By: Daniel Hodgman
In this installment I will try to predict some March Madness outcomes, while at the time assigning certain teams a song that best fits their season and chances of taking home the hardware. Warning: you might not want to follow any advice I give, because I’m pretty sure the last couple of years I’ve ended up around the 60th percentile. But hey, in 2005 I won my father’s office pool!
If you’re like me, you’re excited. In less than 48 hours we’re going to be surrounded by everything madness, as 64 colleges and affiliates take to arenas, television sets, theaters, computers and bars to cheer on their basketball team in this year’s NCAA tournament. To add to the suspense, Warren Buffet is offering $1 billion dollars (as in, $1,000,000,000) to anyone who fills out a perfect bracket, and $100,000 to the top 20 participants in his Quicken Loans Bracket Challenge. Although the odds of getting a perfect bracket are somewhere along the lines of 9.2 quintillion to 1 (again, that’s 9,200,000,000,000,000,000 to 1), there’s always a shot at $100K, and hey, let’s be honest, that sounds real good by itself.
The funny thing about all of this is that before the tournament begins we all think we’ve got it, but once the first day concludes, we’re all left scratching our heads. THAT’S why this tournament is so damn exciting: parity, confusion, unpredictableness and chaos reign.
So to join the fun, I’m going to add my two cents, along with a hip-hop cut that I firmly believe relates to each team chosen.
Wichita State (#1 seed in the Midwest)
“Ungodly” by The Doppelgangaz
“Foul, putrid, ruthless, no benefits, damn near toothless/ No higher power can stop me, rap lords ain’t Gods they’re ungodly”
Everything in the bars above apply to this year’s Wichita State Shockers, who went undefeated in the regular season with a 34-0 record. To everyone that isn’t associated with the team, the Shockers are disgusting basketball (“foul, putrid”), with a weak schedule from a weak conference (the Missouri Valley Conference ranks 11th in the country). To the Shockers themselves, and their loyal fanbase, they’re on a different spectrum. This is a spectrum that featured a team that fought ruggedly to win EVERY game in the regular season, featuring a unique combination of athleticism and experience. For this, the Shockers need to be commended. The last team to go undefeated in the regular season was 2005’s all-decade St. Joseph team, and let’s face it, no one was giving them as much crap as we’re giving Wichita State, the very same Wichita State that made the Final Four last year. Until now, NO ONE has beaten them (“no higher power can stop me”). Despite a weak schedule (can we stop talking about that?), they’re a damn good team.
The problem I see with Wichita State is that the tournament selection committee decided to royally screw them over. It’s as if they were one of the millions constantly doubting the Shockers’ legitimacy, and in turn, they threw them into Hell’s kitchen. Looking at the other top teams in this region, one has to question if this was purposefully done. The #2 seed is Michigan, a team that was fully capable of securing a #1 seed with a Big Ten Tournament win. The #3 seed is Duke, a lethal team that makes up for its lack of size with some kids named Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Rasheed Sulaimon. And then there’s the #4 seed, one of the biggest headscratchers of the tournament selection: Louisville. This is a Louisville team that’s currently ranked #5 and #3 in the AP and Coaches polls respectfully, and also basically the same Louisville team that WON IT ALL LAST YEAR. If you look at the AP and Coaches polls, you’ll see that on both lists four teams in the top 10 are in the Midwest region. You will also see that three out of the four Final Four teams from last year are here as well (Wichita State, Michigan, Louisville). To add one more little tidbit, Kentucky–a team that is looking more focused as of late and possesses talent up the wazoo–is the #8 seed. Damn.
Why was the Midwest region placed like this? Here’s your answer: Wichita State. The committee felt so unconvinced by their undefeated season they felt that Wichita State needed to further prove their worth. That’s a bunch of poppycock. NO TEAM should ever be punished in the tournament like this for going undefeated. In and of itself, I’d say that’s pretty ungodly (“no benefits”).
