The Leadoff: March Sadness


We have once again made it to that time of year where we forget about the corruption of the NCAA for a few weeks and celebrate the majesty of the March Madness tournament. It’s the convenient time when we forget about the “student” part of the student-athletes as we take them out of school for sometimes a full month, fly them all across the country, pimp them out on commercials and ads to generate money for the NCAA that they will see none of. It has been reported that the NCAA brings in around $900 million from the NCAA tournament alone but want us all to remember that there isn’t enough money to properly pay those who actually put butts in the seats.

Regardless of how we feel about it though, it is an inarguable fact that it is here so we might as well get excited.

I will be honest with you all, I didn’t watch a ton of college basketball this year outside of the major teams with the potential star players. I watched several Duke games because I wanted to see Zion Williamson dunk with the power of Thor’s hammer and RJ Barrett sauce up defenders with his left hand because all lefties have a soft spot in my heart.

I watched one Murray State game after seeing a sweet Instagram video of Ja Morant taking off for a dunk in slow motion and as he elevated the rest of his team did also causing them all to land at the same time, I repeat in slow motion, that sent me falling to the floor like an old person with vertigo due to the sheer artistry that I didn’t think a dunk video could possess.

I also watched one half of a Marquette game to see their top player Markus Howard and obviously to check out their jerseys which are the nation’s coolest year in and year out. That is about it. For the first time in recent memory though there isn’t a team led by some unathletic looking white kid at a small school that shoots the lights out like a Doug McBucketts or Jimmer Fredette in years past and that makes me a little sad.

To tell you the truth I think that might be more games than the experts watch because there is no way anyone can actually watch all 64 of these teams to the extent that they know their tendencies and can accurately predict who they can and can’t beat.

There has never been a perfect NCAA bracket so I don’t know why you would listen to me or anyone else on the matter. Most years the top brackets are filled out by someone's son or daughter who chose the games based on what mascots he or she likes best or which color schemes look the prettiest. Do you know the odds of getting a perfect bracket? I’ll tell you because I Googled it. 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808. I know that looks like a cat did a tap dance routine on my keyboard but that is the actual number. I am not sure what that number is but it has to be near a googolplex right?  Winning the lottery is only 1 in 13,983,816 so just think about that for one second. With that being said there are some trade secrets that I can share because I am obviously the best at predicting brackets because as a sports writer I am never wrong and what I say is law, a la Mike Francesa.

Some people have a blueprint every year and follow it no matter what, some people go chalk and some people go upset heavy and it really depends on what you believe matter most in winning these games. Is it the coach? The culture? Or the players? Of course, it is some mixture of the three because if it was all coaching then Duke would win every year. If it were purely players then Kentucky would have reeled off three straight titles when they pioneered the one-and-done and had teams stacked with NBA talent like Devin Booker, Carl Anthony Towns, and Anthony Davis. If culture were the most important thing then a team like North Carolina or Syracuse should be the perennial favorites every year as schools and regions that eat, sleep and breath basketball.

I personally put no stock in culture, I believe it is just a recruiting tool to help push mom’s and dad’s over the edge when deciding where to send their son. I think coaching matters, it absolutely does and you can see it with coaches like Brad Stevens who almost stole a National Title while at Butler before going to the Celtics and proving he is unquestionably one of the best coaches in the league. However, by being at Butler, Stevens had an advantage that not many coaches have any more, the ability to coach the same players for multiple years because he was at a smaller school. The top schools in the country have a new starting lineup every year now, thanks to the corruption of the NCAA who dug their own grave. There aren’t senior-heavy teams anymore, there aren’t teams that have made it close, failed and then worked harder the next year to come back. These tournaments are filled with freshmen who make freshmen mistakes which is why we finally saw a 16 seed beat a 1 seed and why we will continue to see it happen. The smaller schools are upperclassmen heavy teams that have played together for years and can weather the storms, runs and emotional highs of an NCAA tournament game with millions of people watching.

My answer is to look for the teams that have the best combination of both. When in a bind between two teams choose the ones that have elite level talent, good coaching and some semblance of team chemistry with upperclassmen. My choice to win it all? Gonzaga. Guess who doesn’t start a single freshman? Gonzaga. Guess who starts two juniors, one a redshirt junior and a senior? Gonzaga. Guess who has a great coach that consistently keeps his program atop the standings? Gonzaga. Guess who is the only team to beat Duke at full strength this year? You guessed it, Gonzaga. I know they haven’t won it before but as the one-and-done trend continues their chance is coming, I promise, and I think it will be this year. Or they will lose early and this whole column will look like a joke which would also be awesome so who cares, kick up your feet, stuff your face and enjoy some basketball. If you want to challenge me I have created a group on ESPN’s tournament challenge titled “Atascadero News.” Join the group and see if you can beat me, the self-proclaimed expert.


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