This year’s wild, wacky, zany and utterly mad NCAA tournament has not only lived up to the hype, it’s exceeded almost every expectation imaginable.
It’s delivered all the necessary ingredients of a ratings blockbuster – upsets, buzzer beaters, incredible comebacks, exhilerating individual performances, undeserving top seeds falling by the wayside, flying Angry Birds issued by the most polarizing figure in the game, Marshall Henderson and even the meteoric rise of RamBoy. Most unbelievably, though, is a tiny school established six years after its star player, Sherwood Brown, was born, has captivated the nation with re-DUNK-ulous jams, frenetic defense and the head coach’s pinup wife.
What a game. What a year. What a tournament.
My favorite facts from the opening rounds:
• The average true seed in the East is 9.0 (3, 5, 12, 16), Midwest 15.25 (1, 6, 11, 43), South 16.0 (2, 10, 13, 59) and West 28.25 (8, 21, 35, 49).
• Among this year’s batch of Sweet Sixteen coaches, those in the Midwest have 23 Final Four appearances, East five, South five and West two.
• This is the fourth time in tournament history four Big Ten teams have reached the Sweet Sixteen. The Big East holds the record for most single season appearances with five back in 2009.
• At least one double-digit seed has made the Sweet Sixteen in 27 of the past 29 Dances.
• Out of roughly 3.3 million Tourney Pick 'Em entries only 233 correctly prognosticated 14 of 16 Sweet Sixteen teams, two netted 15 of 16, zero nailed all 16. Interestingly, both 15-game winners have Kansas taking the title.
Unfortunately, the unpredictable craziness quickly eliminated millions from office pool bragging rights. Many brackets, inlucing the Noise’s, has taken on the appearance of a slasher movie victim. Red strikes from region-to-region have left entries irreperably bloodied, damage that’s led hoop heads to discard their sheets in various ways – tearing, rolling, smoking, goat-feeding. Chances are the person leading the pool pack is an extremely lucky basketball newbie with a penchant for orinthology. After all, four Sweet Sixteen teams are represented by feathery mascots.
But here’s the good news: Life is full of second chances, brackets included. To ensure a better performance, here’s my guide to hardwood redemption in your Second Chance Tourney Pick 'Em game:
BIGGEST SECOND CHANCE FLAME (Underrated team poised to overachieve)
Wichita State Shockers – Boom Shocker locka! After handling an offensively malnourished Pittsburgh team with relative ease in the opening round, Gregg Marshall's bunch dropped a gigantic bomb on Bracketville, dismissing trendy Final Four pick Gonzaga from the Round of 32. Its game-clinching run, which began roughly midway through the second half, socked and staggered Kelly Olynyk and company. Though outrebounded 20-9 on the offensive glass, the Shockers managed to survive and advance by employing staunch man defense and splashing the cylinder from distance, an area where it struggled mightily in for much of the season. Prior to its earth-tilting game against the 'Zags, Wichita ranked No. 214 in three-point percentage offense. But after little used freshmen Fred Vanvleet, who had only attempted 38 threes previously, touched the moon on a back-breaking three, it became clear it was the Shockers' night. Against a scrappy La Salle club, which also blazed an improbable trail to Los Angeles, they should rubber stamp its first Elite Eight appearance since 1985. The Explorers, led by stat-sheet stuffer Ramon Galloway, are no slouches offensively. In three NCAA games, the First Four participant scored a blistering 1.18 points per possession. However, it's the second-worst defensive team still alive. It's also highly vulnerable in the post, an area where Wichita thrives. Provided the Shockers continue to display a hot hand from outside, it poses the biggest threat to Ohio State in the West. Somehow march to Atlanta and athletic directors at UCLA, USC and Minnesota will be prepared back up the truck. Marshall could attract Brewster's Millions in the very near future.
BIGGEST SECOND CHANCE LAME (Overrated team poised to underachieve)
Kansas Jayhawks – Largely projected as the first one seed to exit stage left, Bill Self and friends managed to fend off Cinderella, despite an opening round fright issued by Western Kentucky. Absolutely suffocating in the second half against North Carolina, the Jayhawks had the look of a team destined to reach the Final Four. Jeff Withey, who's seemingly been enrolled at KU since the Naismith days, logged arguably the most dominating performance of the tourney. Crashing the boards, scoring without restriction in the post and swatting shots, he almost single-handedly laid the smack down on Roy Williams' team. In total, he recorded 16 points, 16 boards and five blocks. His disruptive presence is a problem for most teams, but Michigan has the size, and RPMs, to match. Mitch McGary has really come alive this postseason. Against South Dakota State and VCU, the high-motorer accounted for 34 points, 16 rebounds and five assists, going for 16-for-20 from the field. Can you say unstoppable? Add that to Trey Burke's sterling generalship, Ben McLemore's ocasional disappearing acts (0-for-9 versus UNC), Elijah Johnson's propensity for turning it over and Michigan's suddenly respectable defense (0.87 points per possession last two), and it seems unlikely Kansas will punch a ticket for the Final Four for the eighth time since the expansion area began in 1985. Rock Chalk Choke.
FRANK RANKS (My power ratings for all sixteen teams)
1. Louisville Cardinals – Best defensive team remaining practically unchallenged in first two games. Plucks the Ducks.
2. Ohio State Buckeyes – Craft's redemption lifted Brutus past pesky Cyclones squad. Clear-cut Vegas favorite in the Wild, Wild, West.
3. Miami (FL) Hurricanes – Dodged bullet on controversial miscall at end of Illinois game. Shane Larkin 14:5 AST:TO split in tourney.
4. Florida Gators – Starting to resemble club that ran roughshod over SEC competition midyear. Most efficient team top-to-bottom left.
5. Indiana Hoosiers – Staved off stiff challenge from Khalif Wyatt and Temple. Hoosiers undoubtedly most talented team in current field.
6. Michigan State Spartans – Flowers, Easter eggs, Izzo in the regional semi-finals -- rites of spring. Coach now 18-3 in Round 32 games.
7. Wichita State Shockers – Exposed 'Zaga for fraud it was. Tenacious on D and with growing confidence from outside, should reach Elite Eight.
8. Michigan Wolverines – Burke is an absolute wizard at the point. He's dished out 21 dimes in his past three games.
9. Kansas Jayhawks – Withey was otherworldly against undersized Carolina club. Tougher task upcoming against McGary, Michigan.
10. Syracuse Orange – Hoosiers' balanced attack and ability to swish threes problematic for Orange's 2-3 zone. Could get ugly.
11. Duke Blue Devils – Despite Ryan Kelly foul trouble, Devils managed to keep Creighton at arm's length. Sparty, though, awful matchup.
12. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles – Modern day Phi Slamma Jamma a fun, energetic brand. Will give Florida all it can handle.
13. Marquette Golden Eagles – Buzz Williams gettin' jiggy largely due to clutch play of Vander Blue. However, powerful 'Canes a mismatch.
14. Arizona Wildcats – Mentor, Thad Matta, should get best of former understudy Sean Miller. Buckeyes simply too strong defensively.
15. Oregon Ducks – Ducks channeled seed-slighting positively, knocking off Okie State and St. Louis. Louisville, though, different animal.
16. La Salle Explorers – Galloway has been magnificent, but Wichita State will brutalize Explorers in paint, on defense overall.
SHOW YOUR WORK (My Second Chance Picks)
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