Which Sweet Sixteen Teams To Root For (Part Deaux)

Earlier today, I previewed the South and East regions, giving you a few reasons to get behind each of the remaining teams in those regions. Here, I’ll break down the West and Midwest regions.

West Regional

Oregon

Root for the Ducks if: you crave chaos, you like musicians, Pac-12 bias

  • I’ve entered a bracket into three pools this year with a cumulative total of 74 people. Of those 74, the only person who picked Oregon as the national champion is an English girl who has seen two games of basketball (neither from this year) and picked based on mascots alone. Didn’t even know the seeds. If Oregon makes the championship game against a popular pick, they could annoy a lot of people.
  • Is it just me or does Dwayne Benjamin look like a cross between Snoop Dogg and Reggie Watts?

    15.3.11.SJM_.emg_.uomensbasketballvsncu-1
    Tell me that is not a Dogg-Watts doppelganger.
  • So Oregon won the Pac-12 and got a 1-seed. Indiana won the Big 10 and got a 5-seed. Besides the conference tournament results, they have pretty similar resumes. I understand seeding Oregon ahead of IU, but four seed lines? Besides that, most Pac-12 teams had higher seeds than expected. Regional biases are shifting.

Duke

Root for the Blue Devils if: you trippin‘, you’re invested in Brandon Ingram’s draft stock, you hate America

  • BREAKING: Grayson Allen was actually made in a lab by Duke University as an experiment to find out how much America could hate the “Duke-white-guy”. Results are yet inconclusive, but researchers claim it’s somewhere between “that fourth Indiana Jones movie” and “Joffrey Baratheon”.

    What an ugly face
    What an ugly face
  • It still sounds like Ben Simmons will be the first pick of the 2016 NBA Draft, but if Ingram impresses and takes Duke to another Final Four or championship, he could be lucky enough to play for the Sixers!
  • Let’s be honest. The only people who want Duke to win are Duke fans. Everyone else will be upset. Don’t let Duke win.

Continue reading Which Sweet Sixteen Teams To Root For (Part Deaux)

Which Sweet Sixteen Teams to Root For

Because we now live in a socialist society under President Bernie Sanders, everyone is equal. This also applies to basketball programs. It’s true that all 351 teams in Division I college basketball have the same number of fans and now that only 16 teams remain, over 95% of the country won’t have their school win. I’m here to tell that majority which team’s corner to get in for the final two weeks.

South Regional

Kansas

Root for the Jayhawks if: you like the old guy at the rec who schools the youngbloods, Gregorian chants, favorites

  • Perry Ellis’ old looks have been the subject of much hilarity on the
    Kansas forward Perry Ellis (1)
    Ellis looks like he just retired from the NBA after a 16-year career.

    internet for years now. I remember two years ago thinking, “who’s the fossil playing for Kansas?” and then looking it up to realize he was 19. Dude just turned 22 this year. Despite his geriatric appearance, Ellis plays a solid all-around game. He plays tough defense, rebounds well, and even shoots better than you’d think for a grandfather.

  • The Rock Chalk Jayhawk chant has always sounded to me like monks in a church.
  • Kansas is the number one overall seed. If you’re boring and like rooting for the favorite, they’re the team for you.

Maryland

Root for the Terrapins if: you like “Crabcakes and football!”, really talented teams, cool names

  • Still the most underrated line from Wedding Crashers.
  • Honestly, Maryland has been a disappointment this season. Looking at their roster in September, you’d think they’re a shoe-in for a one seed. There are like eight guys who could start and thrive at almost any program in the country on this team. Plus, they’re huuuuuuge. I have done no research on this, but I suspect Maryland, Purdue, and UC Irvine are the tallest programs in the country.
  • Diamond Stone, Melo Trimble, Damonte Dodd, Varun Ram… cool things are happening there.

Continue reading Which Sweet Sixteen Teams to Root For

Lauren Hill and the Necessity for Sport

It’s just a game.

Not much annoys me more than when I’m struggling to compete and someone tries to calm me down by telling me it’s just a game. If there’s one surefire way to really piss me off, it’s to say that to me while I’m already performing poorly.

Whether it’s basketball, golf, or even just running on the treadmill, I want the best from myself every time. And if I can’t provide that, I get irritated. Irritated and angry. And to lie to my face by telling me “it’s just a game” is a direct insult.

