We’ve finally made it.
March Madness is upon us, ladies and gentlemen. And with the parody we’ve seen in college basketball up to this point, this NCAA Tournament forecasts to be crazier than ever.
The best part of this time year? No, it’s not the players or the coaches. Nor is it the venues or exhilarating finishes. (Though the compilation of all of those ingredients makes the tournament the most entertaining and unpredictable event in all of sports.)
But the best part? That title is reserved for the prognosticating.
The NCAA Tournament provides us a reprieve from our busy 9 to 5 lives as we fill out brackets in our local office, inner-circle or randomly selected pools, competing against coworkers or friends, family members or lovers.
As our readers have seen throughout the college basketball season, the folks who participate in the “Ahearn/Redick Weekend Locks” have a special interest in both the sport of basketball and competitive banter. So March Madness for these dudes is pretty much a month-long Christmas.
How will they respond to the added pressure that certainly emerges with this type of stage, though? Well buckle up, boys. We’re about to find out.
(Editor’s note: OCS journalists PJ Carr, Jared Groff, Brandon Howard and Jeff Spiegel chatted before the NCAA Tournament. Each journalist made three predictions — an opening round upset, a possible Cinderalla (i.e. the double-digit seed that will win the most games in the tournament) and his Final Four. The following is a transcription of their discussion, moderated by OCS managing editor Mychal Anderson.)
MYCHAL ANDERSON: Welcome, Ahearn/Redick bros! Who wants to start us off? Go for it, Jeff!
JEFF SPIEGEL: Somehow after winning the PAC-12 tournament, Oregon was placed as a 12-seed against No. 5 Oklahoma State. I think they are hungry to prove that they can win another big game.
BRANDON HOWARD: That’s a solid assumption. I debated that pick in my bracket.
PJ CARR: On the other hand, I LOVE OK State. Smart is too good and they do everything.
HOWARD: And it is Dana Altman’s team…the man who came to Arkansas to be head coach and then left the VERY NEXT DAY. Go Cowboys.
JARED GROFF: But OK State has a few not-so-good losses. VT and Baylor.
SPIEGEL: I think Big 12 basketball is severely overrated. Kansas and Iowa State are the only teams I like from the conference this year.
HOWARD: Yeah, Kansas has dominated the conference year in and year out. Was that loss to the Bears at Waco?
GROFF: The loss to BU was on the road, but at home, it was only a 74-72 win for the Cowboys. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure it came down to the final seconds, too.
CARR: Quick stat for everyone to ponder: Oregon had 507 TO’s this year, good for 326th.
HOWARD: That’s brutal.
ANDERSON: Nice stat, PJ. OK on that note we’ll move along. Jeff: Cinderella team this year? (Double-digit seed that will go the farthest in the tourney.)
SPIEGEL: I have Ole Miss beating Wisconsin and Kansas State. When you’re hot, you’re hot, and Henderson will “put the team on his back.”
CARR: Oh gosh, so do I. He’s been talking so much trash lately that I’m terrified for him.
SPIEGEL: The gator chomp won me over.
HOWARD: Haha yeah that gator chomp cracked me up.
GROFF: That one’s tough. If K-State was the first matchup, yes. But Wisconsin is going to be the tougher matchup of the two
ANDERSON: Yeah, what do you guys think about the pundits who say that Wisconsin plays a brand of basketball that will give the Rebels fits? (I’d claim that Wisconsin’s style gives everyone in the 21st century trouble, but I digress.)
HOWARD: Yeah I don’t see Ole Miss beating Wisconsin. Classic 1950s basketball. The Badgers have it down pat.
SPIEGEL: Wisconsin has lost plenty to know they can be beaten.
GROFF: Have you looked at Wisconsin’s schedule over the past two weeks? The Badgers have barely had any room to breathe. In a five game span, they played Mich. State, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio State
SPIEGEL: Yeah, the Big Ten is tough basketball.
CARR: The thing with Wisconsin is that they play by limiting possessions and by doing that EVERYONE has a chance to beat them. But it works the other way around, too, so they could lose to Ole Miss or they could go to the Final Four. Neither would surprise me.
ANDERSON: All right, All right. Enough Badger talk. Final Four picks, Jeff?
SPIEGEL: I have Louisville, Georgetown, Miami (FL) and Ohio State.
