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Titus’s March Madness Mailbag

In which we power-rank the tournament regions, the imaginary all-star teams of players in various states, and the drunkenness of readers at the moment they sent their emails.

With this the first of many NCAA tournament mailbags to come over the next few weeks, I’d like to ask you all to please stand — and gentlemen, remove your caps — as we honor America with the singing of the national anthem, performed by the Fray.

If that doesn’t get you jacked for the tournament, nothing will. Let’s do this!

Can you power rank the 4 regions?
—Justin R.

I can.

4 — East

Virginia is the last 1-seed. By now, you know why I have doubts about Villanova. Iowa State relies heavily on 3-point shooting and doesn’t defend that well. Michigan State just tore through the Big Ten tournament, but it also lost at home to Illinois recently. Cincinnati is a one-man show offensively and it didn’t exactly finish the season on a high note. The same could be said about North Carolina, although its offense is a little more balanced than Cincinnati’s. I wouldn’t be shocked if any of those teams won the national title, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if multiple double-digit seeds make the Sweet 16 in the East.

3 — West

Each of the top seven seeds in the West lost in their respective conference tournaments, and only four of those seven reached the championship game of those tourneys. Every other region has multiple conference tournament champions among its top seven seeds. So, yeah.

2 — Midwest

I get why most people consider the Midwest to be the toughest region. It contains three of last season’s Final Four teams, undefeated Wichita State, Big Ten champion Michigan, Duke, red-hot defending national champion Louisville, and a Kentucky team that suddenly looks like the Wildcats we expected to see in November. If everything plays out like it should, fans will be treated to all sorts of intriguing matchups, including a Duke-Michigan rematch in the Sweet 16 that could potentially be the most entertaining 3-point shootout ever. But come on — Duke and Michigan are seriously flawed, Wichita State is untested, and Saint Louis, UMass, and Texas have each gone 1-2 in their last three games. The Midwest is the best for TV ratings. The Midwest should be the most entertaining. But the Midwest isn’t the toughest region.

1 — South

Florida is the best team in the country. If Joel Embiid is healthy enough to play and Kansas puts forth a consistent defensive effort, the Jayhawks are the best team in the country. Syracuse’s injury and offensive problems have led to a woeful end of the regular season, but the Orange still started 25-0. With everyone healthy, and if Trevor Cooney and C.J. Fair can get it going again, Syracuse can beat anybody in the country. Throw in a UCLA team that just beat three consecutive NCAA tournament teams (including Arizona) to win the Pac-12 tourney, plus Shaka Smart and VCU, plus Thad Matta’s four consecutive Sweet 16 appearances, and a New Mexico team that will probably be favored against Kansas if Embiid doesn’t play, and the South looks a lot like the Group of Death.

Louisville a 4? UConn a 7? Cincy gets a potentially terrifying Harvard? Is the American Athletic Conference the unwanted middle child of this year’s tournament?
—Mike P.

As a middle child myself, HOW DARE YOU? But yeah, the AAC got boned by the selection committee. UConn being the last team to beat Florida seems like it should have been enough to get the American more love. Yes, the conference was top-heavy and none of its best teams played strong nonconference schedules. I get that the second-best nonconference win among American teams was probably Memphis beating Oklahoma State in their rematch or Cincinnati beating Pitt. And sure, SMU probably didn’t deserve a bid since it played a remarkably weak nonconference schedule, lost its last three games, and seems to be a completely different team without the home-court advantage of Moody Madness. You could point to Louisville looking mediocre against ranked nonconference teams, Cincinnati’s blowout loss against Xavier, or the same Houston team that lost to San Jose State beating UConn, Memphis, and SMU as reasons the American isn’t as good as we think. But I still say … actually, you know what? Never mind. It makes perfect sense why the committee was so down on the American.

What is CBS’s dream Final Four?
—Scott N.

