An Idiot’s Guide to the Big Dance

You ever have one of those dreams where you are heading to a final exam, and as you are walking you realize that you haven’t attended any of the classes that semester? Then you remember you’d intended to drop the class, but just never got around to it?

That’s how I’m feeling heading into March Madness this year. The empty brackets are my final exam, and somehow I’ve skipped the entire school year, having barely payed attention to anything related to college hoops. I have no good excuse. The part of my brain assigned to NCAA basketball shut down a year ago, when the tourney was cancelled on account of an oncoming global shitshow. I’ve been unable to jump start it back up ever since.

To my horror, I’ve become that guy in my office I used to ridicule come NCAA Tournament time. You know him, the one who filled out his brackets based on which school had the cooler nickname, or required higher SAT’s for admission.

But it’s March, and the games start in a few days, so ready or not we must fill out our brackets. We’re going in cold, too. No cramming via USA Today’s special March Madness section, or any of the thousands of tournament breakdowns currently available via the internet. Nope, this will be on instinct alone, guided by a lifetime of watching the tournament, along with a cursory awareness of what’s transpired over the past couple of weeks as conference championships were decided and the local tournaments played out.

So what follows are a series of data points, vague indicators, and pure shots in the dark that when strung together fall under the category of throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. Here goes!

We’ll begin out WEST:

*Gonzaga won’t win it all. And that is despite the selection committee’s apparent attempt to give the Bulldogs an easy path to the Final Four (I heard someone on ESPN make that observation on Sunday, so I’m running with it). But really, this is an easy call, since undefeated teams don’t win the Big Dance anymore. Too much depth around the country, plus the target on the back of the jersey that comes with being the number one overall seed (not to mention the fact that Gonzaga isn’t supposed to ever win this thing), will conspire to take out the unbeaten favorites.

*It is perfectly okay to run with personal biases, logic be damned. AtticDaughter1 is a proud USC graduate, and I did one semester of a grad school program at Southern Cal a few years back, so saddle up the bandwagon folks, it’s winning time! Look for a deep run from the Trojans (at least the Sweet 16), and after that, who knows, maybe this is our year?

*Doesn’t it suck when two teams we traditionally like to root for meet up in the first round? We all have our go-to’s that we like to ride every year as we search for that differentiating early upset, and when two of our dark horses randomly collide, early bracket peril is certain to ensue. That’s Oregon versus VCU for me this year. I’ve had success riding both schools to unexpected runs in dances of years past, and would like nothing more than to ride them both again this year. But should I choose the wrong horse in this Round 1 tilt, the price could be blowing up an entire quarter of my bracket. What the hell, give me VCU.

*Am I the only person that didn’t know a school by the name of Grand Canyon existed prior to this year’s tournament?

Then head EAST:

*Karma matters. And for that reason, Michigan will be the first Number 1 seed to go down this March. Isn’t it interesting how in a matter of a few seconds of testosterone-fueled bedlam, Wolverine coach Juwan Howard went from one of the year’s surprise, feel good stories, to a villainous bully? Well he did, which further reinforces the old adage “never threaten to kill your opposing coach.” The hoops gods don’t forget.

*Look for any angle that connects to your favorite pro franchise and make a big bet. For Knicks fans, that’s riding Patrick Ewing and his Hoyas all the way to the Sweet 16 following their surprise Big East Tournament title. And here’s hoping that NCAA security is properly briefed that the big, scowling 7’2 guy heading their way is, indeed, the Georgetown head coach.

*One of the 11-seed, play-in game winners always makes a run (at least it seems that way, or maybe happened once?) once they’ve kicked their way into the main draw. The problem is, this year’s two most likely suspects, Michigan State and UCLA, face one another. This is a bracket conundrum (see Oregon vs VCU above) that will wreak havoc should we misstep. However, look to the hoops gods once again for a clue here. Michigan State selling out on their team name last week, shamelessly adding “Presented by Rocket Mortgage” as a caboose to their long-standing Spartans nickname, makes this selection a simple one. Go Bruins!

*As tired as I am of seeing Iona coach Rick Pitino taking yet another school to the Big Dance, it says here that Alabama will have their hands full after drawing the Gaels in the first round. Look for Bama to survive, but take the points, Iona fans, take the points.

And what about down SOUTH:

*Only the two biggest upsets of Round 1! Look for both to take place in the South Region’s first round:

-Winthrop will take out Villanova (quick, what state is Winthrop located in?)

-and…

-Colgate sends Arkansas packing

(SportsAttic Aside — is there a better feeling in the entire world than when you make a preposterous upset call in the first round and it actually happens?)

Last but not least, what happens in the MIDWEST:

*Look for any connection that will justify claiming a seat on the bandwagon of a top seed, no matter how remote. SportsAttic Nation Resident Sage, Geno the Sawx Fan, has three sons, the oldest of whom happens to be a badass crew man at Illinois. A couple of months back, AtticBro received his very own Illinois Rowing t-shirt in the mail, which means… you betcha — give us the Illini on a glide path to this year’s Final Four!

*Sentimentality is okay. As former residents of the Garden State, we tip our hat to the legions of rabidly faithful hoops fanatics that attended Rutgers University. Back at the Big Dance for the first time in 30 (thirty!) years, the Scarlet Knights will delight their hardcore fans by advancing all the way to the Sweet 16. But then, quicker than you can say “which exit,” the Knights will awaken and recapture their enduring legacy of alumni torment, blowing a double-digit lead in the last five minutes to San Diego State, costing themselves a berth in the Elite Eight.

FINAL FOUR

*USC emerges from the West keeping Cinderella alive, beating Alabama to earn their trip to the finals.

*Illinois outlasts Baylor in a slugfest between Number 1 seeds, setting up a David versus Goliath matchup two days later.

AND THE WINNER IS…

*Illinois’ superior talent and depth proves too much for the Trojans, but since we took USC and the points, everybody wins following a close and entertaining national championship game. (Illini, 82-77)

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