I’m not even going to try to come up with a pseudo baseball way to lead into talking about the NCAA Tournament, because, really, we’re all adults here.
I’m spending these days between rounds of basketball here in Arizona to write about the Royals, but we all know what today is about. I mean feel free to read this quick-ish column about the omnipresent Alcides Escobar, but really, we all come here to talk hoop.
▪ I’ve been writing for a long time that KU’s NCAA Tournament prospects are hugely matchup dependent, and, well, they got a really tough draw. New Mexico State has won 18 of its last 19, is big, physical, balanced, and experienced. They are the ninth-best offensive rebounding team in the country, something that’s been a hard thing for KU to deal with. The Jayhawks are, by a fair margin, the smallest favorite among the tournament’s 2 seeds.
▪ If the Jayhawks get by the Aggies, they have a brutal potential matchup against Wichita State that would probably have some local media losing their damn minds. Wichita is way underseeded. Their conference tournament loss was just their fourth of the season, and they didn’t play a particularly impressive schedule, but: they avenged the loss to Northern Iowa (a really good team), and lost to Utah (another very good team) on the road in overtime. George Washington is the other loss.
▪ I choose to believe that when the bracket was announced, Gregg Marshall just started stalking around the room, chest-bumping his assistant coaches, slapping the wall and pounding his chest.
▪ One of the great traditions this time of year — aside from Dick Vitale losing his mind over a mid-major not getting in — is the conspiracy theories that have the selection committee like some sort of adolescent jokester who just wants to see people in awkward spots. Vahe did the mock selection thing this year, and like many others with the experience, came away emphasizing how little time there is to think of things like that. It is also true that it would be nearly impossible to create a bracket without some potential student-mentor or pseudo-rivalry. It’s a fun thing to talk about, I guess, but there are a lot of make-believe stories that are fun to talk about.
▪ This seems to be the minority, but I’d take the field against Kentucky. I really like John Calipari — again, minority, feels like — and he has the best team in the country but I just have a feeling. Any team that enters the tournament undefeated will generate hype, but it still feels like some of this team’s aura is in how it began the season. Well, the beginning of the season was a long time ago, and nobody is impressed by the SEC.
▪ This has the feel of saying that Scarlett Johansson is too short or something, but I don’t think this Kentucky team is as good as the one from 2012, and I’m not sure an all-time team goes to overtime against Ole Miss and two overtimes against Texas A&M. It’s not their fault that the rest of the SEC stinks at basketball, but it’s also true that the best team Kentucky has played in 2015 is Arkansas. If we look at the KenPom numbers, Kansas has played TWELVE games against teams better than Arkansas since the New Year. Iowa State has played THIRTEEN. Typing in all caps is FUN.
▪ I don’t know. I’m probably wrong, of course, but I could see Wisconsin or Arizona beating Kentucky in the Final Four.
▪ As long as we’re making predictions that are sure to fall flat, at first glance I’ve got KU losing to Wichita State and the Shockers losing to Kentucky.
▪ Other upset picks you should either ignore or bet the opposite: Buffalo over West Virginia, Wofford over Arkansas, Harvard in the Sweet 16 (inspiring a million “finally those kids from Harvard catch a break” jokes), Louisville over Villanova, and Michigan State over Virginia.
▪ Arizona over Duke in the final.
▪ Best sports event in the world. Can’t wait to see how awful those predictions are.