Kansas has to be the pick from the South because a team with two of the likely top three picks in the NBA draft is an easier sell for casual fans than a team full of seniors who won’t play in the league (Florida). Michigan State should be the East’s pick because “IT’S HAPPENING WITH IZZO IN MARCH AGAIN!!!” And even though Michigan, Duke, Louisville, and Kentucky have name recognition in the Midwest, Wichita State being two games from the first undefeated season since 1976 would trump the other teams’ popularity.

That leaves the West, which is really just between Arizona and Creighton. I don’t think CBS could go wrong with either team. Arizona would have the brand name, the “best Western team” label, and NBA fans interested in seeing Aaron Gordon. But think for a second about how many middle-aged white people in the flyover states would be intrigued by Doug McDermott single-handedly carrying Creighton to a national title. CBS execs are having wet dreams thinking about all the different ways they can market McDermott as the next Larry Bird. I can already see a commercial airing during NCIS that touts McDermott as the next Bird, causing my grandpa to say, “Bullshit he is,” and then writing down what time Creighton will play so he can spend the entire broadcast nitpicking McDermott’s game and saying there will never be another Larry Bird.

Is there a team in this tournament that has better overall team hair than Creighton? You look at their starters and down the bench and there is not a weak head of hair.
—Weslee G.

The first team that came to mind was San Diego State, just because of J.J. O’Brien’s high-top fade and Josh Davis’s cornrows. But whatever — figuring this out doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’ve finally discovered who is behind the “All Hockey Hair Team” videos. You’re doing the Lord’s work, Weslee.

I saw a tweet from a guy who asked what the all-star team of K-State, Kansas, and Wichita State would be. (He said Fred VanVleet, Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Marcus Foster, and Perry Ellis. I would pick Cleanthony Early over Ellis.) But it got me thinking: What would other states’ all-star teams look like and who would win in a 50-state tournament?
—Mitchell G.

This is always a fun debate. I decided to limit our teams to players who will be in the NCAA tournament this season. Ohio could put together a decent team, and it would be fun to watch McDermott and Terran Petteway on the same Nebraska team, but three states immediately came to mind that would stand above the rest:

North Carolina

PG — Marcus Paige
SG — Rodney Hood1
SF — T.J. Warren
PF — Jabari Parker
C — James Michael McAdoo


I know he’s out of position, but these five are the obvious starters and none of them really makes sense at shooting guard.

Bench: Rasheed Sulaimon, Brice Johnson, Leslie McDonald, J.P. Tokoto, Quinn Cook, Amile Jefferson, Andre Dawkins


PG — Russ Smith
SG — James Young
SF — Luke Hancock
PF — Julius Randle
C — Montrezl Harrell

Bench: Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, Chris Jones, Wayne Blackshear, Glenn Cosey


PG — Keith Appling
SG — Gary Harris
SF — Nik Stauskas
PF — Adreian Payne
C — Shayne Whittington

Bench: Branden Dawson, Caris LeVert, Glenn Robinson III, Denzel Valentine, Derrick Walton, David Brown, Jordan Morgan

Of those three, Kentucky has the most overall talent, North Carolina has the best starting lineup, and Michigan probably has the best team. If we had a round-robin featuring these three and a Kansas all-star team, I’d rank them, from strongest to weakest: Kansas, Michigan, North Carolina, and Kentucky. But it wouldn’t take much to get me to change my mind.

Speaking of states that are churning out great basketball …

How disappointed are you that the state of Indiana has ZERO teams in the tourney? How is this possible?
—Kurt C.

I’ve lived in Ohio for almost eight years, and I’ll probably live here the rest of my life, but I’ll always consider myself a Hoosier. I can count on one hand the things that mean more to me than the Indy 500 and basketball in Indiana. Peyton Manning made the Colts relevant, but for decades basketball and the 500 were really the only positive things the rest of the country associated with Indiana. Without them, Indiana is just a state full of corn, meth, teenage pregnancy, and archaic laws regulating liquor and gay rights. So yes, I’m devastated that no teams from the Hoosier State are in this year’s tournament.

