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

Day One Wrap Up

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often. – Winston Churchill

I Survived Day One Of March Madness

Someone should put that on a T-Shirt, because I would wear it proudly.  What began at 12:15 today finally came to a close sixteen games, 12.5 hours, two large sodas, three cups of coffee (two decaf), a half a can of Pringles, two dozen facial tissues, and several doses of various medications later.  Even now I can feel the pseudoephedrine kicking in.  So, if this commentary descends into nonsense from this point forward, its the antihistamines talking.

Not Much To Be Upset About

One thing that is immediately noteworthy about this year’s opening day of the tournament is the sheer lack of upsets.  Even the 9s and 10s, which are really upsets in name only, failed to convert today, and of the two upsets that actually took place, one team, Middle Tennessee State, was actually favored to win in the sports betting community.  The consequences in our contest are immediately obvious.  Those who took more chances today paid the price as their upsets didn’t pan out.  We also have what I believe is an unprecedented number of perfect brackets – six, to be exact – remaining in the contest.  More on that in a moment.

A Few Game Thoughts

Once the antihistamine fog set in, I found it difficult to pay close attention to the games.  That’s my excuse, anyway, for having fewer in-game observations than I might normally have on day one.  Nevertheless, here are a few random tidbits for your amusement.

  • Apparently The Locals Don’t Stick Around – The announcer thought it ironic, and I concur, that the North Dakota men’s basketball team has no players from – wait for it – North Dakota.  In fact, the vast majority hail from Minnesota.  Sadly, the exodus from Minnesota to North Dakota did not spare them the agony of first round defeat.
  • They Might Be Giants – Is it just me, or is the Florida State roster stacked with players who are freakishly tall?  Fortunately this is the information age, and so I can do a quick fact check on that observation.  They do, in fact, have two seven footers, the 7′ 4″ Christ Koumadje from the African nation of Chad, and the 7′ 1″ Michael Ojo from Nigeria.  They also have four other players who are 6′ 8″ or taller, and I promise it seemed like they were all on the floor together most of the time.  I’m pretty sure I heard them breaking into a chorus of “Istanbul, Not Constantinople” on their way off the court.
  • Where’s the BEEF? – For the uninformed, I have three daughters, one of whom attempted basketball for a couple of years in elementary school and another who actually plays organized ball in middle school.  I spent a few of those elementary school years coaching girls from K-6 grade.  One of the fundamentals we taught them to aid in developing good shooting form was the acronym BEEF, which stood for Balance, Eyes, Elbows, Follow Through.  Clearly, Florida Gulf Coast’s Demetris Morant never mastered the BEEF principle, as he has one of the most unique and bizarre shooting motions at the free throw line I have ever seen.  Color commentator Steve Lavin wondered aloud how exactly he came to use that shooting motion, and no doubt it had something to do with counteracting what was likely a Shaq-like ineptitude from the line.  If that is, indeed, the case, it is having limited success, as a quick check of the box score shows Morant was 1-3 from the line this evening.
  • The Hate Can Wait – Being a Gonzaga fan, I’ve grown quite accustomed to the general derision with which my beloved Zags are regarded by fans of other teams, particularly those from the so-called power conferences.  NBA legend and Pac 12 announcer Bill Walton, who provided color commentary for last week’s Pac 12 tournament, quipped that Gonzaga plays in the “truck stop league”, the implication being that they don’t deserve to even be in the same conversation as teams from the “Conference of Champions”.  As Gonzaga’s opening round game got underway, I could almost hear the I-told-you-so’s emanating from the hallowed halls of UCLA as the Zags struggled to make shots and actually trailed the South Dakota State Jackrabbits for a significant portion of the first half.  Then came the second half when the Jackrabbits were absolutely torched, and Gonzaga looked like the #1 ranked team they were for a good portion of the season.  Those of you waiting for the inevitable Gonzaga meltdown will have to wait at least one more game.
  • That’s Quite A Truck Stop – The other team from the West Coast Conference (WCC)Saint Mary’s, acquitted itself quite well this evening, overcoming VCU’s trade mark harassing defense and frenetic pace to advance to the round of 32.  Hey Bill, that’s TWO teams from the Truck Stop League that will be playing for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.
  • The Curse Is Broken – After a few disheartening first-round exits from the tournament in recent years, Purdue has finally righted the ship, taking care of the Catamounts from Vermont in a game that was more competitive than the final score implies.  You might as well go ahead and Boiler Up, Hoosiers.  Indiana got dumped from the NIT by Georgia Tech, and Tom Crean got dumped by Indiana.
  • X Marks The Spot, But Don’t Pronounce It – OK, it’s time for my obligatory rant about the utter inability of trained professionals who do nothing but talk for a living to pronounce the name of this school properly.  Depending on whether you favor the two or three syllable flavor, it is pronounced ZAVE-yer or ZAY-vee-er.  Regardless, it is most certainly NOT pronounced EKS-ZAY-vee-er.  Why is it that people believe that just because they can see the letter X, they must say it?  In any case, EKS-ZAY-vee-er showed Maryland the EKS-zit in the not-so-surprising only upset of the evening session.

Day One Awards

Faithful minions, I realize this is the time when I would normally hand out the much-anticipated best alias awards, but I simply must wrap up this tome and get some sleep if there is to be any hope at all of you hearing from me tomorrow.  Actually, tomorrow is already here, so I suppose I mean today, but I digress.  I do promise that the alias awards are coming, so do not despair.  In the meantime, here’s the hardware for day one.

  • The Sixteen Candles award goes to six contestants who still have perfect brackets at the end of day one: Ray Denning, Kurt Eichstadt, Julie Harman, Raleigh Wade, Angie Davis, and yours truly, The Wizard of Whiteland.  First of all, it is extremely rare for even one contestant to be 16-0, let alone six, and though I cannot prove it, I do believe this is unprecedented in our contest.  Second of all, I know what you contest rookies are thinking.  “Riiiight, you run the contest, and you’re a perfect 16-0 at the end of the day.  Been changing a few picks as we go, have we?  It’s good to be king of your own contest, isn’t it?”  Friends, while I may beat you, I assure you that I would never cheat you.  I am just too big a fan of rules to do that.  Ask anyone who’s done this contest for a few years, and they will tell you that I have never won, and typically, I don’t appear near the top of the standings, either.  So yeah, I’m relishing this moment of glory just as much as any of you would.
  • The You Asked For, You Got It award goes to Paul “Let me know how I’m doing” Sopke, who frankly isn’t doing very well.  Paul, you are tied for 836th, which isn’t quite last, but is certainly close enough.
  • The How’s That Working Out For You? award goes to Amber “Must beat Wyatt” Sprague, currently tied for 827th, who trails her husband, Wyatt “My wife will beat me…Again” Sprague by about 250 positions.
  • The Funniest Thing I Saw On My Social Media Today award goes to Bryson Davis, who sent me a Facebook message with this gem: “I feel like every single team is required to have at least 1 guy with an Odell Beckham Jr hairdo this year and if you’re an 8 seed or worse you’re required [to have] 3.”  That’s just classic.
  • The Non-Conformist award goes to the only contestants in the field who are NOT currently tied with someone else in the standings: Sandy McCharlson (604th), Adam Veeley (755th), Elianna Regan (800th), and Chelsea Goodwin who is in sole possession of last place.  You all just keep being you.

