PORTLAND, Ore. — By now, you have scratched up your NCAA Tournament bracket, pulled your hair out trying to determine whether Colorado State has a chance to beat Murray State and made up seven excuses why you won’t be at work Thursday or Friday.
You have NCAA Tournament fever and it’s making you crazy. All you want to do is dance.
We Kansans have it especially good. It’s time to put down our verbal weapons, basketball fans in Kansas, and pull for one another. Because for the first time in 24 years, all three teams from our state are in the NCAAs. And if we can be a little overboard here, they all have a chance to get deep into the tournament. I think a couple will.
Then again, nothing is certain. Wichita State could lose Thursday in Portland, where it’s rainy and cool, to VCU. Kansas State has a tough matchup Thursday in Pittsburgh against Southern Miss. And Kansas has a game against one of those 15 seeds that should be a pushover, but might not be. No. 15 seeds have won four games in 108 tries. But four isn’t zero, is it? So you know the Jayhawks have some of angst heading into Friday night’s game against Detroit in Omaha.
Wichita State has no shot at meeting Kansas or Kansas State until the national championship game. And KU and KSU wouldn’t clash until the national semifinals.
So we can sit back and relax and pull for each other. Right?
Oh come on. Just this once?
WSU is the school from the non-BCS conference everyone has fallen in love with. But it took a while. It wasn’t until the Shockers trounced Creighton in Omaha last month that the national pundits blew them a kiss.
Wichita State has it all and is especially rich with experience. It is the kind of team that can cause fits in this tournament, even in a potential showdown with the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, Kentucky. Those teams are on course to meet in a Sweet 16 game in Atlanta’s South Regional next week.
If, if, they can get that far.
I don’t care what you think you know about this tournament, you don’t really know it. Outside of a 1 beating a 16, which has never happened, everything else is up for grabs. And there will come a day, I promise, when a 16 pulls the upset of all upsets. Just not this year and probably not next.
So when you’re picking your bracket and you’re telling your friends you always do well, you’re probably lying. Because nobody always does well. You all know somebody who doesn’t know a thing about basketball, but has won your office pool. It’s almost a case of the more you know, the worse off you are.
I am picking Southern Miss to beat Kansas State. Why? Because it’s a hunch. That’s it.
It pains me to pick against a Kansas school, but I want to win my pool. And even though Southern Miss has never won an NCAA Tournament game —– and Kansas State has won 32 in 25 appearances – I’m going with the Golden Eagles against my better judgment.
Wichita State beats VCU. How strong is my conviction? Not very. I remember how the Rams beat the Shockers at Koch Arena last season and how they beat Kansas in a regional final in San Antonio and how they went to the Final Four. And that carries some weight.
It’s not the same VCU team, though. I get that. It’s loaded with freshmen, while Wichita State has a bunch of seniors. That’s why I’m picking the Shockers.
And while I’m picking Kansas to beat Detroit, I spent 15 minutes looking for reasons why the Titans might be able to pull off one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history. And wouldn’t you know, I found a couple.
First, Detroit has a fantastic player in sophomore guard Ray McCallum, the son of the coach by the same name. McCallum was a McDonald’s All-American in high school and was recruited some by Kansas. He eventually narrowed his choices to UCLA, Oklahoma, Arizona and Florida before choosing Detroit.
The Titans are 17-15 since a 5-8 start and come out of the same conference (Horizon) as Butler, which was in back-to-back Final Fours before missing the field this year. Five Detroit players average in double figures.
See what I’m doing? I’m muddling up even the simplest of games, creating doubt where there shouldn’t be any.
If I do that just picking the games, is it possible those who have to play and coach the games do the same thing?
I’m thinking too much, not a problem in my normal life. But the NCAA Tournament makes my mind jump all over the place. Sometimes I think it would be easier just to pick the favorites and forget about it. But that’s not the way to pick a bracket. You can’t brag about picking an upset if you don’t pick some.
So, my bracket has Kentucky, Marquette, Vanderbilt and North Carolina reaching the Final Four. I have Kansas reaching the Midwest Regional final before losing to North Carolina. Wichita State will reach the Sweet 16 but not be able to get past Kentucky.
I like Memphis to get to the Elite Eight. I think Michigan State will lose in the second round. I have Ohio reaching the Sweet 16. And of the teams seeded 14 and below, I urge you to pay attention to Belmont.
But what do I know?