Because it isn’t just a game. I love getting my best, and I expect to.

The Lauren Hill narrative reached the end of another chapter yesterday – what the literary world would call the climax of the story. Hill was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor in October of 2013, and doctors originally gave her two years to live.

“Two Christmases,” Lauren said was her first thought. Recently, her doctors have scaled that prediction back to this December.

Yet, she still stepped out on the court on November 2 and scored four points for Mount St. Joseph’s in the first game of the college season. Not only that, but she sacrificed countless hours of what little time she has left to participate in practices and walkthroughs just to play in a college game.

“All they can do is give me more steroids and help me through the death process. That’s the hardest and that’s why I’m at my lowest point now.”

Is basketball just a game for Lauren Hill? If you still think the answer is yes, I encourage you to watch the One More Game feature that aired on SportsCenter tonight. Hill loves basketball so much, she’s chosen to spend some of her last days training and working for the chance to play in a college basketball game. Training and working with a body that is breaking.

“There’s really nothing they can do,” Hill said. “All they can do is give me more steroids and help me through the death process. That’s the hardest and that’s why I’m at my lowest point now.”

It’s unnatural to hear an 18-year-old talking about her death.

So no, it’s not always just a game. Every time you step on the court, field, or track is a chance to express yourself and be a human – to give your all to something.

Lauren Hill’s four points won’t wow anyone through athleticism, but her tears and smiles were more inspiring than any highlight reel. How can a game bring you to tears? The truth is, for a lot of us in this world, competition is a way of life. We’re in love with it, and true love lasts a lifetime – whether it’s 50 years or just two more months.

Which Final Four Team to Get Behind

One of the most exciting sports weekends of the year is fast approaching. Everyone gets excited about March Madness and that’s finally coming to a close next weekend. If your team was lucky enough to make the tournament, bully for you! But most teams find out the road to the Final Four is tougher than they anticipated. You wouldn’t believe how many times people have come up to me and said, “Casey, my team was eliminated early on, who should I cheer for this weekend?” Well, curious friend, I’ll tell you.

Here’s a breakdown of each of the four teams left and why you should hop on that bandwagon before it’s too late to pretend you’ve been a fan for years.

Wisconsin

Cheer “On Wisconsin” if you like: Benet Academy, cheese, Aaron Rodgers hanging out in your locker room

Obviously Wisconsin’s leading scorer is Benet alum Frank Kaminsky, so if you’re from Benet and like to see former Redwings succeed, the Badgers are the team for you.

One other reason to cheer on Wisconsin is Bo Ryan. When he’s not getting goofy with Aaron Rodgers, he’s one of the more consistent basketball coaches in the country. In the 13 years that Ryan has been at the Wisconsin helm, the Badgers have never finished outside the top four of the Big 10 conference, despite only coaching three NBA draft picks. Everyone likes a coach who can get the most out of a less talented team and that’s something Ryan has done with consistency.

Florida

Gator chomp if you like: winning streaks, partying, second chances, my bracket succeeding

It’s hard to come back into the public’s favor after crushing the Cinderella-story of the year, but the Gators offer several reasons to warrant your cheers.

If you’re like me and chalked up your bracket with Florida winning, you have an easy reason to get behind Florida. But beyond that, Florida has a couple guys on their roster who are making the most of a second (or third) chance they were given. In June, point guard Scottie Wilbekin was suspended indefinitely for violating team rules. Wilbekin also missed two games last year for the same reason. The other Florida contributor who was sent to the principal’s office this season was 5-star recruit Chris Walker. Walker hasn’t contributed much this year after being suspended for the first 12 games of the year for academic ineligibility, but he pushes further the idea of second chances on this Gators team.

The other fun thing about Florida is that they’ve actually played each of the other Final Four teams. The Gators lost to Wisconsin in the third game of the season 53-59, then lost to UConn on a last-second shot three weeks later 64-65. Those were their only two losses of the season. Then, being in the SEC, they took on Kentucky twice in the conference season, then in the conference championship game. Florida won all three contests, but the last one was dangerously close, winning by one point. Imagine if the Gators got one more shot at the only two teams that beat them this year. Poetic.

