College basketball is about emotion. You know this, I know this, the ravaged laryngeal tissue throbbing in the gloom below Dick Vitale’s pharynx knows this. In March, however, college basketball is also about something else, namely small-stakes illegal gambling operations run by a guy named Steve who doesn’t seem to have a defined role within your office hierarchy but who knows how to change the printer toner and goes around with the little tin box on the Monday after Selection Sunday collecting everyone’s $10 for the bracket pool.
For decades, the greatest — nay, the only — problem plaguing March Madness was that Steve’s world and the world of emotion never overlapped. You filled out your bracket with a cool eye for stats and merit. You did slow-motion screaming-and-spilling-the-popcorn takes from your couch. Those two phases of your existence had nothing to do with one another. You were a stunted and incomplete human person, your rational mind forever severed from the passions of your heart.
That changes today, my friend. That changes now.
Herewith, a guide to filling out your NCAA tournament bracket based not on “advanced metrics” or “accurate analysis” or “knowing things about basketball” or whatever science-ism the poindexters are yelling at Mulder these days. Instead, this guide is based on what really matters: 5,000 cc’s of raw, unfiltered #emotion. Is 5,000 cc’s a lot of #emotion? No idea, counselor, it just feels right. Why am I putting a hashtag next to #emotion? Why don’t you wake up and read the previous sentence?
Enough rambling. It’s time to make sports history. It’s time to heal the world.
NOTE: Regions, seeds, etc., are based on current projections as of the time of writing. Stuff changed since then? Cool, like I care. This isn’t bracketology, it’s bracketiatry — we’re not looking for the right answers, we’re looking for (1) a readily available supply of prescription drugs, and (2) a way to help you live with the answers you’ve already got.
“LOST IN EMOTION” BY LISA LISA & CULT JAM: THE CONTENDERS
Georgia State (14-seed, East Region)
Emotion represented: Elation
Pick if you’re #passionate about: The Outkast reunion, shoes, Outkast, Outkast-themed shoes, shoes worn and/or autographed by Outkast, extremely cool T-shirts, the War on Poverty
Stellar at offense. Not so good at defense. I’m feeling feelings for the Sun Belt regular-season champs already. Plus their coach, Ron Hunter, does this thing every year where he coaches a game barefoot to raise awareness for people who can’t afford shoes. Did you catch that? Did you process the meanings of those words inside your brain? He COACHES A GAME BAREFOOT to raise awareness for PEOPLE WHO CANNOT AFFORD SHOES. That is some consummate, Johnny Cash–as–Man in Black–level advocacy. Yes, yes, and yes. Georgia State may be my national champion.
New Mexico (7-seed, South Region)
Emotion represented: Sky-madness
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Breaking Bad, turquoise craft jewelry, mystic coyote-led quests through space-time, ski resorts that could either be way more or way less exclusive than the ones you’ve heard about and you feel like you should know which but you honestly can’t tell at this point
Apart from the moral bonus points the entire state of New Mexico gets for not being Arizona, the Lobos are riding a fire-plume of righteousness after coach Steve Alford deserted them at the end of last season to take over at UCLA. Alford’s last game for New Mexico? A loss to 14th-seeded Harvard in the NCAA tournament. Now, there are rules in this world, handed down to us by monks and samurai, and one of those rules is that you don’t leave a program after losing to Harvard. You don’t leave your house after losing to Harvard. Alford’s best friend, Craig “Noodles” Neal (yes), took over the team this season. That’s what you did, Steve Alford. You left a man named Noodles to clean up your mess for you. Not cool, Steve. Not. Cool.
Wichita State (1-seed, Midwest Region)
Emotion represented: Shock; also, awe
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Busting up the “national conversation,” never feeling sad ever, relatively uncrowded airports
Undefeated. Unchallenged. Overlooked in their own state. Represented by a mascot who looks like Ed Harris after becoming a Batman villain after being stuffed into a tracksuit and left for dead in a field of radioactive wheat. I hope they march to the goddamn sea.
