Welcome, discerning sports fans, to your new one-stop shop for all things College Hoops. It is, after all, the greatest month of the year: March. IT’S GONNA BE MADNESS, BAY-BEEEEE!!!
As I’ve stated several times here, the NCAA Men’s Tournament is the world’s greatest sporting event, followed in order by (2) the NBA Finals, (3) the Super Bowl, (4) the new College Football Playoff, (5) the World Series, (6) the Masters, (7) the Summer Olympics, (8) Baseball’s Spring Training, (9) the NBA Draft, and (10) my annual brother-in-laws’ golf scramble in mid Missouri, all of which come in well ahead of the World Cup, the Winter Olympics, and any other event ruined by Bob Costas, my arch nemesis and the founding member of the Anti-Fidelity Hall of Fame, which also includes NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the state of kansas, and anyone who doesn’t think Bo Jackson was the Greatest Athlete of All Time.
Given this season’s grave importance, I’m taking some extra time off from pastoral ministry this month (for roughly the 30th year in a row, I’m taking my spring vacation days on each work day of the tournament and will be camped out with my laptop, a few friends, and a couple dozen HD TV’s at BBC in St Matthews) and committing myself to a Hoops Weekly. The schedule:
Today: Conference Tournament Previews
Selection Sunday (March 15): The official Fidelity Sports Bracketography* Preview
March 19-22 (The Greatest Weekend in Sports!): Rounds 1-2 Preview
March 26-29: Sweet Sixteen Preview
April 3-5: Final Four and Championship Preview
Each week, totally free of charge, I’ll include updated Fidelity Power Rankings, shrewd hoops analysis, several predictions of kU’s annual second round loss to a 7/10 seed, a bunch of sarcasm, some occasional KC Royals Spring Training updates (currently in first place at an incredible 9-and-1!), offseason NFL updates (my main man Jeremy “Agent Bert” Maclin to the Chiefs!! and the free agency collapses of the 49ers, Eagles, and Lions), maybe some hip-hop references, and probably some Wendell Berry quotes to remind my readers that I do have a master’s degree despite the ranting and irrational promises found here.
Without further adieu, March is wastin’, so let’s get started!!!
*Espn has apparently “bracketology” trademarked, so for the sake of “fidelity to intellectual property,” we’re submitting BracketographyTM to our legal counsel’s patent officers.
Fidelity Power Rankings
Tier One (50% Chance of Winning It All)
#1 Kentucky Wildcats
It’s true. That was the best regular season performance by any team since one of those undefeated Wooden-led UCLA teams. I honestly didn’t think a perfect regular season would happen in a major conference in my lifetime—there’s just so much more talent and parity in college hoops than there was in the 60’s, or even when Indiana did it in ‘75-76 (the last instance). They had two early conference games go to overtime, but then rolled through the rest of the SEC the way they trounced kansas early in the season. My goodness, this team is good. And I’m not just saying that because I’m a Kentuckian. I’m admitting it in spite of being a growing Louisville fan. I don’t have an ounce of fondness for Coach Cal, his particular players (without the notable exception of guard Devon Booker), his Jay-Z / Drake connections, or his one-and-done NBA-feeder program. But they have probably nine of the top 40 players in the nation, all of whom will likely see playing time in the League, and are probably a top ten team with their second platoon alone. It’s ridiculous. Right now, I’ve got them at a 50-50 chance of finishing the season at 40-0.
Tier Two (Each Have a 10% Chance of Beating UK and Cutting Down the Nets)
#2 Virginia Cavs, #3 Duke Devils, #4 Wisconsin Buzzcuts, #5 Arizona Wildcats
A few weeks ago, I listed UVa and Duke in the second tier by themselves, followed by a handful of other teams, but I now think Wisconsin, ‘Zona and ‘Nova have proven themselves worthy of Tier Two. This also goes to show a very telling reality: the gap between #1 UK and #2 UVa is greater than the gap between #2 UVa and #6 ‘Nova. In my 30+ years on this planet chronicling college hoops, I’ve never seen a clearer favorite going into March than this stinking UK team. But does that mean I’m going to pick them to win it all? Stay tuned on that one….
Tier Three (Outsiders I’ll Be Rooting For, But That Have a 1-2% Chance of Winning It All)
#6 Villanova Wildcats, #7 Louisville Cards, #8 Gonzaga Zags, #9 UNC Tar Heels, #10 Iowa State Cyclones, #11 Maryland Terps, #12 Utah Utes, #13 Ohio State Buckeyes, #14 Notre Dame Irish
These teams have a great shot of knocking off a Tier Two team to make the Final Four. I’d love to see UofL return again, because I have the fear it could be a few years ‘till we have a local team this stacked again. And I have wanted to see a Mark Few-coached Gonzaga team in the Final Four, especially if it includes one of John Stockton’s children, but their biggest challenge, IMHO, will be getting through Arizona in the West division. Lastly, I’m beginning to really pull for Iowa State, and coming out of a surprisingly deep Big Tweezy, I think they’ve got some potential to knock off a Wisconsin or ‘Nova to make the Four.