CARR: Ya know, two weeks ago, nobody on Ohio State other than Thomas could score in double digits. How have they become such a hot pick?
SPIEGEL: I picked the Buckeyes mostly because the West region is soft.
GROFF: Aaron Craft is a pretty decent player. If he gets hot, watch out. He and Thomas could be a pretty decent one-two punch.
CARR: But he rarely pours in the points unless they play Michigan State. He hates Michigan State.
GROFF: He doesn’t need to score 20 points a game, though. If he puts up ten a game and continues to set Thomas up, OSU will make a run.
SPIEGEL: Ohio State also plays solid defensively. I just don’t see anyone in the West Region that can knock them off.
CARR: That is true, I ended up putting them in the Final Four practically by default.
ANDERSON: All right, PJ. You ready?
CARR: I’m ready!
ANDERSON: Let’s do it! Upset special?
CARR: I was going to do Montana over Syracuse before their leading scorer broke his foot, so now I’ll have to stick with the boring Mississippi over Wisconsin pick.
GROFF: Boo. Repeat picks are for chumps.
HOWARD: Remember to change that in your bracket!
CARR: Yeah I did that today. OK, I’ll go ahead and say St. Mary’s over Memphis to avoid the same picks.
ANDERSON: Well that would certainly be an upset. I’ll leave it up to you. It’s your pick (and record) after all.
CARR: Let’s do the St. Mary’s one just to make it interesting.
GROFF: Honestly, who has Memphis beaten this season? They have a strong record, but that’s about it.
HOWARD: Yeah I struggled with that pick, too. They only lost four or five games and I don’t think they were to quality opponents.
CARR: I really like “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford, though. Really good backcourt.
HOWARD: Memphis is still riding its reputation from the Calipari days. Remember when they were Top 10 preseason a few years ago and bombed out after like two weeks?
GROFF: Agreed. They don’t have a signature win, either. Memphis’ best win is probably at Tennessee. Conference USA basketball just isn’t that good.
HOWARD: Yeah. Tennessee at Knoxville is probably the Tigers’ biggest win.
CARR: It should be noted they beat Southern Miss three times, too. The Golden Eagles were almost a tournament team.
GROFF: Key word there is almost.
SPIEGEL: Plus, Dellavedova on St. Mary’s has “it”.
ANDERSON: OK I’m moving this conversation along. As much as I love talking about C-USA hoops. Give us your sleeper, PJ.
HOWARD: Good move, Mike
CARR: I actually have Mississippi going to the Elite Eight. They can score, they can rebound, and they get to the FT line. Let’s ignore their defense, though…
ANDERSON: Wow! OK. Discuss.
SPIEGEL: I literally just changed that, otherwise I had the exact same thing. Gonzaga is too well-rounded to lose to a one-man (Henderson) team.
HOWARD: Don’t expect Henderson’s ridiculous 3s to fall in the NCAAT like they did in the SECT. I watched Ole Miss a lot this season and he had plenty of awful shooting nights.
GROFF: What is with all of the love for Ole Miss? I know they’re hot, but come on!
CARR: I know. And the more I see people picking Ole Miss, the less confidence I have in them.
GROFF: I just don’t trust a team that has to rely so much on one player
SPIEGEL: *cough* Kemba Walker *cough*
CARR: Kemba Walker…
ANDERSON: Ole Miss losses: Middle Tennessee St., Indiana State (STATE), Texas A&M, South Carolina and Mississippi State. I have my doubts.
HOWARD: The guy who said he hadn’t read a book until after his junior year in college or something like that.
CARR: Wait, who hadn’t read a book for that long?
HOWARD: Kemba Walker!
GROFF: But in his defense, the man could shoot a basketball rather well.
ANDERSON: I can appreciate a good Kemba Walker bashing session as much as the next guy, but let’s keep on track, folks! Final Four, PJ?
CARR: Louisville, Ohio State, Florida, Indiana. My Mississippi love stops here.
ANDERSON: Hey, that’s Barack’s Final Four! (So you better scrap it…)
CARR: Wait, really? I thought he was allergic to seeds that weren’t a No. 1?
ANDERSON: Yep! He did his “Barack-o-tology” thing today with Andy Katz.