Here’s the problem: Tom Crean, Matt Painter, and Mike Brey coach the three biggest basketball programs in Indiana. The state consistently pumps out great recruits, but if you’re a blue-chip guy who can play anywhere he wants, why would you play for one of those guys when Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Izzo, Matta, and John Beilein are also close to home? Even the Indiana-Purdue rivalry, which means so much to Hoosiers who are 25 or older, is irrelevant to these kids since it seems like there hasn’t been a year in their lives when both teams have been good in the same season.

The worst part is that Indiana probably won’t get a team into the tournament next season either. This is why it hurts so bad that Brad Stevens not only coached an Indiana school and left, but also that he’s a born-and-bred Hoosier who understands how much basketball means to people in his home state. At the time he left, I was happy to see a guy I’ve known forever2 land one of the best coaching jobs in basketball. Now, Stevens’s departure feels more and more like Indiana’s version of LeBron leaving Ohio, which is why I’m proposing a one-on-one game against Grantland’s editor-in-chief, Bill Simmons, for the rights to Stevens. If I win, he comes back to Indiana to coach the Hoosiers. If Simmons wins, Stevens stays in Boston. It’s the only way to settle this.


Believe it or not, Stevens helped coach my fourth-grade AAU team when he was either still in college or had just graduated. The first day of practice, he told us all that he would coach the Celtics someday, which isn’t even close to true but that’s how I like to remember it. But yeah, I was one of the first people Stevens ever coached, and I’m sure being able to claim me has been the key to his rapid climb up the basketball ladder.

Which KenPom darling has the best shot at making the Final Four: VCU at #12, Tennessee at #13, or Pitt at #18?
—Patrick C.

What about Kentucky, which is an 8-seed and no. 17 on KenPom? Its path to the Final Four will likely have to go through Kansas State (on a three-game losing streak), Wichita State (hasn’t played anybody with half the size and talent Kentucky has), Louisville (already lost to Kentucky this season), and either Michigan or Duke (both lack size and shoot a ton of 3s, and Kentucky is a huge team whose 3-point defense is in the top 20 percent of D-I schools). Many fans assumed Kentucky’s loss at South Carolina was the nail in the Wildcats’ coffin, but given how they played in the SEC tournament and their draw in the bracket, Kentucky diehards have reason to feel optimistic.

Among the teams you listed, I’d probably go with Tennessee. VCU is one-dimensional (it’s in trouble if a team can handle its press) and, as much as I want to start a family with Lamar Patterson’s jump shot, the NCAA bylaws clearly state that Pitt can’t make the Final Four.

I’ve been an Arizona fan all my life, and this is the first team I’ve been old enough to support as a national championship contender. How do I approach this? I was only 7 for the 1997 title team, and we’ve had multiple heartbreaks since. It’s my senior year [in Tuscon] and I believe this team is going to win the national championship, and that scares the crap out of me. Advice?
—Kellan O.

The only perspective I can offer comes from Ohio State’s 2011 season. It was my first year as an OSU fan when I wasn’t part of the team, and the Buckeyes were dominant all year. They started 24-0 and lost just two games before the tournament. Both losses came on the road against top-15 teams (Wisconsin and Purdue) that they blew out at home. They got the no. 1 overall seed in the tournament and all signs pointed to a national championship or at least a Final Four. Then the Brandon Knight shot/William Buford game happened, Ohio State bowed out in the Sweet 16, and I learned a valuable lesson: March Madness is a coldhearted bitch.

This isn’t going to end well for you, Kellan. Just prepare yourself for that. I’m not saying this because I think Arizona isn’t good enough to win a national title. I’m saying this because, even though a national champion is crowned every year, March Madness does nothing but crush dreams. Knowing this, if you enter the tourney expecting the worst, you just might be surprised. But if you go into this expecting Arizona to win it all, you might as well just head to Frog & Firkin now and start throwing back beers until your face gets numb.

