The Oklahoman

Expect to throw brackets in trash during tourney

- Dan Wolken Columnist USA TODAY

The fairy tale version of this March Madness probably ends with Houston, the No. 1-ranked team for much of this season, cutting down nets in its home city with alum Jim Nantz calling his last Final Four on the 40th anniversar­y of Phi Slama Jama losing the NCAA Tournament final to North Carolina State.

Or perhaps it ends with Texas interim coach Rodney Terry delivering the Longhorns their first-ever national title, improbably proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s the man for the job by saving the season after former coach Chris Beard was fired due to an embarrassi­ng domestic dispute in December.

Or maybe to make the story even better, it’s Marquette beating Texas, pitting coach Shaka Smart against the program he had to escape after arriving with so much hype in 2015 and delivering a string of disappoint­ing seasons.

Then again, it could end with Purdue joining the first-time champions club and making its first Final Four since 1980 with 7-foot-4 Zach Edey bringing big man basketball to the masses. Or, in a year where the spotlight has been elsewhere, why not Gonzaga finally winning the whole thing in a year where the Bulldogs were written off early as title contenders?

Of course, the reality of the NCAA Tournament is that unpredicta­bility and randomness usually trumps a perfect script. And this year in particular, we should all spend the next three weeks embracing the idea that our picks are useless and our brackets will likely need to be thrown in the trash.

NCAA Tournament could be wide open

Buckle up, America. On paper, this has the potential to be one of the craziest tournament­s we’ve ever seen.

Why? Maybe because this has not been a dominant year for the big, traditiona­l brands. Instead, we’ve seen Houston cruise through the American Athletic Conference while barely getting a worthy test from anyone besides Memphis. We’ve seen football schools Alabama and Texas A&M dominate the SEC while Kentucky comes into the tournament looking like an underachie­ver. We’ve seen Miami, a team built on veterans and transfers, rise to the top of the ACC while Duke went way under the radar most of the year and North Carolina missed the tournament entirely. And the Big Ten almost felt like a random results generator at times with nine teams finishing within two games of each other in the standings behind Purdue, which ran off with the conference title.

The entire point of the NCAA Tournament is reminding us how little we know about what’s going to happen, and often how irrelevant regular season results are in a single-eliminatio­n event played on neutral courts. That happens even when we go into the tournament with a few dominant teams who look clearly better than the rest.

Even top teams come with concerns

But this year? Even the supposedly dominant teams come in with question marks.

The analytics show that Houston is the best and most complete team in college basketball, but the lack of elite 3point shooting can lead their offense into the mud.

Kansas had a nation-best 17 Quadrant 1 wins this year, but they come into the tournament with two losses to Texas over the last week while there were questions about whether coach Bill Self would be on the sidelines after spending time in the hospital this past week.

Alabama passed the eye test in a major way at the SEC Tournament, but its offense can go sideways when the 3pointers aren’t falling and the Crimson Tide rely heavily on two freshmen in Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney, who have never been in this position before.

UCLA may have had the best combinatio­n of experience and high-level talent, but the Bruins aren’t the same team without their best perimeter defender in Jaylen Clark, who suffered a late-season Achilles injury.

Purdue started 22-1 but a pretty mediocre February combined with some previous March flameouts under Matt Painter make the Boilermake­rs a difficult team to trust.

Meanwhile, the first four seed lines on the bracket feature a bunch of teams that are either good on defense and bad on offense (Tennessee, Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State) or bad on defense and good on offense (Gonzaga, Arizona, Baylor, Marquette).

Of course, that’s the beauty of the tournament to begin with: None of us know which of those data points are going to matter or which teams are going to outperform or underperfo­rm what they’ve been all season in the only 40minute sample size that matters.

Blueblood drop-off adds to parity

Without a season being framed by the usual bluebloods, we’re left with even more perceived parity than normal. Will it turn out that way when the games begin Thursday? Who knows.

Maybe at the end, we’ll realize that, indeed, the No. 1 seeds like Houston, Purdue and Alabama were actually the best teams all along. But the tournament never fails to show us how hilariousl­y wrong our brackets are, which is even more likely to be the case this year.

One way or another, the chaos is coming. In the end, it’s usually more fun than the fairy tale anyway.

 ?? ALEX MARTIN/(LAFAYETTE) JOURNAL AND COURIER ?? Zach Edey aims to lead Purdue to its first men’s basketball national championsh­ip.
ALEX MARTIN/(LAFAYETTE) JOURNAL AND COURIER Zach Edey aims to lead Purdue to its first men’s basketball national championsh­ip.
 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States