GROFF: Did anyone watch his picks? That dude love him some Big Ten basketball.
SPIEGEL: Yeah it took up ESPN all day.
CARR: Oh God, what have I done? Has Barack ever been close in his bracket?
ANDERSON: He’s usually pretty chalk. Not as off as you’d think, actually. So really quickly: what are everyone’s thoughts on Florida? And then we’ll move on.
HOWARD: I have Florida in one of my bracket’s Final Four.
GROFF: Florida is as good of a pick as any in the South. Between Kansas, Georgetown, Florida, Michigan and VCU, it’s tough to call
CARR: I have Florida winning, at least.
SPIEGEL: I agree. That region is stacked.
HOWARD: Here’s what confuses me: a lot of people (Wilbon on PTI) picked Georgetown, but the Hoyas lost to Marquette who Florida throttled like 82-45. So I’m not sure why people have faith in GU over Florida.
SPIEGEL: Georgetown has found it of late, and they play a tough zone. Zones are what kill people, especially when you’re a running team.
CARR: I just think Florida can matchup with anyone all over the court.
ANDERSON: OK Brandon. You’re up!
HOWARD: OK sure. I know it might be common, but I have No. 11 Bucknell over No. 6 Butler.
CARR: I’m terrified to go against Brad Stevens in any sort of tournament format.
SPIEGEL: I will never pick Butler to win more than one game.
GROFF: Agreed. I don’t count out Brad Stevens come tournament time.
ANDERSON: I had that one, too, until I remembered it was Butler. The perpetual team of destiny.
GROFF: If Butler wasn’t in the A-10 this season, they’d be regarded as one of the top teams in the country.
HOWARD: Yeah, I just don’t feel so good about the other ones.
ANDERSON: One thing I must admit: I had a hard time picking ANY upsets this year. For the first time I can remember, I just have zero confidence in any of my picks.
CARR: This year sucks. I know there’s going to be a TON of upsets, but I can’t bring myself to pick any.
HOWARD: I agree. I hope this isn’t a repeat of 2008…which was for me, the most boring tournament I’ve ever watched.
SPIEGEL: There will be upsets. I just hope I find the right ones
GROFF: Yeah for the whole “anyone can win it all” motto this season, it’s tough to pick any individual upsets
ANDERSON: Exactly, Jeff and Jared.
CARR: But why Butler going down, Brandon?
HOWARD: More than anything, I think it’s a bias against Ole Miss after seeing them be so terrible all year and now they’re a hot pick. I have a hard time rooting for conference foes.
SPIEGEL: That’ll get ya. Tough to remain unbiased.
HOWARD: Plus Rotnei Clarke abandoned Arkansas for Butler, so let’s see them go down. Which is of course more bias. Haha.
CARR: We need to stop talking about Ole Miss, I couldn’t be less confident in them making it past the first round…
ANDERSON: Ole Miss is playing Wisconsin. The Badgers will win just to torment me. Don’t pick Ole Miss, guys. I’m warning you.
OK. Before I get off on a tangent, let’s move on. Have a sleeper team for us, Brandon?
HOWARD: OK OK. THIS IS WHERE IT GETS TRICKY. SERIOUSLY, YOU KNOW WHO’S GOING TO BE A SLEEPER THIS YEAR? MINNESOTA.
ANDERSON: NOOOOOOO! You just guaranteed a 20-point loss to UCLA. Do you feel better about yourself?
SPIEGEL: Poor Mike.
GROFF: I like the Minnesota pick. It’s a tough region, but why not?
SPIEGEL: UCLA lost its 2nd best player to a broken foot.
HOWARD: I’ll try for the double reverse jinx!
CARR: I’ll allow Minny.
SPIEGEL: Minnesooooota is legit. But Shabazz is the real deal, too.
GROFF: UCLA has a freshman point guard that is going to be sink or swim. It’s a good matchup for Minnesota after struggling recently.
HOWARD: I think Minnesota had a tough regular season schedule, too.
ANDERSON: As a Minnesota grad, I’ll chime it: the Gophers could be legit. If they play like “Indiana game” Minnesota.
HOWARD: Oh yeah that was a great game.
ANDERSON: The problem is Minnesota is schizophrenic. There’s also “Nebraska” Minnesota, “Purdue” Minnesota, “Northwestern” Minnesota, “Illinois” Minnesota.
