As the old expression goes, “beware the ides of March”.
Given the amount of time many of us will devote to our March Madness brackets (as opposed to working, paying bills and walking the dog), the aforementioned phrase may inevitably ring true.
Daily obligations aside, the big dance is one of the greatest annual sporting events, and this year is poised to be one of the best ever.
Talking heads and critics have panned this season as one of uncertainty and unpredictability, owing largely to the absence of a clear number one seed. Top-ranked teams have been upset like babies without pacifiers, with Duke, Kansas, Michigan, Louisville and Georgetown all falling to unranked teams.
Then, there are teams like Miami (far from a household name in college hoops), who were initially unranked but are now viewed as an elite squad. Interestingly, their victory over Duke was the program’s first ever victory over a number one ranked team.
You also have teams like Kentucky (typically a Final-Four lock), who went from a top-10 preseason ranking to being knocked out in the first round of the NIT tournament by Robert Morris (I know, Robert who?).
As a result, it’s easy to see why brackets are looking more inconsistent than a Manti Te’o blind date.
While I’ll leave the bold predictions to the professional bracketologists and President Obama, it’s hard to bet against Gonzaga. Canadian junior forward Kelly Olynyk has led the ‘Zags to an undefeated conference record, which was recently capped off by a WCC title.
Indiana is another solid squad with two National Player of the Year candidates in Victor Oladipo and Cody Zellers. The Hoosiers have finally returned to college basketball relevance, after being absent from the Final Four since 2002.
With that being said, I want to jump on the Miami bandwagon while I still can. With six seniors and four juniors (including senior PG Shane Larkin), the Hurricanes bring a heap of experience.
That’s never a bad look when every game is do-or-die.
For my darkhorse pick, I like VCU, who are still basking in the afterglow of their incredible 2011 run and have looked impressive in the A-10. Plus, Coach Shaka Smart has the best name in college hoops.
Another enticing element of this year’s tournament is the strong Canadian presence.
As mentioned, Gonzaga boasts Kamloops, BC’s Kelly Olynyk (WCC Player of the Year, and potential NCAA Player of the Year) and Newmarket, ON’s Kevin Pangos (pre-season all-WCC PG). You should also keep your eyes peeled for Michigan freshman Nik Stauskas (a lethal shooter from Mississauga, ON), Texas’ Myck Kabongo (the team’s leader in points, assists and steals), and UNLV’s Anthony Bennett (a Brampton, ON native averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds per game while drawing comparisons to Larry Johnson).
Ultimately, with any March Madness bracket – there’s one thing to remember.
Don’t put too much stock in the number in front of the team.
If this season has proven anything, it’s that number ones are never invincible. As a result, the ambiguity of this year’s rankings should make for a truly chaotic tournament.
Thankfully, that’s just how we like it.
Written for CAVE by Johan Blaze