Creighton (3-seed, West Region)
Emotion represented: A red-hot burnt-rubber shot of Nebraska adrenaline straight to your howling heart
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Scoring from set plays, the desolate landscapes and careworn hearts illuminated in Alexander Payne’s meticulously crafted cinematic works, shooting-guard facial hair, shouting the word “McDermott!”
Not too long ago, I spent some time in a cave looking into the history of Amos Wilson, “the Pennsylvania Hermit,” who withdrew from civilization around 1786. That year, Wilson’s sister was hanged for infanticide; Wilson had won her a stay of execution from the governor, but it rained and he couldn’t get across this one particular river, so he was five minutes late, arriving at the scaffold just in time to see her last death throes. Devastated, Wilson chose to walk away from society and eventually spent his last 19 years in complete isolation in a cave near Harrisburg. It’s a pretty neat cave, I guess, cavewise. You can still see the soot from his cook fires on the walls. The only person I can think of who regularly does a better job at escaping human contact is Doug McDermott with Big East defenses.
“CATCHING FEELINGS” BY JUSTIN BIEBER: THE RUNNERS-UP
Florida (1-seed, South Region)
Emotion represented: Rue
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Wet T-shirt contests, 32-ounce margaritas that cost $50, python cults
Florida, as every child knows, is a rank, steaming purgatory, a swamp of evil choices and watered-down vaccines. It’s True Detective with a degree-of-difficulty multiplier. Billy Donovan’s Gators play a joyously effective style of basketball; they’re top 10 nationally on both ends of the court, according to kenpom.com. But they do so for the glory of a state whose only major export is convenience-store robberies, a state whose 2015 economic projections rely on “steady growth in the ‘cars driven headlong into Olive Gardens sector’” to make sense. Pick if your life is a deliciously fucked-up cocktail of sin, guilt, and large carnivorous reptiles. Otherwise, avoid.
Virginia (3-seed, Midwest Region)
Emotion represented: Earnest ambition
Pick if you’re #passionate about: The Great American Songbook, thwarting fast breaks
They play stifling defense and their coach is named Tony Bennett and they won the ACC regular-season title even though Duke and North Carolina were not simultaneously vaporized in a freak Tobacco Road particle-collider accident. They’re OK.
Villanova (1-seed, East Region)
Emotion represented: Pinstripes
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Benjamin Franklin, that sly little bald-headed cherub; cheesesteak; the fading legacy of the Olde Big East
If overly busy high-buttoning suit ensembles were wishes, Jay Wright would be a leprechaun. They’re not, but he’s kind of one anyway? Look, no one ever promised that basketball would make sense.
Arizona State (9-seed, South Region)
Emotion represented: Sweatiness
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Gin Blossoms, sunlight so bright it looks green, never going outside for any reason ever
ASU’s Shaquielle McKissic was once homeless, spent time behind bars for attempted burglary, and made it to the NCAA tournament after pretty admirably turning his life around from a tough start. He is thus, by a clear margin, the most well-adjusted man in Arizona. I’m in.
George Washington (10-seed, East Region)
Emotion represented: Patriotic fervor or whatever
Pick if you’re #passionate about: The Father of, like, our entire Country?
America’s first president hated corruption, despised entangling alliances, and shunned overly white teeth. God, he would have loved the NCAA selection committee.
Saint Louis (5-seed, West Region)
Emotion represented: Obduracy
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Those little signs where you hold a picture of the letter “D” next to a cutout of a fence, pretending not to be jealous of your cousins who live in Chicago
Pro for Saint Louis: They are called the Billikens. Who doesn’t love a Billiken? Of all the bizarre mind-phantoms ever to be patented by an early-20th-century art teacher after appearing to her in a dream, the big B is clearly in the top five. Con for Saint Louis: They’re a brutally efficient defensive team, but not so great at scoring the points. Like, when the historical Saint Louis embarked on the Seventh Crusade in 1249, his armies bogged down in the Nile Delta, their advance slowed by the merciless heat and famine. Their field goal percentage was still slightly higher than the Billikens’.