That’s all I have today, minions.  With so few upsets today, there hasn’t been enough parity to create significant separation in the contest standings yet, and besides, my tank is empty.  Time to recharge the batteries and prepare for another packed day of March Madness.  Until then, may the odds ever be in your favor.

The Wizard of Whiteland

Contest Homepage

Day One – Midday Update

“In the immortal words of Jean Paul Sartre, ‘Au revoir, gopher’.” – Carl Spackler, Caddyshack

Quick Hitters

OK, minions, now that we live in the era where all the games are televised nationally, there is precious little time available between sessions for pontificating.  Thus, here are a few brief thoughts from today’s first eight games.

  • Is There A Doctor In The House? – Notre Dame’s Rex Pflueger gets the Wounded Warrior award for taking a massive elbow that earned him several stitches.  He was so impressed that he had someone take a picture with his phone.  Not sure if that’s toughness or masochism, but if I’m a Notre Dame fan, I’ll take it.  Speaking of Notre Dame…
  • Dollar Shave Club – Somebody give Notre Dame coach Mike Brey a razor.  The scruffy look isn’t doing it for me.  Veteran play-by-play man Vern Lundquist even commented on it.  No bueno.
  • False Alarm – The You Gotta Be Kidding Me award goes to whoever is in charge of the EAS in my area.  In the closing seconds of the Notre Dame-Princeton game, the only close game of the early session, they decided to do a TEST of the EAS, completely blacking out my screen for a full 30 seconds.  I mean, come on, man!  Even if it had been an ACTUAL EMERGENCY, you could have waited until the game was over to give me those vital public safety instructions.
  • Best Thing I Heard In-Game Today – I don’t remember who said it, but the announcer referred to West Virginia as “Press Virginia”.  The Mountaineers lead the NCAA in forced turnovers.
  • Winter Storm Stella? – OK, naming hurricanes I get.  A hurricane is a significant and incredibly destructive meteorological phenomenon.  And while I know that major winter storms can be major headaches, naming them smacks of media hype.  How many hurricanes can you recall by name?  OK, now, how many winter storms?  Yeah, I thought so.
  • Boneheaded Play Of The Day – This award goes to Minnesota’s Reggie Lynch, a key player in the Gophers’ rotation, for committing three personal fouls in a grand total of 1:18 of court time.  The third foul was truly stupid, taking a swipe at his opponent after having turned the ball over and fallen to the floor.  Then he had the nerve to tell his irate coach to calm down.  Oh no you didn’t.  Not surprisingly, the Gophers suffered today’s only upset, the infamous 12-5 upset we’ve all come to expect every year.
  • Boneheaded Play Of The Day, Part Deux – Not to be outdone by Minnesota, Vanderbilt’s Matthew Fisher-Davis had a Chris Webber moment when, after his team took a one-point lead with seconds to play, he apparently lost track of the score and fouled Northwestern’s Bryant McIntosh on purpose, sending him to the line and the Wildcats on to the round of 32.  There isn’t a paper bag big enough for that poor kid to hide his face in.  I truly felt horrible for him.

Awards

Just a few quick awards, and then I need to get back to the evening session’s games.

  • The This Game Is Easy award goes to the 56 contestants who picked all eight games from the early session correctly.  I am not going to name you all individually here, but I do not mind pointing out that I am among the 56.
  • The Fact Checker award goes to alert minion Dan Ginsburg, who pointed out to me that Northwestern has been to the NIT (which stands for Not In Tournament) seven times since the tournament we now think of as March Madness came to prominence in 1983.  So, it would be more accurate to say that Northwestern’s 78 year drought relates to the NCAA tournament, and not post-season play in general.
  • The You Got Your Cupcake, and You Can Eat It, Too award goes to last-place contestant Chelsea “Cupcake” Goodwin.  Do not fear, Chelsea.  There is plenty of basketball left to be played.
  • The You Should Have Picked THAT Upset award goes to the 134 contestants who, apparently, picked all chalk for the first eight games, thereby losing the only available bonus points so far from Middle Tennessee State’s victory over Minnesota.  The good news is that you are 7-1.  The bad news is that you are 8 points behind the leaders and tied for 382nd.

That’s all for now, minions.  Check back late this evening for the Day One closing commentary and many more entertaining awards.

The Wizard of Whiteland

Contest Homepage

The Road To The Final Four Begins

I look like a geeky hacker, but I don’t know anything about computers. – Justin Long

The Contest That Almost Wasn’t

Greetings and blessings to all the fine minions of the 22nd Annual Jeff’s March Madness Contest.  It’s another record year for the contest, and that’s entirely thanks to you, the loyal fans and followers of our March excursion into madness.  So thank you all, sincerely.  I am looking forward to another three weeks of laughs and mayhem.  We’ll get to the numbers in a moment, but first, I have a few stories to tell.  Because gregarious.

As I sit here contemplating the launch of another contest, awaiting inspiration to hit me like falling space debris (those of you who have seen the California Almonds commercial will get the joke), my first thought is…I’M STARVING!  I have barely moved from this spot here in the command center since I got out of bed at 6:00 AM this morning.  The truth is it has been tough sledding for this year’s contest.  You know that car you had (or maybe still have) that you can’t afford to replace, but every time you fix one thing, two more things break?  Yeah, that’s my contest website.  Early in the year my sixlittles.net domain had landed on just about every naughty list on the internet, thanks largely to WordPress being perhaps the most vulnerable and hack-prone platform of all time (which undoubtedly explains its enormous popularity).  I nearly threw in the towel, but instead I spent some significant coin on a professional “cleaning” service to rid WordPress of all of its bugs and suspicious links and get me back in Google’s good graces.  I now have a real-time firewall on my WordPress blog, and if you have a WordPress site, believe me, you need one, too.

In addition to all of that WordPress mess, I took the time to try to shore up my website code itself to make it more impervious to basic hacking.  In the process, it seems, I may have introduced a bug or two, which I have spent the better part of the last three days chasing.  While most folks had no issues, there were a few entry attempts I noticed were failing for reasons unknown.  So, in an attempt to debug, I inserted code that would email me some details every time someone would enter new picks or make changes, because nerd.  You can imagine the sheer volume of email that generated, especially over the last two hours.  One of the interesting side effects of that move was that I was able to note just how often some of you make changes to your picks before the deadline.  Bethany Davis must have changed hers two dozen times in the last hour.  A little indecision, perhaps?

Despite all of these difficulties, I have persevered, and having held the hackers at bay for the moment, the 22nd Annual contest will go on, full speed ahead!

And speaking of hacking…

I Thought Wizards Didn’t Get Sick

About mid-afternoon Tuesday I noticed a growing irritation in my throat.  This has now developed into a full-blown, hacking cough that would make a chain smoker with emphysema feel sorry for me.  So if you’re wondering why I didn’t post a witty pre-tournament video in the Facebook group as I have done in the past, it is because I only get about 20-30 seconds between coughing fits.  Believe me, if I didn’t have 16 basketball games to keep track of today, I would go sleep for, like, days.

Politics Finds Its Way Into The Contest, Too

No, I am most certainly NOT going to introduce politics into any of my tomes.  I am, after all, not ESPN.  However, it goes without saying that our nation’s political climate has been intensely interesting to say the least, and that is manifesting itself in many of your aliases.  There is some really funny stuff there, and it will be duly noted when we hand out the best alias awards in a future commentary.  Keep everything in good taste, minions, and we’ll be fine.  Just don’t ask me for my tax returns.

