March.

Madness.

It has already been fun, and we have only climbed to the top of the first hill on this wild ride.

Of course we couldn’t quite escape some COVID-19 issues, as Duke, Kansas, and Virginia had to be sent home during their conference tournaments. Hopefully all of the fail safes that were put in place by the NCAA in Indianapolis will keep things running smoothly.

Last year at this time things were going haywire because of COVID-19. Watching all the networks run segments on last year’s cancellation of March Madness made me sad. It also reminded me how surreal things were for our entire world this past year. 

Hearing Villanova’s Jay Wright discuss how Big East officials rushed up to him and told him they had to hurry up and get them out of New York City was even more surreal. It was as if the apocalypse were about to come. Not quite the apocalypse, but it was bad enough.

I replaced March Madness with Tiger King. That was madness, too, but not the kind I like in March.

Enough about last year. Players and coaches persevered this year. School health workers and administrators did what they could to make this season happen. Even the bumbling NCAA took measures, as I mentioned above, to ensure a 2021 March Madness. 

All of this means it is time to get your Rolodex full of work excuses out, have the pizza delivery guy on speed dial, and find your most comfy seat with the best view of your big screen TV. Oh, and limber up that remote control thumb. You don’t want to miss a buzzer beater because you were slow with the remote.

I’m not sure which I like better. Buzzer beaters or a Cinderella team. How about a buzzer beater by a Cinderella team.

How did the committee do, which region is toughest, and who will cut down the nets on the night of April 5?

My Two Cent Cracked Crystal Ball is well rested and ready to go. So let’s make our picks and let the Madness begin.

West Region

Gonzaga got a very favorable bracket. The undefeated Zags have already thumped the 2, 3, and 4 seeds. I have the Ohio Bobcats(13) upsetting the Covid riddled Virginia Cavaliers(4) in round one. I think USC(6) will win two games, including an upset of Kansas(3) in round two. Otherwise I see this region going to form with Gonzaga(1) beating Iowa(2) in the regional final. Gonzaga is on a mission and got a favorable route to boot.

East Region

Michigan gets the one seed in the East Region. Unfortunately the Wolverines are going to play without senior leader and second leading scorer Isaiah Livers. With that in mind, I have high scoring LSU(8) taking out Michigan(1) in the second round. This region gets going early with a First Four game between powers Michigan State(11) and UCLA(11). Everyone is jumping on the Tom Izzo train for this game and the next. I am not, partially because I can’t stand Izzo. Yea, maybe a bad reason. I think LSU will best Florida State(4) in the Sweet Sixteen. Alabama(2) will then beat LSU(8) in the SEC laden regional final. This ain’t football, but Roll Tide anyway.

South Region

In early January Baylor was right there with Gonzaga as the team to beat. The Bears are still a one seed in the South Region, but since a COVID-19 pause they have seemed mortal. I have a couple first round upsets in this region. Villanova(5) lost point guard Conner Gillespie to injury and their season essentially ended. The Cats were one of my Final Four picks in February. Now I have them losing to Winthrop(12) in the opening round. I also have Utah State(11) upending the up and down Red Raiders of Texas Tech(6). A lot of the teams out West fly under the radar, and the Aggies are one of those teams. Baylor(1) beats Purdue(4) in a tight Sweet Sixteen game and then must beat another Big Ten team in the Elite Eight. I am very tempted to pick Ohio State(2). I don’t really trust Scott Drew in the tournament, but am banking on Baylor finding their groove again.

Midwest Region

Illinois has Batman.  Ayo Dosunmu, for my money, is the best player in college basketball. Can you bet against Batman? The Illini(1) will have a tough second round game with under seeded Loyola(8). The Ramblers are really good, and probably deserved a better fate. A double digit seed almost always makes the Sweet Sixteen. Often times more than one double digit seed makes the Sweet Sixteen. I don’t have one yet in my bracket, so I give you the Rutgers Scarlet Knights(10). I think they ease past Clemson(7) in round one then take out overrated Houston(2) in round two. That will make life easier for West Virginia(3) who I have getting through to the regional final. The Mountaineers musket will be no match for Batman.

For the first time in a long while I have no real complaints with the committee’s selections. And I’m a Louisville fan. The Cardinals just didn’t do enough to earn a bid. Period. You can always make arguments for and against the last few teams in and the last few teams out. This year there was nothing egregious.

