“First of all, a lot of respect to you. That’s a heck of a question. I’ve been doing this a long time and that’s the first time anyone’s ever asked me that.” – South Carolina Head Coach Frank Martin responding to a question from SI Kids child-reporter “Max”
Ladies And Gentlemen, Cinderella Has Arrived At The Ball
I remember coach Frank Martin when he took an upstart Kansas State team to the brink of a Final Four in 2010. In that year his Wildcat squad was a #2 seed and seemed to be on the fast track to the Final Four after a scrappy Butler team shocked #1 Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. But after outlasting Xavier in double overtime to advance to the Elite Eight, the stern, no-nonsense, flat-topped Martin made a decision he later regretted and swore he would never make again. He decided his guys had fought hard and deserved some rest, and so he did a walk through and shoot around on the off day between games rather than his usual grueling full practice. Martin would later recount that his team slept-walked through the first half of the regional final, and ultimately lost to Gordon Haywood and the Butler Bulldogs, who came one 40-foot heave away from winning the championship at Lucas Oil Stadium that year, incidentally, the only Final Four I have personally attended.
Fast forward to 2017. Martin is now at the helm of the South Carolina Gamecocks, the best team nobody was talking about coming in to the tournament. After beating Baylor in convincing fashion in the Sweet Sixteen, Frank (as he insists his players call him – not coach or coach Martin, just Frank) would not repeat his past mistake. Driving his players as hard as ever in the off day practice, he prepared them well for another victory in their showdown with SEC rival Florida, giving the school it’s first ever trip to the Final Four. While this story may not quite have the same small school panache as Butler’s miraculous run to the championship game in 2010, it is no less of a Cinderella story given that for whatever sporting exploits South Carolina may be known, Men’s College Basketball is usually not in the conversation. South Carolina certainly wasn’t on the radar of most of our contest entries. Only three contestants, in fact, be they lucky or be they prescient, picked South Carolina for the Final Four without using a repick. Those three contestants are currently ranked 1st, 2nd, and 5th in the standings.
As for the other game that happened today, you know, the boring one between the two college basketball Titans who have 37 Final Four appearances between them? Yeah, it was a pretty good game. Five points were scored in the final 8 seconds of regulation, first tying the game, and then sealing the two point victory for North Carolina with 0.3 seconds left on the clock. North Carolina’s second consecutive Final Four and 20th overall (an NCAA record) is the antithesis of the rest of this year’s Final Four, the other three teams effectively making their first appearance. (I say “effectively” because Oregon technically appeared in the “Final Four” in 1939, but that hardly counts. It was the first year ever for a men’s basketball tournament, and it included only eight teams. There was no final four, per se, even though Oregon went on to win the first ever national championship. When I talk about Final Four, I implicitly limit the conversation to the modern 64-team era, which began in 1985.)
- Lucky 7s – Weirdly, since 1985, no 7 seed had ever made the Final Four until UConn did it for the first time in 2014, ultimately winning the national championship that year. Now, a 7 seed has made the Final Four three of the last four years: UConn in 2014, Michigan State in 2015, and now South Carolina in 2017.
- How Big Is That Bandwagon? – 27 people jumped on the South Carolina bandwagon after they made the Sweet Sixteen, using a repick to put them in the Final Four. Good choice.
- The Minions’ Picks – Of those who still have their national champion left in the tournament, it is a nearly even split between Gonzaga with 119 votes and North Carolina with 111. On the other hand, only six picked Oregon and just four are counting on South Carolina to complete the miracle.
- Region By Region – A quick look at the Region Difficulty report shows that the South region was the easiest to pick, whereas the East (where most of the crazy upsets happened) was the hardest. Overall the entire contest field got less than half the games correct in the East.
- Four for Four? – Even with the benefit of repicks, not a single minion picked all four Final Four teams correctly this year. By way of comparison, out of the 18+ million brackets submitted in ESPN’s bracket challenge, about 0.0035% correctly picked the Final Four. If we apply that same ratio to our field, we would expect about three of us to get it right. Apparently we are a bit behind the curve this year.
- Sam, Spike, & Chuck – So what’s your favorite Capital One ad featuring the Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, and Charles Barkley trio this year? For me it’s a toss up between “Steaks On A Plane” and “You Put Your TV On The Clapper??!!!” Now if only we could clap twice and turn Charles off during the halftime show.