What’s In A Name?

One of the things I enjoy about the tournament is a perusal of the mascot names for each school, especially the more unusual or interesting ones.  Take, for example, the Wichita State Shockers.  For years I thought their mascot was some sort of electrified bumble bee due to its black and yellow coloration.  However, closer inspection and a little research reveals that it is not a bumble bee at all, nor does it have anything to do with electricity.  No, the Shocker is actually a shock of wheat, which I assume is a cash crop in that part of the country.  This will come as quite the revelation to those of you who didn’t know that a “bunch” of wheat actually has a name, especially to the kids of the 21st century who believe food comes from a grocery store.

In the past few years cultural sensitivity has led to NCAA schools dropping their Native American monikers in favor of something else.  One of my favorite such switches is the South Dakota State Jackrabbits.  I mean, that’s just totally unique.  And there’s the UC Irvine Anteaters, who didn’t make the field of 68, but must have one of the most original mascots in all of college sports.  I think we should start a petition drive to get more schools to change their names, you know, just to add some variety to the landscape.  Some of these schools have been the totally boring Aggies or Wildcats or insert-some-adjective Devils since Naismith invented basketball.  For example, there should be some school that caters to computer or technology students that calls itself The Hackers.  That would be totally legit.  The mascot could dress up in one of those old school burglar outfits, carry a laptop, and pace around the arena looking suspicious.  For road games he could even hack the scoreboard and foul out the opponent’s best player or something.

By The Numbers

It’s become something of a tradition for me to give a by-the-numbers rundown in the opening commentary, and so at the risk of being redundant, here it is.

  • 841 – Total number of entries in this year’s contest, yet another record. It is also the number of quips, puns, witticisms, cultural references, and obtuse inside jokes that I probably won’t get that I have to wade through to hand out the coveted Best Alias Award.
  • 144 – Number of rookies in this year’s contest. Welcome to the madness!
  • – Number of teams in the tournament from the ACC, more than any other conference.
  • 0 – Number of minions who picked all 32 upsets in the first round. This is historic, because at least one person has tried this approach every year.  Perhaps the minions are getting wiser and realizing that this strategy never works.
  • 25 – The highest number of first round upsets picked by any contestant, which is still a lot.  This honor belongs to Paul Smith.
  • 7 – The number of minions who took the safe approach and picked according to Hoyle for every first round game.  Sadly for those 7, this approach has never worked in the past, either.
  • 2 – Number of teams that have won back-to-back NCAA Championships since the field expanded to 64 teams.  Villanova will try to be the first team to repeat since Florida in 2006, 2007.  The only other team to accomplish that feat?  Duke, in 1991, 1992.
  • 78 – Number of years since Northwestern has appeared in any sort of men’s basketball post-season tournament.  They are definitely the Chicago Cubs of March Madness.
  • 447 – Number of minions who have made at least one pick that qualifies for the unicorn of our contest, the coveted scategories bonus.

First Awards

I don’t have many awards to hand out right now, mainly because I need to eat something and take some cough medicine before I expire.  But, since I know this is, for most of you, the best part of the whole contest, I will dangle out a few carrots.

  • The Early Bird Gets The Worm award goes to our very first entry, Dr. Miltiadis Ntragatakis.
  • The Better Late Than Never award goes to Mike Aue, our last contestant who got in just under the wire.
  • The Top Recruiter award goes to the Cru Crew from Cru Digital Strategies, the private group with the largest number of members, 42.
  • The Persistence Pays Off award goes to James Badgley, one of the premier victims of the various goofiness of the website this year.  He had to attempt his entry multiple times before finally switching browsers and finding success.  Best of luck, to you James!
  • The Pick Of Destiny award goes to those minions who are convinced that the Michigan Wolverines are now charmed in some way having survived the mishap with their team plane prior to the Big Ten tournament.  These six contestants picked Michigan to go all the way: Jamie Wise, Matt Cohee, Kelly Harman, Rick Mohler, John Clark, and Kelly Fitch.
  • The You Gotta Be Kidding Me award goes to Nick Langhals, the lone contestant to pick Dayton to win the championship.

OK, minions, that’s it for now.  Time for the wizard to get some food and medication and focus on some games.  Watch for the next commentary coming sometime between the early and late session games today.

The Wizard of Whiteland

Contest Homepage

The Last Word

“One shining moment, it’s all on the line

One shining moment, there frozen in time

One shining moment, you reached deep inside

One shining moment, you knew you were alive”

– David Barrett, Songwriter

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, this was the maddest of them all! Isn’t it fitting that in a tournament so full of surprises, comebacks, and and jaw-dropping endings, we were treated to essentially two buzzer beaters in the closing seconds of the championship game? This one will join Jimmy Valvano’s Wolfpack, Keith Smart’s game winner, the other Villanova of 1985, Christian Laettner’s Kentucky killer, and many others in the pantheon of March Madness lore. I could write a novel about this game, and indeed, many pages will be written by folks more talented (and better paid) than I, but before we get to the final contest awards, I offer a few thoughts.

For The Ages

  • Looking for Superman? He’s in the Booth – The X factor in this game was without a doubt Villanova’s Phil Booth. After scoring 27 points in total through the first five games of the tournament, Booth scored 20 to lead all Wildcat scorers. Booth missed only one shot in this game, free throws included. Wow.
  • Tight Rims, Tighter Defense – There was no 70% shooting in this game. As the game progressed the rims got tight and the defense got tighter. The two teams combined for 10 steals, 8 blocks, and 21 turnovers. Villanova still shot almost 60% from the field, which is great, but I was convinced they would need 70% again to beat North Carolina. And you know what? They nearly did need it.
  • Is Belichick On That Sideline? – One of the hallmarks of Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots is that they target your best player and take him completely out of the game. You want to beat the Pats? Forget your superstar. You’re going to have to do it with someone else. I think we saw the spirit of that in Villanova’s defense tonight as North Carolina’s Brice Johnson was nearly invisible for long stretches of that game. His stat line was respectable, but not spectacular, and while he made a key play or two at the end of the game, the Wildcats did a great job of forcing North Carolina to go elsewhere.
  • Holy Late Game Madness, Batman! – If there’s one thing I will remember forever about this tournament, it is how many games were won and lost in the closing minutes, if not the closing seconds. Buzzer beaters, tap ins, overtimes, half court heaves, miraculous comebacks and confounding collapses: these seemed to be on the menu daily. Tonight was more of the same. How many thought Villanova had this one in the bag, up by 10 with 4 minutes left? And then, dumb decisions and mental lapses almost cost them game.
  • The Shot, Part 1 – Marcus Paige’s double-clutch NBA range three pointer with 4.7 seconds left to tie the game is the stuff of posters that ten-year-olds put on their walls. Had North Carolina won this game, some photographer would have made millions for THE photo of Paige, knees bent, suspended in mid-air, releasing the shot that changed the game.
  • THE Shot, Part 2 – But less than 5 seconds later, Kris Jenkins made the shot that relegated Paige’s miracle to the “oh yeah, that was good, too” bin. My reaction to Jenkins’ game winner prompted my daughter, Amber Little, whose room is above my office, to shoot me a text message asking if she should call the paramedics.
  • Apology Accepted – Jason Jones, the star of some new show on TBS that, as far as I can tell from the previews, has about as many redeeming qualities as a car full of crooks on their way to a bank robbery, was a special guest on the post-game show. He said he was sorry that the tournament had served as one long promo for his show, seeing that 97 promos were shown over the three week period. He was joking, but I’m not when I say that one of the best things about March Madness coming to an end is that I never have to mute those commercials again.
  • The Hoopers Should Be An Actual Show – You have to hand it to State Farm. Their ad campaigns featuring NBA super stars have been A+ for many years, but The Hoopers absolutely is the gold standard. If you haven’t seen the latest one, Grandpa aka Kevin Garnett is frustrated that he can’t clip his coupons because he can’t find a good clipper. At that point Dad, aka Chris Paul, quips, “If you look hard enough, I bet you’ll find a couple of good clippers around here.” Mom, aka DeAndre Jordan, heartily agrees. If I have to explain it, it’s not funny.
  • By The Numbers – Only 2.6% of all ESPN Tournament Challenge brackets had Villanova as the national champion. That was right in line with our contest where about 2.5% picked Villanova with their original pick.

