[Do NOT click on ANY LINK found in the comment section of this blog. No matter how innocuous the link MIGHT appear to be, it is MOST LIKELY SPAM or a link to MALWARE. I am disheartened by the need to do this, which accounts for the sparsity of posts this year.]
Well, it's THAT time again, the two weeks of the year known as The Christmas of the Basketball Junkies. Others call it March Madness. And still others refer to it as vaguely something like March Break. To me ... Nirvana.
Okay, let's get the suspense out of the way. The story breaks at the Final Four that Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has had it with recruiting (story's old news, thanks to Sports Illustrated and a friendly leak). So, the Spartans win one last final game for Izzo, spoiling the rest of the super terrific story line, the heretofore unbeaten season of the Wichita State Shockers. There'll be enough tears to end any fears of a drought in North Texas this year.
I'd be entering into Warren Buffet's Billion Dollar pool, but that's not open, apparently, to Canadians since Yahoo.com isn't willing to take on my address. So, feel free to filch this sheet and make your billions in the second oldest way you can. Send me a taste of the winnings, if you have a conscious. No? I'd probably forget too.
Alright, the now famous Mugford Rules for March Madness (Patent Pending) get plenty of play here. Never bet against Tom Izzo. Check. Experienced backcourt and at least one rebounding horse. Check and double check. Always bet against Jim Boeheim early. While I didn't have the stones to call for a first-round exit, I'll be expecting Ohio State to do the deed on the weekend in game two for the Orange. Too short a rotation, not enough shooting from Frank Cooney. And really, I wouldn't be shocked if Western Michigan puts western New York out of their collective misery in the opening tilt.
So what upsets beyond Syracuse-Ohio State do I have on tap. Well, the requisite two number nines advance as Oklahoma State continues to prove the Selection Committee had SERIOUS brain cramps and Pittsburgh wins a battle of average teams with Colorado. 'Cept Colorado's average came BEFORE Spencer Dinwiddie was hurt before Christmas. Need a 5-12 upset. You should. How about THREE? S.F. Austin beats VCU in an all-Havoc battle by holding onto the ball better, Harvard does Canada proud (Laurent Rivard et al) and stops Cincinnati despite Sean Kilpatrick, and whoever wins the First Four battle between Xavier and North Carolina State (Xavier) will beat the very over-seeded Saint Louis Billikens. Another First Four winner, Iowa (having dispatched Tennessee) will stop Chaz Williams and the Minutement of UMass. And lastly, the opening round will see yet one more double-figure seed move on when Arizona State knocks off Texas.
Pretty interesting first round. Seven upsets in all. Enjoy it while it lasts. As usual, it's chalk for the weekend (unless you wear Orange). In fact, Michigan State will later hand three number one seeds losses in three straight games, doing the deed to Virginia and Florida before stopping the Shockers (71-68 if you were wondering). It will be a great game with none of the mass group hate for the Shockers like happened to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl a few years back.
Other than the aforementioned Syracuse second-round dive, the only other upset will be in the West final when Wisconsin takes the measure of Arizona.
Chalk and lots of it. But LOTS of great games. The action in the West will be legendary. Dougie McBuckets will make Wisconsin sweat aplenty before the Badgers beat the Bluejays. I really, really wanted to have Creighton make the Final Four. And you know, if I had a buck to wager on a long, long shot, it would probably go on Oregon. The Wiggins story in Kansas survives a BIG scare in the first round to Eastern Kentucky but then runs acropper in the South final ... AFTER Joel Embiid returns. Go figure. Not much to say about the East. Finally, the Midwest gauntlet for Wichita State will only make THAT story better. Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan and then Wisconsin. If I should be wrong somehow, and Wichita State pulls off the 40-0 season, all future committees will be barred from including such major conference fodder as the NC State Wolfpack at the expense of mid-majors. Heck, I would have vastly preferred seeing the Green Bay Phoenix in the NCAA's in place of NC State, Iowa and Tennessee. (so would Saint Louis and UMass). But after Butler's back to backs, after VCU and George Mason, after Steph Curry's Davidson, after Gonzaga's yearly shoving it in the majors' faces, it's time to demand representation from the little guys with big dreams. No more than four teams from any league. Stamp it.
In the meantime, a fond farewll to Tom Izzo. Off to the Knicks or somesuch place to cash huge cheques and put the home visits and the cozying up to street agents and high school demagogues behind. Don't get me wrong, he'll discover Carmelo Anthony and the ilk aren't any bed of roses. And the chicken dinner circuit still requires an undiscerning palette. But he's decided it's time. And who am I to argue?
FINAL FRIVOLITY: Apparently, the odds of taking the field against a specific number of teams for a 50-50 bet is five teams. Me, I'd take Michigan State, Wichita State, Louisville, Wisconsin and Kansas. Which side of the bet do YOU want to be on?