Picking an NCAA tournament bracket in 68 seconds


The idea here is to let go of everything you know, every theory that kicks around in your mind, every bit of college basketball knowledge you picked up along the way. The Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett once offered a hitting lesson. He asked a group of us to say a number between one and 5. And while thinking of that number we were to raise one hand and hold up a DIFFERENT number with our fingers. In other words, shout the number 3, but hold up two fingers. Then shout 5 while holding up one finger.

Then do it again. And again. And again. Faster, Faster. No, you can’t repeat the same numbers; you have to keep changing. Faster. Faster. No you are not allowed to use a pattern. Faster. What inevitably happens – and usually very quickly – is that the number you shout and the number of fingers you hold up will match or you will fail to think of a number in time or you will have some other embarrassing mental breakdown.

Follow along: Printable NCAA tournament bracket

Brett’s point: The mind isn’t very good at thinking two contrasting things at once. And so, when hitting, Brett said, the times he was successful were when he could make his mind a complete blank and just react to the moment. If he found himself burdened by different thoughts (Curveball? Fastball? Where are we eating after the game? What’s the score? Can’t believe I missed that throw last inning. I think that guy owes me money!) he would inevitably crumple and fail.

So it goes with our annual “Pick the NCAA Basketball Tournament in 68 seconds.”

It used to be 64 seconds back when there were 64 teams, but there are now those four extra teams in the play-in round, and they give us four valuable seconds.

You may ask: Does this pick-basketball-games-without-thinking system really work?  Well, it depends what you mean by “work.” If by “work” you mean — “is this system successful in picking winners?” well, results are mixed. Last year, this system did pick Louisville as national champ, and one year the system was good enough to win an office pool. In other words: No, the system doesn’t work.

But if by “work” you mean – does this system give you a cheap column you can rehash every single year, then yes, this system has never failed me.

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First round (3 seconds): I’m picking Mount St. Mary’s, Xavier, Cal Poly and Iowa while making my annual protest that (1) This is NOT a first round no matter what the NCAA calls it, these are four play-in games; and (2) There should not be four play-in games.

The reason the “first round” naming bothers me is that it inspires the NCAA to call Thursday’s and Friday’ games SECOND ROUND games. And they are most definitely NOT second-round games. They are first-round games. Everybody knows this. The NCAA is most definitely NOT giving 60 teams byes into the second round. That is ridiculous and wrong and gives us yet another reason to despise the NCAA.

The reason I’m opposed to the play-in games at all is that they represent a further watering down of the sport. No 16 seed has ever beaten a No. 1 seed. Ever. There is no reason to add more teams; we already have reached critical mass.

Second round (31 seconds): I picked the games a little faster this year than I did last year in order to give me some extra time in later rounds.

First thing, I advanced all the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds. The No. 1 seeds are easy to advance – as mentioned — but every three or four years, a No. 2 seed will lose. Last year, No. 2 Georgetown lost to Florida Gulf Coast, and those Eagles promptly went on a fun, dunky little run that made the first couple of rounds of the tournament more exciting and fulfilling than the last couple of rounds. I’m betting it doesn’t happen again.

We usually have a No. 3 seed that loses – last year, it was Harvard beating No. 3 New Mexico – and I’m picking Western Michigan to beat Syracuse because … I don’t know. I don’t have time to think about reasons. Syracuse seems to be in freefall and it just seems like Jim Boeheim is due for a shocking early round exit.  There you go.

There is usually at least one No. 4 seed that goes down – I’m picking Tulsa to upset UCLA because Tulsa is coached by Danny Manning, who had “and the Miracles” attached to his name when he led Kansas to the 1988 national championship. UCLA is, of course, coached by Steve Alford, who led Indiana to the 1987 national championship. So I’m actually predicting the game goes into quintuple overtime and is then decided by a one-on-one matchup between the two coaches, a game Manning wins decisively.

I suspect a lot of people will go with the New Mexico State over No. 4 San Diego State upset because that just sort of SOUNDS like it should happen. This silly reasoning is … actually excellent. This could happen. But San Diego State is really good from what I can tell, so I’m avoiding it.

