We have almost come full circle. It was a year ago this week that COVID-19 started to envelope our lives like a dense fog. 

We heard the whispers. 

We sensed it could be bad. 

We tried to look the other way. 

I was still projecting teams to the NCAA Tournament. Most of the conferences that were early starters crowned their tournament champions, earning those teams a bid to the Big Dance.

Then the dominoes started falling. One by one the big conferences started canceling their tournaments, some in the middle of the tournament. The Big East canceled in the middle of a game. 

Soon all of March Madness was canceled.

No Madness.

A year later the Madness is back.

It would be an incredible falsehood to say our country handled the virus well. Some fought it. Some mocked it. Some denied it. But give college basketball credit. They’ve danced through the COVID-19 raindrops to complete a season. It wasn’t perfect. There were pauses and lots of postponements. Give the kids credit for enduring COVID-19 test after COVID-19 test in order to have a season.

Despite the hiccups, there was a lot of really good basketball played this year. There are some really good teams out there, and some great players to watch.

March 2021 will have plenty of Madness.

It started in LA this weekend.

With that we dive in to Championship Week. I will take a look at who is in, who might get in, and who could be in big trouble come Selection Sunday.

Big 12

This is the easiest power conference to project. There are seven teams getting bids. There are no bubble teams. All seven teams getting bids are ranked in the top 20. It will simply be a matter of seeding for these teams.

  • In: Baylor(1), Kansas(3), West Virginia(3), Texas(4), Oklahoma St(4), Oklahoma(5), Texas Tech(6)

Several of these teams, led by Baylor, are capable of Final Four runs. Baylor has the best all around team, and the Bears will be prohibitive favorites in whatever region they land. Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham has that Kemba Walker quality of being able to put his team on his back for a Final Four run. West Virginia has the talent to give Bobby Huggins another Final Four experience.

Pac-12

This is the second easiest conference to figure out. There will be four bids, and none will be top 4 seeds. It is a very average year in the Pac-12.

  • USC(6), Oregon(6), Colorado(7), UCLA(8)

There are two potential bid stealers in the Pac-12. Oregon State and Stanford—neither on the bubble— both have the potential to run off a week of wins to steal a bid. I don’t look for it, but stranger things have happened. Otherwise, the four listed will most likely go quietly into the March night. Oregon and Colorado are good enough to win two games. USC is the team with a star player—Evan Mobley—that could bounce into the Sweet Sixteen. UCLA looks drained at this point.

SEC

Something will be missing on Selection Sunday. That something will be John Calipari complaining about his seed line. In lieu of Kentucky, the SEC will send six or seven teams to the NCAA Tournament.

  • Alabama(2), Arkansas(3), Tennessee(7), Missouri(7), LSU(8), Florida(9), Mississippi(Bubble)

Alabama and Arkansas are super athletic and could make long runs. Tennessee and Missouri are fading fast. LSU and Florida will be gone by the second round. I don’t think Mississippi will make the tourney, possibly flaming out early at the SEC tourney.

Big East

Now things get a bit more interesting. A couple teams have clearly secured bids, but there are a couple teams that will be sweating bullets come Selection Sunday. The results of the conference tournament could play a big factor in who gets a bid.

  • Villanova(3), Creighton(6), UConn(9), Xavier(Bubble), St. John’s(Bubble), Seton Hall(Bubble)

So, three are clearly in. Villanova was one of my Groundhog Day Final Four picks. A season ending injury to Conner Gillespie changes that, and it also will cost the Wildcats a seed line. Creighton is in upheaval with head coach Greg McDermott’s suspension(more on that later). If UConn does get a 8 or 9 seed they could make a top seed uncomfortable in round two.

Seton Hall and St. John’s play in the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament. That sure does feel like a play out game. It certainly is for Seton Hall. The Pirates have stumbled greatly down the stretch, and a loss here puts them out for sure. They may have to win two games. If St. John’s wins the game I think they are in. A loss and the Red Storm will face choppy waters on Selection Sunday. I think Xavier needs two wins in the conference tournament to secure their bid.

ACC

This is not your grandfather’s ACC. Heck, this isn’t even your daddy’s ACC. The best team has looked like crap the last week. The traditional powers are struggling to get in to the NCAA Tournament. With everyone ceding to everyone else, we were left with Mr. Boring Tony Bennett at the top of the regular season heap. Could we see no ACC teams on the top four lines of the brackets?