GROFF: Haha this is true. If they shut down Muhammed, they’re good to go.
SPIEGEL: He’s a top-15 player in the nation though. That’ll be a tall task.
GROFF: Cinderella might be tough with Florida and Georgetown potentially waiting for them, though.
ANDERSON: If they make the Final Four, they’ll have earned it. If the seeds play out true to form, they’ll have to play the Pac-12 champs, the SEC champs and the Big East champs.
GROFF: And ACC runner-up. And the A-10 runner-up.
ANDERSON: Yep, yep. Thanks for the Gopher pub, though, Brandon! Always appreciated! Now you better hope they beat UCLA haha.
HOWARD: I do I do! I just switched my picks so the Gophers are winning.
ANDERSON: Good man. All right. Final Four?
HOWARD: OK like I said I did two brackets, so I’ll go with my “most plausible” Final Four: Duke, Ohio State, Marquette and Kansas. And yes, I don’t mind if you switch your pick to match mine. I’d be flattered.
SPIEGEL: I hate Duke. I’ll never pick them for Final Four
HOWARD: Yeah, I felt like a little piece of me died.
SPIEGEL: Kansas and Ohio State are solid, though.
ANDERSON: Legitimate thoughts on Marquette and Duke, though? Duke is in the region of death.
GROFF: Marquette is interesting. It’s a tough region with Indiana and Miami.
SPIEGEL: I agree Marquette is shaky. I’m not sold on the Golden Eagles.
ANDERSON: I’d love for Marquette to beat the hell out of the Hoosiers, personally. Great storyline there.
HOWARD: I just feel like Miami is due for a hiccup.
GROFF: Marquette would probably have one of the tougher matchups with a win, too, potentially having to face Butler.
CARR: I haven’t watched them at all. Do they still have that guy with the hair?
HOWARD: No I think he’s on the Dallas Mavericks now. And ah ha! But not if Butler lost to Bucknell! #checkmate.
GROFF: I guess if you’re going with that logic, then yes. But I don’t see Butler losing to Bucknell.
ANDERSON: Quick thoughts on Duke? Can they get past Mich St., et. al?
GROFF: No to Duke. Strictly out of spite.
CARR: My roommate says yes. He’s very biased though…
GROFF: Creighton is the wildcard. If McDermott goes off, who’s going to stop him?
HOWARD: Yeah he’s like a Pete Maravich throw back. His dad just let’s him go wild on offense.
CARR: Derrick Nix would eat him alive. Literally. Also, Plumlee.
ANDERSON: Michigan State really should emerge from their region in my opinion. But I said that last year and the Spartans played their worst game ever against Louisville. Seriously, that game was pitiful.
HOWARD: Yeah, MSU has disappeared in a few big games lately.
CARR: They murdered them. And Appling can’t be trusted in any big game. EVER.
ANDERSON: OK we’re almost there. Not going to let us get side tracked again. Well, maybe. Take us home, Jared! Guaranteed upset?
GROFF: Can I say winner of La Salle/Boise over Kansas State? Or would you like me to pick one?
ANDERSON: You certainly can. But why?
GROFF: (1) I don’t trust Big 12 basketball in the least. Outside of Kansas, it’s up in the air. (2) Assuming La Salle maintains its lead (ED note: obviously the Explorers won, so this prediction is still valid), Ramon Galloway is the type of player that can steal a game in the tournament. The transfer from South Carolina has been a good get for La Salle.
ANDERSON: Thoughts on K-State, gents? Bit erratic if you ask me. Always seem to falter in the tourney.
SPIEGEL: I have them losing to Ole Miss. They have flaws.
CARR: Do we know how old Rodney McGruder is?
HOWARD: Haha. Yeah, K-State has always been a big time team in the regular season but it doesn’t seem to translate in the tourney. And hey, Arkansas had a guy one time who was 27 on the football team. I like the upset pick here. Gonna be a lot to brag about if you’re right.
ANDERSON: Was there a play-in team that won a game in the second round last year? Or am I thinking of VCU in 2011?
GROFF: Mike, please stop with the play-in game win. You’re opening up old wounds.
ANDERSON: Haha sorry, Jared!