The NCAA 5-12 match-up is the best in sports. Every year it provides us with awesome pseudo upsets – in reality the No. 12 seed is really not much worse and often better than the No. 5 seed. Anyway, I love the 5-12, and again, it irritates me that the NCAA is mucking it up with these play-in games. There is nothing good about these play-in games.

Last year the 12 seed won three of four matchups; the 12 seed tends to win one or two ever year. I’m picking just one 12-5 upset this year, Harvard over Cincinnati, though I have to admit that I might regret not taking North Dakota State over Oklahoma.

Regional previews: South | East | Midwest | West

On the 6-11 line, I spend an extra second or two pondering the mystery that is Roy Williams’ North Carolina team. I have never seen such a baffling team. There are times that team looks like a legitimate national championship contender. And there are times that it seems you could get four others from your local YMCA and beat the Tar Heels by 20. North Carolina absolutely, positively, unquestionably could lose to Providence in the first round. Or North Carolina could make a long run. I’ll move the Tar Heels into the next round and pick it up from there.

I am picking No. 11 Dayton to beat Ohio State in the “You didn’t recruit me” revenge game, and I’m also picking No. 11 Nebraska to upset Baylor because I really want to see that Nebraska-Creighton match-up in the next round. This was a mistake, by the way; you should never look ahead when making picks. But my time was running out and I panicked.

Nothing after the 6-11 line is really an upset. The lower seeds I picked are: No. 10 Stanford over New Mexico, No. 10 St. Joe’s over Connecticut, No. 10 BYU over Oregon, No. 9 George Washington over Memphis, No. 9 Oklahoma State over Gonzaga and No. 9 Kansas State over Kentucky.

MORE: Must-watch games from the round of 64

The last of these reminds me: When John Calipari won his national championship at Kentucky two years ago, there were a lot of people who believed he would build a one-and-done dynasty there by bringing in the best recruits year after year and leading them to title after title. Since then, Kentucky missed the tournament entirely and now is a No. 8 seed. Calipari did not seem happy at all with the seeding … and I can’t help that this is the sort of fragile team that already has No. 1 Wichita State in their plans. And that’s how they lose to a gritty Kansas State team.

* * *

Second round … oh, wait, I mean third round (18 seconds): To me, this is always the toughest round to pick. Sometimes a No. 1 seed loses (last year, Gonzaga lost to Wichita State) and on average you will usually have at least one No. 2 seed lose.

I’m guessing a lot of brackets will have Kentucky beating Wichita State, but since I didn’t even pick Kentucky to win the first round, that will not be my choice. Anyway, I think Wichita State is really, really good. I don’t want to offer any spoilers, but I really do think that Wichita State, small conference and all, might be the best team in America.

More: How to run the perfect NCAA tourney pool

The one game that troubles me is Oklahoma State against No. 1 Arizona. That upset sounds really good to me. But if I pick it, then I lose Arizona, and Arizona is REALLY good. I could get burned. Trouble is, when you have 18 seconds to pick 16 games, you don’t really get to think too much about the consequences. I instinctively write down Oklahoma State and will live with it. All the other No. 1s get through.

My No. 2 line upset – St. Joe’s over Villanova in the second installment of the “you didn’t recruit me” revenge game.

Other lower seed picks: No. 14 Western Michigan over Dayton (the Broncos ride on!); No. 6 North Carolina over Iowa State (I just know these Tar Heels are going to blow my entire bracket); No. 5 Oklahoma over San Diego State (setting up the Oklahoma-Oklahoma State game that may blow up the Sooner State).

* * *

Sweet 16 (5 seconds): No time to look back on what is clearly a terrible bracket I have to just keep going.

Oklahoma State over Oklahoma and Wisconsin over Creighton in the West.

Wichita State over Louisville and Duke over Michigan in the Midwest.

More: The eight best crunch-time players in the tourney

VCU over Florida (Shaka Smart upset!) and Kansas over Western Michigan in the South. Bill Self quietly getting his team healthy and dangerous.

Michigan State over Virginia (upset!) and North Carolina over St. Joe’s in the East.

I thoroughly loathe my bracket.

* * *

Elite 8 (4 seconds): The Duke-Wichita State game is one worth pondering. But there’s no time for that, so I’m taking the Shockers to knock off Duke and go to their second consecutive Final Four.

