For those of you wobbling on your own NCAA Tournament bubbles this week, let’s mercifully get this over with: The likelihood that Jerry Falwell will trick or treat next October as a Teletubby is greater than your chance of winning your Final Four pool.
Don’t hang your head. The pool winner invariably turns out to be either the boss’ wife or someone who, unfettered by the constraints of logic, rides some squirrelly picks through several fortune-kissed rounds. (The big losers, perhaps not coincidentally, tend to follow the same strategy, just with less luck.)
Once you embrace your Final Four fate, you can appreciate the virtues of the more achievable goal of losing with credibility.
Played correctly, this hand can be even stronger (though less lucrative) than the winning one. Armed with a little knowledge, you can defend with forthright fervor the sound reasoning behind all your predicted upsets that failed to materialize and all those high seeds whose downfall you failed to foresee. During March Madness, talking the talk is more critical than walking the walk.
In that spirit, our panel of way-insiders hunched for hours over the Scene Sports Desk at McCabe’s Pub to bring you some of the insights and infobits with which you can uphold the righteousness of your choices even as your brackets crumble like Tennessee’s half-court offense.
The No. 1 seeds least likely to succeed: In an average tournament, only two top seeds reach the Final Four. This year’s stumblers are apt to be Auburn, who is too nouveau riche to understand the workings of this old-money club, and Connecticut, a powerhouse rendered a little less powerful by nagging injuries.
Most-likely-to-suck seeds: New Mexico (whose star, Kenny Thomas, is hampered by a groin injury), Temple, Minnesota, Washington, Louisville, Purdue, and Syracuse.
And now, in three words or less, key points you need to know about a few of those teams of which you know nothing: Winthrop: Irrelevant. George Mason: Meat. Florida A&M: Fodder. Arkansas State: Hail and farewell. Texas-San Antonio: Alamo II. Mt. St. Mary’s: Mount THIS. Lafayette: Au revoir. Weber State: We be gone.
Best upsets: 12th-seeded Detroit over injury-depleted UCLA and 13-seed Murray State over Ohio State.
Sweet 16 sleepers: UNC-Charlotte thunked Cincinnati twice, whipped Miami, and barely lost at North Carolina. Florida, meanwhile, is potent and, more importantly, too young and brash to realize they’re supposed to leave graciously after one round.
Bracket Killers: They’re always there, waiting, as Hattie McDaniel said, “lahk an ole spiduh” to upset unsuspecting higher seeds who blunder into their webs. This year, the brackets’ nooks and crannies are full of lurking arachnids: Miami-Ohio, starring the best player you’ve never heard of, Wally Szczerbiak; Kent; Gonzaga; Creighton, 7-1 against tourney-bound teams; always dangerous Murray State; and George Washington, whose 5-foot-4 Shawnta Rogers creates so much defensive havoc that the players on the court begin to resemble residents of a kicked-over anthill.
The no-guts, no-glory pick: If you really want to go where angels fear to tread, take Gonzaga over Stanford in the second round. Or write in Arkansas over UConn in the West semifinals.
Unluckiest Dogs: Valparaiso, last year’s wonderdog, this time drew second-seeded Maryland. Even more hosed are Charleston and Tulsa, two perennial overachievers who must face each other in the first round for the opportunity to let Duke stomp the pookie out of them.
Tennessee’s scariest matchup: All of ’em. The Vols are bubbling with ability but not stability. They’re the Sybil of the tournamentand unless Jerry Green can call forth the correct one of his team’s multiple personalities, even the Blue Hens of Delaware could send them home.
Most impressive irrelevant statistic: If you must venture out on a limb and pick Siena over Arkansas (we advise against it), you’ll at least draw “hmmms” of respect by pointing out that the Saints lead the nation in free-throw percentage.
Why Kentucky is a good bet for the Final Four: One, the Wildcats play superbly in a tournament format. Two, they’re fast, deep, experienced, and being a defending champion counts for something. Three, Tubby Smith understands that UK’s legion of slobber-slinging radicals, who’d find reason to grumble about God’s W-L record, may start aiming their squirrel rifles in his direction if the Wildcats don’t return at least to the semifinals.
How It Looks From the La-Z-Boy
First Round winners: Duke; Charleston; Wisconsin; Tennessee; Kent; Cincinnati; Texas; Miami.
Second Round winners: Duke; Wisconsin; Cincinnati; Miami.
Sweet Sixteen: Duke over Wisconsin; Cincinnati over Miami.
Regional Finals: Duke over Cincinnati.
First Round winners: Connecticut ;
Missouri; Iowa; Arkansas; Florida; North Carolina ; Gonzaga; Stanford.
Second Round winners: Connecticut; Arkansas; Florida; Stanford.
Sweet Sixteen: Connecticut over Arkansas; Stanford over Florida.
Regional Finals: Connecticut over
First Round winners: Michigan State;
Villanova; UNCC; Arizona; Kansas; Kentucky; Miami (Ohio); Utah.
Second Round winners: Michigan State; UNCC; Kentucky; Utah.
Sweet Sixteen: Michigan State over UNCC; Kentucky over Utah.
Regional Finals: Kentucky over
First Round winners: Auburn; Syracuse; Detroit; Murray State; Indiana; St. John’s; Creighton; Maryland.
Second Round winners: Auburn; Detroit; St. John’s; Maryland.
Sweet Sixteen: Auburn over Detroit; Maryland over St. John’s.
Regional Finals: Maryland over Auburn.
Semifinals: Duke over Kentucky; Maryland over UConn.
Championship: Duke over Maryland.
Women’s NCAA Tournament
First Round winners: Tennessee; Boston College; Auburn; Virginia Tech; St. Joseph’s; Duke; Stanford; Old Dominion.
Second Round winners: Tennessee;
Virginia Tech; Duke; Old Dominion.
Sweet Sixteen: Tennessee over Virginia Tech; Duke over Old Dominion.
Regional Finals: Tennessee over Duke.
First Round winners: Purdue; Kansas; Alabama; North Carolina; Florida; Rutgers; North Carolina State; Texas Tech.
Second Round winners: Purdue; North Carolina; Rutgers; Texas Tech.
Sweet Sixteen: Purdue over North
Carolina; Texas Tech over Rutgers.
Regional Finals: Texas Tech over Purdue.
First Round winners: Connecticut; Xavier; Oregon; Iowa State; SMU;
Georgia; Illinois; Clemson.
Second Round winners: Connecticut; Oregon; Georgia; Clemson.
Sweet Sixteen: Connecticut over Oregon; Georgia over Clemson.
Regional Finals: Connecticut
First Round winners: Louisiana Tech; Penn State; Notre Dame; LSU; Kentucky; UCLA; UCSB; Colorado State.
Second Round winners: Louisiana Tech; Notre Dame; Kentucky; Colorado State.
Sweet Sixteen: Louisiana Tech over Notre Dame; Kentucky over Colorado State.
Regional Finals: Louisiana Tech over Kentucky.
Semifinals: Tennessee over Texas Tech; Connecticut over Louisiana Tech.
Championship: Tennessee over Connecticut.