COMMENTARY | March Madness is once again upon us, which means it's time for dozens upon dozens of college basketball games to air on national TV over the next couple of weeks. For many sports fans in this country, this month is largely about one thing: Filling out the brackets. Companies looking to cash in on the popularity of the NCAA tournament will often create their own brackets in order to begin conversations, attract Web page views, and even make a few bucks along the way. That's exactly what FOX Soccer did this past weekend when the station released its "BPL Faves" bracket.
Unlike the actual tournament brackets, 16 and not 68 top Premier League players are listed among the BPL Faves. The groups of four are separated by player rather than by region. There's the "RvP Region," the "Bale Region," the "Rooney Region" and the "Wilshere Region." For fun, I decided to fill FOX's bracket out, if for no other reason than to answer a big question.
Just who is the best player in the Premier League today?
Round 1, or the Sweet 16: The RVP Region
Robin van Persie vs. Chicharito: Van Persie has cooled off as of late, but he remains one of the top strikers in all of the world when he is in-form. Chicharito is a fine player, but RvP he is not. Winner: Van Persie
Frank Lampard vs. Tim Howard: This is maybe the oddest match-up FOX Soccer came up with for a variety of reasons. Lampard has looked like the player of old throughout the current season, and he recently netted his 200th goal for Chelsea. Howard was the best American goalkeeper in all the world as of the start of this calendar year. Injury, along with the stellar play of Brad Guzan, has some wondering if Timmy may be a bystander for his national team from now on. Winner: Lampard
Round 1, or the Sweet 16: The Bale Region
Gareth Bale vs. Marouane Fellaini: Fellaini is a tremendous player, one who could fit in with just about any team in the league. Nobody is paying £65m, the reported selling price for Bale, for Mr. Fellaini, though. Bale advances with relative ease. Winner: Bale
Luis Suarez vs. Papiss Cisse: Cisse can be a lethal striker when he is in the mood, but his lack of consistency is what keeps him from being ranked among the elite. I'm often not a fan of Suarez's actions on the pitch, but you can't deny his talent. He's on his way to winning the EPL Golden Boot, and he may also be on the verge of winning this tournament.
Round 1, or the Sweet 16: The Rooney Region
Wayne Rooney vs. Clint Dempsey: I'd love to be a homer and choose the American who also plays for my beloved Tottenham Hotspur, but that would be picking with my heart and not with my head. Rooney can absolutely be a headache, but the difference between these two players is clear. One can and has featured for a Champions League side. One may never do so. Winner: Rooney
Dimitar Berbatov vs. Steven Gerrard: I struggled with this one more than I did with any other first round match-up. I have massive respect for both players, and both seemingly could play top-flight football for years to come. There's something to be said for flash, though, and Berbatov provides plenty of it. Because of that, I went with the former Tottenham man. Winner: Berbatov
Round 1, or the Sweet 16: The Wilshere Region
Jack Wilshere vs. Carlos Tevez: Tevez is an outstanding footballer, but he's also a mercenary who would probably play for the devil himself if the wages were right. We've also likely already seen the best from Tevez. At just 21-years of age, there's no telling how good Wilshere, who has been compared by some to Dennis Bergkamp, will get. Super Jack gets the nod here. Winner: Wilshere
Michu vs. Theo Walcott: It's the one major upset of the first round! Walcott is extremely talented, but suggesting that he is on the same level as is Bale is absurd for a variety of reasons. Michu is currently in the top five in the EPL in goals scored, and I'd love to see what he could accomplish at a bigger club. Nice to Michu, Theo, but you're out. Winner: Michu
Van Persie vs. Lampard: I respect all that Lampard has accomplished, but this is about who is the best of the best in 2013. On another day and at another time, this match-up would maybe be a discussion. Today, however, Van Persie wins in a blowout. The Dutch international had quite the easy trip to the Final Four. Winner: Van Persie
Rooney vs. Berbatov: It's possible that this is my "heart over mind" pick of the tournament, but I am actually going with Berbatov over the Manchester United star. I'm not totally convinced that Rooney is going to have the European staying power Berbatov has thus far enjoyed during his career, especially if American dollars do eventually come calling. There's also the fact that I would take Berbatov at Spurs over Emmanuel Adebayor every day of the week right now. I miss that man. Winner: Berbatov
Bale vs. Suarez: Matching these two up so early in the tournament is an absolute shame. You honestly could go with either man and be right. Suarez won the latest battle of these two phenomenal players, and I give him credit for being loyal to a club that arguably doesn't deserve him. Still, Bale is in that "just how good can this guy get?" category. That's why I chose the Welsh wonder. Winner: Bale
Wilshere vs. Michu: As much as it pains me to admit it, there will probably come a day when Wilshere eclipses Michu in talent. That day, however, is not today. Michu is maybe the league's best example of doing a lot with a little. Imagine where Swans would be without him. Winner: Michu
Van Persie vs. Berbatov: The Berbatov love-in ends here. Yes, Van Persie is cold at the start of springtime. When he is in-form and fully fit, he is one of the best finishers on the planet. Somebody at FOX sure loves RvP, because he was practically guided right to the Final. Winner: Van Persie
Bale vs. Michu: Can we switch Suarez with Michu back in the first round to create a more intriguing Final Four match-up? I'm not sure Michu would even pick himself here. Winner: Bale
All roads have been leading toward Van Persie vs. Bale. I broke this down using the video game method of "who would I take first?" Assuming that the football world actually worked this way, would Spurs be better if they traded Bale straight up for Van Persie? I don't think so. Would United be better if they traded RvP straight up for Bale? I say "yes," both in talent and in the checkbook. Bale wins this competition, but I still wish we could have seen a Bale versus Suarez Final. Maybe one day.
Zac has been covering Tottenham Hotspur, Major League Soccer, RBNY, the USMNT and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2010.