My other Final Four choices: Wisconsin (after holding Oklahoma State to, like, 13 points), Kansas (barely preventing Shaka Smart from his second Final Four at VCU) and Michigan State (pounding a North Carolina team that I had no business sending all the way to the Elite Eight in the first place).

* * *

Final Four (3 seconds): I have given myself an extra second to ponder this. It is not impossible that I have set up my entire bracket just to get the Kansas-Wichita State final that I really want to see. For one thing, this would be the greatest thing to happen to Kansas in forever, and I love the state of Kansas. Two, this would make my in-laws —who have lived in Kansas all their lives and who love both teams — extremely happy and conflicted. This also would greatly please my friend Bill James, who loves Kansas basketball about as much as he loves piercing through baseball idiocy.

So, what the heck, the momentum is too strong. Kansas against Wichita State in the final.

* * *

Championship game (1 second): Every NBA mock draft I have seen has Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embid going in the first three picks. Many have them as the Top 2. In NBA Draft history, the top two picks have been from the same team only 1 time.

2012: Kentucky’s Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

More: The eight teams that can win it all

Of course, that Kentucky team rolled to the national title. My sense is that this Kansas team is the most talented in the country. When healthy – and Embid has not been healthy – it might be the most talented team Bill Self has ever coached. They have been wildly inconsistent, often frustrating and confusing and sometimes dreadful. The Jayhawks have also for stretches been about as good as any team I’ve seen. The Jayhawks might be the team that makes or breaks your ballot – pick them to keep winning and they could lose in the first round, pick them to lose early and they might win it all.

That’s what I’m going with. I’m picking Kansas to beat Wichita State in the national championship game. And while this will never happen, I do have three seconds to spare on the clock.

Stevens’ 30 points leads Penn State past Marquette in NIT

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Lamar Stevens tied his career high with 30 points, Tony Carr added 25 and Penn State beat Marquette 85-80 on Tuesday night to advance to the NIT semifinals.

The Nittany Lions (24-13) will face either Mississippi State or Louisville at Madison Square Garden in New York on March 27. They advanced to the NIT semis for the first time since winning the 2009 tournament.

Stevens hit three crucial buckets in the final three minutes, including a dunk off an alley-oop pass from Josh Reaves for an eight-point lead with one minute left. The 6-foot-8 Stevens then maneuvered through a couple Marquette players to secure a rebound off Andrew Rowsey’s missed 3 with 46 seconds left.

Carr went 5 of 8 from the foul line over the final 30 seconds to give Marquette another chance. Rowsey hit a 3 and a layup to get the Golden Eagles as close as 83-80 with six seconds left before the Golden Eagles ran out of time.

Rowsey, a senior, scored 29 points for Marquette (21-14).

The Golden Eagles had whittled a 14-point deficit early in the second half to 72-68 with 2:39 left on three foul shots by Rowsey. Penn State went nearly three minutes without a bucket and got sloppy with the ball and the sharpshooting Golden Eagles started hitting 3s to get back in the game.

Report: Joseph Chartouny to transfer from Fordham

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After three seasons at Fordham, guard Joseph Chartouny will be leaving the school to play his final year elsewhere. News of Chartouny’s transfer was reported Tuesday afternoon by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, and the 6-foot-3 guard from Montreal will be eligible immediately as a graduate transfer.

Chartouny made 28 starts for the Rams this season, averaging 12.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.3 steals in 36.0 minutes per game. Leading the nation in both total steals and steals per game, Chartouny was an Atlantic 10 All-Defensive Team selection.

In three seasons at Fordham Chartouny, the 2016 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, averaged 11.9 points, 5.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 2.9 steals per game. Given his abilities as a defender and a distributor, Chartouny stands to be a popular player amongst programs looking to add an immediately eligible contributor who also has ample experience at the Division I level.

With Chartouny reportedly moving on, Fordham head coach Jeff Neubauer has a significant hole to fill in his backcourt rotation for 2018-19.

Transfers Antwon Portley (Saint Peters’s) and Erten Gazi (DePaul) will be eligible next season, with reserve Cavit Havsa set to be a junior next season. Fordham’s also landed three perimeter recruits in its 2018 class, with three-star point guard Nick Honor among that trio.

