Spring Break! St. Patrick's Day! NCAA Tournament basketball! The first day of spring! Pound for pound, when it comes to entertainment, few, if any, of a year's other 51 weeks get better than this one.
With the ability to stream these games live via the internet, the end of this week will produce the greatest concentration of time clock banditry and pathetic workplace productivity. That is if people don't plan on calling in with a case of fake diarrhea or meningitis that will be miraculously gone come Monday.
So how was it, Sunday night, filling in your brackets as the teams were announced? I know how Kansas fans felt upon seeing their placement in the loaded Midwest Region.
Jayhawk fans, I love ya. I'm one of you, grew up in Lawrence, went to Kansas, but I'm getting a little tired of the collective crying. Everyone you play in the tournament is gonna be a tough draw. "But our 15 seed opponent is better than everyone else's! What are we gonna do?"
Yes, the Midwest region looks disproportionally weighted compared to the others. But that is a gripe reserved for the #1 overall seed Kentucky. How is this bracket a reward for being the best team all season? Going 40 and 0 is hard enough, but the Committee throws Maryland, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Purdue, Cincinnati, Wichita State and Kansas potentially being in your way? Okay...
As far as the Jayhawks are concerned, I felt, going into the Big 12 Tournament that Kansas needed to win the conference tourney to actually earn a 2 seed. I thought they would pull it together and win it all this last weekend, but after yet another 20 minutes and we're done type performance out of the ‘Hawks it was not to be. The fact that they landed a 2 seed shows the amount of respect the Selection Committee actually holds not only for Kansas but the entire Big 12. So Kansas' draw seems fair to me. Sorry, it just does. I know it's hard for us ‘Hawk fans after we've been spoiled by a decade of great Kansas teams to admit that this team has got some major warts. People may not be willing to say it outright, but all the public crying about the fact that it is going to be a brutal slog for the Jayhawks to luck their way into an Elite 8 is saying just that.
Every minute of any deep tournament run for this year's Jayhawks will be earned the hard way, and I can't wait to see the outcome. Be fair to this team. If they make it to the second round, with this roster, crippled and limited as it is, then this season has been a success. If they make it to the Elite 8 or beyond, just as Bill Self said in an interview on Sunday, "It will have been one hell of a season."
After their first game, I'm really hoping we see Kansas play Wichita State in the Round of 32. This is a game I wanted to happen for the last five years. You want to talk about legit gripes with the Selection Committee, look no further than the Shockers. Last year the Committee begrudgingly gave Wichita State a 1 seed because the Shockers finished the pre-tournament season undefeated. Then the Committee rewarded that 1 seed by putting Kentucky as the Shockers Round of 32 opponent. This year the Committee, in an attempt to be cute an make the long awaited Kansas and Wichita State game become a reality, grossly under seeded Wichita State and now makes them face the prospect of playing two basketball institutions in the first two games - Indiana and Kansas.
I'm not among the Jayhawks fans afraid to play the Shockers. There is no longer a Cleanthony Early on this Shockers' team. The Shockers rely so heavily on a perimeter, jump shooting game that I wouldn't be surprised if they go down to Indiana, especially if they are looking past the Hoosiers at that long awaited battle for Kansas.
So don't get so caught up in the belly aching that you prevent yourself from enjoying this ride, Jayhawk fans. Bill Self and Kansas will put plenty more Final Four caliber teams on the floor in the years to come. In the meantime, just like this team needs to, relax and quit being so tight and anxious. This is Kentucky's tournament to lose. Everybody else, including the Jayhawks, are now just playing with house money. Time to make it rain.
Alright let's do this.
Winmore's Midwest Region Round of 64 Predictions
1 Kentucky - v - 16 Who the Hell Cares: Thurs., March 19, @ 8:40 p.m. (CST) on CBS
Kentucky could win this game going 3 against 5. No 16 seed has ever beaten a 1 and the first victory for a 16 seed isn't coming here. Winner: The Tucky
8 Cincinnati-v-9 Purdue: Thursday, March 19, @ 6:10 p.m. (CST) on CBS
The Cincinnati Bearcats are one of the abandoned children of the former 100 member Big East Conference. Too protestant to earn an invite to the new Big Catholic East, not footbally enough to be absorbed into the ACC, they now bide their time in a ring of purgatory called the American Athletic Conference. Purdue was once a proud basketball school, but this is not just the first NCAA Tournament for the Boilermakers in three years, it's their first winning record in three years. The last time they were here they had the Kansas Jayhawks rip their hearts out in the final seconds of the 2012 Round of 32. Purdue coach Matt Painter kinda sucks. However, the Bearcats don't have the size to run with the Boilermakers dueling 7 foot trees. Congrats to Purdue. A win here and you win the right to get yourselves slaughtered by the Wildcats! Winner: The Due
5 West Virginia - v - 12 Buffalo: Friday, March 20, @ 1:10 p.m. (CST) on TNT
People actually thought the AP should have awarded Bob Huggins' Bill Self's 2015 Big 12 Coach of the Year trophy. He was already given the award by the coaches. Conference coach of the year awards are worthless if they exist only to reward the head coach of team everyone expected to be mediocre. West Virginia plays that slap happy press that will get them rung up for 30 fouls before halftime with these quick whistle NCAA Tournament refs. This Buffalo Bulls team from the MAC can score. They've got an inside, outside attack of Justin Moss down low and Shannon Evans on the perimeter who both go for 15+ a game. Both are also strong free throw shooters, which as I said will be a big part of this game. The Bulls are quick and fast enough to run through that sloppy press West V. runs. At the end of the day Huggs will be left giving one of those grumbling, hypertension labored breathing, irritated press conferences where he comes off sounding like everyone's pissed off dad who "Just wants to relax and watch some TV after a day of busting my ass at work! Is that too much to ask!" Winner: Daaa Bulls.
