my pyjamas with some Sapporo and a box of Triscuits? Mind your damn business.
(11) Tennessee vs (2) Michigan
I can’t spend all that virtual ink talking up Stokes, only to turn against him here. Michigan is not a very deep team, and rely heavily on the 3-point shot. College shooters are not as reliable as pros, and a hot team can turn cold very quickly. Tennessee’s inside presence will overwhelm the Wolverines. Vols advance.
(8) Kentucky vs (4) Louisville
This is like Yankees-Red Sox. Maple Leafs-Canadiens. Barcelona-Real Madrid. This is an intra-state college basketball rivalry, in a basketball-mad state. Kentucky just knocked off 1-seed Wichita State, and are looking far better than their youth would suggest. Louisville are last year’s champions, but lost Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng to the NBA. I’m leaning toward Kentucky.
(3) Iowa State vs (7) Connecticut
DeAndre Kane can not be stopped. DeAndre Kane will not be stopped. Iowa State can play big, too, with Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang both capable of blocking and altering shots. Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier has quietly had a very good tournament, but the Huskies are a bit of a one-man show. Iowa State wins.
(1) Virginia vs (4) Michigan State
Here is a telling stat from Virginia’s round 1 victory over the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers – Virginia had ZERO offensive rebounds. Against a 16th seed! They regrouped for a whole six against Memphis in round 2. Michigan State might provide a tougher challenge than Coastal Carolina. Payne and Dawson are the best duo left in the tournament, and Michigan State was my pre-tournament favourite to advance to the final four anyway. In a year of so much uncertainty, I’ll gladly stay supporting the one team that did not let me down. Go Spartans.
THE REST OF THE WAY
If I’m correct (which I definitely won’t be), the Elite Eight matchups would look like this:
Stanford vs. UCLA – UCLA wins;
Baylor vs. Arizona – Go Bears;
Tennessee vs. Kentucky – Tennessee advances;
Iowa State vs. Michigan State – Spartans win.
UCLA tops Baylor;
Michigan State knocks out Tennessee.
Michigan State defeats UCLA.
You read it here first, folks! Some teams will win, and others will lose. But by the first week of April, we will have our March Madness champion, the Michigan State Spartans.