26 March 2015
Yes! We’re back, players and haters. Put your nice pants on, because this Hoops Weekly is all business.
First, let’s recap the first two rounds of NCAA action—or as CBS tries to convince us, the first “three” rounds, since they consider four stupid play-in games to be the “first round.” Whatever. Then, let’s look ahead to the Sweet Sixteen, answer some questions, and make some picks.
What Went Right
The first two rounds was everything it was meant to be. 96 hours of hoops madness, whittling 68 teams down to 16 with ruthless brutality. Don’t forget all that went right last weekend:
kansas lost its annual 2nd round game, this time to the State Champion Wichita State Shockers, by a score of something like 85-50, if I remember correctly. This was absolutely the highlight of the tournament so far, and the Shock Jocks are for real. So real that Vegas has them as a 1.5-point favorite over the more highly-seeded Fightin’ Irish.
Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin, Arizona and Gonzaga (five of only seven teams with real championship hopes) were every bit as good as expected. Kentucky and Wisconsin went 0-2 ATS (against the spread) but never looked sincerely beatable. Duke and Arizona look like the hungriest of the premier teams, and Gonzaga found itself with a free pass to the Elite Eight as 11-seed UCLA advanced. All that’s to say: there are still five teams that can win this thing.
Louisville is still alive! That’s right: it’s another Sweet 16 for Coach Rickie Pitino. They looked rougher than rough in the first round but managed to survive, and then went out and whupped them some Northern Iowa. In fact, they even made over 40 percent of their shots! Are they for reals? It’s hard to say, because this does not have the look of a classic Slick Rick Final Four team, but with only #8 NC State and #7 Michigan State in their way (assuming they beat #3 OU), they’ve still got a shot.
What Went Wrong—So Horribly Wrong
VILLANOVA, WHAT THE HECK, BRO?!?! I vouched for you. I made believers in you. My friends were like, “You made some great points about ‘Nova on your blog.” And I was like, “It’s not a blog.”
But then you played unranked NC State and put up more bricks than Bob the Builder. What happened??
What’s most saddening about the Super Nova loss is that I saw it coming, I really did. Sure, I picked them as my champion, but it was only on the condition that if they could just survive a second round upset, they’d pick up steam, roll into the Final Four, and shock Duke and UK to win it all. I’m still convinced it would happen. Darn NC State.
But that wasn’t the only thing that went wrong. The whole East Region is a mess. After the brackets were announced, I quickly wrote in last week’s Hoops Weekly that the East was the tournament’s best region.
Into one region, the committee put two 1-seeds (Villanova, Virginia), a solid Final Four threat in 4-seed Louisville, a 5-seed (Northern Iowa) who was just as good as one of last year’s 1-seeds (Wichita State), another Final Four threat in Michigan State at #7, and a scary good NC State at #8. Meanwhile, in Kentucky’s bracket looks easier than… well, most classes at the University of Kentucky. SLAM!
So that leaves us with a very crooked Sweet Sixteen to say the least. But, hey, that’s why they call it March Madness, and why you tune in to Fidelity Sports to make sense of it all.
Lecrae has a new single out entitled Nonfiction as a thank you to fans for Anomaly‘s success. As with the album, this new cut is… Noice! Check it out.
Statisticians with too much time on their hands determined Alex Gordon would have been thrown out at home had he tried to advance in the bottom of the 9th in game seven of the World Series. I don’t believe them. He would have scored and everything would have turned out alright. *sobbing*
My top five network sit-com’s of all-time has been updated to place Brooklyn 99 at number four. (Yes, it’s that good!)
What I’m currently reading: The Christbook: A Commentary (Volume 1: Matthew 1-12) by Frederick Dale Bruner; Teach Us To Want: Longing, Ambition, and the Life of Faith by Jen Pollock Michael; Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year by Robert Webber; and Feel: The Power of Listening to Your Heart by Matthew Elliot.
Wichita State 75, Notre Dame 68
Shocker Nation, rise up! Yes, for the first time in history, I am rooting for someone or something from kansas. But don’t fear, fellow Missourians, ya boy hasn’t gone soft. You’ve just got to love the little guy sticking one to the jayhawks. (Despite this pick, the kU hater in me wants to see the Irish dominate by 40 just to show everyone how incompetent Bill Self is.)
