The Last Word

“Whoever said, ‘It’s not whether you win or lose that counts,’ probably lost.” – Martina Navratilova

I had a strange experience tonight.  I was watching a free throw shooting contest, and a basketball game nearly broke out.  While I thought the first half of this game was well-played, fairly officiated (for the most part), and exciting to watch, the second half was a teeth-gnashing nightmare.  I have watched some national championship games that were excruciatingly unentertaining (UConn vs Butler, anyone?), but typically it was because of a blowout, poor shooting by one or both teams, or generally poor play by one or both teams.  But what was it that made this game nearly unwatchable after the break?  Oh, let us count the ways…

  • The Body Count Is Rising – There were fouls aplenty in this game, 44 to be exact, 22 whistled on each team.  I guess at least it was even.  The teams collectively shot an unbelievable 52 free throws (weirdly, again even at exactly 26 apiece), even more unbelievably missing 20 of them.  Neither team could take over the game in the second half because these whistle-happy referees decided to take it over instead, to the detriment of both teams, the fans in the building, and the viewers at home.  Even the Nance-Hill-Raftery trio was noticeably exasperated by the utter lack of game flow in the second half.  Both teams were constantly sending guys in and out to play the foul trouble dance, which prevented many of the star players from truly make a difference in the game.  Meeks, Jackson, Karnowski, Collins, Williams, and Hicks were all handcuffed by often ridiculous foul calls.  What the officials did for us tonight is make it impossible to know who the truly better team was.  However, I’m the one who said complaining about the officials is a loser’s excuse, and I’ll own that.  North Carolina won the game, and they are the champions.  It could have been MUCH more entertaining, and a much better contest, had the refs not decided to take center stage and make it about them.  This has to be one of the poorest jobs of officiating I’ve seen in a decade, and I’m not saying it cost Gonzaga the game.  It didn’t.  It cost ALL OF US a game, though, because we didn’t get a game.  We got a parade to the free throw line, stupid reviews, and blatantly missed calls.  More on all of that in a moment.
  • By The Numbers – If you look at the box score, you might truly wonder how in the world UNC won this game.  They were out-rebounded 49-46.  They were staggeringly awful from three point range, shooting 4-27 for just 14.8%.  Compare that to Gonzaga who went 8-19 for a respectable 42.1%.  Gonzaga also made two more free throws (a stat which surprised me, as it felt like all Gonzaga did was MISS free throws all night).  About the only stat where UNC was superior was the one that mattered most, total points on 35.6% shooting compared to Gonzaga’s barely-worse 20-59 for 33.9%.  The Tarheels did take 14 more shots that Gonzaga, and that no doubt was a factor.
  • Karnowski Was A No-Show – Gonzaga’s mountain of a man, Przemek Karnowski had his worst game of the tournament at the worst possible time.  He made only one basket all night and missed seven shots from about 4 feet or less.  Collins typically picks up he slack when the Big Pole is off, but that was impossible tonight with Collins getting whistled for a foul pretty much every time he exhaled.  Before fouling out, Zach Collins was 4-6 from the field, 1-1 from the line, with 7 rebounds, 1 steel, and 3 blocks.  Imagine what a game he might have had had he been allowed to actually play more than two consecutive minutes.
  • Upon Further Review, The Review Process Should Be Terminated – I am flabbergasted to the point of struggling to find words for how stupidly administered the review process has become in college basketball.  In the space of three days I have witnessed two high-profile games in which a foul which was NOT CALLED become a foul after the fact because a review deemed the not-called foul to be flagrant.  I was under the impression that the flagrant foul rules were instituted to cut down on player injuries, ergo, to punish intentionally rough play.  I was also under the impression that called fouls could be upgraded to flagrants upon further review, but apparently that’s only in the NBA.  In college, it seems, you don’t have to have a foul called first in order to upgrade to a flagrant.  You can just go for the flagrant in one swell foop.  No foul required.  In the UConn vs Mississippi State women’s semi final and again in tonight’s men’s final we witnessed completely accidental contact that was not called as a foul in live action being retroactively called not just a foul, but a flagrant foul, which carries free throws and possession of the ball as a penalty.  In the women’s game, this review took place AFTER THE ENSUING POSSESSION BY THE OTHER TEAM!  How does that fit the spirit of reducing intentionally rough play?  What possible benefit do these preposterous deliberations by the striped tribunal bring to the game?  Now, as I’ve already said, Karnowski was not playing well in tonight’s game, but after that flagrant incident, if you were watching, you noticed he just completely quit playing altogether.  He was done.  This hurt the Zags even more after Williams-Goss, the only Gonzaga player who could score down the stretch, suffered a freakish ankle injury with 90 seconds left that basically made it impossible for him to be effective.  Instead of hunkering down and trying to make one play when it counted, Karnowski just stood around and watched.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think PK is a terrific player, but I think his rough start coupled with the way the game was called in the second half just shut him down completely.  Anyway, back to the topic of reviews.  So at ANY POINT in the game, you can stop play, stand at the monitor for five minutes, and assess a foul that was not called in live action because it was “flagrant”.  BUT, you can’t review easily fixable, non-subjective and blatantly wrong calls, such as the not-tipped shot that erroneously went to Gonzaga, because it didn’t happen in the final two minutes of the game.  Stupid.  Unspeakably stupid.  And then, why in the world was the held ball where replay shows Meeks clearly out of bounds while touching the ball NOT reviewed when that took place under the two minute mark?  The whole thing is a circus, capriciously and unevenly applied, unfair to both teams, exerting undo influence on game outcomes for reasons that defy any measure of logic, and barring major reforms, should be done away with entirely.  And speaking of video reviews and changing calls after the fact…
  • How About We Just Let The Fans Tweet The Officials To Prompt Video Reviews? – I mean, it works great in golf, right?  Why not basketball?  Let’s just let the fans in the arena or at home send a tweet or a text or an email to the officials whenever they want to point out an infraction they saw on TV.  Better yet, let’s let ’em do it any time before the game is over, even if the supposed infraction happened in the previous half.  And let’s assess free throws and possession of the ball and such retroactively based on a video review prompted by these concerned citizens.  ICYMI, the golfing world is enduring another rules-violation scandal involving an anonymous spectator emailing tournament officials about a rules violation committed by Lexi Thompson in the LPGA’s first major of the season.  Here’s the kicker.  This virtuous whistleblower waited until the next day to send the email, thereby increasing Lexi’s penalty, because she signed an incorrect scorecard.  Of course, she had no opportunity to sign a correct scorecard, because she wasn’t notified of the infraction until a day later.  Now, we can argue all day about whether or not she broke the rules, if the rule she broke is idiotic or not, and whether the penalty was appropriate or not.  The first question I want to ask is, how in the world do these spectators get their hands on an email address for the rules officials?  I mean, do the PGA and LPGA publish a “report an infraction” link on their websites?  Here’s the point I really want to make.  You don’t let fans have any input, ever, into the rules officiating process in any sport, because fans are not impartial by definition.  I simply cannot fathom why officials in professional golfing events allow this to happen.  There’s no way to know for sure, of course, but what if this particular “armchair weasel” as one frustrated fan Tweeted, noticed the infraction when it happened, but waited purposefully until the next day to report it in order to magnify the severity of the penalty?  Had she been notified prior to the end of that round, she could have taken her two-stroke penalty, signed a correct score card, and avoided the additional two-stroke penalty.  This whole fiasco cost her the championship, folks.  Again, one can argue she broke the rules, and so it’s her own fault.  Granted.  But in a sport so obsessed with the integrity of the game, allowing fans with agendas to participate in the adjudication of rules violations is putting the inmates in charge of the asylum.  Such a policy also unfairly targets popular players and tournament front runners, because they are the ones getting most of the TV time, whereas players further back in the standings or less popular are not being scrutinized nearly as closely.  If you’re leading a golf tournament, every shot you take is on camera.  If you’re in 69th, not so much.  So again, until you can get a camera on every shot by every player all the time, and you can set up an official team to be in charge of reviews, and input from spectators is both forbidden and ignored, no decisions in golf should be made based on video review.  None.  Ok, back to basketball…
  • Championship Surprises – Aside from being horrifically not-fun to watch, regardless of which team you were rooting for, there were a couple of surprises in this game.  UNC’s Joel Berry, whom I expected to be a non-factor due to his injuries, was the hero of the game for the Tarheels, scoring a game high 22 points and generally making the key plays when it counted.  On the other hand, Gonzaga’s Nigel Williams-Goss, whom I expected to not be hampered by injury at all, suffered a freak injury at the worst possible moment in the game.  You have to feel for the Zags, as they faced a perfect storm of circumstances and yet still were within a point with less than 90 seconds to play.  But the Zags didn’t lose this game because of officiating, awful as it was, or because of that injury to Williams-Goss.  Karnowski could not buy a bucket.  Williams-Goss missed half his free throws.  And they had that awful second half drought that I have seen way too many times this year as a Zags fan, and they could not afford that in this game.
  • They Aren’t Underdogs Anymore – It is my hope that the general public now recognizes Gonzaga basketball for the terrific program it is, and grows to love and appreciate it as much as I have over the past 18+ years.  Mark Few and his men had a genuine breakthrough season, and while I wish it had ended with a championship, I am still very proud of this team.  They went further than many thought they ever could.
  • Credit Where It Is Due – In some ways, North Carolina winning another championship is like the New England Patriots winning another Super Bowl.  It lacks a certain novelty that leads to a “ho-hum, so what” response.  That was certainly my response, but they really deserve better.  Coach Roy Williams won his 100th NCAA tournament game, and that’s no small accomplishment.  This is UNC’s sixth national championship, and to be fair, these particular guys were on a mission to avenge their own heartbreaking loss at the hands of Villanova last year.  Mission accomplished.  Congratulations, Tarheels.  You are national champions.

