Here’s a look at my bracket in reverse order of teams getting ousted, from No. 65 to the title game.
OUSTED IN THE FIRST ROUND
65-51: Jackson State (No. 16 seed), Eastern Kentucky (16), Central Connecticut State (16), Florida A&M (16a), Niagara (16b), North Texas (15), Weber State (15), Belmont (15), Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (15), Miami-Ohio (14), Penn (14), Wright State (14), Oral Roberts (14), New Mexico State (13), Albany (13)
Thanks for coming, guys.
50-48: Illinois (12), Purdue (9), Indiana (7)
Loved this e-mail from Noah in Chicago after I discounted the quality of the Big Ten in Monday’s basketball blog: “Oh boy, you are in for a lot of e-mails on this topic. An NBA fan doesn’t like the brand of basketball played in the Big Ten? SHOCKING! Perhaps you aren’t familiar with concepts like getting back on defense, movement away from the ball and half-court defense? Big 10 basketball is like a Robert Altman film, or Russian hockey in the 1970s — difficult to watch for a novice, but pleasurable for a connoisseur.”
(Please note that those exact arguments are always made by women’s basketball fans when they’re defending the quality of play in the women’s game … once again proving my point, which is that watching the Big Ten was like watching an especially scrappy women’s basketball game, only if the players occasionally dunked. Thanks for making my case for me, Noah.)
47-45: Stanford (11), Texas Tech (10), Kentucky (8)
Three of my least favorite teams in the tournament: Stanford played in an overrated conference and lost 12 games; Texas Tech lost eight of its last 16 (including five double-digit losses); and Tubby Smith makes Rick Barnes look like a cross between Mike D’Antoni and Mel Gibson in “Braveheart.”
44-43. Davidson (13), Arkansas (12)
Was mildly intrigued by the 40-point potential of Davidson’s Stephen Curry (Dell Curry’s son!) in the Maryland game before talking myself out of it. I don’t see as many 12s and 13s advancing as usual because the bigger schools are deeper and more talented than they’ve been since the mid-’90s. Other than Kevin Durant and Greg Oden, that’s one of the reasons I started watching college hoops again — because the quality of play in the elite conferences was exceptionally good. Well, except for the Big Ten.
42. Old Dominion (12)
This happens every March: There’s an obvious 12-over-5 upset pick (in this case, Old Dominion over Butler) that sucks everybody in and/or freaks Vegas out to the point that they practically make the game a pick ’em (in this case, Butler by 1.5) … and then the No. 5 team ends up winning and we all feel dumb.
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(Speaking of dumb, here’s an answer to my question about Mario Chalmers’ “charge” in the Kansas-Texas game that we mentioned in Monday’s blog: Apparently the announcers were wrong and it was NOT a charge — Chalmers released the ball before crashing into D.J. Augustin for a loose-ball foul, which meant the basket counted and Augustin got to shoot free throws. Stupid rule. In the NBA, it’s just a charge. Anyway, this doesn’t happen often in college hoops, but when it happens, that’s the call.)
41-39. Winthrop (11), Creighton (10), Xavier (9)
These teams sound like three preppie friends from a New England boarding school.
38. Georgia Tech (10)
Tempting … but I’m not biting. Hey, we’re coming up on the 18th anniversary of the day I snuck a “It’s too bad Bobby Cremins isn’t coaching Ball State” joke into the Holy Cross student newspaper without my editors catching it.
37-35. Marquette (8), Vanderbilt (6), Tennessee (5)
Only because I needed some pseudo-upset picks for Round 1. Have to say, it was especially tough going against Vandy after Buster Olney managed to sneak a Vandy reference in his last 78 straight baseball blogs. Take it from someone who’s only mentioned Kevin Durant in 22 straight columns and blogs … it’s tougher to keep that streak going than you think. Congrats to Buster.
34. Duke (6)
When VCU fought back for that incredible win against George Mason last week, I remember thinking to myself, “I love these guys! I hope they go against a team I don’t like in Round 1!” Six days later, the Rams are an 11-seed going against Duke. You have to love March Madness. This will be the heart-wrenching loss that causes Josh McRoberts to break down like Dr. Meredith Grey after watching a handsome fireman succumb to third-degree burns.
33. Southern Illinois (4)
Come on, like I could ever pick against Holy Cross in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament. One of these years, we HAVE to pull off an upset, right? Law of averages, right? Um … right?
