Hey, Wichita State, you just went on a thrilling run to the Final Four and followed it up with a perfect 34-0 regular season record, come on down to get your prize!
Death. Doom and gloom and hardship. The Midwest is the “Bracket of Death.” Going into Championship/Selection Sunday, there was a lot of discussion around who the fourth 1-seed would be. If Michigan would beat Michigan State for the Big 10 Championship, it would be a shoe-in. If Duke were to beat Virginia for the ACC crown, they’d be strongly considered to fill that spot. And if both those teams lost, the buzz was to slot the defending champion Louisville Cardinals into that spot. And then, when the dust settled, somehow ALL OF THESE TEAMS LANDED IN THE MIDWEST! With Wichita State who, again, reached the Final Four then completed the only undefeated regular season since UNLV in 1991.
Whoever emerges from this bracket will be tested, so has the grit to forge through the fire?
(12) North Carolina State Wolfpack OVER (12) Xavier Musketeers
(16) Texas Southern Tigers OVER (16) Cal Poly Mustangs
Cal Polytech normally studies the type of skills meant for Silicon Valley tech companies. Somehow they pieced together a random 3-game win streak to make the tournament with a 13-19 record. The only way for Cal Poly to finish the year above .500 is to win the National Championship. Texas Southern is coached by ex-Indiana coach, Mike Davis, who led the Hoosiers to the 2002 Championship Game. One is a basketball school, the other is going to come up with the algorithms to find Malaysia 370. Cal Tech goes back to their calculators.
(11) Iowa Hawkeyes OVER (11) Tennessee Volunteers
Tennessee is the hotter team entering the night, winning five of their last six, and making seven of their last nine tournaments. Iowa showed plenty of potential to start the year and was ranked as highly as 10th a mere two months ago. They’ve stumbled to lose 6 of 7 to end the year, but will be playing with tons of emotion tonight. Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery will be returning for tip-off after flying from Iowa City for his 13-year old son’s surgery on a thyroid tumor. If there’s one thing I know about March Madness, it’s never bet against the team playing with emotion.
(1) Wichita State Shockers OVER (16) Texas Southern Tigers
You don’t win 34 games in a row just to lose the streak to Texas Southern. Wichita plays angry and the Tigers are going to be hurting.
(8) Kentucky Wildcats OVER (9) Kansas State Wildcats
Seriously, why are so many teams named the wildcats? Were there really passionate arguments over whether to pick Leopards, Cougars or Tigers, and so they compromised on the most generic jungle cat possible? Good luck picking this game with your tougher mascot strategy, but as far as basketball goes, it should be just as close a call.
(12) North Carolina State Wolfpack OVER (5) Saint Louis Billikens
There aren’t many better cases for the “Nobody Believes in Us” team than NC State. After over 90% of tournament models had the Wolfpack watching the dance from home, NC State snuck in and now ACC Player of the Year is unleashed on the tournament. He shouldn’t have much of a problem doing work against a Saint Louis team that disappointed in last year’s tournament and enters this one losing four of their last five. In a league where nobody would shut up about Tyler Ennis, Marcus Paige or Jabari Parker, T.J. Warren might be the best of them all and he’s out to prove it.
(4) Louisville Cardinals OVER (13) Manhattan Jaspers
The Manhattan Jaspers are named from Brother Jasper, a native of Ireland who came to the college in 1861 to be the head of resident students, found the first band, glee club, literary clubs, and became the school’s first athletic director. His first move as AD was to name the teams after himself. Bold man. Somehow, though, Rick Pitino still has more swag than Brother Jasper. Louisville crushes.
(11) Iowa Hawkeyes OVER (6) UMass Minutemen
Don’t bet against teams playing with a heavy heart. Especially when they have a 6’6’’ senior guard in Roy-Devyn Marble that can break rims and a team that hung tough with Villanova, MSU and Iowa State, and beat Ohio State, Michigan, and Notre Dame. Iowa. If they shut down skilled guard, Chaz Williams, they’ll dispatch the minutemen faster than Paul Revere.