Borrowing from Simmons’s playoff gambling manifesto, which 3 teams can stake the best claim to “Nobody Believes In Us” status, and which 3 will be the “Everybody Believes In Us” squads that fall (relatively) early? I know Michigan State and Louisville are really, really, good, but they fall into the latter category, right?
—Dan W.

I’d say Florida is probably the third, but you hit the nail on the head with the two big “everybody believes in us” teams. I mean, does anybody not have Michigan State and Louisville in their Final Four? Both teams are on fire right now, both are loaded with talent, and both have coaches known for being great in March. There’s a reason the talking heads exploded Sunday night when the Spartans and Cardinals received 4-seeds. I don’t have the balls to pick against them, but if you follow the Manifesto religiously, you should definitely pick Florida, Michigan State, and/or Louisville to not make the Elite Eight.

As for the “nobody believes in us” teams, I’m going with Wichita State, North Carolina State, and Stephen F. Austin. Wichita State is obvious, since merely mentioning the school somehow summons idiots all over America to offer irrelevant and flawed opinions. Meanwhile, North Carolina State really shouldn’t have made the tournament at all, it had to win a play-in game, and it has the ACC Player of the Year in T.J. Warren. I’d be willing to bet the phrase “nobody believes in us” was said by Mark Gottfried in his pregame speech last night almost as much as the phrase “I got this” was said by Warren throughout the game. That’s a dangerous combination. And Stephen F. Austin is a perfect match, too. It hits all the important checkpoints – mid-major, overshadowed accomplishment (28-game winning streak takes a backseat to Wichita State), and it shares a name with Stone Cold Steve Austin. I mean, just think about VCU (Vince McMahon) and UCLA (The Rock) casually talking in the ring about how one of them is headed to the Sweet 16, when all of a sudden the glass shatters, Stone Cold Stephen F. Austin pulls up to the ring in a beer truck, and UCLA and VCU get doused with Coors Light. If the school is anything like the wrestler, the Lumberjacks will spend the next few weeks kicking ass and taking names.

As a walk-on who played on a team that made a run to the National Championship game, you’ve experienced all of the tournament. If you could walk on to any of this year’s teams, who would you play (or, more likely, sit) for?

The team must be a legitimate national title contender, since being able to associate yourself with a historic team that you had very little impact on is every walk-on’s dream. So I’m going to limit the list of teams to just 1-4 seeds. From there, I’m looking for a team with a projected lottery pick, because bragging about famous people you know is another classic walk-on move. That leaves Arizona, Kansas, Duke, Creighton, Syracuse, UCLA, and Michigan State. Weather would probably be my next consideration if this were a season-long commitment, but since it’s just a tournament run, I’m skipping that and going straight to coaching. Being able to drop something like “I remember Coach K telling us one time … ” into casual conversation is such a power move. That’s why I’m eliminating teams whose coaches haven’t already won national titles. That leaves me with Kansas, Duke, Syracuse, and Michigan State.

From here it’s a toss-up. I’ve always said Syracuse would be my favorite place in the country to be a walk-on. First, I’m a spot-up shooter and I would love playing against the Orange zone in practice. I’m also a terrible defender, so I would love playing zone defense in practice, too. That way, I could blame my defensive breakdowns on teammates a lot more easily. But most important is the long leash Jim Boeheim gives his players. When I was a walk-on at Ohio State in 2008, we played Syracuse in Madison Square Garden and both teams stayed in the same hotel. The night before the game, I skipped curfew and hit Times Square for a slice of authentic New York pizza from Sbarro. As I walked around the city, I ran into Syracuse’s core players, who were out on the town while my teammates were sleeping. If Boeheim doesn’t care that his starters are out the night before a game, I can’t even imagine what he lets his walk-ons do.

That said, this Syracuse team doesn’t strike me as the kind that likes to have a lot of fun. Tyler Ennis and Fair seem like emotionless robots. Kansas doesn’t seem like a ton of fun either, which is probably just my way of saying I liked the 2013 Jayhawks better.3 So I guess my final answer is Michigan State, because I love Izzo and being the white guy on the end of Duke’s bench is just asking for everyone to make fun of me.


