I’m confused, and that’s not a revelation. We’ve been told, again and again, this is the craziest, zaniest, zestiest, most unpredictable college basketball season ever, with no super teams. When the NCAA Tournament begins, we’ve been told, anyone can win it, from Kansas to Michigan State to Duke to Monmouth to Rutgers.
OK, that’s not true. Duke can’t win it.
Six teams — Kansas, Villanova, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Kentucky, North Carolina — took a turn at No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25, with muddled degrees of success. But this is where it gets confusing. If college basketball is so wacky and the Tournament is so wide open, why is everyone picking one of two teams to win the national championship?
Michigan State or Kansas.
Don’t take my word for it (ever). I perused ESPN’s panel of 31 experts and found 18 took Michigan State, 10 took Kansas, one took North Carolina, one took Oklahoma and one took Kentucky. Thirty of the 31 picked Michigan State to reach the Final Four out of the Midwest, despite the real possibility it will face a terrifying gauntlet of Middle Tennessee State, Dayton, Utah and Virginia. OK, not exactly the Bracket of Death. More like the Bracket of Mild Discomfort.
But enough riveting insight from me. The 64-team portion of the Tournament is about to begin, so let’s take some questions.
Q. Who’s the hottest team, the squad no one wants to face?
A. That’d be Florida Gulf Coast, the only team in the field to win its opener by 31.
Q. Uh, that was in the First Four. Now Florida Gulf Coast is a 16 seed facing No. 1 North Carolina, and I heard a 16 has never beaten a 1.
A. That’s true. But if elected, I promise to stand up for the 16 seeds of the world and make the Tournament great again!
Q. Pssst. Speaking of the political season, you wanna know who’s gonna win the presidential election?
A. Hey look, it’s the Bracket Leaker who became a true American hero by revealing the field on the Interwebs halfway through CBS’ horrendously tedious nine-hour chat with Charles Barkley. Welcome! What’s your name?
Q. Nice try. You want the results or not?
Q. (Muffled sounds. Scuffling. Yelps of pain. Distant wail of sirens).
A. That’s unnerving. Well, in honor of Bracket Leaker Guy, I’ll reveal my Final Four in the same dishonorable fashion, one region at a time, with lots of annoying puffery in between. First in, Kansas.
Q. I thought Kansas was the team that chokes every year?
A. Bill Self’s Jayhawks are very talented and senior Perry Ellis makes them, ahem, a fashionable pick. And I’m sure they’re sick of being mocked for premature exit from the Tournament, although they have no one to blame but themSelf.
Q. This sure seems like Michigan State’s year, doesn’t it? Tom Izzo owns March and Denzel Valentine is fabulous, the best player in the country no matter what they say about the Buddy guy at Oklahoma.
A. Mr. March has the team to win it all, no doubt. Problem is, the Final Four starts April 2, which technically is outside of the March window.
Q. Michigan State opens Friday against something called Middlin’ Tennessee State. Why is it called that?
A. First of all, it’s Middle Tennessee State, and during a political year, Left Tennessee State and Right Tennessee State were considered too divisive. The Blue Raiders are led by the nation’s top 3-pointer shooter, Giddy Potts, and I’m afraid he’s very dangerous. I’m also afraid he’s not the only person in Tennessee named Giddy.
Q. Next Final Four entrant please?
A. Michigan State. It likely will face Virginia for the third straight Tournament, and despite a slight delay while Cavaliers coach Tony Bennett coaxes his reluctant players onto the floor, the teams wage another fierce battle the Spartans win in the closing minutes on a tough shot or a tough rebound or a tough block.
Q. Give me a sleeper, a team that hasn’t put it all together yet but has talented players who can go to the NBA whenever they feel like it?
A. Hmm. I’d offer you fifth-seeded Maryland, which has a great starting five but sometimes forgets to make crucial baskets. Also fourth-seeded California, which has potential lottery picks in freshmen Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb. Maryland and Cal could meet in the second round, with the loser sent immediately to the NBA’s D-League.
Q. What’s your big upset?
A. I like 13-seeded Iona to knock off Iowa State. Too bad it’s not Iona-Iowa, because that would be perfectly confusing. Also, the Hawkeyes are another prime flop candidate.
Q. All right, time for another Final Four team.
A. North Carolina. The Tar Heels are winning with a slightly different formula. Oh, they have talent, but some of it actually has been allowed to age. Seniors Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson will be hard to beat, despite Roy Williams’ occasional lapse in sports coat judgment.
Q. Has anyone figured out why Virginia and Oregon are No. 1 seeds? I mean, isn’t Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis on the selection committee?
A. Yes he is. But to avoid influence, NCAA officials shout “ear muffs!” at Hollis any time the Spartans are mentioned. And to make up for SeedSnubGate, the committee gave Michigan State a double-bye to start the Tournament.
Q. Kentucky isn’t undefeated this year, but John Calipari sure knows how to restock. He has a guard tandem, Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, as dynamic as any. Why not pick the Wildcats?
A. Because it makes me feel like a bad person.
Q. Hey, where’s Louisville? The Cardinals always get in.
A. Not this time. They banned themselves for alleged illicit recruiting practices. Apparently, visits to the cathouse landed them in the dog house.
Q. Enough nonsense. Who’s your final Final Four team?
A. That would be Texas A&M, with its ideal mix of veterans and young stars. The Aggies also have the good fortune of being the No. 3 seed in the wild weak West.
Q. OK, so you got Kansas, Michigan State, North Carolina and Texas A&M headed to Houston. Who wins it?
A. I got the answer right here.
Q. Shut it, Bracket Leaker Guy.
A. The winner will be — I say this with the utmost ambivalence — North Carolina over Kansas. You know it’s a goofy season when some dope can pick North Carolina and it seems like a radical choice. But hey, anyone can win it. Even though, truthfully, anyone can’t.