Kansas (2-seed, South Region)
Emotion represented: Fun for the whole family
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Rocks, chalk, draft stock
It’s lame to compare everything to Game of Thrones, which is fortunate, because nothing on earth is less like Game of Thrones than Kansas basketball. George R.R. Martin’s work depicts a realm of amoral, power-starved monsters who would rip the spine out of a kitten to have their throne raised a tenth of an inch; Kansas basketball, by contrast, has featured zero kitten-despining incidents since at least the early Dick Harp era. But wait, there’s more!
THE TOP 10 GAME OF THRONES CHARACTERS WHO HAVE NOTHING IN COMMON WITH KANSAS BASKETBALL
10. Sansa Stark. I mean … what would Sansa Stark possibly have in common with Kansas basketball? She’s a medieval princess. Kansas basketball players live in the here and now. Please be serious.
9. Grey Wind. Grey Wind is a large, possibly supernatural wolf. Kansas basketball is played by humans. It’s stupid to even think about this.
8. Tyrion Lannister. Really, every single person on this list should be no. 1, because that’s how utterly irrelevant the entire ASoIaF dramatis personae is to Kansas basketball. I mean, who would ever watch a Jayhawks game and go, “This really reminds me of that time a droll dwarf traveled north to examine a massive ice wall”?
7. Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. Oh, you think he has something to do with the Kansas basketball because he’s tall? Let me ask you something. Can you honestly see a brutish hulk like Clegane having either the mobility or the discipline necessary to compete at both ends of the court in today’s Big 12? Because the scouting report in my head says no chance. He’d stand there like a lunk, roaring with frustration and occasionally reaching into the crowd to rip someone’s head off. I don’t care about upside. Bill Self would never recruit that kind of character risk.
6. King Robert Baratheon. Fat. Old. Drunk. Not Jayhawks material.
5. Syrio Forel. Um, he teaches swordplay for a living? I just ctrl+f’d the word “swordplay” in the NCAA rulebook, and guess what? Adobe Reader was quiet as a shadow.
4. Balerion the Black Dread. A dragon who died hundreds of years ago. Oh, sure. Start him at the 4. He’s got an “NBA wingspan.” HAHAHA. Morons.
3. Walder Frey. Yeah, no, because being a 140-year-old lust-geezer whose prestige is entirely derived from bridge ownership has everything to do with a prominent Midwestern college basketball program. Look, you could literally dress Walder Frey up in a Kirk Hinrich jersey and parachute him onto the roof of Allen Fieldhouse and I would still refuse to acknowledge there was any connection here. Quit lying, magical rip in the space-time continuum — that’s what I’d say.
2. Catelyn Stark. It’s seriously almost incomprehensible how little Catelyn Stark has to do with Kansas basketball. Can two things have less than nothing in common? Because we’re approaching that territory here.
1. Hot Pie. I’m staring, for real. I’m just staring at you right now.
Michigan State (5-seed, Midwest Region)
Emotion represented: Steady courage in a world that eats the weak
Pick if you’re #passionate about: America’s disintegrating industrial infrastructure
Youth withers, life corrodes, and the sun that sets the blush on the cheek of the lily will someday blast the petals’ shriveled remains, but it kind of seems like Tom Izzo’s teams are always out there doing it, and that’s not nothing in this world of ours.