Final Awards

And now without further ado, I present to you the final contest awards for 2016.

  • The Rookie Of The Year award goes to Tom Brantner who finished 9th overall with 218 points. As Mr. Miyagi would say, “You beginner luck.”  Tom will receive an autographed photo of Pat Morita.
  • Since our contest winner was under the age of 12 (more on that in a moment), the Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius award goes to Luca Zeoli who finished 2nd in the under 12 age bracket and 33rd overall. Hopefully this award takes a little bit of the sting out of that Syracuse loss.
  • The Head Of The Class award goes to the top finisher in the teens age bracket, Matthew Risner, who finished 2nd overall in the contest with 230 points. Matthew will receive all three High School Musical films on Blu Ray.
  • The Foresight Is 20/20 award goes to the winner of the twenty-something age bracket, Adrienne Hillman, who finished 13th overall in the contest. Adrienne will receive a free pair of designer eyeglasses that she obviously doesn’t need.
  • The Sweet Caroline award goes to Caroline Randazzo-Modarressy who finished first in the thirty-something age bracket and 12th overall in the contest. Caroline will receive an signed copy of the New York Times Best Seller, “Neil Diamond: The Formative Years – How I Got My Start Singing In Wild West Saloons During the 1849 Gold Rush.”
  • The Mid-Life Crisis award goes to Brennan Fairchild, top finisher in the forty-something age bracket and 4th overall in the contest. Brennan, as your reward, go by yourself something you can’t afford. A Corvette or a Harley will probably suffice.
  • The Hawai’i 5-0 award goes to long time contestant Skid Booles, aka, Mike Sines, who finished atop the 50s age bracket and 6th overall in the contest. Of course, this award comes with the obligatory quote: “Book ’em, Dan-o!”
  • The Senior Citizen award goes to the winner of the 60-and-over age bracket, Larry Harman, who finished 7th overall. Larry will receive a lifetime supply of Geritol.
  • The Top Prognosticator award goes to the contestant who picked the most games correctly regardless of upsets or bonus points of any kind. This year’s winner is Jeff Harrington who went 51-12 and finished 32nd overall. Jeff had UNC on a re-pick and thus dropped from 10th to 32nd after tonight’s game.
  • The I Hate This Stupid Scoring System award goes the lowest finishing contestant with a win/loss percentage of at least .700. This year’s winner is Vanessa Sopke who finished 189th despite having the same winning percentage as the 8th place finisher.
  • 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 Yadira Martinez who finished 18th overall and reportedly knows next to nothing about college basketball. And speaking of Yadira…
  • The I’ll Never Show My Face In Public Again award goes to 58th place minion Bryson Davis who used his alias to report that he at least wanted to beat his mother, 238th place contestant Angie Davis, and his girlfriend, the aforementioned Yadira. Bryson will receive a DVD copy of every Looney Tunes cartoon featuring Sylvester the Cat’s son, Junior, even though Bryson isn’t old enough to even appreciate the joke.
  • The Yellow Lines And Dead Skunks award goes middle-of-the-road finisher Kelsey Stabenow who finished right in the middle of the pack at 408th.
  • The Century Mark award goes to 100th place contestant Scott Risner. Scott will receive a stylish Century 21 sign to put in his yard.
  • The Little Red Caboose award goes to Connie Randazzo who finished dead last, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Connie actually re-picked 14 of the last 15 games and missed them all but three, including 0-4 in the Final Four. Now THAT’S impressive, as Darth Vader would say.
  • The High Five award goes to 5th place minion Jack Harper. Jack will receive 815 high fives from all the other minions.
  • The Eight Is Enough award goes to 8th place minion Ray Moritz. Ray’s climb is rather amazing, as he once was as low as 708th. Ray will receive an autographed photo of Dick Van Patten.
  • The They Don’t Call Us Littles For Nothing award goes to my 13-year-old basketball star, Ashlyn Little, whose climb is even more incredible than Ray’s, finishing 3rd overall after being as low as 712th. Way to go, Asho!
  • The Top Ten award goes to 10th place finisher Brian Johnson, aka, Brian Khepri. Brian gets nothing at all because it’s 2:18 AM, and I am fresh out of witty things to say.
  • The Crash And Burn award goes to former contest leader and 20th place finisher Braden Murry. Braden couldn’t win, but the Villanova victory gave him his worst possible finish.
  • The No Good Deed Goes Unpunished award goes to Toby Risner who actually picked Villanova to win, but because it was a re-pick, actually DROPPED in the standings from 28th to 29th. The good news is that Toby didn’t finish 760th, his low point in the standings.
  • The One Way Trip To Mars award goes to Mike “Most Interesting Picks In The World” Desch, who finished 73rd in the final standings thanks to a couple of Villanova re-picks. Stay thirsty, my friend.
  • The Ranking Nobody Wants award goes to 666th place contestant Bob Weber.
  • The I Ran This Contest For Three Weeks And I All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt award goes to yours truly. I finished in 207th place, fourth amongst the members of my Little tribe.
  • And finally, the Kindergarten Cop, the Top Dog, the Big Kahuna, The Hands Down, Pun Intended, Grand Poobah of Prognostication award goes to this year’s contest winner, the 6-year-old kindergarten phenom Bryce Hand. Bryce had Villanova with an original pick, of course, and finished with a whopping 273 points. I was asked by Bryce’s dad if that was a scoring record for the contest, and the answer is surprisingly no. The 2014 contest winner, Michael Weier, scored 314 points in another year where the championship pick earned a Scategories Bonus. Bryce won’t even know who won the game, much less that he won the contest, until morning, as it was way past his bedtime before the game even started.

So there you have it, folks. If you want to win the contest next year, get advice from the nearest kindergartener!

Final Thoughts

And it’s time to say the bittersweet farewell for another year. I want to thank all of you for signing up again this year, putting up with the early technical difficulties, and making the contest so much fun. Thanks for all of the emails, texts, tweets, and IMs. I read them all, and they never fail to make me smile. Someday my friend, Scott Whitlow, and I will bring this thing into the 21st century with an App and Facebook logins and other cool stuff.  Someday. Until then, thanks for taking the ride in my 1977 VW Bus Camper when you could jump on ESPN’s 2016 Lamborghini, instead. I hope to see you all and few hundred more friends and family next year.