  • Virginia(4), Florida State(4), Virginia Tech(7), Clemson(9), North Carolina(10), Georgia Tech(10), Louisville(Bubble), Syracuse(Bubble)

You will notice Duke is not on that list. Amazingly, the Blue Devils have played their way out of the tournament. That was tough to do, considering they are Duke.

Louisville will need to beat Duke(if they beat Boston College) Wednesday night to get a bid. A loss and the Cardinals could be in big trouble. They had two long COVID-19 pauses limiting their games. Having a second pause is on the Cards and coach Chris Mack for not enforcing the policies enough. Lots of teams had one pause, but few had two long pauses like the Cardinals.

Syracuse is trending up. The Orange probably need at least one win to be considered. This has become the Jim Boeheim way late in his career. Sneak into the field and then cause some havoc.

Florida State, despite sputtering lately, remains the only team from this conference I see having a chance to make a Final Four run. Virginia struggles in the tournament. Yes, I know they won it all two years ago. I also know they got very fortunate in three rounds to get to the end.

Big Ten

This was the best conference in December and has remained that way all season long. In 1985 the Big East landed three teams in the Final Four. 2021 could see the Big Ten do something similar. I know they have a history of falling short in the tournament, but I think this year could be different. There are four teams that will get high seeds. High seeds make it easier to traverse the tournament landscape. I don’t think they will get three to the Final Four, but I would be stunned if they don’t get at least one.

  • Michigan(1), Illinois(1), Iowa(2), Ohio State(3), Purdue(4), Wisconsin(6), Maryland(10), Rutgers(10), Michigan State(Bubble)

I like Illinois reaching the Final Four. Ayo Dosunmu is the best player in college basketball, and looks even more killer with his Batman mask.

Michigan has a coach that knows a little something about Final Fours, and oh by the way, a really good roster. Hunter Dickerson, a freshman house, is a force most can’t deal with in the paint.

Ohio State is really athletic, and sometimes a good team who hits the skids late in the season finds themselves once they start playing other teams.

Iowa can score and score and score. Will the Hawkeyes play enough defense to win four in a row to make a Final Four? Will Fran McCaffery maintain his composure for four straight games? I kid, Fran, I kid.

Maybe the hottest team in the country is Purdue. This just in, Matt Painter knows what he is doing. Painter brought this team along slowly, and has them rolling down the tracks at a high speed.

Wisconsin has a really good tournament history, and they are a veteran bunch. They don’t score enough this year to string four wins together, then again, I wouldn’t sleep on them either.

Michigan State probably locked up a bid with Sunday’s win over Michigan. That was a big win. Much like Duke, you’ll never convince me the committee won’t favor Tom Izzo. Izzo has always been a favorite son of the committee.

For my Penn State fans: Penn State is back to playing well. I thought Seth Lundy could be a stud. He scored 32 Sunday night in a win at Maryland. Unfortunately he was a dud for most of the year. The Nittany Lions absolutely got the best draw they could hope for in the Big Ten Tournament. If they beat last place Nebraska, they will play Wisconsin. They have beaten the Badgers once this year, and match up with them fairly well. Win that and PSU gets Iowa. Again, they played Iowa tough this year and matchup pretty well with a Luka Garza led team. From there it would get dicey, but when you finish 11 in the league you can’t ask for much more.

Conference Tournament Picks

Who will win the power conference tournaments? Glad you asked.

  • Big East: Connecticut
  • SEC: Arkansas
  • Pac-12: Colorado
  • Big 12: Baylor
  • ACC: Florida State
  • Big Ten: Illinois

I wouldn’t necessarily put together a parlay with those picks, but that is my guess at what happens this week.

The “Little Guys” to watch

There are some teams from smaller conferences that could make life miserable for their opponents. Some are obvious, while others have moved under the radar for most of the year.

First, the teams everyone knows could/will be dangerous.

  • Gonzaga(1), Houston(3)

Houston is a team I would want to see in my bracket. They will get a high seed, but I have my doubts about the Cougars. They needed this March miracle to beat Memphis at home yesterday.

Next week I will release my official bracket picks. Unless something drastic happens, Gonzaga will be my pick to win it all this year. Mark Few has been so close, and I think this is going to be the year.

Next up, a few not so obvious choices to possibly make some noise this March.

  • Loyola(7), San Diego State(7), BYU(9), Winthrop(13)

Loyola is really good. The Ramblers are led by senior Cameron Krutwig. He was a prime player as a freshman on Loyola’s Final Four team. Other than being 6’9”, he doesn’t look like a big time hooper. He looks like he should be grilling burgers at the community block party with a spatula in one hand and a beer in the other. The Ramblers might be better than that 2018 Final Four team. Plus Sister Jean, at 101 years of age, brings a veteran presence to their fan base.