And now without further ado, I present the 22nd Annual Jeff’s March Madness Contest final awards.

Final Awards

  • The Rookie Of The Year award goes to first-time contestant Raleigh “BadgerBuster” Wade who finished 5th overall with 168 points.  Raleigh will receive a commemorative poster of every one-and-done Kentucky player of the Calipari era.
  • The Little Einstein award goes to the winner of the 12-and-under age bracket, Jordyn Glassley, who placed 13th overall.  Based on her alias, it looks like Jordyn will ACTUALLY be receiving her favorite Blizzard from DQ, courtesy of dear old dad.
  • The Teen Wolf award goes to the top finisher in the 13-19 age bracket, William “McPick2” Harper, who finished 9th overall.  William will receive an autographed photo of Michael J. Fox.  Ask your parents who that is.
  • The Magnificent Millennial award goes to the 2nd place finisher in the twenty-something age bracket, Evan “Make March Great Again!” Whiteaker, because the 1st place finisher was our rookie of the year.  Evan finished 19th overall and will receive a commemorative Make March Great Again hat signed by Donald Trump.
  • The Guessing Game award goes to Trevor “No Logic. No Strategy. All coinflips” Norcross, winner of the thirty-something age bracket and 3rd place overall.  Trevor will receive a set of 63 quarters to flip next year, one for each game.
  • The 45 Is The New 44 award goes to forty-something age bracket winner and overall contest runner-up, Chad “My Picks Are Awful” Wright.  Chad finished just six points behind our contest winner.
  • Since our contest champion this year came from the fifty-something age bracket, our March Madness 5-0 award goes to the second place finisher in that age bracket, David “ChumpChange” Boyd, who finished 17th overall.
  • The Geriatric award goes to our top senior prognosticator, Patty Carson, who finished 6th overall.  Patty will receive a lifetime membership to life alert, just in case in all the excitement of the tournament she has fallen and can’t get up.
  • The annual Top Prognosticator award is typically given to the contestant who picks the most games correctly without regard to upset or scategories bonuses.  Ironically, this would also be our contest champion, which I guess demonstrates how little upsets factored in to the ultimate outcome this year.  So, we will give the award instead this year to the second best picker, Ethan Grunden, who went 50-13 and finished in 10th place overall.  (Coincidentally, last year’s top prognosticator also picked 51 games correctly, as did our contest champion this year, but finished in 32nd place.  Upsets, or lack thereof, really make a difference.)
  • The I Hate This Stupid Scoring System award goes to the lowest finishing contestant with a win/loss percentage of at least .700.  This year’s winner is Sven Schoenherr, winner of 45 games but finishing in 414th place.  By way of comparison, our 4th place finisher overall had the same number of wins as Sven.
  • The I Love This Awesome Scoring System award goes to the highest finishing contestant with a win/loss percentage below .500.  This year’s winner is 25th place finisher Paul Smith, whose apparent definition of insanity involves picking only 27 out of 63 games correctly while still finishing in the top 25.
  • The Yellow Lines And Dead Skunks award goes to middle-of-the-road finisher and personal golfing buddy, Ryan Helton, who ended up smack dab in the middle at 421st.  This is an appropriate award for Ryan, since the middle of the road is typically where his golf ball ends up.
  • The Final Four award goes to 4th place finisher Alyssa Regan who climbed from 703rd all the way up to a top 4 finish.
  • The Seventh Heaven award goes to 7th place finisher Jessi “J. Mar” Marshall.  Jessi will receive all ten seasons of Seventh Heaven on Blu Ray.
  • The Oscar Meyer award goes 8th place contestant Tony “Toney Baloney” Isch, who must have spent the majority of his childhood having the other kids sing to him, “My baloney has a first name…”  Tony will receive a year’s supply of Oscar Meyer wieners.
  • The Close Only Counts In Hand Grenades And Horseshoes award goes to 41st place finisher Alicia “Gonzaga sounds close to Godzilla” Davis, who would have won the contest had Gonzaga pulled off the victory.  Since I have neither hand grenades (too dangerous) nor horseshoes (my HOA doesn’t allow farm animals), Alicia will receive a vintage Godzilla costume along with a 1/30th scale model of Tokyo to destroy in her next fit of rage.
  • The I Pretty Much Don’t Care, But I Didn’t Come In Last award goes to the contestant who picked the fewest number of games correctly (20), Makenna “Makuna Manada” Moen.  Makenna made no re-picks whatsoever, won only 20 games, but still finished in 769th, which is not last.
  • The Blame Shifting award goes to last place finisher Chares “Shut Up Kara It Wasn’t My Fault” Marr.
  • The Family Feud award goes to the Brantner clan who finished at the top of the surname standings with an average score of 143.50.  It’s weird because Family Feud host, Steve Harvey, had originally told me that my family, the Littles had won, but apparently there was some sort of mix up.
  • This award actually comes from alert minion Chris Deaver.  The 800 Club Award For Contest Futility goes to three contestants who never made it out of the 800s in the standings: Andrew McGuire, Javen Wynn, and Wesley Brauen.  These three will receive a prayer card signed by Pat Robertson, which may help them perform better in the contest next year.
  • Another good friend and alert minion, Dave Barndt, pointed out that two of his sons sandwiched The Wizard in the standings.  We all three scored 119 points, but due to tie breakers, Matthew Barndt finished 140th, The Wizard Of Whiteland finished 141st, and Jonathon Barndt finished 142nd.  I guess I’ll give them the BB&J Sandwich award, which at this time of night sounds delicious.  I haven’t eaten anything in several hours.
  • The I Don’t Need No Stinking Re-picks award goes to my lovely wife, Heather Little, who despite not getting her re-picks submitted for reasons unknown (she claims programmer error, I claim operator error), finished first amongst the Little tribe and 21st overall.
  • The Zach Attack award goes to Zach McConnell and Zach Booher who, ironically, finished with the same point total (152) and right next to each other in the standings at 22nd and 23rd, respectively.
  • The Top Nerd award goes to 14th place finisher Jared “No Place Like 127.0.0.1” Adams.  Jared will receive an autographed picture of Sheldon from Big Bang Theory.
  • And finally, the Ageless Wonder, the Big Kahuna, the Sharpest Shooter, Pun Absolutely Intended, Winner Winner Chicken Dinner, Grand Poobah of Prognostication award goes to this year’s contest champion, Shawna the Sharpeshooter Sharpe.  Shawna correctly picked 51 games, more than any other contestant, but more importantly, she had both Gonzaga and UNC with original picks, and the national champion, UNC, with an original pick.  Weirdly, the only games Shawna got wrong after the re-pick round were three games she re-picked.  (She had Baylor going to the Final Four, which accounted for two losses, and then Kansas in the Final Four, which was the third loss.)  Well done, Shawna.  Listen closely and you will hear the minions singing, “We Are The Champions” in your honor.

With that, I am utterly exhausted and dreading four hours of meetings I have at work starting less than six hours from now.

Final Thoughts

And so we close the books on another year of Jeff’s March Madness Contest.  Thanks to all of you for entering, for inviting others to join, for coming up with those clever aliases that make me laugh, for engaging me on Twitter, Facebook, and via email, and for generally making March my favorite time of the year.  Thanks to my daughter, Amber Little, whose room is above my office, for putting up with late nights of Dad screaming at the television.  There was a lot more of that this year with Gonzaga advancing as far as they did.

Thanks to everyone who responded to the survey regarding updating the contest website.  I’m still pondering whether to move forward with that effort or not.  If I do, I will send out a notification to this list later in the year for those who would like to contribute.

And now the time has come for the Wizard to step back behind the curtain.  May the Lord bless you and keep you, and all those that you hold dear, and may the madness of March be more kind to your bracket next year.

Warmly,

The Wizard of Whiteland

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National Semifinals Wrap Up

“When I was a kid I got no respect. The time I was kidnapped, and the kidnappers sent my parents a note they said, ‘We want five thousand dollars or you’ll see your kid again.'” – Rodney Dangerfield

A Night Of Great Games

Tonight we were treated to two truly exciting games, which is always preferred to Final Four flops.  I find it oddly coincidental that both games were decided by crucial rebounds in the closing seconds, and both games were won by the #1 seed.  After all of the drama and Cinderella stories this year’s tournament provided with the likes of Xavier, Michigan, and South Carolina, the Championship match up followed the path of the chalk, pitting two top seeds against one another in what should be a truly titanic struggle.