Finally, let me give a shout out to my family who endures three weeks of, “Leave Dad alone. He’s watching the games and writing the commentary.” They all play and make the game fun, and I love them very much, even though they usually beat me.

May God’s richest blessings be on you and yours, and until next year, may your makes be many and your misses be few.

Stepping back behind the curtain,

The Wizard of Whiteland

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Final Four Blues

“I hate losing more than I like winning.” – Charles Barkley

The Final Four has a serious case of the blues, the black-and-blues that is. The blue teams left the crimson and orange squads limping away from the beatings they took. These games were so lopsided it seems pointless to rehash them. Therefore, to make this commentary even remotely interesting, let’s have a look at some of the numbers from tonight’s debacles.

Semifinals by the Numbers

  • Worst Beating Ever – Villanova’s 44 point destruction of Oklahoma is the worst defeat ever suffered in the Final Four, and by ever, I mean EVER, as in since 1939. Oklahoma couldn’t throw it in the ocean. Villanova couldn’t miss. Speaking of…
  • Nice Shootin’, Tex – Villanova shot 71.4% from the field. The only other team to shoot a better percentage in tournament history is…wait for it…VILLANOVA! Some of you are old enough to remember the miracle that was the Wildcats victory over Georgetown in 1985. That would be the Patrick Ewing Georgetown Hoyas. The 1985 Wildcats shot 78.6% from the field in that game, including 9 for 10 in the second half. Yes, they only took 10 shots in the entire half and made 9 of them. This was before the shot clock and before the three point shot.  Some of you are old enough to remember that game. Some of you WENT to that game, right Mark Wynn?
  • Brick City – On the other hand, tonight was marked as much by poor shooting as it was Villanova’s impressive performance. Multiple sources have pointed out this building was the site of the Butler vs UConn final in 2011, one of the worst shooting displays ever in a national championship. Some suggest the sight lines are weird or something. Apparently, only Villanova has it figured out. Oklahoma shot an unbelievably bad 19-60 from the field, including 6-27 from three point range. Syracuse was hardly better: 27-66 from the field and 8-25 from three point range. Even victorious North Carolina missed their first 10 three pointers, ultimately going 4-17. If the Tarheels shot even 30% from three point range they would have won by 30.
  • Tough Picks – The national championship will feature North Carolina vs Villanova. Given the success of both of these teams throughout the season, you would think this would have been relatively easy to pick. Not so. Only 1.6% of the millions of entries in ESPN’s tournament challenge had Villanova vs North Carolina. In our contest, it was half that percentage, but more on that in the awards.
  • Foresight Is 20/20 – Twenty Jeff’s March Madness Minions had Villanova winning it all. If that were to actually happen, most, if not all, of them would finish in the top 20 of the final standings due to the 96-point ultimate Scategories bonus. Now, I know what you are thinking. “What?!! That’s STUPID! All you had to do was pick ONE TEAM, and you win the whole contest?! That’s too easy! Your scoring system is dumb.” Too easy, huh? Then why didn’t YOU and 795 other minions pick them, too? Exactly. Apparently, it wasn’t easy at all, which is precisely why those who made the hardest pick will get the biggest reward IF Villanova wins. The more likely outcome is that the second most popular national champion pick in the entire contest, North Carolina, will win, so relax. You know who you are.

Miscellany

  • Dumbest Thing I Saw On Twitter Today – Some rather famous person (name withheld to protect the guilty, but he’s a golfer whose name rhymes with teeth) implied that maybe Villanova is the best basketball team in Philly, i.e., better than the Philadelphia 76ers. Let’s get one thing straight, shall we? I’ve heard this hypothetical water cooler debate for years. Could the best team in college basketball or football beat the worst team in the corresponding professional league. After I pick myself up off the floor from laughing hysterically, I will tell you that the answer is absolutely no way in this world! Yes, the 76ers are inarguably awful, perhaps the worst team in the NBA with all due disrespect to the equally awful Los Angeles Lakers. Nevertheless, they are a team comprised entirely of PROS. If Villanova were to play an exhibition against Philadelphia, the score would 20-0 before the first TV time out. It would be 40-0 before you finished your cotton candy. This is especially true if the game were played with NBA rules and NBA officials. NBA players are so much bigger, faster, and better than ANY collection of college players, they literally would not know what hit them. Never mind the fact that Villanova may not even have a future pro on the entire team. And yes, I would say the same thing about North Carolina, except maybe it would be 20-2 by the first TV timeout since UNC actually has a pro or two. It’s a dumb discussion, so stop it.
  • If I Only Had A Brain – Anybody besides me think the chick who sings the creepy rendition of “If I Only Had A Brain” for the University of Phoenix commercial has a voice that is both strangely hypnotic and yet totally frightening? That song gives me the willies. “A degree is a degree, you’re gonna want someone like me…” Only if you promise not to sing that song.
  • I’ve Been Waiting All Day For Final Four Night? – Ok, so I have mixed emotions about the pregame player introduction hoopla. The 3D graphics projected on the floor are pretty cool. The pre-recorded videos of players and their geriatric coaches dancing and dabbing, not so much. All that was missing was Carrie Underwood singing a catchy jingle. To be fair, the pregame shenanigans were the most entertaining part of the evening.

Awards

Just a few awards tonight. The best, of course, will be saved for last on Monday night.

  • The Lucky Seven award goes to the seven contestants out of 816 who correctly picked both of tonight’s winners with original picks: Sam Woodford, Mason Gallmeyer, Ashlyn Little, Pat Gillig, Sue Chmura, Bryce Hand, and Tom Bruner. That’s 0.08% of our entries, or about half the percentage who reportedly picked both winners correctly in the vastly larger ESPN field.
  • The I Couldn’t Agree With You More award goes to Teri “I Think We Should Get Points For Gonzaga” Gschwind. Unfortunately, just as the outcome of that game cannot be changed after the fact, so also the scoring in the contest is immutable.
  • The Better Luck Next Time award goes to the 656 contestants who have now won as many games as they can win in this year’s contest. Hopefully you had fun and won’t drop too many places in the final standings after tomorrow’s championship.
  • The You Gotta Be Kidding Me award goes to Toby “The Last Shall Be First…” Risner who once was as low as 760th but now sits in 28th. Toby somehow managed to miss every game but 4 in the Midwest region, and that’s including re-picks. It seems like you would have to try to actually do that bad. And yet here he is with a legitimate shot at the top 25 if Villanova wins. What a great scoring system this is!
  • The Enjoy It While It Lasts award goes to current contest leader Braden Murray, who unfortunately cannot win no matter what happens Monday night. Enjoy your 48 hours of fame, Braden.

62 Down, One To Go

Sixty-two games have been played leaving two teams that have won five in a row. That leaves one more game with only two possible outcomes, and the same is true of our contest. We are down to only two possible winners depending on Monday night’s result, and while I could give it away, I’ll leave the math to you. I mean, you need something to keep you busy until then, right?  I’ll give you one hint. This year’s contest winner is guaranteed to be under the age of 20.

That’s all for tonight, my friends. Here’s hoping that the championship game isn’t another stinker like these two were.

The Wizard of Whiteland

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Orange Is The Color Of March Madness

“People do give me a hard time about my hair because it’s orange and it’s big.” – Carrot Top

We were treated to a couple of exciting games this evening as well as some significant movement in the standings. If you had Syracuse from the beginning, you had a good day. I have several awards to hand out this evening, but first, I need to wax a few elephants.