(Here’s an encouraging scouting report from my old friend Joe G., who graduated from HC in ’86: “The Cross has a manageable draw — S. Illinois is a similar-type team and we have clear advantages with rebounding and foul shooting. Having seen and followed this team for almost 30 years, our three major weaknesses this year have been 3-point FG percentage, defense, prolonged offensive droughts and defensive rebounding against bigger teams. Statistically, it doesn’t seem like the Salukis will be able to exploit No. 1 and No. 3 as they don’t shoot [3-pointers] well, don’t have a size advantage and finished last in their league in offensive rebounding. And both clubs go through long stretches of offensive problems. If Torey Thomas can avoid the turnover bug that hurts him once [in] a while, the Cross can win this game and advance.”)
OUSTED IN THE SECOND ROUND
32-31. George Washington (11), Holy Cross (13)
If I picked the Cross to make the Sweet 16, you wouldn’t think I was an objective columnist. Wait, you already don’t think that.
30. Gonzaga (10)
Came VERY close to picking the Zags over UCLA in Round 2. Watch out for Micah Downs, the transfer forward from Kansas — he was showing a little juvenation in the WCC Tournament. I’m ashamed to admit that I watched 11 WCC games this season.
29-26. Michigan State (9), Villanova (9), BYU (8), Arizona (8)
Ever notice how you’re better off being a 10-thru-13 seed than an 8-9 seed? Here’s what happens if you win in Round 1 as an 8-9 seed … you get to play the No. 1 seed in Round 2. Great. I actually liked two of these teams as semi-sleepers (MSU and ‘Nova), but the No. 1 seeds are too loaded this year. By the way, look out for three really fun players from these schools — Nova’s Scottie Reynolds (a gunner), Zona’s Chase Budinger (the illegitimate son of Dan Majerle and Brent Barry) and MSU’s Drew Neitzel (a streak shooter who could even get an impartial crowd at a neutral site going).
25-24. Boston College (7), Notre Dame (6)
It’s been difficult for me to root against BC this season for two reasons: I thoroughly enjoy watching Jared Dudley and Tyrese Rice, and Al Skinner’s decision to kick his best big guy (Sean Williams) off the team for being a bad guy was genuinely admirable. It reminded me of the way Jim Calhoun handled the laptop scandal at UConn, only the exact opposite. Anyway, I’m laying off the BC jokes this year. At least for two more days.
23. Louisville (6)
Crap. This was one of the middle seeds I liked heading into the tournament … and it’s going against one of my favorites (Texas A&M) in Round 2. Hate when that happens. By the way, maybe my HD picture is especially good, but is anyone aging stranger than Rick Pitino? It’s like seeing one of those bad movies that spans a period of time — like the crappy Prefontaine movie with Jared Leto — where they use makeup to “age” the actors for a scene 20 years later, only the makeup people did a crappy job and every scene is completely disorienting. I don’t think Pitino’s been outside since 1989.
22-21. USC (5), Butler (5)
Two of the weaker 5-seeds in recent memory. On the bright side, the countdown to the O.J. Mayo era begins! Has he spent his booster money yet? I think he should buy a Range Rover and live in a suite at the top of the Standard Hotel near the Staples Center. Just kidding, there’s no way USC would ever pay off a football or basketball star. That would be illegal. But just to be safe, I’d like to place a wager on the Mayo era ending prematurely in about nine months thanks to an investigative N.Y. Times feature that runs the same week as an Armen Keteyian report on “Real Sports” and a three-hour “Outside the Lines” report hosted by a euphoric Bob Ley.
20-19. Virginia (4), Pittsburgh (3)
It’s too bad we didn’t keep track of exactly how many times Shawn Bradley got dunked on during his NBA career … because I think Pittsburgh’s Aaron Gray could end up shattering that record before everything’s said and done.
18-17. Memphis (2), Wisconsin (2)
While perusing USA Today’s March Madness section last night (the one with all the team capsules), this sentence jumped out in the Memphis section: “Best wins: Kentucky, Gonzaga.” Those were their BEST wins? How are the Tigers a No. 2 seed? As for Wisconsin, the Badgers were the only good Big Ten team other than OSU … but they haven’t been able to score since big man Brian Butch dislocated his elbow. Now it’s Alando Tucker or nothing. You can always stop one guy. Unless it’s Kevin Durant.
OUSTED IN THE SWEET 16
16. Long Beach State (12)
Sorry, had to pick the Beach to win two games. I’ve been a Long Beach supporter ever since Dre’ and Snoop brought Compton and the LBC together in “The Chronic.” Which reminds me, how much would you pay for a March Madness sequence where a Long Beach State player dunks on a fast break, followed by Gus Johnson losing his mind for a second and screaming, “Long Beach in the motha****** house!” I think I’d pay $750.