Gonzaga has the easiest route to the Final Four.

Illinois, who I really, really like has the toughest path. They potentially see Loyola, Oklahoma State and Cade Cunningham, and West Virginia to get to the Final Four.

Baylor has no treat, as well with potential matchups with North Carolina, Purdue, and Ohio State. Typically you don’t want to take more than two one seeds. Baylor is the one seed I have making the Final Four that I am least confident in.

If you are looking for other double digit seeds to win at least two games, look to the West. Ohio and UC Santa Barbara have very winnable games. I have Ohio winning one and could see UCSB beating Creighton as well.

The fact of the matter is that from the time you read this until they tip it off Thursday night I will have changed my brackets 53 times.

Final Four

Okay, it’s time for the big reveal. With help from my right hand…um…well…#TCCCB.

Yea, he’s still feeling pretty good about himself.

I am worried about having three one seeds making the Final Four, but let’s go with it.

  • Gonzaga over Alabama
  • Illinois over Baylor

Those would be two really entertaining semifinal games. Up and down, high scoring affairs would make for a fantastic Saturday evening on April 3.

  • Gonzaga over Illinois

I hate this pick for two reasons. Tons of “experts” are going with this choice, and that makes me nervous. Also, how can I pick against Batman?

Mark Few has built an incredible powerhouse at Gonzaga. He doesn’t have a championship. He has been oh so close, but always falls short. The last time Duke and Kentucky missed the tournament in the same year was 1976. That year Indiana won it all, capping an undefeated season.

This is, arguably, Few’s best team. The Zags are undefeated. Duke and Kentucky missed the tournament. That’s too many stars aligning to just ignore.

It’s Mark Few’s time to finally climb the rest of the way up that hill and plant the Gonzaga flag. On April 5 Gonzaga will be cutting down the nets and having their one shining moment.

Two Cent Takes

College Hoops

~The epitome of March Madness in two pictures from early last week in the Sun Belt Conference. Victory and defeat. Appalachian State in. Georgia State out.

~Two bid stealers stick out as great stories. 

Georgetown, under the tutelage of former Hoya Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing, is back in the dance for the first time in seven years. Ewing is a good coach, a good motivator, and a great representative of all that’s good in college basketball. 

Oregon State made a run that I thought was possible. The Beavers have better talent than their record shows. With Gary Payton in the stands, Oregon State punched a ticket for only the second time in 31 years. 

~Fred Hoiberg may find more success at Nebraska if he quits playing middle school kids.

~Utah State’s Neemias Queta had the same trouble hitting his head on the backboard I had when I was younger. I mean, mine was on a seven foot rim, but still.

~Please, no, on these ultra short nets. Just give me a nice long, loose net.

~The best moment of Championship Week came Sunday afternoon. LSU and Alabama had a pregame dust up, and let us not forget LSU coach Will Wade is a cheater who some how is still employed. When Alabama held on to win by one, Tide coach Nate Oats let Wade know how he felt—about everything, I guess.

~Due to COVID-19 the committee has four alternate teams in case a team in the field has positive tests for the virus. The alternate team would be plugged into the field where that team was seeded. Louisville was the first alternate, thus the Cardinals were the first team out. It was funny watching some Louisville fans blame it on the fact that Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart was the committee chair.

Louisville is most likely better than 3 or 4 at large teams, however their resume was void of anything solid. Chris Mack has been a $4 million failure to this point as head coach of the Cardinals. With possible sanctions looming for Louisville, there may be even worse days ahead.

~We all get ESPN overload. Having said that, give me the studio show of Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg, and LaPhonso Ellis. CBS’s group of Greg Gumbel, Clark Kellog, and Seth Davis aren’t even in the same neighborhood. At times the CBS trio is actually an uncomfortable listen.

~On the flip side, we will now get to listen to the TNT crew of Charles Barkley, Shaq, and Kenny Smith with host Ernie Johnson.

~Also, why must Grant Hill be involved in the main announce crew for CBS? Sunday he was stunned to see Illinois run the out of bound play where all five players start out of bounds. They, and others as the great Bill Rafferty told him, have been doing this all year. So, Grant, watch any games before joining the crew for the tournament?

~Gene Steratore is fantastic at explaining the rules. Plus he has a knack for having good chemistry with whomever he is talking with.

