When Kevin Ware went down with a broken leg in Louisville's Elite Eight win over Duke, most of his teammates reacted with varying degrees of shock. There was, of course, the immediate cringing; it was a gruesome injury, and the grimaces and recoils only made sense. Soon, others were crying. But after turning his head with everyone else at the sight of the snapped bone, Luke Hancock was the one who came to Ware's side and gripped his hand. He said a prayer, guided him through the initial trauma, and stayed with him on the floor while the medical staff worked. It was because of Hancock, at least in part, that Ware overcame his initial horror and encouraged his teammates to keep playing, to win the game.
In the days leading up to Louisville's Final Four game against Wichita State, the question Hancock faced over and over was why he'd done it. Why did he have the presence of mind to react the way he did?
When he answered the question Friday in the Georgia Dome's media center, he probably could have recited a response from memory. He'd been the centerpiece of hundreds of stories for that one act, and was destined to be featured in a hundred more. Which is why it surprised me that his answer, simple as it was, still moved me.
What better way to celebrate the upcoming Final Four than to bust out another mailbag? I again got a ton of great e-mails, and after sifting through all the ones that were some variation of “I’m a Kansas/Ohio State fan, and I need you to help talk me off the ledge,” I was left with these. Let’s talk a little college basketball, shall we?
While watching The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels cut a promo to hype the Brock/HHH match, I couldn't help but wonder about his self-proclaimed nickname of "Mr. WrestleMania.” Even in professional wrestling, you would think one would have to have an outstanding record to warrant such a lofty nickname. But his record is 6-11, and this includes his matches while he served as the captain of the Rockers.
Is he only Mr. WrestleMania because he has competed at 17 of them? Surely it isn't because of his win-loss record.
Trying to guess the legitimacy of the Indiana Hoosiers has been a season-long brain teaser, and I've consistently taken the "overrated" side of the debate. Every time it looked like I might be right, as with the near-loss to Georgetown and the losses to Butler, Wisconsin, and Illinois, the Hoosiers would do something spectacular, like decimate North Carolina or soundly beat Ohio State or Michigan State on the road. And each time they began to look like a dominant team bound for a title, there'd be a worrisome hiccup that made you think they couldn't win six critical games in March.
The Sweet 16 continues tonight with another slate of intriguing games that promise to be unpredictable. Luckily for all you gamblers out there, I’m here to guarantee that the following five things will happen:
1. Florida will destroy Florida Gulf Coast
Just imagine what the past four days have been like for Florida Gulf Coast’s players and coaches. Since FGCU became the first 15-seed to advance to the Sweet 16, every media outlet in the country wants a piece of these guys. The players have become rock stars on campus, and at least one fan has gotten an FGCU tattoo that I’m sure they’ll never regret. The Eagles’ egos have probably (and understandably) swollen to unprecedented heights. I wouldn’t be surprised if instead of practicing this week, they just watched highlights of their first two tournament games and congratulated each other for being awesome. This isn’t meant to be criticism. If I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t even show up to play Florida because I’d be too busy partying on the beach and trying to convince girls to come home with me by telling them, “You probably saw me on TV beating Georgetown.”
The Sweet 16 gets under way tonight, and if the first weekend of tournament action is any indication of what’s to come, we’re in for a treat. Every year, it seems the NCAA tournament gets more unpredictable, which is why I’ve taken it upon myself to tell you what to expect. Here are five more predictions that might as well be guarantees:
1. Keith Smart’s shot will be shown at least three times.
“When you talk about Indiana and Syracuse, you have to talk about Keith Smart hitting the game-winner to give the Hoosiers the 1987 national title. It’s one of the great moments in tournament history, but think about this, Clark: None of the players in tonight’s game were even alive when it happened! No matter who’s your favorite team, ‘orange’ you of the opinion that taking that shot was a ‘smart’ decision?!”
— Jim Nantz, probably
I got a ton of e-mails this week and most of them were worth publishing, but I decided to limit the number to 16 in honor of the upcoming Sweet 16. Let’s get down to business.
Who do you see as the favorites to win it all, and why? Also, who has disappointed you? Between Florida Gulf Coast, Oregon, and La Salle, which team is your favorite Cinderella story? Also, who do you think has the best chance of going far and why?
Never mind. I guess I’ll answer 19 questions.
Louisville is the favorite right now, with Duke and Florida close behind. They’re the only teams that have been at the top of the polls all season and also looked dominant in their first two games. The obvious omission is Michigan, which has been highly ranked all year and just thrashed VCU. But I want to see how the Wolverines handle Kansas before I jump back on their bandwagon. The VCU win was impressive, but the Rams' style of play is possibly the worst approach against Michigan. If the Wolverines dispatch the Jayhawks, they’ll be favorites, too. But if they lose, I would have a hard time considering them contenders for the national title.
The obvious disappointments are Gonzaga and Georgetown. Both have histories of getting bounced early, but I thought this year would be different because of Kelly Olynyk and Otto Porter. I was wrong.
Finally, Oregon is the best double-digit seed remaining, La Salle has the easiest path to the Final Four of the three Cinderellas, and Florida Gulf Coast is the underdog most likely to say “Screw it, let’s go get shitfaced and party on the beach” after it loses.
I am sick of the rage. I am sick of the anxiety. I am sick of inferior college basketball teams coming together for triumphant wins, or superior ones falling apart for ungodly losses, when I have clearly filled out my bracket to indicate that it should have been different. This is a mockery, and we are the innocent targets. It must stop.