  • I Tell Ya, I Get No Respect – While the numbers say the national final is #1 vs #1, it still has the feel of David vs Goliath, heavy favorite vs underdog, storied program vs mid-major.  On the one hand, we have North Carolina vying for its 6th national championship, and on the other, we have Gonzaga who before this year had never made a Final Four much less a championship game.  Gonzaga, whom Bill Walton said didn’t even deserve the #1 seed in the West in his now infamous “Truck Stop League” comment.  Gonzaga, who lost one game and dropped three spots in the national polls behind teams that are long gone from the tournament.  Gonzaga, who were constantly questioned about everything from being able to win a close game (they have now won two against two of the best defenses in the nation…except for THEIR defense, of course, which is, by the way, the top ranked defense according to KenPom.com) to getting monkeys and other jungle creatures off of Coach Mark Few’s back.  While I do certainly recognize the special nature of South Carolina’s story and their accomplishments, it seemed to me that CBS made THAT the story, and Gonzaga’s victory was almost an afterthought.  There’s only one way this Gonzaga squad will earn the respect it deserves, and that is to win on Monday night.  To be sure, it will be no small task, but Gonzaga has proven that they are balanced, steady, poised, resilient, deep, and resolute.  If anyone can slay the mighty Tarheel giant, it is these Zags.
  • The Steve Harvey Award For Bumbling Winner Announcements goes to CBS announcer Greg Gumbel who mistakenly referred to the winner of the first game as either South Carolina or The Gamecocks not once, but twice in the post game show.  The media seemed so captivated by South Carolina’s story that they just couldn’t get away from it.
  • Live By The 3, Die By The 3 – Much will be made about Oregon’s inability to get a defensive rebound not once, but twice at the end of the game on North Carolina’s missed free throws.  Down a single point and smartly fouling Kennedy Meeks, one of the worst free throw shooters on the team, Oregon’s Jordan Bell made no attempt at all to box out North Carolina’s Theo Pinson, who back tapped the ball to a waiting Joel Berry, whom they then had to foul AGAIN.  Berry, who is an 80% foul shooter, unbelievably missed both free throws himself, but once again, Bell could not get the rebound, this time being essentially run over by Meeks.  While one could argue that Meeks deserved a foul on that final rebound, that one play, or even the one before it, are not really why Oregon lost this game.  Instead, Oregon inexplicably shot itself out of the game in the second half, repeatedly jacking up three point shots – sometimes very deep, longer-than-NBA-range three point shots – at a time when they had the game close and needed only to score.  One has to wonder if the absence of Chris Boucher finally caught up with the Ducks.  They seemed to lack any confidence in their inside game, or their ability to drive to the basket, instead settling for those jumpers that they continued to miss.  As a team, they were 7-26 from three point range.
  • Making Sure The Coast Is Clear – Tonight my wife, Heather Little and our son, Graham, attended a birthday party for one of his friends at the local Pizza King. This was during the Gonzaga-South Carolina game, which I was watching here in the command center, and they were watching at the pizza joint.  Heather would later tell me after they came home that she refused to live Pizza King until the game was over, explaining to the other parents, “I need to know what kind of environment I’m going to be coming home to.”  That’s wisdom only 24 years of marriage can bring, folks.  I will confess that there was a fair amount of screaming at the television.  The offensive foul call on Zach Collins late in the second half was preposterous.  Yes, I am biased.  In fact, the Zags were called for 21 fouls versus just 14 for the Gamecocks, a disparity that my friend, Brian McBride, noted on Facebook could be attributed to playing styles.  South Carolina drives to the basket whereas Gonzaga tends to spread the floor and throw the ball inside to the big men.  Still, for this Gonzaga homer, it sure felt like South Carolina’s “amazing comeback” was due at least in part to them being put in the double bonus at the 10 minute mark while only being whistled for four fouls themselves.  And speaking of fouls and double bonuses…
  • Is It Time For College Hoops To Go To Four Quarters? – The NIT conducted an experiment this year where they set the foul limit to an NBA-esque five fouls and you shoot two free throws on every subsequent team foul, eliminating the one-and-one altogether.  They also reset the foul count at the 10 minute mark, effectively dividing the game into four, ten-minute quarters for foul purposes, though they still kept the traditional 20-minute halves for the overall game structure.  One of the goals was to cut down on the early parade to the free throw line when a team collects several fouls early in the half, such as in the aforementioned Gonzaga game.  Reports coming back say the referees really liked it.  I’m not sure what I think.  The one-and-one single bonus is a feature long lost from the pro game, and I don’t know if removing it from the college game is a good thing or not.  It would certainly be consistent with the latest push to simplify the game as evidenced by the removal of the five second closely guarded above the hash call (last season, I believe).  The women’s college game has already gone to four quarters.  What do you think?  Is this something you would like to see in the men’s game?  And speaking of the women’s game…
  • What’s The Statute Of Limitations On A Flagrant Foul? – Did you happen to catch the end of the women’s national semifinal between Mississippi State and the undefeated Connecticut Huskies?  The UConn women boasted the longest winning streak in collegiate basketball history at 111 games.  Weirdly, their handful of losses over the last decade or so have all come in overtime.  Anyway, this game was, indeed, in overtime, with Mississippi State up two and around a minute to play.  That’s when a Connecticut player took an elbow to the chin on a rebound that wasn’t called a foul.  The Bulldogs played an entire possession – about 20 seconds or so – which ended in some kind of dead ball situation without them scoring.  In a bizarre turn of events that followed, the team of officials went to the monitor and reviewed the elbow-to-the-chops play that happened earlier to see if there was a flagrant foul.  Now, riddle me this, Batman.  Why didn’t they stop the game immediately after that play for the review?  If they didn’t see it, so to speak, who or what prompted them to perform the review a full possession later in the game?  Did UConn coach Geno Auriemma request a review?  Was it some other official on the sideline?  I have no idea, but the whole thing seemed really sketchy to me.  After a ridiculously long delay, they ended up calling the flagrant foul after the fact, which gave UConn two shots and possession!  UConn made the free throws to tie the game, and the Mississippi State coach was understandably livid.  In what might be viewed as poetic justice, Mississippi State ended up winning the game anyway on an incredible buzzer beater after UConn made a boneheaded turnover instead of playing for the last shot.  Anyway, add this rant to my long list of reasons why the review process in college basketball has to change, especially in the area of flagrant fouls.  It would be one thing if a foul had been called, and then a review was made to determine if the foul actually called was flagrant, but in this case, no foul was called.  Somebody please explain to me how you justify a review in which a not-called foul became a flagrant foul AFTER THE ENSUING POSSESSION BY THE OTHER TEAM.  It sure feels like we’re making up rules as we go, and that’s bad for the game.
  • What’s Up, G? – In the spirit of my earlier rant on the frequent mispronunciation of Xavier, I would like to point out to Bill Raftery and Clark Kellogg that the word length has a “g” in it.  The g is not silent, so I am not sure why they pronounce it “lenth” rather than “length”.  Perhaps they don’t like the length of length and therefore shorten it to lenth?  Regardless of the reason, it makes me cringe every time they say it, and because today’s college game is stocked with tall players with long arms, they say it A LOT.

Quick Awards

And now for a few appetizer awards before the main course, the final awards that will come on Monday night.

  • The Benedict Arnold award goes to 5th place minion Rob “Tar Heel Die Hard” Foley who, after correctly picking both Gonzaga and UNC for the final game, picked Gonzaga to win.  I guess that Tar Heel fandom doesn’t die too hard after all.
  • The I Made It Out Of the 800s award goes to Paul Sopke who rose from 835th to 756th thanks to his one good pick of UNC.
  • The You Did The Math award goes to 8th place contestant Brian “How can I get 4 bonus points” Gerlach for realizing that even if his championship pick of Gonzaga pans out, he will still lose by 3 points.
  • The Breaking The Ties That Bind award goes to Alicia Davis, currently in 4th place, who leads the aforementioned 5th place contestant, Rob Foley, by virtue of the second tiebreaker ONLY.  They have the same total score and the same win-loss percentage, but Alicia scored one more bonus point than Rob.  One.  It doesn’t get any closer than that.
  • And finally, the Sharpest Knife In The Drawer award goes to contest leader Shawna Sharpe, who also leads by virtue of a tiebreak, in this case, the first tiebreaker, which is win-loss percentage.  Shawna can win the contest if UNC wins the championship on Monday night.  If Gonzaga wins Monday, then Alicia Davis will be our champion, yes, by the thinnest of margins, with Rob Foley coming in second because of the second tiebreaker.  That would absolutely be the closest photo finish in the history of our contest.

Only one game to go before we have a national champion and contest champion.  The only thing I have left to say this evening is, Go Zags!

The Wizard of Whiteland

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Regional Finals, Part Two

“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.)

Quick Hitters

  • 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.

Awards

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.

GO ZAGS!

The Wizard of Whiteland

Contest Home Page

Regional Finals, Part One

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Victory At Last

It was a night of firsts for the NCAA Tournament.  After 17 consecutive tournament appearances and three Elite Eights, the Gonzaga Bulldogs finally broke through to the Final Four.  Victory was especially sweet for the Zags faithful when you take into account that Gonzaga was generally considered the weakest of the four #1 seeds playing in the weakest of the four regions.  The “they had the easy path” excuse doesn’t go very far with this Zags fan, though.  How many of the so-called elite programs in this tournament wanted to see that West Virginia defense in the third round?  Let me answer that for you.  ZERO.