Teo teams nobody east of the Mississippi has seen is San Diego State and BYU. Both have been rolling heading into conference tournament week. They will be seeded in that 7 to 10 range, meaning a top seed would have to be on their toes in round two.

Winthrop is 23-1. They clearly know how to win. I look for them to be seeded 13 or 14. No four seed wants to see the Eagles opposite of them in the first round. Depending on the matchup, I like Winthrop to be fitted for a slipper this March. At least for one game.

Who gets in?

Most of the time when there are invitations floating around for a big dance people do their best to grab one of those invitations. This year bubble dwellers are acting like the shy kid when the school dance rolls around.

“I’m not going to that dance.”

“You can’t make me go to that dance.”

“There is no way I am going to that dance.”

Sound familiar Minnesota? How about you Indiana? What about you Seton Hall? Even the cool kid at school has decided to avoid the dance. Isn’t that right Coach K?

With everyone trying to avoid the dance, there may still be a lot to play for this week. If you are one of those bubble dwellers you may want to win some games.

If my calculations are correct, between automatic bids and teams that are, well, automatic there are 60 dance cards filled. That leaves eight spots. Here are teams I think are sitting on the bubble.

  • Wichita State
  • St. Bonaventure/VCU, Saint Louis
  • Louisville, Syracuse
  • St. John’s, Seton Hall, Xavier
  • Michigan State
  • Drake
  • Utah State, Colorado State, Boise State(San Diego State is in regardless)
  • Stanford
  • Mississippi

That is 15 teams for eight bids. Again, Duke is no longer in the conversation.

There are some situations that will take care of some of the decisions. For example, the loser of St. John’s and Seton Hall is out. The winner is closer to a bid.

Louisville should probably beat Duke on Wednesday if they want to feel comfortable. Syracuse should beat NC State, as well. The Mountain West tournament may decide which of their three bubble teams gets in.

Dick Vitale rails on the committee for not selecting more “little guys”. He’s right. I’d much rather see Drake and Utah State than average teams from power conferences. What really has Louisville, Syracuse, Xavier, or Seton Hall done to justify a bid? Drake won 25 games for goodness sakes.

After consulting my Two Cent Cracked Crystal Ball, who is just back from a well earned vacation, these are the 8 teams I think will make it in order from most likely to most tenuous.

  • Michigan State, Colorado State, Utah State, Drake, Louisville, Syracuse, St. John’s, Wichita State

Xavier and Boise State just miss out. Of course, one of the fun things of Championship Week is bid stealers stalking bids. If there are bid stealers St. John, Syracuse, and Louisville could all be in big trouble.

A year ago college basketball fans had their world shattered. This year we get our revenge. This is the week where the Madness really starts percolating. Check out how I did with my predictions. Everyone is a bracketologist these days, ya know.

Bracketology is fun.

March Madness is fun.

After this past year we deserve some fun.

Two Cent Takes

College Hoops

~Officials make a difference. Unfortunately that difference is often a negative. Iowa vs Wisconsin, especially the end, was a disaster. Bad calls, lengthy reviews, angry coaches, mysterious double fouls.

Then there was this beauty at the end of the USC/UCLA game.

As I said in the tweet, that had to be either a foul or a travel. It was neither according to Pac-12 officials, who called a jump ball. One play later USC had a buzzer beater win over their rivals. Officials must be better.

~Beating a team three times in one season is a situation many teams face this time of year. Louisville will be forced to beat Duke for a third time. Duke hasn’t lost to the same team three times in 38 years. Take some solace in these numbers Cardinals fans.

We all fall into the trap of thinking it is really hard to beat a team three times. In actuality it happens quite often.

~The only highlight for Louisville fans during Saturday’s boredom inducing loss to Virginia was when play by play man Dave O’Brien said, “We are having technical difficulties with Dan Dakich’s microphone.”

~Jim Boeheim had another warm and fuzzy moment with a reporter last week.

Admit it, you’ll miss the snark when he isn’t coaching anymore.

NHL

~Tom Wilson did this.

Again.

Wilson received a seven game suspension. My question is, why is he still in the league?

~The Pens took two out of three from the Flyers this week, and blew the third game after getting out to a 3-0 lead after five minutes. I still don’t think the Pens are contenders this year, but I now question whether the Flyers are either. Neither team plays very well in front of their goalie.