GROFF: It’s okay. It still boggles my mind how South Florida beat Temple last year
ANDERSON: By 14, no less! And Temple only scored 44 points! OK, OK I promise I’m done. We’ll move on haha.
HOWARD: Oh Mike with the sucker punch!
GROFF: Low blow, Mike. That one hurt a little bit. Anyway, Cinderella… Realistically, no Cinderellas this season. I don’t think any double-digit seed has a legitimate shot at making a run. However, if any team is capable, it’s La Salle. Not because they’re the best double-digit team, but because they would have the easiest path.
ANDERSON: La Salle is so much fun to watch. They essentially play with 5 guards. That’s awesome.
HOWARD: They said that in 2006, and then BAM – George Mason.
CARR: You might be OK with La Salle
GROFF: I really don’t believe we’ll see a George Mason-type team soon. College basketball has gotten too top-heavy and this whole conference realignment is making Cinderellas too difficult.
CARR: On the other hand, this season is stupid ridiculous and I wouldn’t be surprised by anyone making a run.
SPIEGEL: Yeah, but when a team like Oregon is a 12 seed after winning a big conference tournament and having a solid season, who knows.
ANDERSON: OK. Quickly, just for fun: will we see any seeds 4 or higher getting into the Final Four? Yes or no, if you say yes, who could you legitimately see?
CARR: My roommate has Memphis winning it all. I looked at it and was like, “ya know, I like that.”
HOWARD: Yes – Arizona. And PJ, slap your roommate.
SPIEGEL: I second that. If they win, he can slap me.
CARR: He doesn’t watch basketball so it’s OK.
GROFF: Absolutely. VCU, Butler and Arizona all have a legitimate chance. I don’t count out Shaka Smart or Brad Stevens in the NCAA Tournament. Who knows? They might even meet each other again.
CARR: *Whispering* Ole Miss…
GROFF: NO. We have talked about Ole Miss far too much in this discussion.
HOWARD: I guess that means the Rebs aren’t a sleeper now.
ANDERSON: Ha! They really aren’t now. You know Marshall Henderson is reading this while pounding a Red Bull, getting crazy fired up. We’re down to the last question! Woooo! Final Four, Jared?
GROFF: Again, realistically speaking, it’s Louisville, Ohio State, Miami and Kansas. (Boring, I know.)
SPIEGEL: Hey if it’s right, it’s right.
HOWARD: Boring is what the experts say works.
CARR: And at least the President didn’t steal your picks.
GROFF: The only 1-seed I don’t see making it is Gonzaga. I think they’re overrated. A good team, yes. Great team, definitely more questionable.
SPIEGEL: The Zags’ bigs are solid, though. I haven’t seen anyone yet that has been able to defend them. I’ve seen them twice in the Battle of Seattle, once against Arizona and they smoked us.
HOWARD: Well, Gonzaga has only to been to one Elite Eight, back in 1999. If they don’t get to the Final Four or at least to the Elite Eight, I think it’s a failed season, especially with the No. 1 seed.
ANDERSON: Well we can just about wrap it up. Anything else you guys want to add? Give us the best opening round game. Go. And we’ll end it there.
(And if you say Wisconsin-Ole Miss i’ll virtually slap you.)
Just kidding. You can say that. If that’s how you truly feel. This is America and all.
CARR: OK State/Oregon.
GROFF: …..I was going to say that, strictly because of the offense-defense matchup…..
HOWARD: I say 8/9 game between UNC and Villanova. Two usually big time programs kind of on a lull this year.
GROFF: Wait, take that back. UNC-Nova is going to be fun to watch.
SPIEGEL: UNLV-Cal. People are sleeping on Cal…
HOWARD: Nice! Welcome aboard, Jared!
GROFF: *Crying* I’m so embarrassed…
CARR: Or Pitt-Wichita State.
HOWARD: Yeah, that should be good, too.
SPIEGEL: One last suggestion: Memphis-St. Mary’s.
CARR: Future champions: Memphis.
ANDERSON: Thanks for participating, gents! And if you’re reading this article and you made it to the end, serious props. Happy March! We’ll try to do it on video next round!
|1. Jeff Spiegel||4-5|
|2. Jared Groff||3-3|
|3. PJ Carr||3-6|
|3. Trevor Lowry||3-6|
|3. Brandon Howard||3-6|