The task before every team wanting to make the Final Four is to win four consecutive games against whatever opponents the outcomes give you, and that’s exactly what Gonzaga did.  That cannot be taken away or diminished by speculation or endless “what-if” scenarios that are completely irrelevant.  What if they had to play in the region with UNC or Duke or Kentucky or Oregon?  What if they had to play Arizona instead of Xavier?  What if a monkey gnawed off Mark Few’s ear in the middle of the night?  That’s now how this tournament works.  You aren’t asked to beat 63 teams.  You only have to beat four to make the Final Four, six to win a championship, and right now I think Gonzaga has an excellent chance of winning two more games.

While this wasn’t the first ever appearance in the Final Four for the Oregon Ducks, it was the first time in a long time – 78 years to be exact.  While it may not be so surprising that Oregon won, the way in which they beat Kansas was a bit surprising given that Kansas had steamrolled its first three opponents so far, scoring in the 90s in every game.  It may be an unfair assessment, but it seems to me that Kansas continually underachieves in these tournaments.  That was a big factor in my own decision to take Oregon in this game when I made my repicks (I had Louisville originally coming out of the Midwest).  You just can’t count on Kansas in March.

And Now For The Utterly Random

  • Is Kansas Under Some Sort Of Curse? – Obviously Oregon played great defense, but what Kansas team was this that we saw play tonight?  The team that averaged something like 92 points per game in the first three games scored only 60 tonight, missing an incredible 20 three-point shot attempts.  At times the Jayhawks just couldn’t seem to buy a basket or a break.  Case in point, after pulling to within six points and getting a defensive stop, Kansas’ Josh Jackson literally tipped the rebound out of the waiting fingertips of teammate Frank Mason III right into the waiting arms of Oregon’s Jordan Bell.  It was that kind of night for Kansas.
  • 461 – That’s how many minions had Kansas in the Final Four.  Ouch.  Coincidentally, Kansas was also the most popular pick in the contest for national champion with 135 votes.  The second most popular pick?  Wait for it…Gonzaga with 119.
  • Almost Famous – There is perhaps no more ignominious job in all of basketball than to wield one of those mops to dry the players’ sweat off the floor.  Talk about an icky assignment.  One poor mop girl almost became famous tonight for all the wrong reasons when Gonzaga made an unexpected steal – Josh Perkins, I think it was – and stormed to the other end for an easy layup.  But first, Perkins, who looked as bewildered as the mop girl, had to wait for her to scurry off the court.  Fortunately this turned out to be a case of no harm, no foul.
  • And Now, A Word Or Two From Reggie – I want to thank Uncle Reggie for using one of Jordan Bell’s eight blocked shots to help us Pacer fans relive one of the worst moments in Pacer playoff history when Tayshaun Prince impossibly blocked Reggie’s breakaway layup.  And speaking of Jordan Bell, when it was reported that he was frustrated with his team and coaches for not communicating to him that the shot clock was running down, Reggie produced the perfect Captain Obvious moment when he quipped, “All he has to do is look at those big red numbers up there above the basket.”  Gotta love Reggie.  I think he does a great job in broadcasting.
  • The Best Thing I Saw On TV Today – When I first tuned in to the TBS pre-game show, I was greeted not by Greg, Clark, Kenny, and Charles, but by puppets made in their likenesses.  It was excellent, creative, and extremely cute.
  • ICYMI – Direct TV and AT&T have co-opted the old Aerosmith power ballad, “I Don’t Want To Miss a Thing” for an absurd ad campaign for their live streaming service. Greg Gumble looks completely uncomfortable next to the lounge singer dude in the awful leisure suit.  This is one commercial I wouldn’t mind missing for the rest of the tournament.
  • What, No Bill? – Not sure if Bill Murray was MIA at tonight’s game, or if he just didn’t get any camera time because Xavier got trounced.  Maybe he was live streaming the game on his AT&T device.
  • The Worst Thing I Saw On TV Today – Did anyone catch Gonzaga big man Przemek Karnowski slobbering a loogie in that gnarly beard of his as he was putting on his commemorative Final Four t-shirt after the game?  As TV sports gross-out moments go, that’s right up there with Pete Sampras vomiting through his nose at the US Open in 1996.

Awards

I only have time for a couple of awards tonight.  There will be more when the Final Four is complete tomorrow night.

  • The I’m Only In This For The Awards award goes to all of you who just skipped everything in this commentary before the Awards heading just to see if you got a shout out by name.  You know who you are.  Hey, I work really hard trying to come up with all of this clever shtick.  But that’s OK.  Even though you didn’t read it, my feelings aren’t hurt.  That much.
  • The It’s Gotta Be The Beard award goes to 21st place minion Jeff Beard whose surname must be as lucky as Karnowski’s months-unshaven mane.
  • The No Award For You award, given in honor of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld, goes to Brad Walters for ridiculously still being in first place despite losing his last remaining team in the tournament, Xavier.  There’s nowhere to go but down the leader board from here.
  • The Big Mac Attack award goes to George McAtee for ascending to 16th place.  George will receive a year’s supply of Big Macs along with a complementary copy of Supersize Me on DVD.

Tune in tomorrow when we will hand out the awards for the top prognosticators in each region along with other fun stuff.

Until then…

The Wizard of Whiteland

Contest Home Page

Eight Is Enough

“The secret of the fox

Ancient mystery

Somewhere deep in the woods

I know you’re hiding

What is your sound?” – The Fox by Ylvis

Three Beatings And A Buzzer Beater

Tonight’s games whittled the field down to eight with three convincing victories and this year’s tournament’s first overtime game and first buzzer beater.  Tonight was also marked by some stellar individual performances.

  • What Does This Fox Say? “Lonzo who?” – I’m not sure what it would be like for your dad to provide all of the billboard material for your opponent’s locker room, but I suppose for UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, it doesn’t matter now.  He’s on his way to his NBA millions.  Still, whether the rumors are true that Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox took all the Lonzo Ball hype personally is anyone’s guess, but what is undisputed is the historic nature of Fox’s performance.  Fox’s 39 points were the most ever by a freshman in NCAA Tournament history, and the most ever by a player of any class since Tayshaun Prince scored 41 in 2002.  Kentucky has now won 14 in a row, and UCLA’s defeat leaves the conference of champions with just one remaining representative, the Oregon Ducks, who will play Kansas for the Midwest regional championship tomorrow.
  • Apparently, It’s Bear Season – It wasn’t a good night to be a Bear, as the Baylor Bears went the way of their Bruin brethren, going down in tonight’s most lopsided defeat.  The normally high-powered Baylor offense managed only 50 points against South Carolina’s defense (which, by the way, I respect way more than West Virginia’s), and now the Gamecocks will play Florida in an extremely rare SEC showdown for a trip to the Final Four.
  • Here’s A Clue: The Butler Didn’t Do It – The game between North Carolina and Butler wasn’t nearly as close as the final score implies.  While I would have loved to have seen another David-beats-Goliath performance turned in by Indy’s scrappy hometown heroes, the Bulldogs were simply overrun by superior talent and size.  North Carolina will now face Kentucky in this year’s sole #1 vs #2 match up in a regional final.
  • Lightning Strikes Twice – I think it’s safe to label the running, leaning, three-point floater as a desperation shot with a high degree difficulty and a low probability of success.  Seeing two such shots in the same game, both having significant impact on the outcome, is truly amazing, and if you managed to stay awake for the finish of the most exciting game of the night, that’s what you were treated to.  First, Wisconsin’s Zak Showalter hits the aforementioned Steph-Curry-eat-your-heart-out shot with 2.1 seconds left in regulation to force overtime, this after trailing by 12 points with 4:15 to play.  While Florida’s KeVaughn Allen had the night’s big number with 35 points, it was Chris Chiozza who earned his place in One Shining Moment.  After two Nigel Hayes free throws seemed to secure victory for the Badgers, a seemingly discombobulated Wisconsin defense watched helplessly as Chiozza dribbled the length of the court in four seconds and hoisted up the second running three-pointer, which he shot nearly uncontested and drained at the buzzer for a stunning one-point victory.
  • Conference Comparisons – I’ll admit I have never thought much of the SEC as a basketball conference.  Nevertheless, after receiving only four bids to the tournament, three SEC teams are in the final eight, and at least one will be in the Final Four.  Meanwhile, of the nine ACC teams that were invited to the dance, only North Carolina remains.  The other half of the remaining eight is made up, one each, of representatives from the Big East, Big 12, Conference Of Champions, and Truck Stop League.  I think everybody knows who I’m rooting for.
  • Best Thing I Saw On TV Today – After the game, pretty much every player and coaching staff member from both Baylor and South Carolina gathered at center court, arms around one another’s shoulders, and bowed their heads for what certainly appeared to be a moment of prayer.  Whether it was planned or spontaneous I do not know, but what a tremendous display of class and sportsmanship.  Three cheers for these two teams demonstrating how to be good winners and losers.
  • Scategoria – Those of you who have been on the South Carolina bandwagon from the beginning are enjoying some serious bonus points.  The last two wins by the Gamecocks have earned you Scategories bonuses in addition to the upset bonus.  There are still some Scategories bonuses to be had this weekend, and those can have significant impact on the standings, so stay tuned and check out the Possible Scategories Bonuses report.