15. VCU (11)
The dream ends with a double-OT loss to UCLA. As long as Eric Maynor cracks Chad Ford’s top-60, I’m happy.
14-13. UNLV (7), Nevada (7)
Had to pick UNLV for the Sweet 16 after reading articles in the Las Vegas Sun and Review Journal about the Running Rebels being miffed about their 7-seed. Looks like some major “nobody believed in us, we wanted to prove they were wrong!” potential here. Strangely, you could say the same about Nevada: the Pack were a top-10 team for the past month, lost two 79-77 heartbreakers to Utah State within eight days … and now they’re a 7-seed. Bizarre. Maybe the Tournament Committee penalized these schools because Vegas didn’t hire any cops for All-Star Weekend.
12. Virginia Tech (5)
They’re good enough to potentially rattle Bill Self’s toupee in the Sweet 16. And since I have nothing to add, here’s an idea for a terrible sports movie, courtesy of Villanova reader Sean McCloskey: “I was watching the selection show with my brother yesterday and he had the greatest idea. They should make a movie where someone holds the committee hostage on Selection Sunday. It could be the alumnus of a really crappy team and their demands are that their alma mater gets an invitation into the tournament. So they announce it on Sunday and Greg Gumbel goes, ‘The 3-seed out West is … the Bethune Cookman Wildcats?’ ” Somebody get the agents for Dax Shepard and Seth Green on the phone!
11. Maryland (4)
My buddy House (a lifelong Maryland fan who grew up two miles from U of M) demanded two paragraphs for this section because I ignored the Terps for the past six weeks. Here they are:
“This is the first likable Maryland team since Stevie Blake graduated. Thanks to a season-saving seven straight ACC wins, a home victory against UNC (I attended that one and swear that the Comcast Center felt like Cole Field House), the sweep of the Duke nerds and a 4-seed in the Big Tournament, the negative stench of the past couple of years and the thankfully brief era of me-first nonleaders who vastly overrated their talents may finally have been lifted. It’s an OK team, not great. The Terps overachieved for those seven straight ACC wins, a trademark of Gary Williams teams (and weirdly necessary in view of his complete failure to recruit hometown studs like Kevin Durant, Scottie Reynolds, Jeff Green, etc.). They have two quality freshman point guards in Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez (who played with Durant in high school); D.J. Strawberry has evolved into a real leader (the first Strawberry we can say that about!!); and their frontcourt has size and energy … although not nearly as much size and energy as they would have had with Kevin Durant. Did I mention he went to high school here and we didn’t get him?
“Anyway, if they’re rebounding and blocking shots, and if Mike Jones and DJ are making shots, the Terps can beat anyone in the country (a nice strength for a single-elimination tournament). If they get outrebounded and Jones or DJ goes cold, they can lose to anybody and look ugly in the process. Like last week’s Miami game … they gave up 16 offensive rebounds! Awful. However the next two weeks turn out, I’m just excited to send “Fear the Turtle” e-mails again and not have anyone think I’m making a poop joke. I predict the Terps will make the Sweet 16 and then bow out gracefully in a hard-fought, surprisingly close battle with Florida and their trannie center.”
10. Washington State (3)
And the winner of this year’s March Madness award for the “Up and Coming Coach Who Gets All The TV Guys Lathered Up And Ends Up Screwing Over His College For a Big University Job Two Months Later” … Mr. Tony Bennett!
9. North Carolina (1)
No way this tournament unfolds without one “Durant single-handedly destroys a much better team” game that can be replayed on ESPN Classic for the rest of eternity. Admit it, Tar Heel fans … you’re unequivocally terrified right now. Come on. Admit it. Get it out in the open. You’ll feel better.
OUSTED IN THE FINAL EIGHT
8. Texas (4)
I see the Longhorns falling to Georgetown in the Final Eight much like they blew the Kansas game on Sunday — in one of those frustrating choke jobs when they lead for 39 of the 40 minutes in regulation, allow a game-tying 3-pointer or a three-point play in the final 20 seconds, then blow the game in OT because of poor decisions from Rick Barnes and D.J. Augustin. That’s their destiny. And here’s the real shame: A Texas-OSU Final Four match-up would have been the most-hyped college game since Duke-Michigan in ’92. I already feel cheated and we haven’t been robbed yet.
