I am now ready to write again. You may think the reason I haven't put any words down is because I filled out the world's worst bracket. And yes, I most certainly did fill out the worst bracket, but since I've never had any credibility anyway I don't really care how badly I look. The reason I haven't been able to put anything up is I'm still trying to recover from Chicago. Three nights of drinking until 3am - two of which started around noon - is way too many for an old man like me to handle. I've been trying to maximize my sleep in order to try to recalibrate myself back to normal. It hasn't worked yet but it's getting better, so I'm going to at least put something up so nobody thinks I'm dead.
There's no doubt my bracket is god damn awful, and I think I've figured out why other than that I suck - overthinking. It's hard to even rank the stupid things I did in making my picks, starting with believing in a Jamie Dixon Pitt team. Perennial underachievers, taking them to the Final Four would have been stupid, let alone picking them as my national champ. And he's not even the worst coach I backed, because I actually put my money behind Rick Barnes. Rick. Effing. Barnes. So dumb. Hell, after those two believing in a Lorenzo Romar-led Washington Huskies team doesn't even look bad, and that would normally be the biggest mistake one could possibly make in a bracket.
It wasn't just backing obviously poor coaches either, because there were some teams I was behind that should have had more obvious red flags. The most obvious is Notre Dame, and somehow I completely missed it and had them in my final four. Yep, I took a team that is almost 100% reliant on the jump shot to score points and suddenly expected them to be able to beat four straight NCAA Tournament caliber teams. Just stupid. But possibly not as stupid as expecting a team that just lost one of it's best players and leading rebounders to make a surprise run to the elite 8. Why did I back St. John's despite all that? Again, I'm an idiot.
The good news, however, is that although my bracket picks were god awful I did manage to come out ahead by a bit with the gambling gods thanks mainly to a heavy bet on George Mason, a heavy bet on the Zona/UNC over, and a super mega heavy bet on Darius Morris over 4 assists against Duke. So let's all clear our minds, forget my poor picks, and concentrate on picking the sweet 16 from a gambling perspective using what I learned this past weekend. We'll do Thursday's games today and Friday's games tomorrow.
UCONN -1 vs. San Diego State: Right away we hit up one of the biggest subplots of the weekend - don't back a poor game coach. Although I love Steve Fisher and the man has a national championship and a couple other Final Fours, he's the epitome of a "recruit great athletes, roll the ball out and let them play" style coach. That can work, but you run into trouble against teams with similar athletes who are backed by a game coach who can actually influence a game, and that's what you have with the Huskies and Jim Calhoun.
Two big x-factors in this game: home court advantage for the Aztecs and Kemba Walker for the Huskies. The game is going to be played just 2 hours from SDSU's campus so it should be a partisan crowd for them, while if you watched any basketball this year you know Kemba Walker is the kind of player who can carry a team by himself - and not only can he, but he's done it over and over in big spots. I give the x-factor advantage to UCONN, and along with the coach factor that makes this one an easy decision. Take UCONN -1 (3 units).
Florida -3 vs. BYU: This one's a rematch of a thrilling first-round match-up from last year that saw BYU take the Gators down in triple-overtime. Both teams are mainly still intact from last year, particularly Florida who has the same starting five, so if you're looking for some kind of x-factor that could be it.
Personally, I'm a bit more interested in how BYU's has survived without being exposed for a lack of a big man by Brandon Davies suspension for playing a little pickle. Basically neither of their first two opponents has been able to throw an athletic big man at them - the type of player the Cougars need Davies around in order to slow down. Wofford's Noah Dahlman is efficient, but he'll never be described as an incredible athlete, while Robert Sacre from Gonzaga is more of a defensive presence. The real question is if Florida's interior players can make BYU pay for their honor code.
