Today is one of my favorite sporting days of the year. At noon, my world pretty much stops. Why is that?
March Madness begins.
I’ve always been a big hoops fan, specifically the men’s college game. Each year leading up to tourney time, I try to watch as many games as I can. This year was no different.
The real March Madness essentially started last week with the conference championships. There were plenty of upsets in some of the mid-major tournaments. With those upsets, that meant there were a handful of teams that could make legitimate gripes about why they weren’t included in the field of 68.
My main complaint on the field of 68 would be the inclusion of teams of Tulsa and Syracuse. It feels like every single analyst that’s spoken out on Tulsa mentions its selection as one of the all-time worst. At this point, I’d have to agree. However, there was one team in 2011 that was pretty much in the same boat — the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams, otherwise known as VCU.
That VCU team, led then by upcoming coach Shaka Smart, was a head-scratcher among analysts and writers. The NCAA selection committee gave them an at-large bid from the Colonial Athletic Association, and they made the most of its #11 seed, advancing all the way to the Final Four. Could Tulsa do something like that? I highly doubt it, but you never know. And by the time you read this, they could actually already have been bounced from the tourney from Wednesday’s play-in game.
Syracuse on the other hand, only had a 19-13 record and a 9-9 ACC conference record. Yet a WCC team like St. Mary’s, who finished with a 27-5 record, isn’t selected. I understand the selection committee values the power conferences more. I also understand St. Mary’s didn’t have a tough non-conference schedule. But to leave them out after they lost the conference championship game to Gonzaga (who they beat twice in the regular season) is absolutely ridiculous.
Enough of the complaining. What do I like about March Madness? Honestly, pretty much everything. I like the fact that from today until Sunday, there will be competitive games taking place for about 12 hours a day. I love comparing brackets with friends and having some heated conversations about who we think will cut down the nets, what sleeper teams will do damage, etc.
This year seems to be wide-open as far as what team can win it all. Kansas is the favorite, but it’s not an overwhelming favorite like Kentucky was last season. I’m still debating on what team I’m taking to win it all.
Earlier this season, I watched the Oklahoma vs. Kansas contest that ended with a 109-106 triple overtime Jayhawks victory. I was insanely impressed with the play of Sooners guard Buddy Hield dropping 46 points on Kansas, hitting big shot after big shot. So since I don’t particularly want to go “chalk” (for you not familiar, that means filling out a bracket by picking the favorite seeds over the underdogs, such as picking all #1 seeds to the Final Four, #1 and #2 seeds all to the Elite Eight, etc.), I’m thinking I might stick with the Sooners.
But I’ve been looking at the first round matchups, and I feel strongly about some upsets. Here’s what I think will happen ...
A #12 seed will beat a #5 seed. This isn’t really a huge prediction, as it’s happened at least once in 15 of the last 17 tournaments. My 12 vs. 5 upset prediction this year? South Dakota State over Maryland. I just feel that Maryland, no matter who the coach is, always runs into trouble come tourney time. This pick will also make my friend and “fantasy sports nemesis” mad, and it’s fun to make him mad. So when he reads this, I will expect a ranting voicemail or a Letter to the Editor submission.
#14 seed Stephen F. Austin upsets #3 West Virginia. The Lumberjacks come into the game with the nation’s longest winning streak at 20 games. Since 2014, they are an astounding 59-1 in Southland Conference play. I know they have a weak conference, but they’ve given teams trouble in the first round before. After Stephen F. Austin was a sleeper pick over the past couple years, I think they could finally come through this year.
#13 seed Iona beats Iowa State. I don’t know what it is, but Iowa State always seems to lose whenever they are favored. Last year, the Cyclones came in as a #3 seed and lost to #14 UAB. In 2001, they lost to #15 Hampton as a #2 seed, which was arguably the biggest upset in tourney history at that time. I wouldn’t be shocked if they lost this year early yet again.