Wisconsin 71, North Carolina 69
Game of the night! UNC definitely has the offense to pull off the upset, and Frank the Tank’s SI Jinx may be at play here, but I’m sticking with the Badgers. Of the 68 teams in the tourney this year, do you know how many could say this was genuinely their best hope at a championship all century? Exactly eight:
And of these eight once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, only three (Wisconsin, Gonzaga and Utah) are still alive after the opening weekend. The only thing making it worse is the number of blue bloods making the S16 in a “down” year (Louisville, UNC, Michigan State, UCLA). The only thing making it better is kansas losing to Wichita State. SHOCKERS!!! I mean, give me the Badgers in a close one.
Arizona 70, Xavier 52
Zona is on a mission; that’s all there is to it.
Kentucky 72, West Virginia 55
Some people that obviously haven’t watched college basketball all year are warning of a coming upset of Kentucky at the hands of West Virginia. “They rebound well. They play hard-nosed ball. They have Bob Huggins.” Seriously? West Virginia went 23-9 in the Big 12—which by the way only advanced two teams to the S16. Whatever the spread is, it ain’t enough. Cats in a blowout.
Friday Night’s Picks
Louisville 58, NC State 53
I’m growing into UofL as my hometown team, but their offense is just a struggle to watch. They literally only have three guys that can put the ball in the hoop, and one of them, Wayne Blackshear, is probably among the most inconsistent players in the country. (When Terry Rozier is among your more consistent scorers, you got trouble.) Nonetheless, the Cards know how to play and they picked a good region to be thrown into. I’m not sure if the NCAA should move to a 24 or 30-second shot clock, but at least Louisville should. Hurry it up, boys!
Gonzaga 85, UCLA 65
Upset special? No way, Jose. Bulldogs gonna be up 25 at the half and just coast into the E8. It never hurts to be facing an 11-seed at this point.
Duke 72, Utah 70
Man, I so want to pick an upset here! But I just don’t trust Utah to stop the hyper-talented Dukies, not after beating Rob Morris and SD State like they were D-III schools. And not when the Devils have Jahlil Okafor on the court. This kid keeps getting better. Want to hear something crazy? Okafor shot 50% or better from the floor in 31 of their 35 games. Just as impressively, the big fella hasn’t attempted a three all season. You gotta know your strengths and play your game. Let that be a life lesson for you.
(Spoiler alert: Okafor did shoot a nasty 51.6% from the FT line this year; if there’s a UK-Duke showdown coming, you don’t think the Cats’ four seven-footers are going to play Hack-a-Jahlil?)
Michigan State 65, Oklahoma 59
I don’t really care who wins this game. The Spartans are always good, and as much as I like Izzo I certainly don’t feel the need to watch them at this point. And OU is from the Big 12, so I assume they’re going to lose by clogging up the lane with some oversized farmhands that weren’t skilled enough to be recruited by Wisconsin.
Elite Eight Picks
Saturday and Sunday should be a good bit of fun. Eight classic matchups with a F4 on the line? Yes, please. If you had to choose between watching every moment of the first weekend (rounds 1-2) and missing the whole second weekend (S16 and E8), or vice versa, which would you choose? I’m torn. I really am. I just don’t have an answer. And thank goodness I don’t need one!!
Kentucky over Wichita State
Let’s be real: no one from Wichita KS is going to beat the best team in the nation. It ain’t happening. Kentucky by whatever-the-spread-is-plus-3. Cats to Indy for sure.
Arizona over Wisconsin
If this game was in the Midwest, I might lean toward the Badgers (remember the five rules of the bracket). But in LA, I’m going with the near-home team in a nail-biter. The Badgers’ dream run falls short of the F4. Sorry fellas.
Louisville over Michigan State
A key matchup between two all-time great coaches with just-slightly-above-average teams, with a F4 trip on the line. This one will be a grind for sure, with a score in the 50’s. I’m going to get tired and sore just watching it from the couch with a bowl of ice cream and sweatpants that don’t reach my ankles. I can already see the pregame show, “Pitino vs Izzo,” like it’s a heavyweight fight or something. Cards over Sparts in a grinder.
Duke over Gonzaga
I originally picked Gonzaga over Duke, but now I’m starting to waver. In this particular matchup, in Houston, I gotta go with my mind—remember the 90 percent rule—over my heart. Duke by 2 or 3 in the best game of the entire tournament. Please don’t let Utah or UCLA spoil this game for us!
There you go, folks. Tune in next week for your exclusive, partial-access Fidelity Sports Final Four Preview—the last in the Hoops Weekly series. (I do, after all, have a demanding job and a family to attend to eventually.) Sorry for the Villanova debacle last week, but you can totally trust these picks. I’d say I have 45% certainty this will all happen.
Have fun watching, sports fans!