Oklahoma State (9-seed, Midwest Region)
Emotion represented: Unvarnished terror
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Winning games you should lose, losing games you should win, recreational shoving
If NCAA teams are roller coasters, this year’s Oklahoma State squad is the one in the badly lit corner near the back of the amusement park. You know the one. It’s called The Mower of Souls or something similar — maybe The Dark Mirror, maybe Harmbringer. Either way, when you walk past, you can’t help but notice that the line’s a little thin, even though the ride looks totally wicked, all backward velocity-loops and the kinds of headlong dives they filmed Apollo 13 in. The carny behind the turnstile is grinning, but it’s a sick grin, painted on; something’s wrong with his eyes, or maybe it’s his whole face, you can’t tell. Some of the people getting off look euphoric. Most of them just look shaken. Boyfriends and girlfriends have their arms wrapped a little too tightly around one another’s shoulders, like they’ve just been through something they don’t know how to talk about yet, like they’re clinging to whatever support they can find. If this sounds good to you as a fan experience, then by all means, hop on. If not, don’t ask any questions. Don’t stop to rubberneck. Just run.
“SO EMOTIONAL” BY WHITNEY HOUSTON AS COVERED BY THE CAST OF GLEE: THE EXPLODING SPACE SHUTTLES RAINING DEBRIS AND SANDRA BULLOCK OVER THE PACIFIC
North Carolina (4-seed, South Region)
Emotion represented: An overall trembliness about the jowls
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Seersucker
Roy Williams, a portly squire with a tendency to mist over in the presence of adversity, is the highest-paid state employee in North Carolina. If you’re not crying about that, he’s crying about it for you. Avoid.
Oklahoma (5-seed, South Region)
Emotion represented: Football
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Football recruiting websites
It’s not that Oklahoma fans are unaware their school has a basketball team. It’s that basketball teams can’t play outside linebacker. (They can’t, right? We’re sure about this? Bo, ring up the biology department. Has Saban been working on anything?)
Ohio State (5-seed, East Region)
Emotion represented: Whatever this is
Pick if you’re #passionate about: This, this, this, this, or this, and also liquor store robberies
The state of Ohio is basically Florida plus seasons, and the Ohio State University basketball team is basically Florida plus an extra-screamy coach named Thad, minus offense, plus a scrappy little pink-cheeked point guard who subsists on a diet of gutsy 3-pointers and window-cooled apple pies. I don’t really know how to do that math, which gives me something in common with everyone in Ohio.
Syracuse (3-seed, South Region)
Emotion represented: Coach GIFs
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Regionally inappropriate citrus
TURN UP THE MUSIC, FOR HE IS AMONGST US, THE BODHISATTVA OF DANCE.
Michigan (2-seed, Midwest Region)
Emotion represented: Calm satisfaction in a job well done
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Canadian shooting guards, apps
The Big 10 champion (regular-season division) Maize & Blue feature an offense so freakishly efficient, it’s almost enough to make you forget they seriously want you to call them “the Maize & Blue,” like they’re actually not kidding about that, it’s a thing with them, “maize,” because “yellow” isn’t good enough for their majesties down on the Lower Peninsula. It’s amazing they let “blue” in there, frankly; must have lost The Big Book of Hoity-Toity Color Synonyms to the Huron before they ran into “smalt” and “zaffre.” Less importantly, the Wolverines are led by a white Canadian scorer with a flawless shooting motion and suspect athleticism, meaning we are on a speeding train pounding straight toward the maw of THE FUNNEST DRAFT DEBATE IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND.
Kentucky (7-seed, East Region)
Emotion represented: At least seven of them at all times
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Isolating and occupying the molecule-wide Venn diagram overlap between pure chaos, the tradition of 19th-century hucksterism, and middle-aged couples in blue sweatshirts mass-occupying highway McDonald’ses on the way to Tuscaloosa
It’s been a down year for the Wildcats, which is precisely as wonderful and hilarious as their up years always are. Like the thousands of freeway animals slaughtered every year by their fans’ cruising armada of early-2000s minivans, we can always count on Kentucky to give us an experience.
