Coach Cal can’t coach. Coach K can’t be killed. The Music, Movies, and Hoops bracket is as busted as a back alley beer bottle. At least my Final Four teams are still alive. The bookies looking at anyone who followed my lead like Brad Pitt’s Jackie in Killing Them Softly ended the negotiations.
And…well…hey, don’t look at me…
Without further adieu let’s look at how we got here and who’s moving on to New Orleans for the NCAA’s Final Four.
“Just keep swimming.” —Ellen DeGeneres as Dory in Finding Nemo.
Both of the tops seeds sank out of the tournament in the first weekend! Everyone else is taking Dory’s advice. The (8) UNC Tar Heels put the Baylor Bears into early hibernation. The defending champs did play in the second-closest game played in the East bracket. Every other game besides the (15) St. Peter’s Peacocks upset of Kentucky was well beyond a doubt before the 5 minute clutch time mark that delivers all the Magic of March Madness.
But at least we got the glorious, glorious upset from the Peacocks.
Can’t Coach Cal is becoming a thing. St. Peter’s might not have the size but they are playing tough defense while running a very polished offense. They trust the fundamentals and run their sets, constantly. They’ve gotten hot while Kentucky and Murray St. went cold shooting just 41% inside of the three-point line.
Will that trend hold up against (3) Purdue and Jaden Ivey? The Boilermakers are barely a Top 100 defense but have a Top 5 offense. Once they get into the bonus Purdue just feeds Ivey and puts pressure on the paint. Those free throws and minutes against reserves bigs have added up to the Sweet 16. Ivey is elite but can the rest of the team help steal Cinderella’s magic?
(4) UCLA vs. (8) UNC
I had Baylor in the Sweet 16 but UCLA in the Elite 8. UCLA is playing like an experienced team that has unfinished business from last year. The lower seed if disrespectful they feel. They also feel they can cut down the nets in New Orleans. The Tar Heels won their lifetime story by spoiling Coach K’s last game on campus. UCLA by 7.
(15) St. Peter’s vs. (3) Purdue
I thought it’d be Murray State instead of St. Peter’s. Still, the Peacocks look nice in the bluegrass but won’t be able to stand the heat of a Boilermaker. Jaden Ivey goes off for 20, Purdue wins by double-digits. St. Peter’s scores a few late to make it look respectable. Enjoy telling the stories on the days jobs.
We got our crazy Cinderella story for the year. Now, to quote dredg: Here we are, that’s what it’s all about. But I’m sorry it’s over. Well, everyone but Purdue.
“That’s the beauty of music. They can’t get that from you.” Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne, Shawshank Redemption
(11) Michigan had Top 5 expectations to start the year but after Howard missed the last 5 games of the season through suspension, some felt their resume was more deserving of a First Four designation. Some called for his job, which would have be trying to take the music of basketball away from Juwan Howard. Instead, his return to the Michigan bench has boosted the Wolverine’s into the Sweet 16 for the first time since shorts were baggy.
Howard consoled Tennessee’s Kennedy Chandler after Michigan’s Round of 32 win. It was genuine and completely changes the narrative about how he expresses his passion. It’s all love if approached the right way. It was the beauty of the sport that just cannot be had anywhere else. Still, Michigan will need to do everything right against Jay Wright’s (2) Villanova.
(1) Arizona barely survived TCU even without Sean Miller’s cringe-karma screaming from the sidelines. (5) Houston is still having fun under Kelvin Sampson, so much so Kelvin Smith Jr. came back instead of “making basketball a business.” However, Houston is another team with unfinished business but they are down two stars. Marcus Sasser and Tramon Mark are out for the year yet Houston has still won 10 of the last 11 by double-digits. It pays to peak in the playoffs.
Arizona and Houston are both in the 3-5 for Final Four bets depending on the sportsbook. The selection committee gave us a championship game to start of the second weekend. Just like Shawshank Prison, it’s down to survival of the fittest. Who will escape and find a free ticket to the Final Four on the other end of the weekend?
(1) Arizona vs. (5) Houston
The Cougars are on the prowl. The Wildcats are resting on regular-season laurels. Houston should be able to get the jump. The stain of Sean Miller lingers. Phi Slamma Jamma lives on for one more game. Houston by 5.
(11) Michigan vs. (2) Villanova
I picked this region perfectly and have to stick with the instincts. Jay Wright is a better coach with a better team. There is only so much Madness to go around. Wolverines go home with an 8 point loss. ‘Nova packs for the Final Four on Monday.