And speaking of winners and losers, it’s time for a few awards.

Final Sweet Sixteen Awards

  • The Six Pack award goes to three contestants who picked six of the final eight teams correctly with original picks: Gary Tucker, Bethany Davis, and Beth Gilles.  Have a Coke and a smile and enjoy your success.
  • The Crazy Eights award goes to 17th place minion Sammy Randazzo who, with the help of the repicks, managed to pick all eight of the Elite Eight correctly.  Second time’s a charm, Sammy.  Way to go!
  • The Here Comes The Boom award goes to Josh Pearman for once being in 12th and now having dropped to 535th.  Cue the POD tune.
  • The Movin’ On Up award goes to Nicholas Kusiak for climbing from 777th to 63rd. Nicholas will receive a collector’s edition of the first season of The Jeffersons on DVD signed by Sherman Hemsley.
  • The Fake News Award For Most Unbelievable Alias goes to Trevor “No Logic, No Strategy, All Coinflips” Norcross whose picks look a bit more loaded with basketball knowledge than one would expect from the coin flip approach.  Trevor is currently in 5th.
  • The Sharp Shooter award goes to Shawna “SHARPESHOOTER – or not” Sharpe for having a sharp name, sharply punny alias, and sharp picking skills.  Shawna is 46-10 and sits in 32nd place.  Only one other contestant has won 46 games, but he has received at least one award already.
  • The Marco Polo award goes to the Michigan State loving, repick eschewing, South Carolina bandwagon riding, 3rd place minion Marco Randazzo.  I’m not sure if anyone has ever won the contest without picking the national champion, but depending on how many more games South Carolina can win, Marco might have a chance of doing it.
  • And finally, the I Can’t Believe I’m I Still In First With These Awful Picks award goes to Brad “Boilerbrad” Walters, who is still clinging to first place despite having just one team remaining in the tournament (Xavier).  Even if Xavier wins two more games and Brad maximizes his potential points, I still have my doubts that he can win.  So, enjoy it while it lasts, brother.

That’s all for now, minions.  The regional finals are this weekend, which will give us the Final Four and hopefully some exciting games and rearranging in our standings.  Until next time…

The Wizard of Whiteland

Contest Homepage

This Is March Madness

“But it’s not about me and my monkeys and my dogs and cats. It’s about them.” – Gonzaga Coach Mark Few

The Chaos Continues

Having just completed a week of golf in Florida with friends, I walked off my 162nd hole, grabbed my phone, and tuned in as best I could on the way to dinner.  To demonstrate just how nuts I am both about the tournament and this contest, here I am typing this commentary even though I will be heading to the airport in three hours to catch my flight home.  You’re welcome.

  • The Magic Carpet Ride Ends – The Michigan Wolverines’ magical ride through March came one point short of lasting another weekend as the first game of the night provided plenty of pulse-pounding excitement.  The Oregon Ducks advance to the round of eight for the second year in a row and hope to take down mighty Kansas for a trip to the Final Four.  Speaking of Kansas…
  • Purdon’t Go Breakin’ My Heart – No doubt Purdue fans are disappointed at the 30+ point drubbing they took at the hands of top seed Kansas, but after two consecutive, uninspiring first round exits from the tournament the last two years, this was certainly an improvement.  Purdue actually led in the first half, and Swanigan had a respectable game and is well on his way to NBA millions.  I have to say, though, if Kansas coach Bill Self can stay out of his team’s way (and that’s not a given, believe me), they should be unstoppable the rest of the way.
  • No More Monkey BusinessGonzaga coach Mark Few provided the quote of the night when asked about getting the proverbial primate off his back and making his first trip to the Final Four in 18 consecutive tournament appearances.  In typical Coach Few class, he directed attention away from himself and toward his players, which is one of the many reasons I am a Gonzaga fan.  And being a Gonzaga fan, I don’t mind offering up my completely one-sided assessment of their game with West Virginia.  First, I cannot endure Bob Huggins brand of basketball.  I didn’t like it at Cincinnati, and I don’t like it any better at West Virginia.  I heard Ernie Johnson say this game lasted over two-and-a-half hours and had 51 fouls.  There should have been 101 fouls, because West Virginia fouled on every…single…play.  Go back and watch a replay of the game.  Watch them on the press.  Yes, they make some good defensive plays, but what is fawned over by Chris Webber as outstanding, harassing defense is really just non-stop harassment.  Playing West Virginia is like playing those kids on the playground who foul you every time you touch the ball, and if you dare complain, they call you names and tell you to get off the court if you can’t play with the big boys.  I guess they figure the refs will say to themselves, “Well, we can’t foul out the whole team, can we?”  It’s an effective strategy.  But tonight they ran into something they’ve probably never seen before, a team that fields just as stifling a defense as they do.  I must say it was extremely satisfying to watch Gonzaga win this game by denying West Virginia anything that even remotely looked like a good shot in the closing seconds.  With one team of destiny (Michigan) already out, I’m looking for Gonzaga to take on that role and advance to the Final Four.  But first, they will have to get past another team of destiny and unexpected foe…
  • X Marks The Spot AGAIN – The much anticipated rematch between Gonzaga and a fully healthy Arizona for a trip to the Final Four was torpedoed tonight by a comeback victory from a surprisingly scrappy Xavier squad.  Xavier finished the game on a 9-0 run to stun the Wildcats and become the tournament’s undisputed Cinderella as the only double-digit seed remaining.  If they were to do the unthinkable and upend Gonzaga, they would become just the fourth 11 seed ever to make the Final Four, joining LSU (1986 with Shaq), George Mason (2006), and VCU, who did it as a First Four team, by the way, in 2011.

Quick Awards

I only have a few awards tonight, because I need a power nap before heading out to catch the aforementioned plane.

  • The Cheer Up, You Cracked The Top 50 award goes to my good friend and typically surly denizen of the lower portions of the standings Brad Schafer, who thanks to astute picks of both Gonzaga and Xavier with original picks, is now in 44th.
  • The Using The Rules To Your Advantage award goes to 6th place minion Chesapeake Fairchild, who got all four games correct tonight thanks to a couple of good repicks.
  • The I Don’t Need No Stinking Repicks award goes to 47th place minion Jefferson McDaniel, the only contestant who picked all four of tonight’s games correctly with original picks.
  • And finally, the I’m In First Place Even Though I Obviously Quit Paying Attention To The Contest award goes to Brad Walters who didn’t make a single repick, has Purdue and Villanova in the Final Four, and yet somehow is still our contest leader…for now.  Given the fact that Brad either missed or skipped or the repicks, I have my doubts about him staying at the top of the leaderboard.

And with that, I’m done until I land back in Indy to enjoy Friday night’s games.  Until then, enjoy the sleep I’m not getting.

The Wizard of Whiteland

Contest Homepage

Round Two Wrap Up

“South Carolina is a great place to be from.” – Tim Scott

Bracket = Busted

What a day of games!  Even though I spent the better part of the afternoon on a golf course in Florida (no comments, please), the guys and I had our phones at the ready and followed the madness as closely as we could between golf shots.  Christopher Deaver’s post on the Facebook page now looks quite prophetic, as chaos certainly has ensued in the second round of this year’s tournament.  Consider the following.

  • Be ACCin’ Ya! – The vaunted ACC, which started with nine teams in the field, has only one remaining, the #1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels.  Both the Pac 12 and the B1G have three teams each.
  • Serving Notice On DukeDuane Notice and the South Carolina Gamecocks make their first ever appearance in the Sweet Sixteen after beating Duke in what amounted to a home game in Greenville.  Rumor has it that Gamecocks head coach Frank Martin said after the game, “I only have three rules.  Never change the deal.  No names.  Never open the package.”
  • March Madness Deja Vu – In 2014, the undefeated and #1 seeded Wichita State Shockers faced a dubiously #8 seeded second round opponent in the Kentucky Wildcats.  Kentucky ended that Wichita State’s undefeated season when Fred Van Vleet’s three pointer for the win hit back iron.  Fast forward to today.  I didn’t get to watch this game, but I heard it was just as exciting and as close as the last time.  Sadly for the Shockers, the result was the same.
  • Missed Opportunity – The Rhode Island Rams missed a golden opportunity to upset Oregon and move on to the Sweet Sixteen.  Making their first appearance in the tournament in 18 years, the Rams came up just short in the end after leading most of the second half.
  • The Magic Continues – If there’s truly a magical glass slipper in this tournament, it has definitely been sized for Michigan’s feet.  In their sixth straight win since sliding off the runway on their way to DC for the Big Ten tournament, Michigan continued its improbable run to the Sweet Sixteen.
  • Region by region – The South went according to chalk.  The West was marred only by Xavier’s upset of Florida State, the Midwest by Michigan’s upset of Louisville.  The East was another story, having both #1 and #2 going out early.  Interesting side note: all four #4 seeds advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.

