OK, deep breath, East Regional, round of 32: Villanova over Wisconsin, Virginia over East Tennessee State, New Mexico State over Southern California, and Duke over Marquette. Sweet 16: Virginia over Villanova, and Duke over New Mexico State. Eight Eight: Duke over Virginia.
West Regional, round of 32: Gonzaga over Northwestern, Notre Dame over Bucknell, Florida State over Xavier, and Arizona over VCU. Sweet 16: Notre Dame over Gonzaga, and Arizona over Florida State. Elite Eight: Arizona over Notre Dame.
Midwest Regional, round of 32: Kansas over Michigan State, Nevada over Purdue, Creighton over Oregon, and Louisville over Oklahoma State. Sweet 16: Kansas over Nevada, and Louisville over Creighton. Elite Eight: Kansas over Louisville.
South Regional: North Carolina over Seton Hall, Butler over Middle Tennessee, Wake Forest over Kent State, and Wichita State over Kentucky. Sweet 16: North Carolina over Butler, and Wichita State over Wake Forest. Elite Eight: North Carolina over Wichita State.
Final Four: Kansas over North Carolina, and Arizona over Duke.
National championship: Arizona over Kansas.
There’s your 2017 March Madness answer key. You’re welcome.
(Pay no attention to the fact that this Final Four is very different than the one I gave on the Border Patrol, and likely different than the one I believe whenever you are reading this.)
This week’s eating recommendation is the pepperoni and onion at Pizza 51, and the reading recommendation is Jon Wertheim on how Bob Knight became a bitter old man.
In the picks above, it’s probably Wichita State in the Elite Eight, or New Mexico State or Nevada in the Sweet 16. But I’m also so close to picking a few other upsets: Florida State in the Final Four, Michigan over Louisville, and Kent State over UCLA.
My problem with picking Florida State is they’re on the same side of the same bracket as Arizona, and even if my love for this Arizona team is almost certainly misplaced because it is just 2-4 in its toughest six KenPom games of the year, my love still exists. I just think they have such a dangerous combination of size, athleticism, toughness, and skill.
I also think Purdue would be a real problem for Kansas, if that matchup happened. Caleb Swanigan would be the best big that Kansas has faced, and he has two 7-foot teammates. It would be a pretty fascinating matchup, particularly when KU went with four guards, which would force them to either go zone or have Jackson guard a 7-footer.
But, anyway, I do think Virginia could make a run toward the Final Four, and that Creighton got a good draw to play into the second weekend (Marcus Foster in Kansas City!), and that New Mexico State could win a game or two.
But I also know I’m just guessing. Same as you.
Is both an option?
I have friends who, honestly, would freak out if KU’s bracket was filled with the top 15 finishers of Kansas Class 2A.
I have friends who, probably, believe that Frank Mason, Josh Jackson, and three hamsters could make the Final Four.
And, if we’re being honest, that probably describes fans of a lot of schools.
The trick is expectation management, but if you’re a KU fan, how you feel on Monday is going to be very different than how you feel before the round of 32 game on Sunday, and both of those are going to be different than how you’ll feel in the Sweet 16, or Elite Eight, if you get that far.
Me, I think KU got a pretty favorable draw. Not just with playing in Tulsa and then Kansas City, but with the potential matchups. If you compare the brackets, and took out the No. 1 seeds, I think most Kansas fans would choose the Midwest.
I believe KU is vulnerable to size, so in that respect, Louisville could be difficult. But if you’re a KU fan would you rather have Kentucky, Duke, or Arizona as your No. 2 seed? Kansas beat Kentucky and Duke earlier this season, I understand, but I think most people would agree Louisville is the “worst” of the 2s.
Look, they’re all difficult. You can’t expect to get to the Final Four without beating good teams, and you can make a case for some difficult games for KU. Miami has some scorers, and is better defensively than you might think. Michigan State is athletic, with some particularly talented freshmen.
Iowa State won at Allen Fieldhouse, and would be the only matchup in which KU would not be the prohibitive crowd favorite at the Sprint Center. Purdue’s Swanigan should be a consensus first-team All-America pick, and along with 7-footer Isaac Hass would be a problem for KU’s undermanned front court. Louisville has size, and is strong defensively.
But so much of this is getting too far ahead, and again, I don’t think KU would want to trade brackets with any of the other 1s.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be nerves, or that the wrong breaks could doom KU.
But, yeah. Pretty good draw.
