Bracket Creep, Part LastAt this time in 2011, only a few players' moms had picked UConn to meet Butler in the NCAA championship game and for Virginia Commonwealth to make the Final Four. And the other moms laughed at them for their demented optimism.
The unfortunate nature of unexpected events, especially enjoyable ones, is that they almost never repeat themselves. The most judicious course of action as far as handicapping the 2012 tournament seems to be to predict a reversion to the mean.
What is the mean? It is somewhere between two and three of the number one seeds making the Final Four, and no team lower than a third seed doing so. Dull as it may be, I foresee a tournament where the craven chalk player who's President of the U.S. sees his bracket last past the opening weekend's action.
Specifics follow, but it saddens me to report that by the time I finished looking at the field of 68, I was pretty much a cowardly chalk player myself.
South Regional: Kentucky is like every other John Calipari Kentucky team. If you're starting an NBA expansion franchise, they're by far the best team in the country. They're the best team in the country by just about every other metric, too. And as we saw last Sunday, at some point in single-elimination tournaments, Kentucky will forget how to shoot from outside, shoot free throws, or both.
The kindhearted selection committee has done its best to insure that doesn't happen until the Final Four. There's nobody else in this region I can see upsetting them (Indiana already did it once, that's way over quota). For those of you mistakenly convinced early round picks are the keys to bracket success, UNLV can upset a few apple carts before meeting its doom. If you MUST play a longshot, try New Mexico State.
West Regional: To Missouri or not to Missouri. That's my question. Whether
'tis nobler to pick a team that plays an entertaining game or weasel out with Michigan State because of their tournament track record?
Oh, it's only money and what little reputation I have left. Actually, there are several little stink bombs on Michigan State's path to the Elite Eight. Memphis and Louisville are getting surprisingly little love among the cognoscenti considering their records.
I will be interested to see how Murray State fares. Otherwise, I'll pick Missouri and forget this region.
East Regional: Syracuse has already used up about four seasons worth of close wins and comebacks during the regular season. That's no way for a champion to live. One of the other top three seeds, Ohio State, Florida State or Wisconsin, will beat them. Wait, what, I'm supposed to say which one?
Here's a prediction I will make. Florida State will blow up more brackets, one way or the other, than any other team in the field. They could be champions. They beat both Duke and North Carolina twice. They could lost their first game (they lost to BC!). I choose not to touch them with a barge pole.
Ohio State is your basic boring Big Ten power. It's amazing how often boring play and NCAA tournament success go hand in hand.
Midwest Regional: Call this the region of Teams That Play After Mike's Bedtime. I'd to opine on St. Mary's or Creighton, but I never saw 'em. I saw enough of Michigan and Georgetown to say, no way. I think Kansas is getting underrated by the masses, and if you're in a pool, that's an important consideration, but here's where cowardly chalk really takes over. North Carolina is the second-best NBA expansion franchise in the tournament, and it's problem, an occasional disastrous lack of focus, tends to be cured by the emotional maelstrom of the tournament itself.
Once a man shows the handicapping white feather, he might as well totally abase himself. Shooting the ball is a pretty important skill, and in the championship game, I see North Carolina remembering it and Kentucky not so quite so well.
Picking North Carolina as champs. God, I feel so soiled.