Prediction: In the round of 32 I feel Wichita State is going to play Kentucky. In fact, many fans and analysts predict the upset, but I can’t see the Shockers falling like that, especially against a Kentucky team that can go an entire half unfocused and confused. Despite the Wildcats’ pure athleticism and skill, they’re all still freshmen and sophomores, and against a veteran team that’s been in the Final Four before, I’ll take the experience. In the Sweet Sixteen it’s different though, because Louisville is Louisville and I just can’t see the tremendous trio of Cleanthony Early, Fred VanVleet and Ron Baker keeping up for a full 40 minutes. Despite this, what a season this was for the Shockers. I’m sorry the committee did you like this.
Florida (#1 seed in the South)
“We Got It” by People Under The Stairs
“Everytime we throw a jam it’s the ill shit”
If there’s one song I could place with the Florida Gators, it would probably be this People Under The Stairs joint. Not only are the Gators the #1 seed in the South, but they’re also the #1 seed overall, and for good reasons. Riding a 26 game winning streak, the Gators are 32-2 coming into the tournament. To add, their only two losses came to tournament teams (Wisconsin and Connecticut), and that was back in the first two months.
When I look at teams that can possibly win it all, I look at four things. First, I look at the coach, and Florida has one of the best in the business. Billy Donovan has won the Big Dance twice, and he also appeared in the 2000 National Championship, falling to Michigan State. On top of that, he has been to the Elite 8 the last three years. That’s a resume folks. The second thing I look for is a top-notch point guard. A championship team needs a point guard that can take games over, communicate with coaches and players, handle rough environments and limit turnovers. Senior guard Scottie Wilbekin is all that plus some, and his experience in the tournament should be a great sign for Gators fans. The third thing I look for is a solid frontcourt. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a standout duo averaging 15 and 10 every night, but it does have to be a group of forwards and centers that can out-rebound, outwit and outplay their opponents in the paint for long stretches of time. Patric Young, Dorian Finney-Smith and Will Yeguete are those kinds of players, and if Patric Young–who averages 11 points and 6 rebounds a game–can get going, there’s not much you can do defensively. Lastly, I look at how well a team can shoot free throws (isn’t this common sense?). Florida shoots around 66% as a team, and this isn’t great (we saw this happen in the SEC championship game against Kentucky). In fact, it doesn’t even break the top 75. That said, Florida has the power to win games without relying on this stat alone.
Prediction: Florida has the skill, they have the experience, they have the leadership, they have the coach, they have the momentum, they have the seniors and they have the resume to win it all. Not to mention, they have a bracket where I see them getting to Dallas. Kansas is 50/50 without a healthy Joel Embid, and Syracuse is 50/50 just because it seems like every one of their wins came off of buzzer beaters. I see them getting to Dallas and the Final Four with some teeth left, and quite possibly winning the whole thing.
Michigan State (#4 seed in the East)
“We Are Not Like Them” by Red Pill & Hir-O
“I’m a product of those people punching the clocks”
“We Are Not Like Them” is a product of blue-collar hip-hop. Like most of his material, including the stunning Ugly Heroes collaborative album, Red Pill resonates with the paycheck-to-paycheck citizen, and the 45 million people in this country that politicians call “the working poor.” Red Pill’s content is rough, and it comes at you full-force, proving something to the critics who write the music off. Along with Hir-O’s snappy production and echoing sampling, “We Are Not Like Them” represents everyone outside of the 1%.
Comparatively, Michigan State basketball has ALWAYS been a blue-collar team. Tom Izzo’s recruiting strategy is simple: don’t bother with the top-tier high schoolers; bother with the kids who will fit the system. Since 1996, this has worked, and along with a title in 2000, Izzo can account for six Final Fours, multiple Big Ten season championships and four Big Ten Tournament Championships. What is perhaps his greatest resume stat is that every four-year player he’s recruited has gone to at least one Final Four. How’s that for a statistic?
This has all been attained because Izzo’s system is simple: play great defense, rebound the hell out of the ball and play with a chip on your shoulder.
Besides Izzo’s accomplishments with the Spartan’s, it’s his background that accounts for Michigan State’s gritty blue-collar style. Born and raised in Iron Mountain, Michigan, Izzo epitomized the Midwestern everyday man. He played for Northern Michigan University as well, where he was a Division II All-American.
This year’s Spartan team has seen its fair share of ups and downs. In fact, this season really illustrates the blue-collar theme: up and down, good days, bad days, injuries, toughening out wins and always looking to achieve the dream.