I’m sure something similar has happened, at some point. Maybe Duke and Carolina played a Sweet 16 game in Greensboro, or maybe UCLA and Arizona played one at Staples.
But I can’t imagine the NCAA Tournament has had a lot of games that would match the noise, emotion, and energy of those two fan bases in a Sweet 16 game. Good grief, that would be a fun game. The pregame, too.
The basketball would be interesting. Two of the nation’s best point guards, and two teams that each won on the other’s home court, the aggregate score 165-164 including an overtime.
The question wouldn’t so much be whether it was the loudest NCAA Tournament game of the year, so much as it would be when the last game happened with two better represented, louder fans, with more to cheer.
This is a well-executed question.
I know your point isn’t a game breakdown, and that’s good, because this looks to be as close to a 50-50 game as you can get.
Wake Forest forward John Collins has an awesome name, but will also likely be a first-round pick, and is awesome. He’s not the only scorer, either, but they can be had defensively — they’ve given up 99, 99, 95, 88, 85, 81, and 93 points in their last seven losses.
One of K-State’s biggest strengths is its cohesion, and its passing, so if the Cats can find that balance between aggression and intelligence they should be able to get some open shots.
I mean, honestly, this is a coin flip. KenPom has it 51-49 for K-State, and an initial line of K-State minus-1 has been bet down to pick ’em.
If I had to bet it, I’d bet Wake, based on the best-player-on-the-floor theory, but it should be a fun game to watch.
I believe Weber will be back.
I believe that John Currie always looked at the NCAA Tournament as Weber’s ultimatum, and I believe the rest of the administration was generally on board with that. You and I can make jokes about whether a don’t-call-it-a-play-in game actually counts as making the tournament, but I promise you there will be a “2017” on the NCAA Tournament banners at Bramlage and the practice facility.
And I don’t believe K-State is the kind of program that should be firing coaches for making the NCAA Tournament.
Minnesota did that with Tubby Smith in 2013, and the Gophers are only now back in the tournament. Texas did that with Rick Barnes two years ago, and the Longhorns just finished dead last in the Big 12.
Every situation is different, but particularly in a coaching market with better jobs available and no obvious home run hires, K-State firing a good coach after making the NCAA Tournament would be more likely to backfire.
You do bring up an interesting point about Weber leaving on his own. I have no reason to believe he will, but I know there are people Weber considers friends who would like to see him go somewhere else.
The question, particularly if K-State loses to Wake Forest on Tuesday, is whether the relationship with and perception from fans can be changed or saved.
Winning cures everything, and I think K-State will probably be better next year, even as replacing Wesley Iwundu and especially D.J. Johnson will be difficult.
But the relationship there is in a bad place, and its easy to wonder whether or how it can be saved.
Again, I don’t think he’d leave. And I certainly have no reason to think he’s looking, or would even listen.
But if he did, you’d understand his reasons, and a sizable portion of the fan base would get what they want.
Meh. That’s where Jerry Palm had them. Joe Lunardi had Wichita State as an 8.
Look, I like and believe in stats as much as anybody, but there’s more to it. Wichita State did not beat anyone in the field. The Shockers’ best win was probably against Illinois State, at home and again in the conference tournament, but they also lost that game on the road.
They lost to Louisville and Michigan State on a neutral floor, and by 17 against Oklahoma State at home. You don’t want to penalize the Shockers too much, because they have a hard time getting major teams to play, and a 30-4 record is impressive, no matter what the competition. But Wichita did have some chances.
So, I don’t know. I’d have had the Shockers a little higher, but they’re in the tournament. I don’t think they deserved to be much higher, and they can play their way out of a bad seed.
Speaking of Wichita State ...
… I hadn’t thought about this until your question here, and, well, yeah.
Bill Self is adamant about not playing Missouri, and until he changes his mind or takes an NBA job, that means KU is not going to play Mizzou.
But if there was ever a chance for the rivalry to be played again, it might be Marshall taking that job and getting under Self’s skin enough that Self wants to beat his brains in. Maybe the first game would have to be in the NCAA Tournament — I hear your laughter — but this is probably the most plausible way.
As a more practical matter, the only thing that would get Mizzou fans excited about their basketball program more than a proven winner and damned good coach is a proven winner and damned good coach who would love to stick it to Kansas.
But, yes. You are correct to point out this is a loooong shot. Marshall turned the job down three years ago. Much of it was money. Tod Palmer and others have indicated Mizzou is willing to spend this time around, but it’s hard to think things have changed this much.