But, let’s be clear: no one in Tier Three is taking down UK.
Conference Tourney Previews
Kentucky is going to win, unless they all get the bird flu. In which case, either Arkansas (22nd by BPI) or LSU (41st) will win, or the conference will just cancel the tournament and CBS will air UK highlights instead. Official FS prediction: UK over Arkansas 68-55.
The heavyweights are UVa (3rd by BPI) and Duke (7th), and both are playing for a coveted one seed. It’s possible that both could receive one seeds (they deserve it, no matter what happens this weekend), but the Committee has a way of getting stupid when they’re on the clock, and could bump one for ‘Nova or ‘Zona. Much is at stake for the three Tier Three teams in the ACC: Louisville, UNC, and Notre Dame (ranked 12, 13, 14th). An ACC crown could even mean a two seed, although three-four seeds are almost guaranteed for these three squads. Official FS Prediction: UVa over Duke 61-58.
As usual, kansas will get a two seed for being kansas, but they won’t win their own conference tournament and they won’t get past that pesky 7/10 team in the second round—even though the tournament will, as always, give them home court advantage in KC or St Louis. This year, the top Big 12 candidates are Iowa State (17th), OU (15th), Baylor (18th), and West Virginia (20th), and Texas (26th) has a legit shot despite having a rough regular season. Official FS Prediction: Iowa State over OU 78-72.
Wisconsin (2nd BPI) looks to have this thing locked down, and could only really be challenged by Ohio State (16th) or Maryland (27th). Michigan State (19th) and Iowa (32nd) could pull a couple upsets, but I feel pretty confident about this one. Official FS Prediction: Wisconsin over Ohio St 63-52.
Arizona (4th) has already beaten Utah (11th) twice this year, and the only other tournament-quality team in the leage is Stanford (42nd), so expect a rematch. Can we just invite Gonzaga into the Pac-12 for basketball? Please? Anyone? Can we put Condoleezza Rice on this too? No? Ok, fine. Official FS Prediction: Arizona over Utah 75-72.
Villanova (6th) is the runaway favorite here, with only Georgetown (21st) and Butler (23rd) having semi-rational hopes of spoiling their party. Official FS Prediction: ‘Nova over G-Town 70-55.
Based on these sans-fallible FS predictions, here’s what you can expect by way of seeds.
Midwest Region: 1-Kentucky, 2-kansas, 3-Iowa St, 4-Northern Iowa
East Region: 1-Virginia, 2-Villanova, 3-Louisville, 4-Notre Dame
West Region: 1-Arizona, 2-Gonzaga, 3-Oklahoma, 4-Utah
South Region: 1-Wisconsin, 2-Duke, 3-Maryland, 4-North Carolina
The Heisman Trophy of College Hoops, the appropriately named Wooden Award, will almost certainly go to Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky, who has put together a great career by using two simple post moves to feast on smaller, younger Big Ten forwards to the tune of 18-points, 10-rebounds for roughly six straight years. I like Big Frank, and I like the Badgers. They’ve got Fidelity written all over them. But there’s one thing they lack, and although it’s not one of the Three Rules of FS, it’s a significant sub-theme: Swagger. The Badgers lack swagger. Can you go far without it? Sure. But show me a Champion that lacked swagger. You can’t. Give me an 8-seed with swagger—like the vintage Jimmy V-coached NC State team, or UK last year, or UConn basically every year—and they may not always knock off a steady, fundamentalist 1/2-seed like Wisconsin, but they will once and a while, and when they do, it will be a helluva lot of fun to watch.
Anyway, I’m getting carried away. Kaminsky will win the Wooden, but even more important than individual achievement here at FS: the All-American Team. The Team Comes First, after all. So what is my Fidelity Sports All-Am Team? Easy:
G: Ohio St freshman D’Angelo Russell (19.2 pts; 5.6 reb; 5.2 ast)
G: Notre Dame senior Jerian Grant (16.8 pts; 6.7 ast)
F: Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor (17.6 pts; 9.2 reb; 67% FG)
F: Wisc senior Frank Kaminsky (18.4 pts; 8.1 reb; 56% FG)
C: UK junior Willie Cauley-Stein (8.9 pts; 6.4 reb; 59% FG)
Second Team: UVa G Malcolm Brogdon; UVa G Justin Anderson; UofL F Montrezl Harrell; Arizona F Stanley Johnson; Gonzaga F Kyle Wiltjer,
Okay, Fidelity faithful, enjoy your conference tournaments! Pour one out for Mizzou for me. We’ll see you late on Selection Sunday.