GIF of Ben McLemore dancing in the locker room? GIF of Ben McLemore dancing in the locker room.

Am I crazy or could you make a case for New Mexico making the Sweet 16? Stanford isn’t a terrifying matchup for UNM, and if Joel Embiid can’t play, aren’t the Lobos a terrible matchup for the Jayhawks in the round of 32? New Mexico is as hot as any team in the tournament, they have a huge size advantage with Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, and they play borderline elite defense. This seems like the kind of game where Bairstow gets going and a young KU team turns it over a million times. Most importantly, Steve Alford isn’t around to screw everything up. Recipe for an upset?
—Scott C.

Absolutely, for all the reasons you mentioned. In fact, like I said at the start of this mailbag, if Embiid can’t go, I’d be surprised if New Mexico isn’t favored in this game. There’s a reason every Kansas fan who read your email just looked up how good Stanford is — they’re trying to convince themselves Stanford will beat New Mexico, because they know an Embiid-less Jayhawks want no part of the Lobos.

If every team plays perfect basketball throughout the NCAA tournament, who will win it all?
—Sean W.

What does “perfect” mean? If we’re talking about the literal definition of the word, Creighton will blow everyone out because it’ll jack up (and make) so many 3s. But if “perfect” means something a little more realistic, like “those glimpses of brilliance we saw throughout the season are duplicated over the course of six games,” Kansas (with Embiid) has to be the pick. Naadir Tharpe averaged 17.5 points, eight assists, and six rebounds in Kansas’s two regular-season games against Iowa State. Wayne Selden dropped 24 and 20 in consecutive games against Oklahoma and Kansas State. Andrew Wiggins is averaging 31 points over his last three games. Perry Ellis scored 30 twice this season. And Embiid is averaging 11.2 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks on the season, despite playing 23.1 minutes per game. If Kansas can get the best each of those guys has to offer on offense, and if the Jayhawks get nasty on defense for the next three weeks like they have at times this season, they’ll win every game by double digits, even if every other team plays “perfect,” too.

I’m a Kansas grad and I was born and raised in Wichita. I want the Jayhawks to win every game ever, but I want the same for Wichita State (unless they are matched up against each other). Is this cool, or am I overstepping my fandom bounds?
—Dylan L.

I don’t see a problem with this. As far as I know, the only place these schools are rivals is in online discussions. If you were cheering for Missouri and Kansas, there might be a problem, but all you’re doing is supporting your hometown. Of course, if Kansas gets bounced in the second round while the Shockers sail to another Final Four, a line might need to be temporarily drawn in the sand.

Indiana fans went through this with Butler. I have a ton of friends who are from Indy and who went to IU. As Butler made its run to the 2010 title game, these Hoosiers were all about the Bulldogs. But then Butler got greedy, went to another national title game, beat Indiana when the Hoosiers were ranked no. 1 last season, and suddenly people in Indiana were asking which school had the better program.4 You and I know that Kansas and Indiana are clearly the better programs, but a couple of years of success bring bozos out of the woodwork. With that, if you try to blur the lines of fandom, you run the risk of looking like you’re jumping ship because you’re one of the nutjobs who thinks two years of Wichita State success trumps more than a century of Kansas success.



What was the biggest temper tantrum you had as a youngster when a team you liked lost in the tournament?
—Spencer G.

I grew out my mustache in high school solely as a gesture of support for Adam Morrison when he was getting destroyed by the college basketball world for crying against UCLA. That’s worse than any temper tantrum.

Never forget:

With Haith and Crean relegated to the NIT and LOL, which coach will baffle the country with questionable rotations and terrible decisions during this year’s tournament? What team will advance in spite of this coach? I think you’re gonna say Rick Barnes. In fact I will be really surprised if you don’t say Rick Barnes.
—Phil A.