The audacity of certain teams to rise past their stations in the postseason is a blight on the sports landscape. Ditto for the underachievers. How dare they? And how dare the NCAA? Of all the complaints I've heard about that organization, the fact that the bigwigs in the front office continue to condone a single-elimination tournament in college basketball is by far the most egregious. Why have we tolerated this format for so long? Why should we even make picks when the entire tournament is so unpredictable? We've been trained like clowns to make fools of ourselves, and our circus is the bracket. And the ringmaster is the selection committee. And the company that employs us all is the NCAA. And the circus tent is the basketball court, I guess, but it doesn't matter.
For our final Man of the Hour, as the early games wind to a close, we turn to a mid-major hero whom I dismissed without cause in my Midwest Region picks, but who is currently putting me to shame with a great performance against Cincinnati. He is:
It's time for the last Man of the Hour, and there's no doubt who deserves the honor. He's the man who represents the last hope of a real upset (no, Wichita State over Pittsburgh doesn't count) in the early games. He is:
Hello, degenerate gamblers. March Madness is upon us, so whataya say we get mad together? Props are plentiful in this year's NCAA tournament. Some of these are harder to find than a clean Lindsay Lohan urine sample, but I promise if you go online and search hard enough you'll hit pay dirt.
There will be ZERO buzzer-beaters during the second-round (Thursday-Friday) games (-140)
Aside from the over/under for Joey Chestnut hot dogs consumed, this is my favorite annual bet in all of sports. I've won with this play the last two years. Yes — betting against buzzer-beaters makes me the equivalent of the kill-joy douche bag who plays the don't-pass line in craps. But I don't care — it's an adrenaline rush like none other. Remember — you lose only if the game ends on the shot itself. If the shot sends the game into overtime, it is not considered a buzzer-beater. If there's .3 still on the clock after the shot is made, it is not considered a buzzer-beater. If some drunken coed sets off an app that sounds like bees swarming while a free throw is converted — not a buzzer-beater.
Let's break down this prop. Of the 32 second-round games, 25 or so are not going to be within seven points in the final 30 seconds — so those are throwaways. (I completely made up that stat but it sounds about right.) That leaves only a handful of games you have to watch from the edge of your laptop. Please jump on this one with me, if for no other reason than I don't have to feel like such a loser.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, we're going region by region, helping you pick your bracket all the way from the First Four to the Final Four. On Tuesday, we blazed through the West and Midwest Regions, earlier today we tackled the East, and now we're finishing off with the South.
The Land of the Troubled
This is the region of the wounded. It's still strong, but each team is flawed — or perceived to be flawed — in some essential way. The Jayhawks are a soft 1-seed with point guard issues, and there's an interesting stat working against them; since 2002, when Maryland lost to Duke by 21 in the regular season, no national champion has ever lost a game in the regular season by 20 points or more. (Thanks to ESPN Stats & Information for that one.) Kansas — after winning seven straight — closed out the regular season with a 23-point loss at Baylor. Is it an omen?
Georgetown shared the Big East regular-season title, but past tournament failures and the doubt that accompanies a super-slow team are on everyone's minds, denying the Hoyas rightful status as an elite team. Florida keeps blowing leads and choking away potential wins, going 26-1 in games decided by double-digits and 0-6 in single-digit affairs. Michigan is weak inside, and Tim Hardaway Jr. seems to go missing every other game. Jordan Adams, UCLA's second-leading scorer, is out for the year with a broken foot suffered in the Pac-12 tournament. Minnesota has loads of talent, but underachieved in the Big Ten all season, finishing 8-10 in conference play to the frustration of its fans.
Everywhere you look, there's something to prove, and something to mend. So will one of the walking wounded buck the odds and roar to the Final Four? Or will another bracket-busting team, like a shark smelling blood, cry HAVOC and let slip the dogs of war?
On Tuesday and Wednesday, we're going region by region, helping you pick your bracket all the way from the First Four to the Final Four. Yesterday we blazed through the West and Midwest Regions, and today, we're tackling the East.
THE BRACKET OF OPPORTUNITY
The immediate thing I notice about the East is that it looks like the weakest bracket in the field. At the same time, it might be the toughest to pick. Look at the 1-6 seeds:
If I time-traveled back from 2½ weeks in the future and said that any one of those teams had made the Final Four, would you be surprised? Among that group, UNLV would be my only mild shock, but if Anthony Bennett gets out, it's not out of the question. This is the kind of bracket you absolutely love if you're an 8- or 9-seed like NC State and Temple. Yes, beating Indiana is going to be hell in the Round of 32, but beating any 1-seed would be difficult. But if you manage to get past the Hoosiers, things start to look wide open.
Before last year's tournament began, Bill wrote about the slightly insane but totally fun knockout pool in which he competes every year. Republished below are the complete rules. This is a highly recommended experience.
Four years ago, I created a March Madness knockout pool that none other than Cousin Sal (one of the great gamblers of all time, or at least one of the least successful) called "the best office pool ever." I don't know anyone who doesn't absolutely love this pool. Anyway, here's how it works.
Let's say $20 per entry, if gambling were legal.
You have to send in your picks before the start of the first game on Thursday. No exceptions.
For Thursday of Round 1, you have to pick TWO WINNERS. Not against the spread, just outright winners — again, both teams just have to win. If either loses, you're out ... but you can buy back in for another $20 (and if you buy back in, you have to pick FOUR winners on Friday, not two).