With that said, Michigan State is on the upswing at the perfect time–I mean, it is March, and it is Izzo, so why should I even mention this? With everyone back and everyone healthy, they handedly took care of the Big Ten Tournament, and defeated two #2 seeds (Wisconsin and Michigan) in the process.
The key won’t be whether Branden Dawson can continue his hot shooting and robust play, or if Keith Appling can keep commanding the point, or if Denzel Valentine can shy away from sloppy play, or if Gary Harris can shoot lights out, or if Adreian Payne can dominate inside for 40 minutes. The key is whether Michigan State can keep this momentum going for six games. Momentum means a lot in the tournament, but teams on hot end-of-the-year streaks can fade (see: Florida State 2012). Plus, with this season’s injury woes, we always have to wonder if we can stay 100% for a couple of weeks as well.
Prediction: Putting all that aside, I love these Spartans. I think before the season started they had the best team in the nation, and during the Big Ten Tournament it looked that way with their stifling defense, flawless fast breaks and contributions from bench players like Travis Trice, Matt Costello, Alvin Ellis III and Gavin Schilling. With a possible round of 32 game against Cincinnati or Harvard, and a Sweet Sixteen bid with Virginia, not to mention a possible Elite 8 game with Iowa State (hot streak) or UNC (God no, please no not them), the East won’t be a cakewalk. In fact, every game Michigan State plays here will be tough (I’m not even counting out Delaware). However, I have to go with the millions of others here and say that Michigan State has what it takes to make it to Dallas. I can feel it.
North Carolina State (#12 seed in the Midwest)
“Low Class Conspiracy” by Quasimoto
“That’s how they be cracking/ It seems like they actin’”
The content behind Quasimoto’s “Low Class Conspiracy” tackles police brutality against the black community, and no, that has nothing to do with NC State, but there is a conspiracy brewing here. My reason being is because I feel NC State doesn’t even deserve a spot in the tournament. Yes I know they’re in a play-in-game against Xavier, and yes they’re playing right now (they’re up 22-14), but are they really better than SMU (23-9), a team that was 25th in the nation going into Selection Sunday that was eventually snubbed? You can look at T.J. Warren and say that he’s one of the best players in the country, with an ability to acrobatically score from anywhere; you can look at their big win against Syracuse; and you can look at the game they’re playing right now against Xavier (24-16) and make a case.
However, let’s look at this: they lost to a depleted Miami squad by 15, lost to a weak Wake Forest and rank 66th in KenPom’s rankings (also rank 144th in adjusted defense). Meanwhile, SMU ranks 32nd in the Pomeroy rankings, with an adjusted defensive ranking of 12, with wins over Cincinnati, Memphis, Connecticut (twice) and a three point loss to #1 seed Virginia. Plus, they have the legendary Larry Brown. WHY COMMITTEE? WHY?!
So basically, NC State should be in the N.I.T. THEY DON’T BELONG IN THIS TOURNAMENT. BRING BACK SMU. THERE’S A CONSPIRACY BREWING.
Prediction: It’s hard to predict NC State, because T.J. Warren is the wildcard. Averaging 25 points and 7 rebounds a game, Warren could take a lot of teams to the Sweet Sixteen alone. When he’s not hitting though, NC State faces problems. If they beat Xavier, they’re going to play #5 seed St. Louis, and despite St. Louis’ stellar defensive, their offense can hit brick walls from time to time. With that, I see NC State advancing to the second round and losing to Louisville. Wait a second, so I just argued that the Wolfpack shouldn’t even be in this tournament, and yet I picked them to upset St. Louis? Damn, I’m terrible at this.
Michigan (#2 seed in the Midwest)
“Rise Up” by Jon Connor
“We laughin’, but what’s whack is that this shit could actually happen”
I don’t think a lot of people had Michigan in the championship game last year. I know I didn’t (I idiotically had them losing to VCU in the round of 32). That alone right there should have everyone up on Michigan this year, because they’re returning a good core of players from that title game team. Sure, they don’t have All-American Trey Burke, or Tim Hardaway Jr., and Mitch McGary is out with a back injury, but look at the improvement in players like Caris Levert, Nik Stauskas and Jon Horford and then tell me Michigan has no chance. The Wolverines may not have the best interior in the tournament, but Morgan is a senior and knows what the bright light feels like. Beilein has been criticized for running a “live by the 3 die by the 3” program, but when six of your players can nail the trey on any given night, you’re worthy of stringing together games. Along with this, Beilein is fantastic with halftime adjustments. If the first half isn’t going well, he usually concocts a plan for the second. Also, Michigan has a little weapon named Spike (aka Michael Joseph Albrecht), who captured a 17-point first half against Louisville in the title game last year.