My two favorite things involving coaches that I like to remind people about:

1. Rick Barnes lost by 19 in the second round with Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin.

2. Ben Howland had a week to prepare and a starting five of Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, Josh Shipp, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Kevin Love in 2008, and he lost to what was essentially just Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts by 15 in the Final Four.5


Something I never realized until looking back over that game: Memphis went 20-for-23 from the free throw line. As much as everyone spent that season talking about Memphis’s dreadful foul shooting and as much as it’s been hammered into my head that Memphis missed four free throws in the final 1:15 of regulation in the 2008 national title game, it’s pretty surprising to see that the Tigers shot so well from the line in the national semifinal.

This should be each of these guys’ versions of “Craig James killed five hookers while at SMU.”

Since losing in the Final Four to the Titus-led Buckeyes in 2007, Georgetown has lost to double-digit seeds in postseason tournaments for seven straight years. That includes two 10s, an 11-, a 13-, and a 15-seed in the NCAA tournament.  But they have won two regular season Big East titles and have been generally competitive on any given night in that span. So as a Hoyas fan, should I be calling for JTIII’s head or should I be happy with our success?
—Joe C.

This reminds me of “Scott Drew syndrome,” which is the condition fans suffer when their judgment gets so clouded by a coach who brought their program back from the depths of hell. These fans can’t seem to notice that the same savior coach is the biggest obstacle in getting the program to the next level. But Georgetown’s situation isn’t quite the same. It deserves its own name, along the lines of “the Bo Ryan crisis” or “the Jamie Dixon dilemma.” “Dixon dilemma” might be the best choice, even if Ryan is better-known for being great in the regular season and then laying eggs in the tournament. Anyway, there is no right answer to the Dixon dilemma. When I was in Pittsburgh to see Pitt play Syracuse, I mentioned this phenomenon to every Pitt fan I met, and their responses were all over the place. Some told me they love Dixon because he puts out a great team every year (2012 notwithstanding). Others just wish they could go through one March without feeling miserable. If nothing else, just be glad that JTIII got you to a Final Four. Wisconsin and Pitt fans would love to have a season during which they’re let down in April instead of March.

Also, I had no idea Georgetown had such a streak going. I had to look it up before I even believed you. That got me thinking of other fan bases who have had brutal stretches of NCAA tournament losses. The first that came to mind was Texas A&M from 2006 to 2008. In ’06, the first A&M tourney appearance in 19 years, the Aggies lost by one on a last-second 3 in the second round to an LSU team that made the Final Four. In ’07, a missed Acie “Captain Clutch” Law layup and four Memphis offensive rebounds in the final 50 seconds led to another one-point A&M loss. And in ’08, the Donald Sloan no-call happened.6


As if that wasn’t bad enough, after getting smoked by UConn in the second round in 2009, the Aggies lost by two in overtime to Purdue in 2010 thanks to a late Chris Kramer layup.

As for current streaks, Ohio State, Iowa State, and Kansas stand out. The Buckeyes have an average margin of defeat of just 2.6 in their last five tournament losses, which dates back to the double-overtime thriller against Siena. Iowa State’s last five trips to the tournament consist of losing to national champion Michigan State in 2000, losing to 15-seed Hampton in 2001, losing to national champion North Carolina in 2005, losing to national champion Kentucky in 2012, and losing to Aaron F’ing Craft in 2013. Meanwhile, since winning the 2008 national title, Kansas’s trips to the tournament have come to the following ends: 2009 Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State in which Sherron Collins was humiliated by Kalin Lucas in the final 1:30; Ali F’ing Farokhmanesh in 2010; the icing on the 2011 VCU cake; 2012 national title loss to Kentucky; and the Nut Punch–Gut Punch Game7 against Michigan last season. It’s not like I think we should feel sorry for Kansas fans, but it’s still worth noting that every recent Jayhawks tournament loss has been memorable.


As a reminder, Elijah Johnson literally punched Mitch McGary in the balls in the first half and then Trey Burke figuratively punched Kansas fans in the gut at the end of regulation, making “Nut Punch–Gut Punch Game” a no-brainer.

