Wednesday, March 16

This Is Madness!


I love the NCAA Basketball Tournament. I've made brackets out since junior high. I don't consider it the best championship tournament in sports; the World Series and NFL playoffs are still truer tests of champions to my mind. The NCAA's just have too much volatility. But then, that's what makes it so fun.

But I dislike — positively detest — what the tournament markets as the "Opening Round." This is when they take two small schools who played their way into the tournament and force them to compete against each other for the right to be crushed by one of college basketball's heavyweights. If it were more than just one game, billing it as an "Opening Round" might make more sense; as it is, despite the fact that they've ordered sports media not to call it a "play-in game," it's a play-in game.

Way back before the NCAA Tournament let in dozens of teams with at-large bids, the only way to get in was to win your conference championship. But instead of making larger schools with mediocre records fight their way into the tourney, they make the rinky-dink colleges duke it out. It smacks of ancient Rome, where starving gladiators fought to the death and the winner got eaten by a lion.

In this case, the gladiators were Alabama A&M, winners of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and Oakland, champions of the Mid-Continent Conference. They played tonight. Who won? I don't care. Nobody does, or else every office pool in America would make its entrants pick the winner. It doesn't matter since whoever won is going to get slaughtered Friday in Charlotte, N.C. by perennial powerhouse . . . North Carolina.

Oh yeah. This is fair.

Oakland and Alabama A&M both earned legitimate invites to the Big Dance. They didn't need the divining scholars of the Selection Committee to stick them there. Odds are that neither one of them would have survived long as 16-seeds against the top-ranked schools in the regional brackets; but both of them should have had the opportunity. Meanwhile, fans cry over which mediocre team didn't make it in (and I include even my beloved Notre Dame here, who had tournament aspirations that were in vain, and lost in the first round of the NIT tonight) and skate into a higher seed and better placement and more rest than the two Podunks forced to beat up on each other.

The beauty of the NCAA Tournament is that it gives — or at least used to give and should continue to give — these Cinderellas their chance in the spotlight. Instead one of them is permanently forgotten and the other one is nothing more than an asterisk that ought to go under North Carolina's name in the brackets.

Okay, moving on.

I don't pay that much attention to college basketball. My dad used to be an insane fan of the NCAA and, come tournament time, could pick nearly 60 games correctly of the 63 matches in the tourney. It's not a trait that's passed genetically, as I've won just one pool I've ever been in. But I do often have a knack for picking a few upsets. Here's my Sweet-Sixteen Cinderellas:

UCLA — they're up against Texas Tech, coached by Bobby Knight, who's an absolute legend no matter what you think of his temper but, at least recently, hasn't been able to transfer it to the tournament worth a damn. I expect the Bruins to win that game and then beat 3-seed Gonzaga, who's disappointed me so often that I'm picking against them out of spite. (Yes, I do pick out of spite. Yes, it often works.)

Vermont — if you haven't heard of these guys, you should: they're good. Better than a 13-seed. And, at least according to the RPI rankings, they're an even better team than their opponent, Syracuse (Vermont is #21, Syracuse is #22). If they beat the Orangemen, they might draw Michigan State, who was an early out last year. Or MSU might lose, too, and they'd get Old Dominion. Either way, pencil the Catamounts in twice.

If you're feeling especially randy, some other double-digit seeds to watch for are UW-Milwaukee, who have lots of tournament experience, and UAB, who's a notorious bracket-buster.

Who should you pick beyond that? Beats me. I usually win between 25 and 28 games in the first round and then the big teams fail me when they go against each other, or some Cinderella rides her run longer than I figured she would and puts more red ink on my brackets than on Bart Simpson's history test. After the Sweet Sixteen, I'm usually worthless, as most of the time I have three or four teams I picked to make the Elite Eight already gone, and one of my Final Four in flames.

But, for posterity's sake: Illinois is going to the Final Four because their road is so easy. I like Duke for basically the same reason. Anybody could emerge out of the Syracuse and Albuquerque Regionals, and I'm going with Kansas and Wake Forest, respectively.

I'll take Duke over Illinois in the final.


Location: Mishawaka, Indiana, United States

I graduated with an English degree from the University Of Notre Dame in 2001, and in 2008 I have a day job that has nothing to do with my degree but gets the bills paid in a semi-regular fashion. (I have running water five days a week!) The idea is that once I get turned around on my bills, I go to grad school. I also have an idea for cold fusion. Anyone's guess which will be feasible first. In non-work mode, I'm usually reading columns by famous and well-read thinkers, blogs by critically praised writers, or sometimes blogs by overzealous cranks who make me laugh. I yearn to be all three at once; until then I'll settle for being the third. I also have an undying love for the Chicago Cubs and Notre Dame football. Praise them and I'll buy you a beer; curse them and I'll dump it over your head. If that's not enough, I'm becoming quite the fan of no-limit Texas Hold'em. My games have one of two results: I either win all the money or whine because I didn't win all the money.

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marchand chronicles has such massive readership and influence that it makes me weep.
—Glenn Reynolds


Damn right.


What's Your Line?


I absolutely love the name of your site.

Scott "Big Trunk" Johnson, Power Line
Just the name? Not the content? . . . I'll take it.

You have something in common with Dave Barry, Hemingway, and Mark Steyn: I'm not linking to them, either.


That's good stuff there Mark.

Dean Barnett, Soxblog
Psst, it's "Mike."

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Okay, so I don't really have a copyright. But I still don't want you ripping me off. Reprint it all over the Internet if you like, but give me proper credit and link back to me. Besides, if you're going to plagiarize, steal from someone with some talent.

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