Mizzou seems like a terrific cultural fit for Marshall, but if and when he decides to leave Wichita State, he would have better options than a heavy rebuild.
Whatever he makes of it.
I know that’s not much of a direct answer, but I think it’s the truth. He shouldn’t suffer from a lack of opportunity. Until or unless there’s an injury, he won’t have a fixed spot in the lineup, but if the Royals are serious about keeping some of their guys fresh then Cuthbert is a pretty good placeholder.
I’ve been very skeptical about his ability to play second base in real major-league games, and retain some of that skepticism, but he played there on Sunday against the Dodgers and looked better than I expected.
You don’t want him there all the time, at least not right now. He’s a little stiff, you’d worry about his range being exposed, and he’s just new at the position so there will be some basic footwork and mechanical stuff to deal with. But, I don’t know, he could get to the point where you can give him the occasional run there.
But the real opportunity would, presumably, come in 2018. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are both scheduled for free agency after this season, and it seems more likely than not that each will be somewhere else — perhaps even more likely than not that both will be somewhere else.
So, there should be plenty of opportunity for him next year.
It’s worth saying, too, that this is how good teams handle solid-but-unspectacular prospects like Cuthbert. He had an opportunity because of Moose’s injury last year, and showed enough to be curious, but a .274/.318/.413 line with some defensive refinement needed is not an air-tight case for 600 plate appearances without more injuries in front of him.
The old Royals would’ve put Cuthbert in commercials this offseason. The new Royals are helping him find more versatility, and making him earn it.
That’s a good thing.
Hoo boy that was bad. The worst on-field collision between Royals teammates since, well, you know.
Before we go any further, I do want to plug the column on this, because it said everything I need to say about an awkward moment, but moving onto the Minutes version of the analysis:
Every time Perez is the starting catcher, Butera should give him a foot massage.
Every time the Royals win, if Perez is still going to do the Gatorade bucket thing, he should have the option of splashing Butera, and the additional option of filling the bucket with rocks.
But most of all, Perez should have the option of cutting Butera’s hair, any style he wants, up to and including something like this.
He hasn’t hit the ball hard here yet, and if I’m exaggerating, it isn’t by much.
I’ve written and said a few times already that I expect Jorge Soler to struggle, particularly early, the product of switching leagues but more importantly feeling like he needs to be The Guy Who Was Traded For Wade Davis.
From what I can tell, it is absolutely in Soler’s personality and makeup to want to show out for his new club, and in his new role. I am not saying that’s to blame for his struggles at the plate in camp so far, but it could be part of it.
I thought this before spring training started, so this is not me overreacting to a few weeks of meaningless games — I think next offseason, there is going to be talk about projecting Soler’s numbers from June or so on over a full season, and next spring training is going to be full of talk about how he’s ready to be the slugger the Royals gave up a cyborg for.
Remember this. Get back to me. I really think this is how it’s going to happen.
I’m not going to say I don’t understand why many fans want Escobar gone, because of course I do. He makes a lot of outs. He’s a poor hitter.
But I do think he has value, not just in his defense — not as good in 2016 as the Royals would like you to believe, but still, pretty good — but his astonishing durability. That’s hard to find, particularly at that position. By big-league standards, he should be worth the $6.5 million the Royals are paying him in 2017.
But even if you don’t appreciate Escobar — heck, even if you think Escobar is a rotten player — I don’t understand the rush to get Raul Mondesi playing everyday at shortstop.
Escobar was one of the worst hitters in baseball last year, this is true. He hit .261/.292/.350, which is pretty terrible. His .642 OPS ranked 143rd out of 146 qualified hitters.
But you know who was worse? Much worse? Mondesi. He hit .185/.231/.281, which is worse in every category than Tony Pena Jr.’s career line, and they turned him into a pitcher.
Mondesi is talented, and the Royals probably promoted him before he was ready. He’s still just 21 years old, and has the potential to be better than Escobar defensively. He very much remains the Royals’ shortstop of the future. But it’s all still potential, and with how overmatched he was at the plate last year, I just don’t know how you could in good conscience make him your everyday shortstop at this point.
Also, last year, Christian Colon hit worse than Escobar.
How about a top five?
5. Alex Gordon. This is what happens when you sign a $72 million contract and then have the worst full season of your career.
4. Clark Hunt. He’s evergreen on this list, at least unless the Chiefs make a Super Bowl.
3. Alcides Escobar. Some of this is Ned Yost’s fault, for continuing to bat him leadoff, but Escobar led the league in outs last year. Also, the next 10 players on that list hit between13 and 33 more homers than Escobar, and slugged between 49 and 184 points higher.