Neither Alex Tyus or Vernon Macklin are offensive juggernauts, although they average 20 pts and 11 rebounds per game between the two of them, but the biggest stat affecting this game is their three-point shooting - specifically their lack of interest in in with just 5 attempts between the two of them all season. This means they're basically just going to camp in the lane - bad news for the Cougars. SDSU's Billy Thomas and Malcolm White are similar players to Tyus and Macklin, and in the first two games with Davies BYU held them to a combined average of 17 points and 12 rebounds - both Cougar wins. In their third game with Davies in street clothes those two went off for 30 and 19 and the Aztecs won. Good enough for me. The pick is Florida -3 for 2 units. BONUS: Take the OVER 149.5 for a unit. Florida is going to score at will in the paint, which means BYU is going to have to score a ton to keep this close, pushing the final up into the 80s range each.
Duke -8.5 vs. Arizona: The coaches are a wash because both are excellent in game, although maybe peg Krzyzewski half a point for pre-gaming, and give Arizona a small advantage for being the quasi-home team in this one with the Dukies traveling across the world to play. What I'm really curious is to see how Derrick Williams of Arizona plays here, because I'm getting a bit of a Danny Manning vibe from him.
Williams, who averaged 19 and 8 this season and was one of the most efficient players in the league with a FG% of .600 (.581 from three), has scored 22 and 17 (with 10 and 9 boards) in the Wildcats' first two wins and had a game-winning play in each, one from each end (blocked shot vs. Memphis, 3-point play vs. Texas). Of note is that Duke played a similar player to Arizona's Williams this year twice in Maryland's Jordan Williams, who went for 20 and 10 and 16 and 16 in the two games. In Duke's late loss to UNC John Henson went 10 and 12. Virginia Tech's Jeff Allen scored 18 and grabbed 15 in their win over the Dukies, and Justin Brownlee was 20 and 9 in St. J's win - nearly double his season averages.
Look, I'm not saying Arizona is going to win, but I am saying this is interesting. You have one of the best players in the country carrying his team right now and running himself into possibly the #1 pick in the NBA Draft, and he just so happens to be the kind of player who Duke struggles to contain - the same Duke team that's flying all the way across the country for what will be a semi-road game. Personally, I'm taking Arizona and the +8.5 points for 3 units, but right now if you threw a little cash at the moneyline on Zona you're getting nearly 4/1 odds. I can see it.
Wisconsin -4.5 vs. Butler: In many ways, Butler is just a slightly worse version of Wisconsin - both teams play very efficient offense, good but not great defense, limit opponents possessions by taking extreme care of the basketball and not allowing offensive rebounds, and play at a slow pace. Hell, they even have the same black guy do everything ball-handler guard and big white guy combination. The real question is: is Wisconsin 4.5 half points better than Butler, or less?
Two things have me thinking that Butler is the play here: Timing, and Ronald Nored. As far as timing goes, Butler has struggled all year, even losing five Horizon games and suddenly looking like they wouldn't get an invite to the tournament. Since a three-game losing streak mid-season they've now won the next 11 in a row including a sweep of the second best team in their league (Cleveland State), a win over a team that had previously swept them (Milwaukee) and wins over two very good teams in ODU and Pitt - clearly they're hot. The other reason is Nored - the Bulldogs best defender. He's not much for scoring (he'd be great as a BYU student) so he can just chase Jordan Taylor around all day and use his energy up that way, leaving Shelvin Mack free to concentrate on offense. On the flip side, Wisconsin doesn't have anybody outside of Taylor who I can see Bo Ryan using to guard Mack, so Taylor's going to be playing double duty. Not that he can't handle it, but it's a small advantage toward the Butler side of this one.
Look, I don't know who is going to win this one and I'm really glad I don't have to pick a winner. I think this game is straight 50/50, but those small advantages detailed above tell me that the best bet here is to go ahead and take Butler +4.5 for two units, because this should come down to the wire. As a little bonus, that OVER/UNDER 124 number looks pretty interesting, and I'm taking the OVER 124 for three units. Both teams play slow but neither is a necessarily great defense. Since both teams take great care of the basketball (and neither defense is particularly adept at taking it away), both teams will get their shots. Since both teams are efficient scoring machines, they should score some points.
So there's Thursday's games. Those should work out pretty well because I've got a lot better feeling for this set than I do for the next nights. I'll do some math, run some numbers, read some things, and see how I come out. Right now I'm thinking Ohio State and three question marks. Stay tuned.