This should also be Michigan’s theme song for the tournament this year. In the toughest region out there, why not blast “Rise Up” and literally, rise up?
Prediction: Despite being a #2 seed, Michigan finds itself in the toughest region. I like them in a rematch against Duke in the Sweet Sixteen if Morgan and Horford play one of the best games of their careers, but I can’t see them passing by Louisville. If they were in any other region, I’d have them in the Final Four.
Duke (#3 seed in the Midwest)
“You’re A Jerk” by New Boyz
“You’re a jerk”
A couple of things here:
1. “You’re A Jerk” is a terrible song. It sounds like a couple of kids trying to rip off Clipse and failing immensely. Comparatively, Duke basketball is terrible.
2. Dukies are jerks, and after Coach K’s comments the other day–comments where he literally dissed the Atlantic 10 saying they don’t deserve six teams in the tournament and that the ACC is the premier league in the country–this only solidifies my choice.
3. Upon first listen of this song, I bet you won’t be able to finish it, kind of like watching a Duke basketball game.
4. Did I mention how terrible “You’re A Jerk” and Duke basketball is?
Prediction: I don’t care. Sweet Sixteen, and then they’re gone.
All #16 seeds
“Dreamin’” by Big K.R.I.T.
“[they’re] dreamin’… [they’re] dreamin’”
Let’s just look at the facts: a #16 seed HAS NEVER beaten a #1 seed. Western Kentucky and Southern came close last year, only losing by single digits, and in 1989 Princeton lost to Georgetown by 1. That aside, go with the math and pick the top seed.
Although teams like Albany and Weber St. are #16 seeds this year, they can take this opportunity and experience to better their teams for next year, and maybe their dreams of advancing will be fulfilled. For now though, they’re simply dreamin’.
Prediction: ALL four #16 seeds will lose in the round of 64, but Coastal Carolina will come closest, only losing to Virginia by 14.
Double-digit seeds you shouldn’t feel bad gambling on
*NC State: I mentioned this before in the conspiracy write-up, but there’s no denying St. Louis’ slump, plus the fact that they’re liable to hit a wall on offense. The Billikens’ defense is strong, and it’s one of the best in the country, but do you really think that’s a problem for ACC player of the year T.J Warren?
*Harvard: They return most of their players from the team that beat #3 seed New Mexico last year, and they can hit in the most systematic way. Cincinnati’s defense is STRONG, but if they fail to score, look for Harvard to take advantage.
*SF Austin: If SF Austin can manage VCU’s “havoc” press, then expect them to put up points from behind the arc with ease. Pit that with VCU’s struggles and lapses on offense and you could have yet another 5/12 upset. Did I mention SF Austin is currently riding a 28-game win streak?
*Western Michigan: Let’s face it, Syracuse is good, but they don’t have an identity. As an extremely athletic and potent team, they have shown spurts throughout the whole year where they just can’t execute. IF that happens in the round of 64 game against Western, expect David Brown (averaging 19 pts a game) and 6’11’’ Shayne Whittington (16 pts/9 reb a game) to take full advantage. Western’s 98-77 thrashing of MAC favorite Toledo was more than convincing; it was a statement.
*North Dakota State: Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. That’s basically North Dakota State. They don’t make many mistakes, and in the tournament that’s a great ability.
*Dayton: Take Dayton. Ohio State is terrible and Aaron Craft can’t shoot, at all.
My Final Four…
#1 Florida (South), #4 Michigan State (East), #1 Arizona (West) and #4 Louisville (Midwest)
My championship game…
#4 Michigan State vs. #4 Louisville
Writer’s note: there was NO hometown or “homer” bias here. I truly feel Michigan State will win it all.