Connecticut

Hop on UConn’s bandwagon (they say there’s room!) if you enjoy: cool names like Shabazz, clutch free throw shooting, foreign players (the Huskies have some)

Connecticut is technically the underdog of this Final Four as only 1.3% of people chose them to get this far. But, at this point, you can’t really say anyone is an underdog. You can’t fluke your way to a Final Four. If you get this far, you’re good.

UConn might have the most talented backcourt in the country, lead by Shabazz Napier. Napier is a gutsy undersized senior with a sweet first name and an even sweeter stroke. Napier is one of those players who feels like he’s been in college for 8 years (others on this list include JJ Redick and Adreian Payne) and keeps hitting clutch shots throughout his career. He’s actually played in a national championship before, as a freshman when UConn won in 2011. The way he’s played this tournament, you can tell he’s thirsty for another one.

Napier is paired with talented junior Ryan Boatright (who beat Benet in high school to kill their perfect season. Grrr) to form a DANGEROUS backcourt of shooters. The Huskies might be outmatched down low compared to the other teams still in the tournament, but they’ve been playing through their backcourt all season and they are a scary team if they are hitting their shots.

Kentucky

Shout out Go Cats if you like: flights with a layover, player turnover, cheering on players that cannot legally buy dry ice

Kentucky, Kentucky, Kentucky… What are you? The last three years have yielded three VERY different teams for the Wildcats. 2012 saw one of the most talented teams ever with Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, and three other first-round draft picks won the National Championship. Last year, Kentucky was ranked in the top three to start the season, but ended up getting bounced in the first round of the NIT. This year, the Wildcats were also highly touted with Coach Calipari claiming this could be the team to go 40-0, but a disappointing regular season made it look like it would be another down year for Big Blue Nation, as they earned an 8-seed in a region of death. But just when you thought the Wildcats were done for the year, they beat three of last year’s Final Four teams in a row to reach this year’s Final Four.

There’s always controversy about Kentucky’s recruiting strategy of attracting the one-and-done. They will always be the most talented team on the floor, but questions arise in how well they can mesh as a team in just a few months, and in their lack of experience. They’ll see a Wisconsin team next weekend which is pretty much the anti-Kentucky in that they almost NEVER have freshmen leave their program.

No matter who you’re cheering for, whether Husky, Gator, Badger, or Wildcat, take time to appreciate the best postseason in sports. In the same way that the Greek democracy was the purest democracy, college basketball’s 68-team playoff is the purest way to crown a champion. Ninety-nine percent of these players aren’t going to make a career in the NBA. They are doing this for the here and now. No other major sport has a playoff system as crazy, unpredictable or fun to watch as March Madness.

Why To Root for Each Final Four Team

This year’s Final Four features four interesting teams… as it does every year… On the left side of the bracket we have #1 Louisville vs. #9 Wichita State in a battle of the best team in the tournament (according to seeding) vs. the overachieving team that “amazed” the world (ba-dum-tis). On the right, we have a matchup of Beilein vs. Boeheim. If you’re one of those people who follows the “I before E except after C rule” I’m going to suggest you not watch this game because these guys are just trying to piss you off.

At this point, most likely your team has been knocked out of the tournament and you’ve been searching through the internet trying to find an answer of who to cheer on for the final three games of the college season. Well, lucky for you, you happen to have come to the exact right place!

#1 Louisville

Coming out of the Midwest regional, or as every casual basketball fan across America knows it “the upper left part”, is the Louisville Cardinals. As the favorite to win the national championship when the tournament began, you will have a natural inclination to root for this team’s demise, especially considering they play a #9 seed in the Final Four. Everyone loves a Cinderella story and how great would it be if the Shock topped Louisville (I think that pun’s at least acceptable)? Think about that next step though. How long can Wichita St. keep the March magic going? Would they be reenergized by a victory over Louisville (similar to Butler in 2010) or would they finally fade away and not be too competitive in the final game (similar to Butler in 2011)? So I suppose their Final Four matchup is less about how you feel about Louisville and more about how much you believe in Wichita St.

As a bonus, to IU fans who frequently partake in palm-readers, fortune-tellers, and horoscopes, you all should be rooting for Louisville for another reason. Indiana’s last two championships (1981 & 1987) have both come after the year following a Louisville national championship. So do with that info what you will.