Round Two Awards

  • For the second year in a row, no one picked more than 14 of the Sweet Sixteen correctly.  This year’s winners of the Semi-Sweet 14 award are Tug Taviano and Jason Poling.  Tug and Jason will each receive a bag of Hershey’s semi-sweet chocolate morsels.
  • The B1G award, given in honor of the Big Ten conference’s inability to count, goes to 14th place contestant Joseph Jenkins.  Joseph will receive a really B1G autographed poster of Tom Crean.
  • The White Out award goes to Mike White in honor of his dropping from 12th to 421st.
  • The I Finally Cracked The Top 100 award goes to lovable loser and 99th place minion, Eusi Fraser, who I believe used his alias this year to beg for anything but last place.
  • The What Can Brown Do For You? award goes to long time contestant Sam Bauen, currently in 3rd place.
  • The I Love This Awesome Scoring System award goes to Jan “Wild Guess” Schweizer who, despite losing 16 games so far, finds herself in a solid 30th place.
  • The I Hate This Stupid Scoring System award goes to Richard Hamm, who despite having a record of 39-9, finds himself in 582nd place.
  • The Either You Didn’t Read The Rules Or Your Parents Gave You The Most Unique First Name In The History Of Western Civilization award goes to 512th place minion Shek-O Muschalik.
  • The Make That A Strawberry Cheesequake award goes to Jordyn “if I beat my dad I get a blizzard” Glassley, currently in 12th place.
  • The Yes, Virginia, Indiana Really Is Famous For Basketball award goes to Carli Hembree, currently tied for 712th.  Apparently, not everyone has seen Hoosiers.
  • And finally, the Sixteen Candles award goes to contest leader Lazarus Neely.  Based on his alias, this probably comes as quite a surprise to Lazarus.  The question is, can he keep the lead through the championship game?

The Re-pick Round Has Begun!

Before I close this edition of the commentary, let me remind you that the re-pick round has now officially begun. This is a critical component of Jeff’s March Madness Contest, one that you will ignore at your peril. While it is true that some of you are in a position where no amount of re-picking can win the contest for you, we have certainly had instances in the past where people LOST the contest because they failed to take advantage of the re-picks. Why have re-picks?  I’m glad you asked. It is simply to keep people interested and rooting for teams for the remainder of the tournament no matter how good or how poorly they have done so far.

IMPORTANT: Everything you need to know to make your re-picks can be found on the website here.  Please read these instructions care – full – ly. I know the process is a tad confusing. That is why I have written such detailed instructions. I wish I could make it simpler, and perhaps some day I will, but for now, please check the instructions, paying particular attention to step #2.  Step #2 describes the part of the re-pick process about which I get the most questions every year. Of course you are welcome to email me if you still have questions or can’t figure out what is going on with the re-picks. The deadline to complete your re-picks is 7:00 PM EDT on Thursday.

On that note, it’s time for the Wizard to step back behind the curtain for an 89 hour break. If you have any issues this week with your re-picks, send me email. If you forgot your password, use the “I forgot my password link” available on the page where you enter your password to change your picks.  I will see you again Thursday night.

The Wizard of Whiteland

Contest Homepage

Day Three Rewind

“I do not entertain hypotheticals. The world itself is vexing enough.” – Colonel Stonehill, True Grit

The Madness Finally Returns

After only six upsets in the first round, some of us were starting to wonder if this tournament had any surprises in store.  Today’s games delivered in spades.  There were two epic upsets, an upset that almost was, and an upset that wasn’t, then was, then wasn’t again.

  • The Elephant In The Room – Ok, let’s go ahead and get this out of the way.  Yes, I am a Gonzaga fan.  Yes, I am glad they won.  No, I am not going to apologize or entertain the notion that they somehow stole the game.  Yes, the blocked shot was a goaltend that should have been called and wasn’t.  Yes, it was at a critical point in the game, and yes, it could have made a difference in the outcome.  HOWEVER, it could be said that any play or any call in any game could have influenced the outcome had it gone differently.  The fact is that there is no way to know for sure.  Nevertheless, the call WAS wrong.  The technical on coach Collins, however, while his reaction was understandable, was the correct call.  You cannot storm on the court when the ball is live.  So, one could argue that the technical hurt them just as badly as the missed call.  If we want to entertain all of the hypotheticals, if they get the call right, it’s a 3 point game, but Gonzaga still has possession.  If they get the call wrong, and there is no technical, it is a 5 point game, and Gonzaga still has possession.  With the technical, it became a 7 point game, and Gonzaga still had possession.  Sense a theme, here?  Draw your own conclusions, but that game is over, and that’s that.  Now, I am able to be objective enough to say that this is proving my point about the woeful deficiencies in the video review process.  That play was not reviewable.  Why?  Because it was inconsequential?  Because it wouldn’t have affected the outcome?  Because it was a judgment call by the officials?  Because it was uncorrectable?  NONE OF THE ABOVE.  It was not reviewable because there was too much time left in the game, which is the single dumbest reason not to review a call in the long and storied history of human stupidity.  Either the video review should be available for the entire game or not at all.  Period.  Done.  Over.  Out.  As it stands, they review nothing for 38 minutes and EVERYTHING for the last 2, making those final two minutes take about 20.  It’s completely backwards.
  • NO VA, As In, No Go – Guess who’s not going back to the Final Four this year.  Earlier in the day I suggested via Twitter that this was a shocking upset, but it seems that you minions weren’t nearly as surprised as I was.  When I checked to see who picked Wisconsin to beat Villanova, I expected it to be a handful of Badger homers and a few kids, but not so.  A full 93 of you actually picked this game correctly.  On the other hand, 333 minions (including yours truly) lost a Final Four team and 102 lost a national champion today. I will tell you this.  Wisconsin’s style of play makes opponents want to pull out their own fingernails, and Nigel Hayes is the real deal.  That East region is wide open now.
  • U-G-L-Y, You Ain’t Got No Alibi – In a game that set basketball back 50 years, Florida put the wood on Virginia, holding them to just 39 points for the entire game.  Wow.
  • X Really Does Mark The Spot – The first round win over Maryland was a fairly easy upset to pick, but a 30-point drubbing of #3 Florida State?  #11 seed Xavier is certainly in the running for this year’s Cinderella.  They will have a tough test against Arizona, but frankly, Arizona looked anything but invincible against the second place team from the Truck Stop League.  I really wanted that St. Mary’s upset, by the way.  It might have brought me back up to relevance in the contest standings.
  • The Epic Comeback That Almost Was – The best game of the night could have been the last one.  After going up 19 points on Iowa State, Purdue sent its fans into heart-palpitating episodes of deja vu as they allowed the Cyclones to come roaring back.  Iowa State actually led briefly, but to their credit, Purdue didn’t fold.  I am not #BiggieNPOY, but I do think Purdue has a legit shot at the Final Four.

From The Bargain Bin

  • Celebrity Sightings Abound – I believe at some point last year I quipped that Ashley Judd got more camera time as a fan at Kentucky games than she did in films at this point in her career.  Apparently this is what Hollywood actors whose star is starting to fade do; they go to basketball games.  Today’s winner of the Ok, Enough Crowd Shots Of YOU – I’d Like To Actually Watch The GAME award goes to Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who, if I’m not mistaken, was at the Gonzaga-Northwestern game with an aging Ted Danson.  Yes, her son is on the team, but he gets no court time.  As a fan of the other team, it gets a little annoying when it feels like the broadcast is rooting for the other team by constantly cutting away to mom.  Sure, Northwestern has been the feel-good story of the tournament, but…GO ZAGS!
  • Irrational Pet Peeves – Are there words or phrases that annoy you for no logical reason?  Am I the only one who experiences this?  I think I’ve discussed this before in years past in this commentary.  For example, the phrase “hot mess” is one that I absolutely abhor, and I don’t know why.  I could probably produce a lengthy list of others, but there’s a ubiquitous term from March Madness that aggravates this particular neurosis of mine, and that is “Elite Eight”.  You’re probably wondering what could possibly be irritating or offensive about the term Elite Eight, and I’m not sure I can explain it fully, but I just find myself wishing they would either dispense with having a name for the final eight teams altogether, or call it something else.  I dig “Final Four”.  “Sweet Sixteen” seems normal and acceptable.  But “Elite Eight” feels to me like somebody insisted that there simply MUST be a catchy name for the final 8 teams in the tournament – like a VP told some peon in the production room, “Give me a name for the last eight teams in the tournament or you’re FIRED!”  It just doesn’t have the same natural flow or ring to it as Sweet Sixteen or Final Four.  Elite Eight feels contrived and forced to me.  What are your thoughts?  “Elite Eight” – Keep it or pitch it?

Day 3 Awards

It’s time for me to close this tome and get some sleep.  I’m actually writing from the comforting warmth of Orlando, Florida, where I will be playing golf with some good friends this week.  But before I go, we need to hand out a few awards.

  • The Riddle Me This, Batman award goes to today’s big riser in the standings, Valerie Riddle, who has climbed from 767th to 150th.
  • The Remember When You Were In Third Place? aware goes to former 3rd place contestant Tyler Rubach who has since dropped to 378th.
  • No one got all 8 games right today, but the Lucky 7 award goes to those contestants who got 7 out of 8 INCLUDING both upsets: Tug Taviano, Sonny Clair, Lazarus Neely, Steve Fandl, and Jason Poling.
  • The I Hate This Stupid Scoring System award goes to Chantle Candy, who is tied for the best win-loss record (36-4) but is in 33rd place.
  • The I’ll Check The Rules, But I Think Divine Inspiration Constitutes Cheating award goes to second place minion Lazarus “I need divine help” Neely.
  • And finally, the I’m In First Because I’m a Wisconsin Homer award goes to Jerod Walker, whose pick of Wisconsin over Villanova has been key to his success so far.

