For the record, this is the 25th anniversary of me picking Houston to reach the Final Four in 1990. It was my first year doing the brackets, and naturally I went for a long shot. Houston, an eighth seed, was the first team eliminated from the entire tournament.
Those were the days when most Buffalo readers got the newspaper in the late afternoon. So yes, my big sleeper pick had been bumped from the Big Dance before the The News even reached most people’s doorsteps.
That was also Bobby Hurley’s freshman year at Duke. He did reach the Final Four, though he threw up at halftime of the semifinal against Arkansas and got embarrassed by UNLV in the title game. He got a lot better as the years went along. I continued reaching for sleepers.
But what fun would the tourney be if you didn’t go for the long shot, if you couldn’t gamble on the improbable? While the NCAA would like us to believe the tournament is all about noble student-athletes and education, we all know it’s really about gambling and fast food ads.
According to the American Gaming Association, there will be about $9 billion wagered on this year’s NCAA Tournament, more than double the amount bet on the Super Bowl. An estimated 40 million Americans will fill out 70 million tournament brackets.
Some 66 million citizen voted for President Obama in the 2012 election. That tells you something about our national priorities. Of course, the President did a bracket, too, which was announced Wednesday on ESPN.
The TV contract is worth $11 billion over 14 years. Employers report millions in lost productivity due to workers watching the Dance on the job. Meanwhile, doctors say vasectomies increase 50 percent during the tourney. There’s a joke about snipping the nets in there somewhere.
So it’s great to have UB in the tourney for the first time, a quarter century after Hurley went the first time as a baby-faced freshman. And yes, I’m tempted to pick them to make a run to the Sweet 16, or even farther, in honor of my ill-fated Houston pick in 1990.
But in an act of community service, I’m picking them to lose in the first round. As savvy Bills fans know, when I pick the home team they generally lose, and vice versa. So think of it as the reverse jinx. I’m hoping it works on Kentucky, the overwhelming favorite to win it all.
Here’s my bracket, starting with UB’s region, the Midwest. Four of the 10 winningest programs in history (Kentucky, Kansas, Notre Dame, Indiana) are in the region. Remember, by “sleeper”, I mean a team seeded fifth or lower with a chance to make a Final Four run:
Game to Watch: Buffalo-West Virginia. It would be my pick even if it wasn’t local. This is a classic matchup between an audacious UB team that likes to run and a typically tough Bob Huggins squad that tries to bully you out of the gym. The Mountaineers lead the nation in steals, offensive rebounds and fouls.
The Bulls are a strong rebounding team with dynamic young guards, Shannon Evans and Lamonte Bearden, who love to beat the press for easy hoops. It should be great for TV, a taut, emotional clash with volatile coaches, physical play and dunks.
Upset City: Texas over Butler. Rick Barnes is on the hot seat after the Longhorns suffered two four-game losing streaks in Big 12 play and barely made the field. But they’re a dangerous No. 11 seed with a scary front line. Led by 6-11 freshman Myles Turner, and 6-9 Cam Ridley, Texas is first in the nation in blocked shots, fourth in defensive field-goal percentage and sixth in rebound margin. They’re weak at guard, but Butler’s backcourt is no great shakes, either.
Sleeper: Wichita State. The Shockers are ranked 12th in the country and seeded just seventh in the region. They’re 63-5 since losing in the Final Four two years ago. Do you think they might feeling a tad disrespected? They’re in the top 20 nationally in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Wichita’s veteran backcourt (Ron Baker, Fred VanVleet) is one of the best in the land. They’re gunning for a
second-round clash with in-state neighbor Kansas, which has refused to schedule them since 1992.