Also you just have to feel for a team who had a player do this to his leg…

#9 Wichita State

In the same way that it will be easy to root for Louisville to lose, everyone’s going to want to see Wichita State on top after next weekend. It’s easy to cheer for a team that’s overcome so much. They come from a mid-major conference. They’ve been wracked with injuries this year. They lost their top five scorers from last year and DIDN’T lose in the first round of the NIT. Their leading scorer’s name is Cleanthony… All these things are working against the Shockers, yet still they’ve made it to the precipice of college basketball greatness.

Even if Wichita State advances, do they deserve your support in the Finals? These are the real questions that traditional media is too afraid to ask.

#4 Michigan

Now, if you’re like me, Michigan is tearing me in two as I decide who I want to root for. On one hand, I want to see the Big Ten have success and they are the last chance the conference has to make that happen. I also know the team better than the others based solely off getting to watch them play more often. On the other hand, they’re a conference rival and Michigan fans would never let the rest of the Big Ten hear the end of it how they are the first conference team to win a national championship since 2000 and just the second in the last 23 years. And while most Michigan fans that pay attention to the team will probably be respectful, the ones that just hopped on the bandwagon after that Kansas game will be the ones boasting. These same people that leave 600 seats un-warmed at every home game.

The thing about Michigan though, I like their team. They are fun to watch. They’ve got the best player in the country in Trey Burke, the classic white-guy-who-can-shoot in Nik Stauskas, and a couple of athletic wings with great pedigrees in Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. Also, my favorite player still in the tournament is on Michigan – Spike Albrecht. First off, his name is Spike and he’s so adorably un-intimidating. It’s like naming a terrier “Wolf”. Second, he goes all out. He makes the most of the little time he gets. He’s the man.

#4 Syracuse

This team leaves me with a similar feeling to Michigan. Because they beat IU, I want to see them go far to validate our loss to them. But also because they beat IU, I don’t like them.

The story of the Orange so far (by so far, I mean the last 30 years) is how nobody can get through their 2-3 zone. This group is possibly playing it as well as any Beilein has ever had. Indiana couldn’t solve it. And I’m not sure if you heard but there was a game on before the Louisville vs. Duke game last night where Syracuse played Marquette. It seemed to get ZERO publicity but the Golden Eagles also could not score on Syracuse. Anyway, if you like watching long, athletic guys play a zone defense, ‘Cuse is your team. If you’re like the rest of America and enjoy one-on-one matchups of the best players in the country, you’ll root for the Oranges to be peeled.

If I were to put numbers on it right now, I’d say Louisville 40%, Wichita St 10%, Michigan 25%, Syracuse 25%. But I’m also a fool.

 

The Best March Madness Matchups that Will/Could/Should Have Happened

Everyone loves March Madness. People all over the country go a full college basketball season without watching a single game, yet still fill out a bracket and cheer harder than anyone for the teams they randomly picked. Unfortunately, these are the same ones that get your $10 buy-in when they somehow win your bracket pool. It’s a universal game that appeals to all. The tournament is the closest-to-perfection example of a postseason in any form of sports. The best teams are upset, Cinderellas are created, and everyone’s eyes are focused on whatever city has been selected to host that year’s Final Four.

We’ve had all of those this year, and besides having Indiana win the tournament (#shameless), the only thing that could make the tournament better is if we saw these matchups.

Let’s start with the ones that WILL happen:

#3 Florida vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast

Nobody has gotten as much publicity this March as America’s new favorite rag-tag group of over-acheivers. The Eagles play like they’re in an intrasquad game they put together after practice. Their fun-loving style has won over the hearts of everyone they play in front of and are just one step behind Rocky in Moscow when it comes to winning an audience.

Gator fans are chomping their teeth to put to rest this upstart new team that nobody’s heard of. And everyone else (including Miami fans who aren’t believing FGCU could beat them in an unlikely Final Four matchup) can’t get enough of the newspaper covers, Dunk City t-shirts, and general buzz.

I can’t see FGCU pulling out the win in this matchup, but then again I didn’t see them beating Georgetown, I didn’t see VCU making the Final Four, and I didn’t see Butler making consecutive National Championship runs so maybe I should just stop trying to foresee winners and just enjoy plays like this.

#2 Duke vs. #3 Michigan State

This one was a little more likely to happen than the last, and I’ve been waiting to watch it since the brackets came out. Duke’s offense when Ryan Kelly is healthy has almost TOO MANY options and Michigan State looked like the best team on the first weekend. Gary Harris is hitting everything, Adrien Payne might break a backboard with how often he’s dunking, and Tom Izzo is one of the best March coach in the country. I finally settled on Duke as my pick to win, but if I’d been given another day to reassess, my opinion could have swung the other direction.