North Carolina Central (14-seed, South Region)
Emotion represented: Hot, smothered rage
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Being the youngest sibling and hating it, absolutely hating it, to the point that your dreams are filled with twisted fantasies involving family camping trips on the slopes of volcanoes the guidebooks all promised were inactive
Not gonna lie, I haven’t watched a ton of, uh [adjourns to Google], Eagles games this season. But NC Central is in Durham, North Carolina. You know who else is in Durham, North Carolina? Can you imagine how that must make the [wait, forgot, checking again] Eagles’ players feel? Courage, you warriors of Central. Everyone knows Duke is good only because of Ronald Reagan anyway.
Duke (2-seed, East Region)
Emotion represented: Brand loyalty
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Owning a horse you never have time to visit, your parents not understanding that you’re serious about sociology grad school, Jabari bars, that time Christian Laettner went shark fishing
Look, I don’t know what your problem is. I take one look at Jabari Parker’s face and I’m prepared to call a foul on anyone, for anything. I don’t give a goddamn. Look at what a sweet kid he is! He’s the best! You know what? I call a foul on you for questioning it! I CALL A FOUL ON THE ENTIRE WORLD.
“NO FEELINGS” BY THE SEX PISTOLS: THE BACK OF THE PACK
Iowa State (4-seed, West Region)
Emotion represented: The unwavering patience of the damned
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Soil erosion, black metal, not having kids because you’re afraid of dying in a Children of the Corn–type scenario, state fairs
It’s a bleak country, Iowa. Snow on the hills. Whole highways without radio signals. The land scorches you with its cold and somehow freezes you with its heat. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve watched Iowa State play twice this year, and both games were unending death marches scored to an hourglass-drip of missed free throws and bad fouls. Iowa State won both times. I stared into the heart of the corn, and the corn stared back into me. It was horrifying; I think that was the point.
Harvard (12-seed, South Region)
Emotion represented: What emotion are admissions officers looking for these days?
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Finding local solutions to global problems, engineering new paradigms to streamline the NGO/state-actor relationship, feeling like there’s a lot of room to pursue your own vision even if it is a big K Street firm, slowly repeating the sentence “But my real heart is in my pro bono work”
Hey, look, it’s Harvard! Tommy Amaker has brought this team to the threshold of national relevance! Which is so great. I mean, what an adorable little overachiever, with its precious 6 percent acceptance rate and $30 billion endowment. March Madness is all about giving the little guy a chance to make it.
Arizona (1-seed, West Region)
Emotion represented: Murderous nostalgia
Pick if you’re #passionate about: Choosing to create a postapocalyptic hellscape rather than accept that the world can change, air-conditioning
There’s a decent chance that Arizona is the best team in the country, which is unfortunate for its fans, since forging a reactionary breakaway republic doesn’t leave you with a ton of time to follow basketball.
Delaware (13-seed, East Region)
Emotion represented: N/A
Pick if you’re #passionate about: High personal interest rates, bridge tolls
Human beings are incapable of three things: unassisted flight, licking their own elbows, and giving a crap about the state of Delaware. It’s a proven fact. The entire economy of Delaware — essentially a state kleptocracy based on providing a pirate haven for credit card companies while extorting as much money as possible from Northeast Corridor highway traffic that just wants to get the fuck through Delaware — is predicated on the assumption that you won’t really notice or think about anything Delaware does. Wait, you say to yourself, you want me to pay $47 to cross this 80-yard bridge over a creek? Hmm. Well, I do need to get to Yonkers before sundown. If Connecticut acted like Delaware, the people of neighboring states would invade with muskets and truncheons; Delaware exists in a zone of indifference so mysteriously opaque that everyone just shrugs and accepts that a 29.9 percent APR is a thing you have to live with. I can’t even bring myself to hate the Blue Hens as a basketball team. They’re just … there, I guess, like Dover and Wilmington, cities that appear on America’s trustworthiest maps and that therefore must actually exist. I may have even been to Dover or Wilmington; I actually can’t remember. That’s the Delaware Shroud working. A lot of people who live in that state think they’re from New Jersey.