Auburn’s Danjel Purifoy regains eligibility for next season

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Despite having two expected key contributors in forward Danjel Purifoy and center Austin Wiley ruled ineligible for competition in the aftermath of the still-ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and bribes in basketball, Auburn managed to win 26 games and a share of the SEC regular season title.

Tuesday night it was announced that Purifoy has regained his eligibility for the 2018-19 season, with the NCAA ruling that he will have to sit out the first 30 percent of the team’s schedule before returning to action. Wiley will also be eligible to return next season.

“We worked diligently with the NCAA on behalf of both our student-athletes who were ineligible this season,” Auburn president Steven Leath said in a statement. “The process was arduous, but it was important that we do everything we could to put Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley in the best position to resume their Auburn basketball careers. We’re happy for them and their teammates and coaches.”

Last season the 6-foot-7 Purifoy started 25 of the 29 games he played in, averaging 11.5 points and 4.7 rebounds in 28.7 minutes per game. Purifoy, one of Auburn’s top perimeter shooters on a team that finished 18-14, shot nearly 37 percent from three on the season.

Southwest Airlines provided fan with live updates of Xavier loss

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For many who have taken a flight, the experience of using in-flight wi-fi can be a maddening one. While the internet connection works well for some, for others it can be equal to flushing one’s $8-$10 down the toilet. And that’s for simple tasks such as checking in on social media or checking email. Streaming video? Forget about it.

One Xavier fan ran into this issue while on a Southwest Airlines flight Sunday night, when all she wanted to do was watch her Musketeers take on Florida State with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.

Renée Stoeckel was sure to tag the official Twitter account for Southwest in discussing her situation, and luckily for her the person manning the account came through with the score update.

Mike would continue to provide periodic score updates during the second half, which ended with the Musketeers suffering a crushing loss to the Seminoles.

You the real MVP, Mike.

h/t A.V. Club, Awful Announcing

Top 16 Players of the Sweet 16

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After the mayhem of the opening weekend, the NCAA tournament is down to a sweet 16. We’ve already ranked the remaining teams, and in this space we’re going to rank some of the top players based upon who we’d want on our team.

1. Marvin Bagley III, Duke

Bagley’s in the running for being the top overall pick in this summer’s NBA Draft (should he decide to enter, of course), but there’s still business to attend to in the NCAA tournament. Averaging 21.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game on the season, Bagley shot 75.0 percent from the field and accounted for 22.0 points and 8.0 rebounds in wins over Iona and Rhode Island. With his size and athleticism Bagley’s a tough matchup for opposing defenses, and Syracuse will certainly account for his presence when the two teams meet Friday night.

2. Jalen Brunson, Villanova

Brunson’s opening weekend was a bit of a mixed bag, as foul trouble placed the national player of the year candidate on the bench for a significant portion of the first half in Villanova’s win over Alabama. Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges picked up the slack in that one, but there’s no denying the importance of Brunson. From his skill set, which affords Villanova the ability to play though its point guard in the post, to his intangibles there aren’t many players more valuable than Brunson.

3. Devonte’ Graham, Kansas

The Big 12 Player of the Year didn’t shoot the ball particularly well this past weekend, shooting 32.3 percent from the field and 7-for-19 from three. But Graham still managed to average 7.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game in wins over Penn and Seton Hall. Kansas will need Graham to shoot the ball better this week in Omaha, and he’s more than capable of rebounding in that regard while continuing to put his teammates in spots where they can be most successful.

4. Wendell Carter Jr., Duke

The 6-foot-10 freshman offers up a quality counter to Bagley in the Duke front court, as his presence in the post affords Bagley the freedom to play both inside and out. Last weekend Cater averaged 11.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game, making ten of his 15 shots from the field. If there’s one thing Carter will need to change this week it would be getting to the foul line, as he attempted two total in the wins over Iona and Rhode Island.

5. Keenan Evans, Texas Tech

Remember when former North Carolina guard Marcus Paige received the nickname “Second Half Marcus” for his work in the game’s final 20 minutes? For as good as Evans has been throughout the season, his play in the second half of wins over Stephen F. Austin and Florida is a big reason why the Red Raiders are in the Sweet 16. After going off for 19 second-half points in Texas Tech’s win over SFA, Evans followed that up with 14 second-half points against Florida.