While we’re here, these were my three favorite Barnes e-mails from the past 24 hours:
From Erich in Arlington: “Watching Barnes manage the second half of the Kansas game was like watching Principal Ed Rooney handle the Ferris Bueller situation.”
From Mitch in Kansas City: “My frustration in watching Rick Barnes coach has only been exceeded by reports that Tom Brady has impregnated two different women in the last five months … and neither of them was my sister or girlfriend.”
From Ben in Fort Wayne: “Has it occurred to anyone that maybe Rick Barnes knows exactly what he’s doing? If he lets Durant obliterate everyone, then he knows Durant will leave after one year. Therefore, he needs to do his best to screw up Durant’s season and destroy his confidence that he could make it in the NBA.”
(On that last e-mail … VERY intriguing theory. Now it’s all starting to make sense. Maybe Rick Barnes is secretly a genius.)
(On second thought, nahhhhhhhh … )
7. Oregon (3)
Along with Texas A&M, one of the two high seeds who could shoot the lights out and beat anyone on any given day. Do not wager against either of these teams. Um … not that gambling on college basketball is legal or anything.
(Random update: It’s now Day 4 since the Time Warner technician switched the working digital box in my bedroom for a nonworking HD box, couldn’t figure out why the new box didn’t work, told us it probably had something to do with the cable wire, promised to come back in the late-afternoon and left us with the non-working HD box … and we haven’t seen him since. Now they’re telling us that they can’t send a technician back until March 19. March 19! Again, our old box worked! It’s not like we did anything! Now the Sports Gal is about six more hours of waiting on hold away from turning into Michael Douglas during the last 45 minutes of “Falling Down.”)
6. UCLA (2)
The Bruins are one big guy short (trouble for a Kansas match-up), which is ironic because they landed the best high school forward for next season (Kevin Love). Now they just have to convince Aaron Afflalo and Darren Collison to stick around for one more season and they’ll be the favorites in 2008 unless Oden comes back. As one of my friends who roots for UCLA joked, “It’s too bad we’re not USC — we could just pay Affallo and Collison under the table to stick around!” Those jokes never get old.
5. Ohio State (1)
Only because A&M is exactly the type of team that can beat the Buckeyes: A good defensive team with a smart coach (Billy Gillespie), an experienced crunch-time guard (my man Acie Law IV), two great 3-point shooters (Law and Josh Carter) and one of those crafty foreign centers who could lure Oden away from the basket (Antanas Kavaliauskas). OSU’s biggest strength is Oden’s defense — he destroys any team that’s accustomed to getting points in the paint. Against a team like UNC, he’d wreak havoc. Against the Aggies? No way. They could break 70 points without ever venturing within 10 feet of the basket. Regardless, this match-up could be a classic.
(Important note: If this were the NBA and David Stern was pulling the strings, I would definitely NOT be picking Durant and Oden to get bounced before the Final Four.)
OUSTED IN THE FINAL FOUR
4. Texas A&M (3)
That’s right, it’s a Final Four battle in which John Thompson the Third and Patrick Ewing Jr. will defeat Acie Law the Fourth! That should be exciting. By the way, brace yourself for about 10,000 John Thompson interviews, old Patrick Ewing clips and features about the 25th anniversary of the “Fred Brown game” when Georgetown makes the Final Four. As long as they show Reggie Williams’ postgame interview after the ’84 title game, I’m happy. That may have been the single most awkward moment of the entire 1980s. And that’s saying something.
3. Florida (1)
Let the record show that Florida and Kansas are the two most talented teams in the tournament; there would be four potential lottery picks and eight potential top-40 picks battling in this game if it happens. And I think it will. So why Kansas? Because the Jayhawks are one of those Dirk Diggler teams that can adapt to any style: They can play smallball and go run-and-gun. They can get physical and pound it inside. And they have multiple scoring options at the end of games (including Mario Chalmers, one of the best crunch-time guards in the tournament) and two legitimately good defenders on the other end (Brandon Rush and Julian Wright). As for Florida, if the Gators aren’t making their outside shots and playing with a ton of energy, there’s really no Plan B. I just think Kansas is a better team. Whether they have a better coach … that’s another matter.
OUSTED IN THE TITLE GAME
2. Georgetown (2)
As long as this leads to Jeff Green cracking the top-seven in the 2007 draft, I’m happy. He deserves it.
THE 2007 NCAA CHAMPION
1. Kansas (1)
This seems like a good time to mention that I’m never, ever, EVER right about March Madness. Sorry, Jayhawks fans.
Coming tomorrow: The Sports Gal’s picks.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His book “Now I Can Die In Peace” is available in paperback.