Sunday Snapshots

  • Uneasy Lies The Head That Wears The Crown – Tonight’s double header started where we left off last night with the #1 seed losing again, making the top seeds 0-3 to that point. Here’s a game that Virginia led by as many 14 with less than 10 minutes to play, and yet somehow managed to find a way to lose. Certainly credit is due to Syracuse for finding a way to win two games now in which they were down late, but I can’t help but question the Virginia game plan. For example, as alert minion Bill Spyksma observed in a email he sent me, why was Virginia rolling the ball up to half court without a touch to preserve clock at precisely the point where they had their largest lead? Wouldn’t they want to shorten the game at that point? Again, I’m somewhat astonished as the sheer lack of basic basketball smarts on display by so many teams in this tournament, and not just by scrappy underdogs like Northern Iowa, but also by top seeds, blue bloods,and storied programs. Could this be a side effect of the “one-and-done” phenomenon?
  • Revenge Is A Dish Best Served Cold…but I’m not certain how I like my crow. It seems I have a few comments that I need to walk back (that’s politician speak for I was wrong but don’t want to admit it). First, a couple of minions alerted me to the fact that the Villanova Wildcats were not the only animal mascot remaining in the tournament, as the North Carolina Tarheels are technically goats. Someone else said that the Oklahoma Sooners also have an animal mascot, although I’m struggling to determine exactly what sort of creature a Sooner is. Maybe it’s a close relative of the elusive Hoosier supposedly indigenous to Indiana but never actually observed in the wild. Then again it could be more of a legend like the Yeti, Sasquatch, or Snipe. I bet “In Search of Sooner” would make a great reality show on Animal Planet. And then there was my anti-Syracuse rant and blatant skepticism of their achievement of getting to the Elite Eight because of the relatively easy road they had to get there. Tonight not only did the Orange beat the number one seed in their region, but they became only the fourth double-digit seed and the first 10 seed ever to make the Final Four in the 64-team era. One has to wonder how this team ever lost to the likes of St. John’s.
  • Luck Of The Irish Runs Out – First, Brice Johnson made the Boneheaded Play Of The Day by earning himself a technical foul by tossing the ball over is head in disgusted protest of the personal foul he just received. This gave him fouls 3 and 4 and sent him promptly to the bench. Less than 30 seconds later, Notre Dame capped their 12-0 run to take a 52-51 lead, and thoughts of another epic collapse were swimming in my head. The Tarheels, however, refused to go the way of the other three #1 seeds and went on a 12-0 run of their own, never looking back after that. It would be easy to call North Carolina the team to beat in this year’s Final Four, and I doubt that’s much of a stretch. With strong coaching, senior leadership, and NBA-level talent, it will be a tall order depriving them of another national championship.

And now for the awards.

Elite Eight Awards

  • The How The West Was Won award goes to Vanessa Sopke and Justin Wentworth who each were a perfect 15-0 in the West region with original picks. These are, in fact, the only two contestants who were perfect in any region in this year’s contest.
  • The Southern Hospitality award goes to a number of contestants who went 14-1 in the South region with original picks: Jennifer Garten, Jamie Shannon, Lewis Schafer, Gavin Hand, Mike Blankenberger, Jack Harper, Lisa Wilkins, Kim LeFever, Ken Jordan, and Abraham Hadley.
  • The Eastern Star award goes to another considerable collection of minions who went 14-1 in the East region with original picks: Kassy Morales, Andrew McGuire, Tony Morales, Cyrus Schafer, Sam Glassley, Stephen Canter, Randy Jewell, Jeff Harrington, Tom Bruner, and Kaylee Salm.
  • The Crossroads Of America award goes to the one contestant who at 12-3 did better than anyone else in the brutal Midwest region, AJ Spuches.
  • The Upset Stomach award goes to the contestant who collected the most upset bonus points throughout the rounds where they were available. Ayden Jent amassed 74 upset bonus points and sits in 16th place. Ironically, Ayden did not collect a Scategories bonus.
  • The History Maker award goes to the contestants who actually picked Syracuse to make the Final Four and collected the largest payout of Scategories and Upset Bonus points of the contest so far: Devan Bailey, Kristen Barney, Bob Johnson, Daniel Labbato, Joanna Labbato, Pam Mikel, Katie Muschalik, Denise Nichole, Cindy Schaefer, and Zachary Schaefer.
  • The Moving On Up award goes to Daniel Goers who has climbed from 714th to 33rd, and he has done so in rather conventional fashion, having not picked any big upsets to speak of. Daniel will receive an autographed photo of Sherman Hemsley.
  • And finally, the All In award goes to continuing contest leader AJ Spuches. All of AJ’s fortunes now rest squarely on North Carolina’s ability to complete the mission and win the national championship.

Closing Thoughts

The Final Four offers us some intriguing contest scenarios. While the winner of the Villanova/Oklahoma semifinal does not offer any bonus points, a national championship by either one does. A Syracuse victory over North Carolina would be worth 48 points to five contestants, and a Syracuse national championship would pretty much replace the top three with three new names. I haven’t done all the math, but those of you who have a team not called North Carolina as national champ might want to take this week to do it yourself to see what your chances are. Suffice it to say that if you are currently in the top 10, you probably want North Carolina to win.

And now it’s time for the Wizard to step back behind the current for another week’s respite. This has been an exciting tournament with lots of surprises, and hopefully you are enjoying the exercise. I appreciate all of the tweets, texts, and emails. I’ll see you again on Final Four weekend.

Warmly,

The Wizard of Whiteland

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The Terrible Twos

“The terrible twos last through age three.” – Jodi Picoult

Just a few quick thoughts for you tonight, minions. Tomorrow is Easter Sunday.

Two For Two

Riddle me this, Batman. Sweet Sixteen. Eight games. No upsets. The better seeded team won all eight. Now here we are, two games into the Elite Eight, and both games were won by the lower seeds. Granted, it’s hard to call a #2 seed an underdog, but it is noteworthy that both #1 seeds lost tonight. So what does that mean for tomorrow? Will the remaining #1s go down? Not likely. Only once in the 64-team era has a Final Four lacked at least one #1 seed. On the other hand, will the law of averages kick in and BOTH top seeds win tomorrow? This seems more likely, but as the cliche goes, that’s why they play the game.

  • This Night Was Not For The Birds – Did you notice that both bird Mascots lost tonight? Coincidence? I think not! The Villanova Wildcats are the only remaining animal mascot in the tournament.
  • Boomer Sooner – I didn’t watch this game, but I see from the highlights and box score that Oklahoma put the hurt on OregonBuddy Hield dropped 37, which was more than half of what the entire Oregon team scored. I’m really looking forward to that national semifinal with Villanova. And speaking of Villanova…
  • SuperNova…again – This game I did watch, and what a game it was. Two things stood out to me in this game. One was Kansas’ poor shooting. They were 6-22 from 3-point range (27%), and 7-11 from the free throw line (64%). Villanova wasn’t any better from the field, but they were nearly perfect from the line (18-19, 95%). The other thing I noticed was the Jayhawks’ astonishing inability to make a play or generate any sort of reasonable offensive set in the final minute. It seems that teams, even in the upper echelon, are having trouble executing under pressure in this year’s tournament.
  • Could You Repeat That? – Either coaches or going deaf, or the broadcast crews need to rethink their halftime interview strategy. The fans are screaming. The bands are playing. The sideline reporter is asking the usual repertoire of inane questions, and coaches are shouting, “What? Sorry, could you repeat that. I can’t hear you!” I don’t know, maybe they should, like, you know, catch them in tunnel or something.
  • Here’s Where Things Get Interesting – The elimination of Kansas takes one of the two most popular championship picks out of the mix, leaving us with an interesting situation. Of the six remaining teams in the tournament, only a North Carolina championship comes WITHOUT a monster Scategories bonus. If North Carolina were to lose tomorrow, you can pretty much throw the current standings out the window.