How about a couple potential matchups that could occur if the basketball Gods looked with favor upon our sacrifices of Gonzaga and Georgetown.

#1 Indiana vs. #4 Michigan

I know this is risky to look multiple games ahead, and I’m by no means saying this WILL happen, but I would LOVE to see a round three clash of these Big Ten teams. Indiana has won two close regular season matchups against the Wolverines, the first in Bloomington where the Hoosiers knocked off #1 Michigan to reclaim the top spot of their own. The second game I’m sure gave Michigan fans fits to no end as it was a game that any team in their position with 1 minute left would have won 95 out of 100 times. I don’t think anyone wants to beat the Hoosiers more than Michigan and I don’t think anybody knows how to beat the Wolverines better than Indiana. As an IU fan (#shameless), I’m legitimately scared of this potential game. As a college basketball fan, I can’t wait.

#1 Louisville vs. #2 Ohio State

These are the two best teams on the left side of the bracket – they’re both strong defensive teams, and they match up really well against each other. OSU could use Craft, one of the nation’s best defensive guards, to slow down Louisville’s leading scorer Russ Smith. Meanwhile, Louisville gets a defensive edge with Gorgui Deng, a guy who can shut down the Buckeye’s inside game. I honestly could see the final scores of this game being as low as mid-40s or as high as mid-70s. Craft is the X factor, as he always is. His defensive game is consistently dominant, but if he’s clicking on offense too, we’ll see the Buckeyes in the championship. If he’s not, Pitino gets a shot at his second national title.

HONORABLE MENTION: Could we see an All-Big Ten Final Four? Eamonn Brennan explains why it’s not at impossible as you think. As a fan of the conference, I’d think this was really cool and great for publicity. But, I’ve seen enough real life to know this only happens in movies.

These were the matchups I wanted to see so badly, yet won’t get the privilege.

#4 St. Louis vs. #1 Louisville

I’m a sucker for a team playing for a greater cause. St. Louis was a team that a lot of people were high on when the brackets were released, but their exit to Oregon in the Round of 32 meant no more Billikens for us. I’m a big believer in the human spirit and if anyone could have beaten the overall #1 seed before the Final Four, it was SLU.

#2 Georgetown vs. #4 Syracuse

As much as I loved watching Florida Gulf Coast’s win over the Hoyas, I wanted to see this rivalry one last time before they head to different conferences. One of the great rivalries in college basketball, the Gtown and ‘Cuse would love one more go at it as Big East foes. I truly hope the two schools start an annual non-conference showdown so that this tradition doesn’t die.

#1 Indiana vs. #6 Butler

Maybe the B-town bias is coming through again (#shameincreasingslowly), but this series could develop into one of the next great college basketball rivalries. Butler emerged as a strong program at the exact right time (when IU was on its knees) to take bragging rights for the state. Suddenly, big brother came home from college and little brother had been working out enough to kick his ass. The Bulldogs pulled out a thriller in Indianapolis when these two met in the regular season and you can tell that neither team will back down for supremacy in the basketball-driven state of Indiana.

#5 VCU vs. #15 Florida Gulf Coast

This year’s VCU against the actual VCU? Yes, please. No doubt in my mind that the Rams would win, but that’s what we all said about Georgetown too.

#5 Wisconsin vs. #3 Marquette

An unlikely matchup that would have to occur in the championship game, but if the bracket were arranged just a little different, these two teams could potentially have met in the round of 32. This is a downplayed and very unique rivalry that doesn’t get enough attention. One team relies on athleticism to win, the other on a slow, deliberate system. The uniqueness comes from that fact that a lot of Marquette students are Wisconsin football fans, seeing as they don’t have a team of their own. But when they meet on the basketball court, lines are drawn and all bets are off. This would’ve been a fun one to watch.

Overall, I have absolutely ZERO complaints about this tournament. While that opinion might change as soon as Indiana loses, regardless, there’s been enough excitement and drama to satisfy me. I read somewhere that this is the fifth-least “chalkiest” Sweet Sixteen in history based on seeding which is pretty cool. Anyways, bad luck to your brackets and appreciate this near-perfect example of a tournament championship.