- You Mean Those Aren’t Real? – OK, confession time, minions. Who thought Grant Hill’s Pizza Hut “Pie Tops” – basketball sneakers you can use to order a pizza from Pizza Hut – were a real thing? Better yet, who WISHES they were a real thing?
- Funniest Thing I Saw On Twitter Today – Recently at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, PGA professional Cody Gribble was caught on camera casually slapping the tail of a large alligator to chase him off the course and back into the water. I’m not sure if that’s brave, bold, or stupid. In any case, after today’s upset of the Florida Gators, Bleacher Report posted an edited version of that video with the South Carolina Gamecock mascot superimposed over Gribble’s torso. It was classic. You’ll get it in a minute.
Now that all of the regional finals have been played, it’s time for the annual region-by-region awards, along with a few others.
- The Beast Of The East award goes to Marco Randazzo for correctly picking 13 of the 15 games in the East region with original picks. That’s quite a feat considering how difficult the East was to pick.
- The Wild Wild West award goes to perfect prognosticator Carol Moritz who picked every game correctly in the West region with original picks. Carol will receive a collectors edition copy of Will Smith’s colossal box office flop, Wild, Wild West on DVD.
- The Crossroads Of America award goes to a dozen contestants who got every game but one correct in the Midwest region with original picks: Steve Porter, Jason Roehl, Aaron Marks, Manny Morales, Beth Gilles, Kathy Thomas, Martin Marks, Alyssa Regan, Lauren Hooley, Luke Walters, Rob Fair, and Dustin Pell.
- The Southern Hospitality award goes the handful of minions who picked all 15 games correctly in the South region with original picks: Daniel Wirgau, Steve Elkins, Andrea Little, Denise Rodgers, and Kuba Njie.
- The Stick A Fork In Me, I’m Done award goes to the army of contestants who have no winnable games remaining. Better luck next year.
- The Biggest Loser award goes to Andrew Ables for dropping from a high of 21st down to 627th. Andrew will receive a year’s membership to LA Fitness.
- The Enjoy It While It Lasts award goes to Nicholas “Talk about luck” Kusiak who has vaulted from a low of 777th all the way up to 2nd place. Sadly, Nicholas has no more winnable games remaining, and thus, this will be the highest he ever gets.
- Now that we have reached the Final Four, there are no more upset bonus points available. The Upset Stomach award, sponsored by Pepto Bismol, goes to Bradley Walters for correctly picking 11 upsets and collecting 57 upset bonus points in the process.
- The I Love This Awesome Scoring System award goes to Nathan “Link-N” Tucker who between upset bonuses and scategories bonuses has collected more bonus points than any other contestant, 77 bonus points to be exact. With more losses than wins (29-31), Nathan is riding the SCARy train all the way into the station, or at least that’s what he is hoping for.
- The What Moron Invented This Stupid Scoring System?! award goes to Millie “KajunKi” Charlson who picked 46 games correctly, which is just two less than the highest number of correct picks in the contest (48). However, Millie hasn’t scored a single bonus point and sits in 266th place.
- As I stated earlier, no one correctly picked the Final Four. The Close But No Cigar award goes to a few contestants who got three out of four correct: Joel Klein, Andrew Bolin, Jamie Prime, Patty Carson, Paulette Baines, Kathy Thomas, Bethany Davis, Evan Whiteaker, and Laura Connell. These folks got three out of four with original picks.
- And finally, the Marco Polo award goes to Marco Randazzo, our current contest leader. Marco has a sizable lead, but can only win one more game. Chances are there aren’t any scenarios in which Marco can actually win, but I haven’t done the math yet, so that’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion.
This is shaping up to be an interesting finish to our contest. Those who can still win all three remaining games are certainly in the strongest position, but a very small number of contestants stand to benefit with big time scategories bonus points if either South Carolina or Oregon keep winning, and those folks MAY not need to win more than one game to win the contest. As I said, I haven’t done the math, but if you are so inclined, you have a week to crunch the numbers yourself.
It’s time for the Wizard to step behind the curtain and get back to real life for a while. I hope you are enjoying the contest so far, and I look forward to wrapping things up next weekend with the Final Four.
The Wizard of Whiteland