That’s all for today, minions.  Tomorrow the Sweet Sixteen will be complete, and then it’s on to those eight teams that come next.

Neurotically Yours,

The Wizard of Whiteland

Contest Homepage

 

Round One Wrap Up

“Farce is tragedy played at a thousand revolutions per minute.” – John Mortimer

Madness Gives Way To Sanity?

So far, it seems, this year’s tournament has been marked by expected outcomes rather than shocking upsets.  Even the upsets we have had haven’t been all that shocking.  One could argue the USC win over SMU was a surprise, but beyond that, it’s pretty much been business as usual.  Perhaps this means the committee really did do a good job with the seeding this year.  On the other hand, it may just be the law of averages catching up with March Madness.

Time For A Change

I’m not one to advocate change for change’s sake, and I am a firm believer in the maxim, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”  While I am generally an enthusiastic fan of college basketball and the yearly tournament, there are a few areas that I believe could use some improvement.  To those in positions of power (who no doubt will NEVER read this, but writing it is cathartic for me all the same), I offer the following suggestions for consideration.

  • Six Fouls For Disqualification – It is time for the NCAA to align itself with the NBA when it comes to player disqualification.  Today’s athletes are bigger, better, stronger, faster.  That fact coupled with recent rule changes intended to encourage more offense and freedom of movement really necessitate this move.  Two quick fouls in the college game will send a player to the bench for long stretches, and this is not good for the competition or entertainment value.  I agree with Dick Vitale on this one.  Give the guys one more foul.
  • Alternating Possession – This is a bad idea whose time for abandonment is long overdue.  Introduced in 1981 ostensibly as a means of speeding up the game, the alternating possession rule has instead become a means by which hustle and excellent defense are rewarded with what amounts to a coin flip.  I haven’t done the statistical research, but it seems to me that there aren’t an inordinate number of held balls in a typical college game anyway, and so what is the real reason for keeping this arcane rule around?  Why not jump the ball as they do in the NBA?  Player safety?  Concern over inconsistency with officials’ ability to toss the ball?  If bringing back the jump ball is off the table, how about a more creative approach, one that puts the consequences of the held ball more in the hands of the players than in the hands of the dude on the sidelines pushing a button.  For example, how about we keep the possession arrow, but whenever there is a held ball, the team who has the arrow in their favor is given a choice.  You can have one free throw OR possession of the ball.  Whichever option you do not choose goes to the other team.  The player who shoots the free throw must be the player involved in the held ball situation.  It seems to me an idea like this would at least eliminate the one-sidedness that exists in the current rule.  In this scenario, BOTH teams, as is the case with a jump ball, would at least have an opportunity to capitalize on the held ball, either by scoring a point or gaining/retaining possession.  What do you think, minions?
  • The 1 vs 16 Game – As I said in a recent Tweet, with very few exceptions, the four 1v16 games are an annual farce.  Sure, a literal handful of teams have come close, and I keep hearing that SOME DAY a 16 will do the impossible, but given that over the course of 33 years 16 seeds are 0 and 132, perhaps we need to rethink our approach.  The 1v16 game essentially serves as a dog-and-pony show for the #1 teams, and an opportunity for the 16s to shout “woo hoo” on selection Sunday and put “appeared in NCAA tournament” on their resume.  Clever minion Chris Shelton had a creative idea, suggesting that the 1 play the 8 and the 9 play the 16 in the first round.  Yes, I know that messes up the math in some sense, but it would not discombobulate the later rounds, and it would give those opening games at least some chance of being more relevant.  Of course, if you’re of the school of thought that the reward for earning a #1 seed is essentially a free pass to the second round, then I say DO that.  Punt the 16 seeds, give the #1s a first round bye, and be done with it.  Yes, I know.  Then you lose the revenue from those four games, and the revenue is why the tournament continues to expand the number of teams in the first place.  I’ve even heard talk of expanding the tournament to 128 teams.  Believe me, if that day ever comes, it will be the end of Jeff’s March Madness Contest.

Late Session Game Thoughts

  • Come On, Coach, You’re Just Saying That – Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski made his best attempt at political correctness and humility during his halftime interview when he talked in generalities about the talent of his opponents from Troy and his team’s need to stay focused if they were to be assured victory.  The truth is that Hector the Tamer of Horses himself could not have helped this Troy team from being sacked like the city of ancient lore.  While I appreciate Coach K’s class, Troy was completely outmatched in this one.
  • Say What? – It’s probably a well-known fact among contest veterans that I have an aversion toward sports cliches.  Not only are they worn out and devoid of real meaning, but some simply do not make sense at all.  For example, here’s one I heard a few times today.  “He is finally getting comfortable in his own skin.”  Huh?  He was formerly more comfortable in someone else’s skin?  I suppose I am being too harsh, and this is simply a metaphor for a person willing to be true to himself rather than trying to be someone else.  Still the entire phraseology of this particular cliche just annoys me for some reason.
  • When Did Michigan State Become The Avengers? – Anyone who has even loosely followed the B1G (pronounced Big 10, another oddity of college basketball) this season knows that this is probably the weakest Sparty team coach Tom Izzo has had in the last decade.  That’s why their 20-point thrashing of the Miami Hurricanes is so surprising.  After trailing by double digits early, it is like they all walked into a phone booth and came out with super powers.  Never bet against Tom Izzo in March, I always say, but I did not expect such a lopsided victory.
  • 13 and 14 go 0’fer – For the first time since 2007, not a single 13 or 14 seed will advance to the round of 32.  For those keeping track at home, that means the top four seeds in each region have all advanced for the first time in a decade.
  • Another Drought Erased – The South Carolina Gamecocks dispatched Marquette for their first NCAA tournament win since 1973.
  • Delaying The Inevitable – Kudos the Northern Kentucky Norse for refusing to quit and keeping the margin of victory for favorite Kentucky under 10 points.  Given this was a 15-2 game, that’s fairly impressive.

Best Alias Awards

And now the moment you all have been waiting, pining, lobbying, and texting me for, the 2017 Best Alias Awards.  Let’s start with a few that are worthy of a response.

  • Cody “Are Llamas Camels or Sheep” Boswell – They are members of the camel family
  • Laura “There’s only one Havoc…go VCU!” Connell – Gone. Lost in the first round to St. Mary’s from the Truck Stop League.
  • Kim “Do I really have time for this?” Harper – Listen, if I have time, you have time.
  • Phil “sevenlittles.net?” Huneck – Not on your life, Phil.  Not on your life.
  • Nicholas “I can’t believe I look forward to this” Kusiak – I know, right?  We’re gluttons for punishment.
  • Ryleigh “Not a minion” Lamb – Party pooper.
  • Segey “Soccer is better than basketball” Moritz – Not in Indiana, it isn’t.
  • Sean “I do not care about rules” Power – You no maka the game, you no maka the rules.
  • Fess “Not the Zags Year, Again” Bryson – Bite your tongue, infidel!

Alias Superlatives

  • Best T-Shirt Slogan: Ada “Keep calm and guess on…” Lam
  • Best Conspiracy Theory: Pete “Obama wiretapped my bracket” Klinker
  • Best Movie Quote: Andrea “You’re a daisy if ya do” Bauschek
  • Best Commercial Reference: Matt “Don’t get your bracket done, get it WON” Thurber
  • Best Biblical Reference: Kain “murdered nobody” Wright
  • Best Inside Joke (tie): Bryson “Minion of Wrath” Davis and Nick “No picks No prom 2.0” Carrizales
  • Best Trump Reference: Chris “Trump ‘Cards'” Shelton
  • Best Hashtag (tie): Alyssa “#NotMyTournament” Doubt and Alan “#NOTMYBRACKET” Thielen
  • Best Use Of A Campaign Slogan: David “Make My Bracket Great Again” Bauchspiess

Best Puns

  • Jordin “LeBlonde James” Booher
  • Scott “Pick Up The Right” Bower
  • Jason “When Your Chicken Acts Up, You Need To” Cooper
  • Angie “make it or brack-et” Davis
  • Amber “Ambre the Giant” Little
  • Max “Maxaroni & Cheese” Marietta
  • Randy “the Reiffleman” Reiff
  • Jordan “my picks don’t look like I’m” Wise

And Finally…

  • The Flattery Will Get You Nowhere award goes to the Snyder family for pointing out my connection to Jason Snyder, my college roommate at Rose-Hulman.
  • The Nostalgia award goes to Wayne “Been in all of Jeff’s Contests” Murray with an honorable mention to Randy “Ranman (10th Anniversary Winner)” Cowell.
  • The Literalist award goes to Adam “The Most Clever” Lamb, because, of course, he provided the most clever alias.
  • The I Don’t Totally Don’t Get It award goes to Bob “Do the chickens have large talons?” Pixley.
  • And of course, the annual Burma Shave award goes to the Fairchild family who always use the alphabetical listing of their names on the contestant picks page to list some memorable quote or phrase.  This year’s offering is a Latin quote from St. Augustine which loosely translates to “Faith is believing what you have not yet seen; faith’s reward is seeing what you believe.”  Forgive me if that’s off.  My Latin is a little rusty.

