I never root for a top seed. Ever. Call me underdog-centric.
Nor do I root for AT&T or Google or Amazon, mostly because I own none of their stock. I’m startup-friendly so I’ll be pulling for the four first-time NCAA Tournament invitees that include Northwestern and UC-Davis, but I’m not stupid enough to totally ignore the prime commodities.
That is why my Final Four is blueblood-loaded with Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Arizona showing up for the party in Phoenix. Three No. 2 seeds and a No. 1 in the Jayhawks.
I’ve got the Wildcats cutting down the nets because they have sensational guards, play defense, are awesome in transition, have an experienced head coach and are used to big games. It does concern me that Kentucky’s in the Regional of Death and Taxes, but somebody’s got to emerge from the South. And Kentucky is as under the radar as Big Blue can ever be.
I wanted to pick Duke to win it all, but wonder if the firecracker-hot Blue Devils’ late-season magic might have worn off and someone might accidentally run into Grayson Allen’s legs. I’m all about 7-footer Lauri Markkanen and Arizona, especially now that Allonzo Trier has returned. I was ready to crown the Ducks, but losing Chris Boucher deprives Oregon of a formidable weapon. I’m not sold on Kansas because of its lack of an inside presence, but the Jayhawks have super guards, play close to home and have one of the easiest paths to the Final Four.
My druthers? I’d love to see a final weekend with SMU, Northwestern, Vermont’s Catamounts — because they’re the Catamounts — and Texas Southern. That would be a sixth seed, an eighth, a 13th and a 16th for the first time ever. No 16th seed has ever won in 128 tries, mind you, and the Houston school will be the Donald Trump of basketball long-shots.
Of course, I’d probably be the only person tuning in for the title game on April 3, but oh what an all-time “One Shining Moment.” For ratings-conscious CBS, it might be more Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.”
Here’s some other bad advice for your bracket while encouraging you to have some beach balls and fill out only one bracket:
Give Villanova a more than legitimate chance to repeat. What’s not to love? Ryan Arcidiacono is here in Austin with the D-League Spurs and no longer running the point for last year’s national champs, but Kris Jenkins is still around for Philly’s finest as are Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson.
I’m fully aware that a fourth of all upsets in the past dozen years involved a fifth seed over a 12th — so give me Middle Tennessee State, the Cinderella of Cinderellas this March, over Minnesota.
Give me credit for finally not picking Virginia to go far. Defensive teams do not win. You’d better be able to fill up the basket, and the Cavs frequently forget how to do it.
Give me Butler every time, and I’m pulling hard for the North Dakota Fighting Hawks. I’m all about Dunk City 2.0, too, hoping Florida Gulf Coast goes further than Florida. How do you not root for Northwestern, which has now been to more NCAA Tournaments recently than Texas?
Give me Tom Izzo any day. I don’t care if his Spartans are young and inconsistent. Izzo’s my favorite basketball coach ever. To be honest, I hope Michigan State gets bounced in the first round for the second straight year and fires Izzo so Shaka Smart will hire him as head coach-in-waiting. Hey, we’re desperate here.
Give me some good ol’ hate. While it’s not on the level of Jim Boeheim vs. Greensboro, I’m hoping for these matchups: Virginia Tech’s Buzz Williams against his former Marquette team; Arizona-UCLA with unlimited timeouts and Lonzo Ball’s dad on the microphone; and maybe even Duke-North Carolina in the final.
Give me SMU in the Sweet 16 if not beyond. Tim Jankovich as coach of the year? Shake Milton is one of the best names in the game, and Semi Ojeleye is a terrific story. SMU has a roster of interchangeable, long, athletic parts who can score, defend and never foul. I always root for Big 12 teams, but I’d have a hard time pulling against the Ponies if they go up against Baylor for a second weekend spot.
Give me Gonzaga. Mark Few deserves to be in the Final Four once. Besides, the Bulldogs have lost once all season. Once. They have a great center — how many of those are out there? — in Przemek Karnowski to go with stud point guard Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins.
Give me Wisconsin. Love how hard the Badgers play. Look out for them if Bronson Koenig and Ethan Happ catch fire.
Give me Wichita State, which no one wants to see on the opposing bench. As usual, the Shockers fire away from long distance and guard you off the bus.
Give me No. 11 Rhode Island in an upset over No. 6 Creighton.
Give me Princeton’s slide-rule gang.
Give Texas State a do-over against Troy.
Give me hot teams like Duke and Michigan and Middle Tennessee and, oh yeah, Vermont, which hasn’t lost since Dec. 21.
And once all my teams lose, which I’m sure they will, feel free to give me grief.