To hell with my bracket! Let it burn. The cursed thing consumed me for what seemed to be eons, pouring my energy and soul into a stupid, Pollyannaish pursuit of perfection, a pursuit destined for crushing failure and mockery. I feel like Sisyphus, only my journey was way harder, I assume. I had Miss Cleo swag on Thursday, but that field of 68 can be a rebellious little bunch. Nobody wanted to listen. Here are the lessons from my bracket getting busted:
1. Florida Gulf Coast is For Real
Florida Gulf Coast is the most entertaining team of all time. I say that with no historical yard stick or really any thought at all. Maybe, I’m just wrapped up in the moment, but HOLY CRAP! DID YOU SEE THEIR DUNKS?!?!? There's a movement afoot...
I’m not even really mad at them for eliminating one of my Final Four in the first round. They fly up and down the court with acrobatic dunks, street-ball whooping from the bench, and an inexplicable bravado.
Perhaps the confidence comes from their coach, a man we all should envy. Andy Enfield is the ultimate entrepreneur. Soon after concluding his economics major at Johns Hopkins, where he set records for free throw shooting efficiency, he funded a Finance MBA from Maryland by running lacrosse camps and basketball shooting camps. His MBA took him to New York, where he had a stint on Wall Street and developed a website called Allnetshooting.com. It was also in New York where he met his lingerie supermodel wife, Amanda Marcum, driving in a fortuitous carpool. Their first date was at a St. John’s NIT game in Queens. And how did Enfield wine and dine such a stunning woman, who adheres to a strict photo-shoot-worthy diet and is no-doubt accustomed to men offering expensive, five star dining? He took her to food court Taco Bell. Boss.
Enfield went on to sell ownership in another startup company, TractManager, which was valued at over $100 million. Discontented with his comfort, he sought a new challenge. Enfield decided he missed basketball and eventually found himself at a small, unheard of school in Fort Myers. Now he can add taking a 15 seed to the sweet 16 to his resume. I absolutely would not be surprised if they end up winning the Civil War against Florida. When asked if he was looking forward to the matchup with Florida, Coach Enfield responded, "Well, we tried to schedule them for a scrimmage, so now we can finally have that game." This sounded like the cushy interview answer to what Enfield really wanted to say, "You can't hide anymore, Florida neighbors. Bring it on!" If you haven’t fallen in love with Florida Gulf Coast, I assume you hate sunshine and kick puppies for pleasure.
2. Don't Bet on the "Disciplined" Team
In the first half of Pitt's blowout loss to Wichita State Thursday, Doug Gottlieb was discussing the coaches' opinions on the effect of altitude in the Salt Lake City games. The rest of the coaches readily acknowledged the difference, but Jamie Dixon believed, "that's just an excuse." It was that moment, with the score still close early, that I knew Pitt was doomed. Forget the immediate effects of not adjusting for the lack of oxygen, but this was a microcosm of Dixon's stubbornness. The coaches that lose are the ones that refuse to break from their system in the tournament.
Playing stall ball is great when you are going through a season. It allows the daily practice to shine through while your team can out execute the opponent to victory. In the tournament, however, playing at a slow pace allows a lower seeded team to hang around and gain confidence. Each upset in the first round had a hint of the slow-down stubbornness, with Bo Ryan and John Thompson III suffering the same fate. With less total plays per game, each moment of unexpected athleticism from the underdog has that much more impact.
3. Look for the Players with Swagger
This is a inverse of the second lesson, and the exact reason why FGCU finds themselves where they are. One player with irrational confidence can carry a team in the tournament. Khalif Wyatt and his 31 points carried Temple over NC State in Round 1, and another 31 points (of 52 total for Temple) nearly beat Indiana singlehandedly. Brandon Paul carried Illinois in a similar fashion over Colorado and would have beaten Miami if one of the referees didn't have cataracts. Trey Burke created Havoc of his own sprinting and slicing through the vaunted VCU defense in an attention grabbing blowout.
At least I was right about those guys. The man I underestimated is perhaps the most annoying yet most enchanting player I've seen in college. His antics are like J.J. Redick if Redick was on methamphetamines every game at Duke. I thought Bo Ryan would settle him down like a kindgarten teacher with a hankering for spanking. Henderson was as unruly as ever, though, draining a crucial 3 pointer after previously going 0-6. That's what irrational confidence does, it allows you to rise to the occasion no matter how the rest of the game has gone. I'm excited to see Henderson come back next year, but for the remainder of the tournament look for the team that doesn't care about consequences.
4. The Mountain West and Big East Always Disappoint
In 2012, the MWC fizzled out quickly. UNLV and San Diego State both lost to lower seeds, Colorado State lost in the first round, and New Mexico and Gonzaga both were dispatched easily in round 2. Deja vu? New Mexico didn't waste time disappointing by losing to Harvard on Day 1, who celebrated by eating caviar and making fun of poor people. Gonzaga nearly became the first 1 seed to lose before falling to Wichita State in Round 2. UNLV, San Diego State, and Boise all went out without a fight, and Colorado State didn't have a prayer against Louisville.
The Big East keeps confusing me. Louisville and Syracuse have looked dominant. Marquette has even won some tough games to advance to the Sweet 16. So why do the others continue to disappoint? I suppose the ones that lost either are victims of Lesson 2 above (Georgetown, Pitt, Notre Dame) or were simply inferior (Cincinnati, Villanova). I planned big things for Pitt and Georgetown and both left me heartbroken. They are my abusive boyfriend, always showing a glimmer that things have changed before ultimately torturing my desire to trust.
5. Don't Get Your Hopes Up
Seriously, if someone gave Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen an 8-ball and a gallon of grain alchohol and put them in a Country Club brunch, they would be more predictable than the NCAA Tournament.