And now the top five aliases of the 22nd Annual Jeff’s March Madness Contest…

5. Frank “Uptown Frank” Williams – Cue the Bruno Mars
4. Brad “I blame the Russians for this” Schafer
3. Gary “Someone hacked my bracket!!!” Tucker
2. Toby “This scoring system is a pain in my” Schneckloth

…and the winner of best alias, 2017, is…Sam “Master of Marchial Darts” Woodford, an exquisite pun that I had to think about to appreciate.  If you don’t get it, email me, and I’ll explain it to you.

Actual Contest Awards

And now a few awards relating to actual performance in the contest…

  • The Upper Hand award goes to Monica Hand who has the best record of all contestants with 30 wins and just 2 losses.  Still, due to our unique scoring system, Monica is in 25th place in the standings.
  • The Look Out Below! award goes to Bob Pixley who dropped from 5th to 320th by the end of the evening.
  • The Rising Star award goes to Brent Bolin who has clawed his way from 791st to 246th.
  • The You Gotta Be Kidding Me award goes to the 14 contestants who had Maryland in the Final Four.  Really?  14 minions had The Turtle in the Final Four?  I’m all for being a homer, but let’s be realistic.
  • The Captain Obvious award goes to next-to-last-place contestant Heidi “Haven’t seen a game yet” Johnson.
  • The I Was Just Following Orders award goes to last place contestant Pamela “MyBossMadeMeDoIt” Golden.  Way to take one for the team, Pamela.
  • And finally, the Four Horsemen award goes to the four contestants currently tied for first place: Toby Risner, Megan Risner, Clay McGregor, and Jerod Walker.

Closing Thoughts

One of the consequences of the lack of upsets this year seems to be that the standings are very crowded in the top fourth.  In fact, just over ten points separates first place from 200th place, and that means that the contest is far from over.  A shocking upset or two in the second round this weekend could really shake up the standings.  So stay tuned, minions.  We are just getting started.

And with that, I’m taking my sick-but-improving self to bed.

Stepping behind the curtain…

The Wizard of Whiteland

Contest Homepage

Day Two Half Way Home

“The secret is to work less as individuals and more as a team.  As a coach, I play not my eleven best, but my best eleven.” – Knute Rockne

Perfect No More

A general lack of upsets continues to be the theme in this year’s tournament, as only two more lower seeded teams won in today’s early session.  If you were one of those contestants counting on a lot of upsets, the lack of madness in March Madness is taking its toll on your score.  That’s not to say that we’ve had no surprises so far, though.  The few of us who maintained perfect brackets into today finally saw that perfection evaporate, the last two spoiled by USC’s comeback victory over favorite SMU, which was probably the most exciting game of the day.

  • Best Thing I Heard An Announcer Say Today – “Good offense trumps good defense,” says Grant Hill.  I think I have to agree with that.
  • Funniest Thing I Heard An Announcer Say Today – “Nothing like calling the last 18 seconds on one handheld microphone.” – Jim Nantz, after audio issues at their site forced his three-man crew to huddle around a single, old-school handheld mic.
  • It Is St. Patrick’s Day, After All – The university of Michigan continued riding its wave of good luck, beating Oklahoma State by four points even though the final score read 92-91.  Oklahoma State beat the buzzer with a three that left them one point short.  Speaking of St. Patrick’s Day, it seems to me the committee is not paying attention.  For two years in a row now they had an opportunity to have the Notre Dame Fighting Irish play on St. Patrick’s Day only to place them on the opposite day both times.  That seems like an obvious snub to me, not to mention an enormous missed opportunity at nearly unlimited promotional tie-ins.
  • Avoiding The Strikeout – The Baylor Bears avoided the trifecta of ignominy by refusing to be upset by a double-digit seed for the third consecutive year, throttling New Mexico by 18 points.
  • The One That Got Away – The game that first busted my perfect bracket was Seton Hall’s failure to close the deal on Arkansas, making two crucial mental mistakes in the game’s closing seconds.  First, Khadeen Carrington turns the ball over with a traveling call with his team down one point and about 18 seconds to go.  Left with no choice but to foul to stop the clock, the Hall’s Desi Rodriguez shoved Jaylen Barford in the back.  The officials deemed that he did not make a play on the ball, making it a flagrant foul.  This gave Arkansas two shots and possession, sealing the game.  The call, while technically correct, was controversial, as many pundits viewed it as the refs taking the game out of the players’ hands.  No doubt that call will be the topic of many discussions on Monday, but speaking of officials…
  • Can We Get On With It, Already? – Basketball at both the college and professional level continues to suffer from excruciating stoppages of play as officials review calls to supposedly make sure they get them right.  While I agree, in principle, with efforts to eliminate correctable officiating mistakes costing a team the game, there are several things wrong with the current system, in my opinion.  First of all, reviews should be reserved for possession and point value issues ONLY.  All of this stoppage of play to determine if someone committed a flagrant foul or not seems like so much theater and courtroom drama to me.  Regardless of what is allowed to be reviewed, reviews should be limited to 30 seconds, 60 seconds, tops.  Granting teams undeserved time outs and effectively icing free throw shooters runs counter to the stated intent of the review process, i.e., to keep officiating from determining the game’s outcome.  And finally, either have the reviews in play the entire game or not at all.  It is preposterous statistical nonsense to assume that plays in the last two minutes are more important than in the other 18 minutes of the half (or 38 minutes of the game, whatever the rule says).
  • A Long Time Ago In A Tournament Far, Far Away – The last time the Rhode Island Rams won an NCAA Tournament game, my oldest daughter, Andrea Little, freshman at the University of Indianapolis, was barely a month old.  Today the Rams provided the early session’s only other upset in addition to the USC defeat of SMU.  Speaking of sessions…
  • Hash Tag Madness – Those of you following me on Twitter know that I’ve been tweeting off and on, though the sickness I’ve been battling has poured some cold water on that activity.  Provided I have enough characters left, I try to tag every tweet with #JeffsMarchMadness.  You might be amused to know that when I get to #Jeffs in the typing process, Twitter suggests the hashtag #JeffSessions.  I guess we know what’s been trending lately.
  • 11 Is The Magic Number – It means nothing at all, but I would like to point out that the only two upsets of the day were both 11 seeds.  Maybe 11 is code for “as good as two number 1s”.  In fact, I just heard Jim Nantz remind me that three of the four 11 seeds have advanced to the round of 32, as EKS-zave-yer provided one of yesterday’s two upsets as well.  USC’s win also continues the tradition of a First Four winner advancing to the round of 32.
  • I Never Want To See That Again – One of the side effects of watching so many consecutive hours of basketball over a short period of time is that the popular commercials start to haunt me in my dreams.  One that I am particularly done with is that FEAST energy bar commercial where a bunch of high school athletes (and one rather uninspired Serena Williams) unintelligibly sing some popular song, off key, with their mouths full of food.  Didn’t your mama ever tell you not to talk with your mouth full?  On the other hand, I’m loving the new Buffalo Wild Wings take on their old theme of BDubs being the place that secretly controls all of sports.  My hands down favorite so far is the one where the guys tell the server to “take #7 out of the game” when she asks if she can get them anything else.  In the next frame, a bewildered, sweaty #7 basketball player shows up at their table, asking them their names and how he got there.  Outstanding.
  • March Madness Is A Hair-Raising Experience – As mentioned last night, alert minion Bryson Davis observed that one of the many fashionable hairdos in this year’s dance seems to be the Odell Beckham two-tone curly top.  I also noticed Michigan’s C.J. Wilson has the Elfrid Peyton top-heavy thing going on, while Oregon’s Dillon Brooks sports the Russell Westbrook faux hawk.  And then of course there is the increasingly popular man bun, about which I have absolutely no comment whatsoever.

A Few Awards

The judges are still reviewing all of the alias submissions and narrowing them down to a few worthy winners, a difficult task, I’m sure you can imagine.  So look for the best alias awards in this evening’s final commentary.  For now, here are a few kudos from the first 24 games.

  • The Two Peas In A Pod award goes to Raleigh Wade and Chris Johnson, both of whom have just one loss, but are currently tied for 19th in the standings.
  • The I Can’t Believe I’m Not In Last Place award goes to Paul Smith, who has fewer wins (8) than anyone else in the contest, yet sits alone in 304th.
  • The Airball award goes to Kyle “Taking a shot at this” Yates, currently tied for last place.  Hang in there, Kyle.
  • The Unicorn award goes to Andrew “Indiananite” McGruire.  Besides also being in the tie for last, every Hoosier knows that there is no such thing as an Indiananite.
  • The Look Out Below award goes to Lea Smirniotis who dropped from 2nd to a tie for 61st when Rhode Island won.
  • And finally, the Aren’t You Glad You Entered After All? award goes to Angie “make it or brack-it” Davis, sole possessor of first place.  Angie informed me earlier today that she almost didn’t enter this year, which of course explains why she is winning.

Alright minions, that’s all for now.  More to come after tonight’s session, including the Best Alias awards.

The Wizard of Whiteland

Contest Homepage