And now for just a couple of quick awards…

Quick Awards

  • The What Does The Fox Say award goes to Deb Fox who snuck into 17th place while no one was looking. On a side note, did you know that “snuck” isn’t actually the past participle of sneak, but rather sneaked is? Nevertheless, snuck sneaked into common usage in American English some 200 years ago and has since become so common as to have pushed sneaked right out of the way. Weirdly, my blogging software’s spell checker doesn’t recognize snuck, but it does recognize sneaked. Very sneaky snuck is…like a fox.
  • The You Can Say That Again award goes to Tom “Spike Lee Can’t Sing” Gidley. Neither can Barkley or Sammy L., for that matter.
  • The Kindergarten Cops award goes to six-year-old cousins Bryce and Ben Hand who currently occupy 6th and 7th place overall. Of course they do. What could possibly make more sense than two boys who are just learning how to read and write beating the tar out of 810 other geniuses in this contest? Yes I’m bitter.

Check back tomorrow night for the final awards of the week. BIG games await us tomorrow night with BIG bonus points available if underdogs Notre Dame or Syracuse can pull off the upset.

The Wizard of Whiteland

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Eight Is Enough

“There are only two kinds of people in the world, the Irish, and those who wish they were.” – Old Irish Proverb

After a rare night of Sweet Sixteen blowouts Thursday, Friday treated us to at least two competitive games. One I’m glad I watched; the other, not so much.

ACC Runs The Table

After going 0-2 last night, the ACC reaffirmed its dominance by going 4-0 tonight. Two won in convincing fashion, the other two with a little luck and a dash of March Madness.

  • This Hair Club Is For Men – There must be some requirement about how much hair you have in order to play for Virginia, or perhaps it’s some sort of Samsonesque secret of their success. Or maybe they all avoid the barber for fear of running afoul of the NCAA’s improper benefit rules if they aren’t charged full price. Whatever the case, the Cavaliers won another game in convincing fashion. Maybe Syracuse should send over a barber.  Maybe they should send an NCAA rules official. No, I have it. They should send money, and then send an NCAA rules official! And speaking of Syracuse
  • Orange You Glad Jim Boeheim Is In Another Elite Eight? – No, we’re not, with the exception of the 21 minions who got a Scategories bonus for this game. I can tell you from experience that it is hard being a Gonzaga fan. The infamous Adam Morrison collapse seems to have brought a curse of sorts, not allowing Gonzaga to get over the proverbial hump. No matter what the talking heads on CBS or TNT or TBS or ESPN are saying, this loss had very little to do with the ballyhooed Syracuse 2-3 zone defense. Gonzaga had more than figured out how to score enough to win this game. The fact is that Gonzaga gave this game away with dumb decisions in the last 90 seconds, and while the magnitude of their collapse wasn’t quite the same as Northern Iowa’s when measured in points, it was just as epic when measured in undiluted boneheadedness. They turned the ball over under their own basket for an easy score. They turned it over again on a 10 second call. And while still leading the game, the otherwise magnificent Kyle Wiltjer takes a quick shot instead of using clock. Then on their final possession they turn it over again only to have their bacon saved by a missed out of bounds call, but it was for naught. Instead of getting the ball to Wilter or Sabonis (who was a monster with 19 points and 17 rebounds), Josh Perkins takes a runner in the lane and has it blocked by Tyler Lydon who hadn’t done anything noteworthy the entire game but blocked two shots in the final 40 seconds. It was one thing for the Zags to lose to eventual national champion Duke last year, but to lose to the insufferably smug and unrepentant Jim Boeheim and his team of Orange who didn’t even win 20 games prior to the tournament really leaves a bad taste in ones mouth. For the Zags, this is definitely the one that got away.
  • And While I’m On This Rant – While much is being said of this being Syracuse’s third Elite Eight appearance in five years, should we really be impressed? First, they beat Dayton. A good team but not exactly a powerhouse. Then they got Middle Tennessee on their post-epic-upset hangover. This happens in the second round to every 15 seed not named Florida Gulf Coast. And tonight, they get a gift from a Gonzaga team that was, by all reasonable measures, clearly superior but the victim of its own dumb decisions. I therefore boldly predict that Virginia will absolutely obliterate Syracuse on Sunday night. It won’t even be close. The 2-3 zone will neither be new nor scary to the Cavaliers, and their pace of play will essentially allow them to out-Syracuse Syracuse.  This could be another game in the 50s.
  • Luck Of The Irish Strikes Again – How many games can Notre Dame win in the closing seconds? As I was suffering through another Wisconsin-induced basketball coma, my thoughts went back to a story my grandfather told me. My grandfather played basketball in the early 30s and shot free throws underhanded (“granny” style). He told me of a game he played in high school that his team won by the score of 2-0. That’s two to nothing. This Wisconsin/Notre Dame game felt just like that until the last 19 seconds. I had tweeted “First one to 50 wins,” and when the Badgers reached that mark first, it seemed as if I was going to be right. Then those last 19 seconds happened, Notre Dame went on a 8-0 run, and now they’re going to the Elite Eight for the second year in a row. North Carolina awaits them, which isn’t exactly a reward, but maybe they have enough good luck left in their sneakers to pull off the impossible. And speaking of North Carolina
  • Tarheels Turn The Paige On The Hoosiers – I’ll be honest. I didn’t watch much of this game. I was too busy shouting at the television and hurling small, non-dangerous objects across the room because of the Gonzaga game. I do know that Marcus Paige went 6-9 from beyond the arc, and that Indiana just was never really in this game. The Hoosiers got to the Sweet Sixteen in part by playing good defense, but when the other team hangs a hundred on you, that’s not so good. Indiana coach Tom Crean said Paige played like he was in a video game, and I think that’s an accurate assessment. If North Carolina continues to play at this level, I don’t know who’s going to beat them.
  • Familiar Faces – With all the Madness this tournament has offered us, the Elite Eight is devoid of surprises or Cinderellas. Sure, Syracuse is a 10 seed, but they’re Syracuse, one of a number of usual suspects that tend to still be around this time of year: North Carolina, Kansas, and Villanova are names we are accustomed to seeing three columns deep in our brackets, and even Oklahoma has had some success in the past. Virginia is a relative newcomer, but has certainly been strong the past two or three years. Of the eight, perhaps only Oregon qualifies as a newcomer, but as the #1 seed in the West from the Pac 12, they are hardly a surprise or an underdog. So, the table is set this weekend for a sort of clash of the typical titans for a trip to the Final Four. All four #1 seeds still remain, and frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if this ended up being a year where they all advance.