6. Mikal Bridges, Villanova

Throughout the course of the season Bridges has shown that he has the potential to be more than the “three and D” guy he’s been projected as at the next level. After putting up a respectable 13 points and six rebounds in the win over Radford, Bridges was even better against Alabama. The 6-foot-7 wing tallied 23 points on Saturday, with the majority of those coming during an early second half run that essentially served as the game’s “knockout blow.”

7. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kentucky

After beginning the season as a reserve, Gilgeous-Alexander has developed into being Kentucky’s most indispensable player. The 6-foot-6 freshman was outstanding in wins over Davidson and Buffalo, averaging 23.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 3.5 steals per game. Gilgeous-Alexander shot 60.0 percent from the field in those games, making the sound decisions with the basketball that Kentucky needs if they’re to continue to advance.

8. Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Admittedly Edwards did not have his best weekend in Detroit, shooting a combined 8-for-29 from the field and 4-for-15 in wins over Cal-State Fullerton and Butler. But if Purdue is to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1980 Edwards will be key, especially with Isaac Haas dealing with a fractured right elbow. It can be argued that Edwards is Purdue’s most dynamic offensive talent, which will be key in the Boilermakers’ matchup with Texas Tech.

9. Jevon Carter, West Virginia

By now Carter’s defensive reputation is well-known, but don’t sleep on his offensive abilities either. In wins over Murray State and Marshall, the senior point guard shot 14-for-27 from the field and averaged 24.5 points, 6.5 assists, 5.0 steals and 4.5 rebounds per game.

10. Gabe DeVoe, Clemson

DeVoe is one of the big reasons why Brad Brownell’s team has managed to not only withstand the season-ending injury suffered by Donte Grantham but reach the Sweet 16. DeVoe scored 22 points in both of the Tigers’ wins in San Diego (shooting 18-for-28 from the field), and in the blowout of 4-seed Auburn he also had five rebounds and five assists.

11. Tyler Davis, Texas A&M

Robert Williams may be the Aggies’ most-discussed player from an NBA Draft standpoint, but Davis is the team’s best front court offensive weapon. The 6-foot-10 junior followed up his 14-point, 15-rebound performance against Providence with 18 points, nine rebounds and three blocks in the win over North Carolina.

12. Caleb Martin, Nevada

Both Martin twins made big plays to ensure the Wolf Pack passage into the Sweet 16, but it’s Caleb who was named the Mountain West’s top newcomer and player of the year. Caleb Martin’s averaging 18.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game on the season, shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three.

13. Kevin Knox, Kentucky

The 6-foot-9 freshman certainly has his moments when instead of using his tools to make things happen offensively he settles, firing up tough shots. But there’s no denying the fact that Knox can put up points, as he did in scoring 25 points in Kentucky’s win over Davidson. With Kansas State’s perimeter attack able to get after opponents defensively, Kentucky will need a big game from Knox Thursday night.

14. Sagaba Konate, West Virginia

Why’s West Virginia able to get after opponents defensively in the open floor? A big reason for that is the presence of Konate, who’s done an exceptional job of protecting the rim. At 6-foot-8 Konate may not have the height that some would expect from an elite shot blocker, but he’s got the strength, timing and instincts to cover for his teammates when they’re beaten on the perimeter.

15. Zach Norvell Jr., Gonzaga

While some inexperienced players can shrink from the spotlight in high-pressure situations, others rise to the occasion. That’s exactly what Norvell did in wins over UNCG and Ohio State, with his three giving the Bulldogs the lead for good against the Spartans in the first round. Two days later Norvell found his groove shooting-wise, making six three pointers and scoring 28 points to go along with 12 rebounds and four assists.

16. Barry Brown, Kansas State

With first team All-Big 12 forward Dean Wade out due to a foot injury, Brown stepped up as Kansas State picked up wins over Creighton and UMBC. Brown scored 18 points in both of those games, and while the field goal percentage (37.0 percent) wasn’t great he did manage to go 15-for-18 from the foul line.

One player from each team not mentioned above: Terence Mann, Florida State; Clayton Custer, Loyola-Chicago; Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan; Tyus Battle, Syracuse.