2. Alex Smith. The Chiefs quarterback will probably always be on a list like this. Unless the team really does draft a guy in the first round. Then the new guy would break jersey sales records, but then probably make this list after his first interception.
1. Bruce Weber. This might not be particularly close. I’ll probably write more about this, perhaps even soon, but Weber has been a victim of circumstance to some degree, and has not helped himself.
A lot of people in any field — any field — do not love their jobs. They do the work because they’re good at it, or because they sort of fell into it, and it’s generally true that any occupation’s pluses are more easily seen from the outside and the worst parts are known best or sometimes even only by those on the inside.
So even if you leave to the side all the NFL players who are only it because of their natural talent, you will have a subset who grew up loving the game but for various reasons have become a bit disenchanted.
Maybe it’s the business part, which is stripping some of the fun away — playing for a businessman owner who drafted you instead of a coach and university you chose, or better yet, the high school friends you grew up with.
Maybe it’s the increased beating your body takes, or the way professional football means a total life immersion in a way that high school and football do not. Maybe it’s as simple as the childlike wonder wearing off, and an adult gathering other interests, in a work environment that demands total focus.
I’ve always thought this is one of the biggest disconnects between many fans, and what locker rooms are really like. We all want our favorite athletes to approach their jobs like Sal Perez, or Marcus Peters — an obsession with the sport, and an obvious appreciation for it all.
But that’s simply not realistic, to expect everyone to feel that way. No matter what job you have, it’s still a job. Heck, rock stars get sick of touring, or grow tired of pressures from the label, or whatever.
Look, I have a great job. I understand everyday of my life that I’m fortunate to have it. And I absolutely love my job. But there are specific days I don’t love it, and I know a lot of people in sports media who complain about their jobs constantly.
But, here’s a general rule that I believe holds: the higher the average or potential income, the more people in that field who don’t love their work.
Football is different, because it’s a game, a sport, and at least initially there are very few who play without truly wanting to — and very few who continue to play it, for free, as kids, without enjoying it on some level.
But, it’s also different in another way. There aren’t too many jobs, thank goodness, that can potentially leave a worker with such damaged bodies and even brains. Maybe for some that means weeding out those who don’t truly love the game, but for others it means a major reason to dislike the work.
You can set up your family, sometimes even generational wealth if you’re lucky, but you also must understand the sacrifice. That’s not for everyone.
So, yes. I’m not surprised at what Cameron said, and I don’t disagree with any of it.
I’m going to keep banging this drum every chance you guys give me: the Chiefs should draft the quarterback they see as the best fit, even if it means trading up.
They are terrifically positioned to do this, in every imaginable way — it’s a class full of talented but somewhat raw prospects, meaning they would likely be best served waiting a year to play, and the Chiefs have a quarterback they know they can get into the playoffs with, whose makeup is said to be that of someone who would accept the challenge, and a coaching staff whose greatest strength is often said to be its work with quarterbacks.
If it works out, the Chiefs can save $17 million in cap space by cutting Smith next year. This is the most efficient way for them to get better, and to continue the process of winning and developing.
But, I also know I’m probably not answering your question, so after the quarterback, my top five would be a playmaking running back, cornerback depth, inside linebacker, a pass rusher, and perhaps kick the tires to see if Marcus Peters is interested in an extension.
I know it’d be very early for that — the Chiefs control him through 2019 — but I think you can bend the rules a bit for a guy with that kind of talent, at a premium position.
They didn’t have much of a choice. They needed the cap space, and Foles’ contract was constructed such that the only way the Chiefs were going to keep him for 2017 is if Alex Smith suffered a major injury or otherwise proved himself incapable of being a starting quarterback.
I know what a lot of you just said, and that’s fine, but Foles benefited from the flattering light of a No. 2 quarterback in a town that mostly doesn’t like the starter. He was exactly what they signed him to be — a solid backup who kept the trains running on time when the starter went down.
But I promise you, if you watch the all-22 of the Jaguars game, he was pretty terrible. Missed wide open targets, and threw two horrendous passes that should’ve been very costly interceptions if the Jags didn’t Jag.
We can all take the Anybody But This Guy approach, but I’m telling you, there’s a reason he’s 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions over the last three seasons, a reason three teams have let him go in the last three years, and a reason the best deal he could get was to be a backup in Philadelphia.