4 Maryland - v - 13 Valparaiso: Friday, March 20, @ 3:40 p.m. (CST) on TNT
Kansas' own Mark Turgeon is living large on the east coast. He's got the Terrapins (brought to you by Under Armor) rolling now. He revived a once tournament mainstay turned ACC afterthought. Turgeon and his squad tore it up during the program's first year in the Big 10. Running his show is the potent three guard set of Dez Wells, Jake Layman and Melo Trimble. This team doesn't have the size to hang with Kentucky, but if the land turtles are on target shooting the ball, who knows. Valpo is no push over though. This team has a beast of a low post scorer in sophomore Alec Peters. The Crusaders stomped on the guts of Murray State this season. As in the same Murray State who finds themselves the current media darling among tournament outsiders left watching from their NIT locker rooms. This match-up has the potential of producing an exciting game. Winner: Turge and the Turtles
6 Butler - v - 11 Texas: Thursday, March 19, @ 1:45 p.m. (CST) on CBS
Rick Barnes, last year's recipient of the Big 12 Coach of the Year award that should have gone to Bill Self, proved this year that media members have got to stop being so enamored with rewarding a surprise step up from mediocrity. Even with a roster rich with talent and size, Barnes looked lost in coaching it. The Butler Bulldogs were one of the rare small schools, who after running to the Final Four in 2010, actually followed it up with another Final Four run the very next year. The Bulldogs' rise to national relevance saw them go from the lowly Horizon League to the Big "Catholic" East in a matter of three seasons. Butler is a better team than Texas. However, they are tiny by comparison to Texas' trees. It's going to be hard for Butler's guards to get to the rim in this game. Winner: The Horn Hookers.
3 Notre Dame - v - 14 Northeastern: Thursday, March 19, @ 11:15 a.m. (CST) on CBS
The Irish, upon winning the ACC Tournament, should have been the 2 seed in the Midwest. This year's Notre Dame squad has already posted a school record 29 wins. Two of Duke's 4 losses came at the hands of these Irish, and they are 8-1 over their last 9 games. Northeastern barely won a very weak Colonial Athletic Conference. They shoot a lot of threes and shoot them well. If they are on, they could give the Irish trouble. But they kind of have the same problem Iowa State does. They will shoot threes and shoot threes and shoot threes, making or missing. If they happen to be heavy on the missing, the Irish will bury them. Winner: The Scrapping Leprechauns.
7 Wichita State - v - 10 Indiana: Friday, March 20, @ 1:45 p.m. (CST) on CBS
This is not the Shockers team of 2013 and 14 that boasted the three headed monster of Anthony, Baker and Vanfleet. That trio helped them reach the Final Four in 2013 and go undefeated during the regular season in 2014. It's too bad that the Shockers couldn't hold on to beat Kentucky in the Round of 32 last year, because that was their best shot to make another deep run. Indiana is sort of a mirror image of the Shockers. They are jump shot reliant as hell. However, the Hoosiers are one of the best three point shooting teams in the nation. I get the feeling you could flip a coin on this game and feel confident with any way it lands. I could easily see Indiana knocking the Shockers off here, and after Baker and Vanfleet go pro, the slide of Greg Marshall's coaching career will begin. Wishfully thinking though, I want the Shockers to make it through and play the Jayhawks in the Round of 32. Winner: The Wich.
2 Kansas - v - 15 New Mexico State: Friday, March 20, @ 11:15 a.m. (CST) on CBS
I heard it in 2003. "Utah State is way better than a 15 seed!" Heard it in 2012. "Detroit! That's the last 15 seed I want to see!" And last year. "Eastern Kentucky! Oh my God! They're a 15 in name only!" Now people are beating the same old drum this season. Come on now, don't be cowards. You know how many of those 15 seeds I just mentioned won? None. Now here's something else to consider. Since 1985 Kansas has played in 8 Final Fours. 4 of those runs started with Kansas as a 2 seed. And 3 of Kansas' 8 Final Four runs ('88, '08, and '12) began in Nebraska. The same place the ‘Hawks will be tipping off this Friday. Do I think this ‘Hawks team is a Final Four team? Uh, no. Even so I don't think they fall in this game. Outside of the WAC, where the Aggies went 15-1, New Mexico State was 8-9. They ain't in the WAC no mo. Winner: The Rocka Chalkas.