After several days of staring at the brackets and the NCAA statistics, I begin to hallucinate. I see upsets that aren’t actually there. I have Houston flashbacks. Every double-digit seed looks like the next Butler, every top seed like a mighty redwood about to fall.
But even I’m not crazy enough to pick against the No. 1 seeds in the first game. Even when a top seed strikes me as particularly vulnerable, I don’t have the guts to do it. The evidence against the 16’s is simply too compelling.
Since the field was expanded to 64 teams (now 68) in 1985, the No. 1 seeds are 120-0. There have been some near-miracles, like Princeton’s famous one-point loss to Georgetown in 1989, Murray State losing to Michigan State in 1990, and Fairfield giving North Carolina a scare in Dean Smith’s final season in 1997.
Once you get past the top seeds, though, I’m up for anything. You can’t dismiss the 15th and 14th seeds. The 15s are 7-113 over the years, but they rose up to win three out of eight in 2012-13. The 14 seeds are 17-103, but have won a game in each of the last two years (Harvard over New Mexico in 2013, Mercer over Duke last season).
So what the heck? Shield the children. Avert your gaze. Blow a kiss to Dick Vitale and Ashley Judd. I’m blowing up the whole West bracket.
Arizona, goodbye, you should have been more wary of a Texas Southern team that played the toughest non-conference schedule in the country. Baylor, see ya. Now you realize why Georgia State guard R.J. Hunter, son of Ron the head coach, is considered an NBA prospect.
Remember Kevin Ware, who suffered the grisly injury for Louisville in the NCAAs two years ago? He plays for Georgia State and scored 18 points in the Panthers’ 38-36 win over Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt title game. That’s right, 38-36, and you wonder why I’d rather watch the NBA.
Let’s see, I might as well take down the No. 5 seed, too. After all, the 12s are the darlings of the Dance in recent years. Over the last three tourneys, they’re 8-4 against the fifth seeds in their first game. Going back to 2001, they’re 26-30. Upset?
The only 12 seed I’m not picking this year is UB, so I can maintain a flimsy veneer of objectivity. The truth is, I have so much disdain for the privileged, smug, major football-playing conferences, I wish every one of them could be upset on the opening day.
Game to Watch: Arkansas-Wofford. Classic contrast in styles. Arkansas, led by 6-11 sophomore Bobby Portis, is 16th in the country in scoring at 78 ppg. The 12th seed Terriers, in the tourney for the fourth time in six years, prefer a modest pace. They’re 27th in scoring defense at 59.8. Wofford won at North Carolina State this year, 55-54, so they can dictate tempo as a ’dog. Senior guard Karl Cochran, the Southern Conference player of the year, has 902 career three-pointers.
Upset City: Texas Southern over Arizona. The SWAC champs played five teams in the NCAA field and beat Michigan State (on the road, naturally) in overtime. The Tigers, coached by former Indiana head man Mike Davis, are led by Madarious Gibbs, who led the country in minutes and played a full game 12 times. Arizona is loaded with NBA prospects and has a fine point guard in T.J. McConnell. But no Pac-12 team has made the Final Four since ’08 and Arizona hasn’t gone in 14 years.
Sleeper: VCU. Call them the godfathers of my nutty bracket. Coach Shaka Smart took the Rams on a Final Four run as an 11 seed and “First Four” team in 2011. VCU struggled after guard Briante Weber (cousin of UB’s Shannon Evans) suffered a season-ending knee injury in January. But the Rams recovered to win the A-10 tourney. They’re still dangerous, and if Texas Southern and Georgia State clear the way, well, who knows?