(3) Duke Blue Devils OVER (14) Mercer Bears
This is sort of why I hate doing brackets. Everything in me wants to cheer for Mercer, but now I have this silly little thing called money that I have wagered on my bracket that has me stray away. Duke lost to Lehigh two years ago, but that was with Austin Rivers, and I feel safe saying Jabari Parker is a better superstar than Austin Rivers.
(7) Texas Longhorns OVER (10) Arizona State Sun Devils
Another thing that isn’t fun to do is bet on Rick Barnes, the man who somehow lost by 19 in the second round when both Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin were on his team. But Texas is too big and strong that their gameplan should create itself, get down low and get rebounds (4th in the nation) against a smaller Sun Devil squad that can’t do it as well (130th in the nation). Texas’ Isaiah Taylor will have to contain Arizona’s Jahii Carson, but he’s up to the task and Texas advances.
(2) Michigan Wolverines OVER (15) Wofford Terriers
Terriers are cool dogs. They’re small, wiry, active and actually pretty fearless. But the stuffed animal-esque lapdog will be afraid of a muscular, carnivorous wolverine. And if Michigan’s wolverines are actually the kind with adamantium claws, then run for cover.
(1) Wichita State Shockers OVER (8) Kentucky Wildcats
This game would be great. Between the Kansas country-boys and the sure-to-be NBA rich guys, this is the basketball culture war playing out in 48 minutes. But despite Kentucky’s extreme talent, it’s starting to look like Calipari’s Championship playing top-tier freshmen was more of an anomaly than a changing of the tide. Wichita State is the better team, and will push around all the young Wildcats.
(4) Louisville Cardinals OVER (12) North Carolina State Wolfpack
If there’s any counterattack for T.J. Warren, it’s Rick Pitino and his Cardinal’s aggressive full-court press. Louisville flies up and down the court and will make life miserable for the Wolfpack guards who can be prone to turning the ball over. Russ Smith and the gang get another big game against the Shockers.
(3) Duke Blue Devils OVER (11) Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa is talented, deep and motivated, but Duke is, well, Duke again. Jabari Parker is probably going to be the number pick in the NBA Draft, and he’s going to be a dream to watch in what will most likely be his only tournament.
Oh, hey we can be disappointed by Rick Barnes again! That’s always a relief. Texas is a size-oriented team, and can hang with teams that will rely on getting the ball down low, but Michigan has the perimeter players to outduel the Longhorns. Look for Nik Stauskas, Spike Albrecht and Glenn Robinson III to torture the Longhorns with their shooting and athleticism.
(1) Wichita State Shockers OVER (4) Louisville Cardinals
This may have been the best game of the 2013 tournament, when Louisville staged a furious rally to come back from 12 down with 13 minutes to play. But that stuck in the Wichita State player’s minds for an entire season, and was galvanizing enough of a defeat to get them to 34-0 this year. Louisville is good, and everybody trusts in Rick Pitino, but without the leadership of a Peyton Siva, a similar hutzpah is missing from this year’s version. Tough, hard-working and motivated, I don’t see the Shockers losing a second one. Wichita State gets its vengeance.
This will be a really fun game. Both teams secretly struggle on defense, so there will be running and shooting for 48 straight minutes that makes the Sportscenter highlight-clipping jobs really difficult for that night. Stauskas could get hot and take over the game, Robinson could be a menace, and even Spike Albrecht could release a barrage of 3s. But in a game where the stars battle, I can’t go against Duke. Jabari Parker, Quinn Cook and Rodney Hood make too many plays for Michigan to keep up with and Duke goes to the Elite 8.
(1) Wichita State Shockers OVER (3) Duke Blue Devils
Now Duke gets a game where the stars don’t do battle. There’s no one person to stop on Wichita State. Cleanthony Early is the leading scorer at 15.8 ppg but four others join him in averaging above or near double digits. And none of them are going to be stopped by Duke’s porous defense, which ranks 97th in points allowed and a pathetic 272nd in defensive rebounds. Wichita can pound Duke on the glass and the defensive end similar to Virginia. The Shockers make a second straight Final Four, and Gregg Marshall sets his clock to pull a Brad Stevens and coach the Celtics.
MIDWEST BRACKET CHAMPIONS: WICHITA STATE SHOCKERS
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