A Penny For My Final Thought…

Penn State basketball finished their last game the way so many games have gone for them over the last few years. One basket short.

Most likely the Nittany Lions will be hiring a new basketball coach. When Patrick Chambers was dismissed before the season, Jim Ferry was named the interim coach. Ferry was going to have to set the basketball world on fire in order to be retained.

There was no fire, but Ferry’s team smoldered all season long. They fought. They scrapped. They never gave up. They appeared to enjoy the game of basketball once again. They did this because of Ferry.

So, why not keep Ferry. Maybe offer him a three year contract and see if he can recruit. Clearly he is a good game coach. Clearly the players like him and play hard for him. Penn State could do a whole lot worse.

And they might.

Anyone that hasn’t been living under a rock the last forever many years knows that Penn State administration barely registers a pulse when talking about hoops. They have never paid top dollar for a basketball coach, or even medium dollar. It’s bargain bin time for Penn State basketball.

Why?

Most schools have two revenue sports. Football is the number one revenue sport for almost every school. Basketball is the number two revenue sport. There is a financial advantage to taking basketball seriously. You would think a school spending $48 million on building upgrades during a pandemic would be interested in improving basketball revenue.

To make money you have to spend money.

Though Patrick Chambers salary was kept hush hush, it is long assumed he was the lowest paid coach in the Big Ten. This is the Penn State way when it comes to basketball.

Now that they are in the market for a new coach, why not break the mold?

John Belien, former Michigan head coach.

Thad Matta, former Ohio State head coach.

Brad Stevens, former Butler and Boston Celtics head coach.

Those names would require you to back up the Brinks truck. That won’t happen in Happy Valley. Not for basketball. It is also important to note that because of the lack of support for basketball at Penn State, coaches like these probably don’t have any real interest in trying to turn around a program that clearly gets ignored.

Then what about guys like Tommy Ammaker, Richard Pitino, or Mike Rhodes?

Ammaker sat out the season at Harvard when the Ivy League pulled the plug on the season. Pitino is on shaky ground at Minnesota, but is a good coach who learned from a great coach. Rhodes is one of the fast risers in the coaching ranks. His VCU Rams are on to the Big Dance. These guys are all relatively young. They have proven they can run programs. They are smart. They have all won at a high level.

There is one problem. All of these options would require money. Not Brinks truck money, but more than Penn State is willing to pay. That is both ridiculous and a shame.

The Bryce Jordan Center is a lousy basketball venue, but when the Nittany Lions have those rare moments of success fans fill the place. It sort of reminds me of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Give the fans a good product to get behind, and those fans will be there with bells on.

So Penn State will hit the bargain bin for their next head coach as usual. 

Purdue assistant Micah Shrewsberry is a hot name. His biggest resume builder is coaching with Brad Stevens. Why not go after Stevens? Oh, never mind. I’ve covered that. Shrewsbury has never been a head coach.

Dennis Gates, Cleveland State’s current head coach, is the other hot name. He has the Vikings dancing this year. He is young enough, but would come with a lot of question marks. 

Look at other power conference programs who go with an unknown guy. Some work out. Some become the next big thing. Many, many fail. When you reach into that bargain bin, you better have your fingers crossed.

With that in mind, why not keep Jim Ferry?

Ferry is 53 years old, so certainly not ancient by any stretch. He has years of experience as a head coach. He has never had an opportunity at an easy job. He built Long Island University to the point of two NCAA berths. He then struggled at Duquesne, where everyone struggles. 

If you are going on the cheap, which Penn State will, why not go with the guy you just watched for a whole season. Ferry had the kids playing hard at all times. The offense was energetic. The kids clearly loved Ferry and loved playing together. No, they didn’t win enough games. They continued the trend of losing close games. The team also played over its heads. It may be true that they had no right to win as many games as they did. Ferry got the most out of his team. 

Can he recruit at a Big Ten level? That would be the question.

Ferry would keep the team together. That may not seem important, but there are some decent pieces that you would hate to lose. Hire a new guy, and people close to the program think there will be a mass exodus. From there you have years of bottom feeding in the Big Ten. Again.

It is pretty clear the school wants to turn the page completely from the Patrick Chambers era, in which Jim Ferry was associated.

When Penn State hires Micah Shrewsberry in the coming weeks it might be the right move, or it might be the wrong move.

One thing is certain. It will be the cheap move.

Just my two cents…