The Region in Disney: Three cats and a Wolverine walk into a bar. Wolverine asks “what’s up?” Bartender says, “Well the buzz from the bees is that the leopards are in a bit of a spot. And the baboons are going ape over this. Of course, the giraffes are acting like they’re above it all… The tick birds are pecking on the elephants. I told the elephants to forget it, but they can’t. The cheetahs are hard up, but I always say, cheetahs never prosper…”
Zazu, the bartender was Zazu. He was on his Bluetooth, giving Mufasa the morning report. Bar wasn’t even open for another ten minutes but these cats are always early and the Wolverine was a bit prickly.
“So be prepared, be enthusiastic, and leave your bullshit attitude and baggage at the door because we don’t need it!”- Wet Hot American Summer (2001)
As March turns to April things really heat up in the Mid-West, especially if Kansas hoops is still playing meaningful games. Each team left in the Mid-West region has to be humble in their achievements but ready for anything to pop off. It’s been a while since Kansas mattered this late in March and with upsets on the other side of the bracket the Jayhawks have the easiest path to walk among the top seeds.
Will the Jayhawks get cocky though? Creighton tested (1) Kansas but a tall glass of Remy Martin quenched Bill Self’s thirst for another chance at a Final Four run. They’ll face a (4) Providence team that has been one of the more popular picks to suffer an upset loss in the first two rounds. Instead, the Friars dispatched Richmond easily after snuffing out South Dakota State.
(10) Miami has a top-end floor general so they have a chance. Charlie Moore has been the steady hand leading upsets over Auburn and USC. (11) Iowa State will need the three-pronged attack of Izaiah Brockington (17.3 PPG, 7.0 rebounds per game), Tyrese Hunter (23 points in the first-round win over LSU), and Gabe Kalscheur (a game-high 22 points on Sunday) to keep the ball moving and Miami off balance.
I’m not sure Kansas would have made it out of any other region. No matter who represents the Mid-West in New Orleans, I suspect they’ll be found out for what they really were all along.
“You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender, I could’ve been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.” Marlon Brando’s Terry Malloy in On The Waterfront
Bill Self lost the last title game in the Superdome. In fact, Kansas has lost the last two Final Four championship games held in New Orleans. It’s been 10 years since that last defeat. Self serves notice a decade after falling short and Kansas lives to kill the dreams of Iowa State.
(10) Miami vs. (11) Iowa State
Cyclones vs. Hurricanes. Shit. Living from tornado alley to the Gulf Coast tip of Louisiana, I don’t wish either on anyone. Both will be blown away before the end of the week. Iowa State’s worst-to-first story ends early. Miami moves on in a thriller.
“Are you not entertained!”- Russell Crowe as Maximus in Gladiator
The West went chalk and (2) Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski is standing like the last old gladiator. All of his contemporaries have been slain this season or fell behind in the legacy race years ago. For the coach who has seemingly had it all he must go through (3) Texas Tech and (1) Gonzaga, two teams that have only smelled the title game but never tasted glory. (4) Arkansas at least has one banner.
Arkansas actually beat Coach K in North Carolina for their lone title in 1994. The Razorbacks lost the title game to UCLA in 1995. Because all of the favorites won, this is the most top-heavy bracket remaining. Whoever comes out of this region will have played the toughest four-game stretch to survive. Some teams in other brackets are surviving on teamwork but in the West, it could all come down to top-end talent, of which there is plenty.
Paolo Banchero carried Duke down the stretch. Jalen Duren and Chet Holmgren only get another week of college ball because Drew Timme took over a game. Gonzaga was down 10 to a Memphis team relying solely on athleticism and luck.
Mark Adams added to the talent Chris Beard had for the last Red Raiders run at a title. The Red Raiders are ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency on KenPom, and Bryson Williams is averaging 17.0 PPG through two NCAA tournament games. Arkansas is a bit more scrappy, working to grind out two wins by a combined 9 points to get to the second weekend.
“Hard work pays off, dreams come true. Bad times don’t last, but BAD GUYS do.” —Scott Hall
(1) Gonzaga vs. (4) Arkansas
Gonzaga is top seed for a reason. Duren, Holmgren, and Timme will be too much for the fourth-best team out of the SEC. Arkansas could barely hit a shot against New Mexico State and only beat the Vermont Catamounts (Vermont! Catamounts!) by four points. Zags in a rout that proves the Memphis game was a fluke.
(3) Texas Tech vs. (2) Duke
Coach K put in the hard work of turning his program around in the one-and-done era. He has lived the dream of 3 championships in the last 20 years. His down years were never really all that down even when losing to a 15th seeded Lehigh in 2012. Coach K prove Elite, Duke by 8.
Final Four Predictions: Gonzaga, Kansas, Villanova, Purdue