Sweet Sixteen Awards

  • The Seventh Heaven award goes to the minions who got seven of the Elite Eight correct without using any re-picks: Trevor Anderson, Sarah Leap, Tom Brantner, Jeff Harrington, Matthew Muschalik, Cason Dilulio, Kassy Morales, and Heather Hearne. The And One award goes to Jeff Harrington who, rather weirdly, is the only one of this bunch who managed to pick the 8th game correctly with a re-pick.
  • The Domer Homers award goes to the six contestants who picked Notre Dame to go all the way with their original pick: Margaret Dean, Tyler Drone, Pete Klinker, Debbie Kohut, Lilly RIchardson, and Tracy Sines. If they win it all, you all receive the Ultimate Scategories Bonus worth 96 points, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
  • The Crash And Burn award goes to Kip Layman, once proud owner of 9th place, now in 407th.
  • The Lead Pipe Lock award goes to 48th place minion Matt “Predicting n ACC team n the Championship” Hand. Since one side of the Elite Eight is composed entirely of ACC teams, the chances of that happening are, in the words of LeBron James, “one out of one, or 100 percent.”
  • The And The Horse You Rode In On award goes to Kirk “Best Of Miller Expedited” Daniels for using his alias to punk on his coworkers. Kirk is currently in 12th place.
  • The That’s How The Cannonball Bounces award goes to Dylan Scheumann who bemoaned the fact that he “Dropped 200 places in one day”. Dylan is currently tied for 504th. Cheer up, Dylan. You’re going to Rose-Hulman next fall.
  • The But You Wear Really Cool Shoes award goes to my youngest little girl, Ashlyn Little, who isn’t doing so well this year. Cheer up, Asho. You’ve got better shoes than most of the players left in the tournament.
  • The Don’t Ask Me If That’s My PIzza Franchise award goes to Luca Zeoli for cracking the top ten at number 6. Luca will receive a free slice of Pepperoni.
  • The Pardon Me, But Do You Have Any Grey Poupon award goes to 10th place contestant Dejan Davis. If you don’t get the joke, his friends call him Dijon. Of course having to explain the joke makes it less funny.
  • The Don’t Call Me Billy award goes to Caleb “TheKid” Davis, currently in 13th.
  • And finally, the There’s A New Sheriff In Town award goes to new contest leader AJ Spuches, who vaulted into first place on the strength of the Scategories bonus he earned for the Syracuse win. AJ has been hanging around the top of the leaderboard for the whole contest, never ranking lower than 21st so far.

Is AJ’s lead safe? Hardly. Supersized Scategories bonuses await those who picked Notre Dame or Syracuse to advance to the Final Four and/or the championship game…IF either can pull it off, of course. Even more significant, ANY national champion not named Kansas or North Carolina will earn a select few the rare and coveted Ultimate Scategories Bonus worth a whopping 96 points, and that would change everything.

Stay tuned for the weekend’s regional finals as we find out who the Final Four will be. Good luck!

The Wizard of Whiteland

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Thursday Chalk Talk

“Fishing is boring, unless you catch an actual fish, and then it is disgusting.” – Dave Berry

It’s All Chalk Thursday

No upsets, overtimes, or buzzer-beaters here, folks. In fact, tonight’s assortment of regional semifinals were barely competitive, ultimately resulting in the top two seeds from the South and West regions advancing according to Hoyle to the regional finals on Saturday.  It was almost as boring as fishing, but not nearly as disgusting. If you played it safe in the South or the West, you did well tonight.

  • Super Nova – Of all the games I half-watched tonight, Villanova looked the most dominant. Miami is by no means a bad team, but the Wildcats were never threatened. If I were Kansas, I’d be nervous.
  • ACC You Later – Much was made about six ACC teams advancing to the Sweet Sixteen.  Two played tonight. Both lost, and it wasn’t very close. To be fair, this Duke team was a bit of an overachiever if you ask me. The team overall is young, not very deep, and not very big, struggling on the defensive end.  Sure, Grayson Allen is good, but he gets the Sour Grapes award tonight for refusing to acknowledge the Oregon player who tried to be a good sport. We will see if the other four ACC representatives can fare better tomorrow night. None of them play each other; therefore, it is possible that all four could advance to the Elite Eight.
  • Buddy Hield for MOP? – First, I really like Buddy. If Oklahoma is going to make the Final Four, he will have to play like the superstar he is. But on another topic, why did anyone feel the need to replace MVP with MOP. Actually, I think this was instituted some time ago, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous. We can’t have the most valuable player, because equality, or something. So we have the Most Outstanding Player instead, not that he’s any more valuable, mind you. He’s just more outstanding. But what kind of a name is MOP for an award? C’mon, man! Next thing you know instead of a trophy they’ll be handing the kid a mop, a bucket, and a bottle of Pine Sol. “Congratulations, kid! Here’s your MOP.”
  • Who Pushed The Easy Button? – A whopping 140 contestants picked all four of today’s games correctly with original picks. Given that it was the 1-2 pick in both regions, perhaps that makes some sense.

Looking Ahead

Let’s hope tomorrow night’s offering of games is more watchable. On paper, at least, we have something to look forward to. Gonzaga will try to solve that infuriating Syracuse zone, which frankly is hard to do if you don’t see it often, and Gonzaga doesn’t. As I’ve noted before, the winner of this game is going to give a small number of folks a very hansom bucket of points in the contest.

Then there’s IU vs UNC, a game that should be no contest for the Tar Heels, but the way Indiana has been playing, you never know. If Indiana’s bigs can’t stay out of foul trouble, it will be a long night for the Hoosiers.

Finally, the high octane offenses of Iowa State and Notre Dame will square off against put-you-in-a-coma slowdown specialists Virginia and Wisconsin. If by some miracle Virginia and Wisconsin were both to advance to the Final Four, it might be the most excruciating national semifinal in tournament history.  Anyone ready for a 36-35 tour de force?

Quick Awards

  • The Least Popular Kid In School award goes to 19th place contestant Kassy “Haven’t watched a game all season” Morales. Believe me, Kassy, that’s NOT what the 797 people behind you in the standings want to hear.
  • The Asleep At The Wheel award goes to Nathan Gidley who has climbed all the way to 8th place and yet failed to get his re-picks in! With Michigan State and Kentucky still in his Final Four, the chances of him keeping his spot in the top 10 are not good.
  • The Nice Try award goes to Ethan “Can I re-pick my re-picks?” Grunden, currently tied for 371st.
  • The Your Stock Is Rising award, sponsored by Merrill Lynch, goes to John Berrey for clawing his way from 714th to 89th.
  • The Busted Bracket award goes to Elianna Grunden who has dropped from as high as 51st all the way to 680th.
  • The Just Call Me France award goes to the 315 contestants who surrendered quickly and didn’t make any re-picks.
  • The Wishful Thinking award goes to three contestants who took Syracuse to win it all with their original picks: Bob Johnson, Daniel Labbato, and Zachary Schaefer. If they actually pull that off, you three dudes will likely ended up 1, 2, and 3 in the final contest standings.
  • And finally, sticking with the boredom theme, the Yeah, Yeah, Yeah award goes to Ken Jordan and Braden Murray. They were first and second when the night started, and they are still first and second. This award is given in memory of Phil Mickelson who once interrupted Tiger Woods’ lengthy introduction on the first tee with “Yeah, yeah, yeah” as the announcer was going down the list of his victories.

That’s it for tonight, minions. Here’s hoping for more entertaining games tomorrow night.

Until next time,

The Wizard of Whiteland

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