~One thing in the Penguins favor is that they have a ton of games versus Buffalo and New Jersey, the two bottom feeders in the division.

NBA

~It was all star weekend. I didn’t watch. The one thing that caught my eye was the shot by Damien Lillard that ended the actual game.

Guys like Lillard and Steph Curry now shoot half court shots like jump shots. Amazing. Remember when you had to get a running start and heave it up from half court. Never was it a jump shot.

Golf

~I finally found one thing to which I agree with Donald Trump.

Gimmes are gimmes as long as you know you were going to make the putt(wink, wink).

A Penny For My Final Thought…

Ben Roethlisberger, a man worth over $230 million, took a $5 million pay cut in order to help the Steelers with their salary cap issues next season. He didn’t cure cancer, so let’s pump the brakes on anointing him a Saint.

I have no idea how the talks went between Ben and the organization. For all we know this was the only way the team would take him back. Who knows?

With a new offensive coordinator—Matt Canada—it will be interesting to see if we get the “protect Ben” offense consisting of a zillion 1 to 3 yard quick passes. If that happens again, get ready for some horrific Steelers games next season. If they ask Ben to drop back and throw down field more often he may end up being carried off the field.

More likely, the Steelers will try to rebuild their broken running game. That will require new faces on the offensive line and in the backfield. Whether that comes via free agency or the draft remains to be seen. Quite frankly it probably needs to be both.

How much will they appease Roethlisberger? I think most figure JuJu Smith-Schuster is going somewhere else to play next year. However, maybe the money Ben gave up will be given to JuJu. Ben did say he wants him back. I’m a JuJu backer, but I’m not sure that would be the best use of the limited funds the team has this offseason.

More importantly, in my opinion, the Steelers are going to go down the road one more year with Roethlisberger and drive right by the bus stop filled with tons of quarterbacks. The draft is littered with quarterbacks, and even more can be had via trade. The latest to be dangled, well kind of, is Sam Darnold. I’ve made it no secret I think he would be a fantastic choice to take over with the Steelers. Additionally, he might not cost as much as others. 

The team has said they like Mason Rudolph. Maybe they actually do. Let Ben have his farewell tour and then turn the keys over to Rudolph. This buys you a year or two to find your next big time quarterback. It’s hard to picture Mason Rudolph as a championship quarterback. 

The biggest issue I have with all of this is wasting a championship defense while you figure out the offense.

Maybe all of this will be a moot point when Ben shows that his arm is livelier another year removed from surgery and his knees have been injected with some water from the fountain of youth. 

Maybe Mike Tomlin will become a great time manager.

I mean if we are dreaming…

A Penny For My Final Final Thought…

Open mouth.

Insert foot.

It seems that is becoming an unfortunate refrain with college coaches these days.

The most recent victim of foot and mouth disease was Greg McDermott, head basketball coach at Creighton.

His team has been considered by many as a dark horse come tournament time. That’s all out the window now that McDermott has been suspended indefinitely due to the comments he made after a recent game.

Apparently in an attempt to motivate his players McDermott said the following.

“Guys we gotta stick together. We need both feet in. I need everybody to stay on the plantation. I can’t have anyone leave the plantation.”

I will say the same thing I said when Pat Chambers made a similar mistake a year ago. I have no idea if McDermott is racist. I now know he is stupid. There are thousands of words and hundreds of analogies in the English language. To not have the knowledge that using an analogy like he did would be offensive to his black players and assistant coaches is pure stupidity. It also paints him into that corner where people suggest that for those words to come out of his mouth means they are a part of his natural vocabulary. 

If I announced games and allowed any number of four letter words to slip out, it would be viewed with shock and awe. It would also indicate that I typically use those words when viewing sporting events. I don’t want to assume things about McDermott, but it sure does make me scratch my head that he chose that particular analogy.

It truly is bizarre. These are intelligent men, or so I thought. They have coached black players for years. McDermott, Chambers, et al know the implications of said language, yet they can’t control their words.

It’s just a man making a mistake, some say. 

I agree. We all make mistakes, and I’m not suggesting McDermott be fired. From afar, McDermott seems like a really good guy. His apology seemed sincere. His star player, Marcus Zegarowski, along with five other black players said McDermott’s words hurt them. Zegarowski also said McDermott meant the world to him, and he knows his coach would do anything for him.

I hope McDermott doesn’t get fired. He fits into the category of someone deserving a second chance.

But if he does, don’t file this under “Dr. Seuss cancel culture”. File it under stupidity sometimes makes you pay.

Just my two cents…