F**k, Marry, Kill: Shaka Smart, 1986 Scott Skiles, and Ron Baker.
—Alec H.

I’d bang Ron Baker because that perm he rocked in high school is so damn sexy. I’d marry Shaka Smart for the money. And I’d try to kill 1986 Scott Skiles before he kills me.

One of my favorite parts of March Madness is watching the bench players celebrate. After seeing hundreds of celebrations over the years I’ve noticed one constant — there is always one player whose excitement causes him to drop into a defensive stance, spread his arms, and hold back his teammates from storming the court, even though everyone knows no player is actually going to storm the court. Can you shed some light on why bench players do this? Is there a designated hold-the-bench-back guy?
—Kyle D.

I was always too cool for school when I sat on the bench, so I have no idea what motivates these guys. If a great play happened, I’d jump out of my seat and yell/clap/jump up and down like a normal person or, most likely, ask someone around me what just happened because I was busy scoping the arena for babes. My guess is that the first time it happened, the guy doing the holding back was actually trying to keep his teammates from running on the court, then some other bench players thought it looked cool, and they started doing it to be funny. Now it has become almost a reflex — every team has this guy.

My favorite thing to see from benchwarmers isn’t how they react to great plays, but rather how they handle their nerves at the ends of close games. Every bench player seems to fit into one of three categories:

The Linker: These guys do the thing where everyone on the bench links arms and leans forward like they’re using a Squatty Potty. It doesn’t bother me if others do this, but I loathed joining the link. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to express unity with my team — it was just that I had developed my own way of dealing with nerves, and locking arms with my teammates wasn’t it. I’m a firm believer in freedom of choice when it comes to dealing with the stress of a close NCAA tournament game.

The Face Coverer: These are the “I can’t watch” guys who cover their faces with their warmups and hope everything will be OK when they pop their heads back up. I shamelessly tried this during the 2009 Siena game because I thought it might get me on TV. I hadn’t considered that even if I did get on TV (I didn’t), nobody would be able to see my face. You’ll sometimes see similar breeds as the Face Coverer — the guy who stares blankly into the distance, the guy who just puts his head down — during crucial free throws. But those two are typically scholarship players, while walk-ons who don’t want to watch the action stick to playing peekaboo with their warmups.

The Nail Biter: This is pretty self-explanatory and was my role of choice. I chewed my fingernails so much during OSU’s run to the 2007 title game that I had to start chewing gum on the bench to keep me from chewing on my nails. Except that didn’t stop me. That’s right — I used to chew on fingernail-laced pieces of gum. I know it’s disgusting, and I’m not proud of it. But as I was saying before, March Madness is a coldhearted bitch who can make you do terrible things to yourself.


Now that the boring stuff is out of the way, let’s look at the top three “This Guy Was Drinking When He Sent This” emails of the week, in ascending levels of probable intoxication at the time each was written.

5 quick questions: Is the tournament really all it’s cracked up to be? Has Northwestern really missed out on anything all these years? Am I just trying to rationalize a humiliating fact about my school’s athletic history? Why do we suck? Why can’t I stop crying?
—Justin S.

You’re too close to the Cubs. Their stench rubs off on you.
You share an alma mater with Darren Rovell.

If you were only allowed to watch one player (not names Aaron Craft) for the whole tourney, who are you taking? It’s got to be Ross Smith [sic] right?
—Brandon H.

I’d probably go with Dave McDormelt, but I see why you would pick Ross Smith.

Michigan state won the big ten tournament and now they are the next coming of Christ and no way they aren’t making it to the final 4! How soon do people forget their recent losses to Ohio state and Illinois? Explain to me why they are such a lock for the final four!
—Grant B.

It should be noted that Grant is a Michigan fan who sent me that an hour after Michigan State curb-stomped the Wolverines, and it was signed “Sent from my iPod.” So if you’re friends with a Michigan fan named Grant, you might want to check to make sure he’s still alive.

Thanks for all the emails. Keep sending them as the tournament progresses. In the meantime, enjoy the greatest three weeks of the year.