Our Picks? They'd Probably Just Be Bricks
Many fans also play for high stakes in tournament pools. One of the Observers feels too ignorant to fill out the bracket; the other is so well informed that he knows his predictions are pretty worthless.
Frank: Wisconsin goes into the Big Dance with a nice No. 4 seeding at 23-8 but riding a two-game losing streak. And what games! A total butt-whipping by Ohio State and then in the first round of the Big Ten tournament...
Artie: An absolute "Twilight Zone" game. Thirty-three stinkin' points against Penn State, which only got 36? What the hell, were they giving out Dick Bennett bobbleheads that night and had to play like he was coaching them? It's not very encouraging.
Frank: Which is why I believe the Badgers will win two games this week to reach the Sweet Sixteen—precisely because there's no reason to be confident. First up is a game against Belmont, from something called the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Artie: Hey, don't be fooled. I've seen the Bruins once, and from that and my vast "bracketology" research I know they're a tough team. In the NCAA tournament, forget the conference and think team. Belmont was 30-4 overall and 19-1 in the conference. I don't care what league you're in: If you win 19 out of 20, you're a good team.
Frank: And on the other side of the coin, if you've lost 13 or 14 games, like Bruce Pearl's Tennessee or Michigan State...
Artie: Or 20-14 Marquette?
Frank: You betcha. With that many losses, I don't care what league you're in: You're an inconsistent team. A quarter of the field, 17 of the 68 teams, has a dozen or more losses. It's one thing to have 7-5 or 6-6 football teams in bowl games that are meaningless in the first place. But 12 or more losses shouldn't merit a shot at a national championship.
Artie: Hey, you're raining on the fans' favorite parade!
Frank: Exactly. If the NCAAs were really about giving the most deserving teams a shot at the title, there'd be only 16 teams in the field, at most. Like everything else, the big field is all about making as much money as possible.
Artie: Which they certainly will, because this first Thursday and Friday is the greatest thing in sports. So many games going down to the last 30 seconds, the theatrics of it all—it's just fabulous! And one reason is that teams like Belmont can come out of nowhere and make their mark.
Frank: Like George Mason making the Final Four in 2006, Butler playing for the title last year...
Artie: The Badgers know what it's like to get smoked by a "lesser" team, after what Cornell did to them last year.
Frank: And speaking of sleeper teams, let's hope UW-Milwaukee has some fun in the NIT, starting against Northwestern.
Artie: One thing about the Panthers, and the Richmonds and the Belmonts, is that they have senior experience.
Frank: As opposed to some of the big powers, whose stars are often "one and done."
Artie: Exactly. These Belmont guys have played together for a long time. They have depth, they can run and they can play the inside-outside game.
Frank: As for Marquette, they saved their NCAA chance by winning twice in the Big East tournament, but I don't have a lot of confidence in them.
Artie: Me neither. They're up against a really tough team in Xavier. My problem with MU is that after one or two passes someone goes one-on-four or flings up a three-pointer. And they don't shoot free throws well, but Buzz Williams doesn't seem to care. He keeps saying it's not important to set aside time to work on it.
Frank: So the Golden Eagles are shooting a measly 69% from the line.
Artie: Meanwhile, the Badgers are better than 82%.
Frank: Which is one reason I think they'll get to the Sweet Sixteen.
Artie: Funny as it sounds, while I wouldn't be surprised to see UW get bumped off by Belmont, I also think that if the Badgers win the first round they have a really good shot at making the Elite Eight.
Frank: There's such parity, I can easily see that.
Artie: Look at UW's half of the Southeast Regional. In the second round the Badgers would face Kansas State or Utah State, neither a major force. In the Sweet Sixteen they'd presumably face Pittsburgh, a No. 1 seed but certainly not invincible.
Frank: UConn knocked the Panthers off in the Big East quarterfinals, after all.
Artie: And in the other half of the Southeast draw, who's unbeatable? Florida, which got waxed by Kentucky in the SEC final? Michigan State, inconsistent all year? Brigham Young, which has staggered since the Mormons suspended the top inside guy for hoochie-coochie with his girlfriend?
Frank: On the other hand, a team coming off a 33-point game has to be considered pretty beatable, too.
But with some real incentive. And maybe the quick exit from the Big Ten
tournament has given the Badgers a helpful rest.
Frank: As opposed to UConn, which played five straight days to win the Big East. If the conferences really wanted their best teams ready for the NCAAs, they wouldn't stage these four- and five-day death marches. But the tournaments exist to make more money off the fans and TV networks.
Artie: The league tournaments aren't good gauges. The automatic NCAA bids should go to the teams that won the regular-season titles, over 16 or 18 games.
Frank: But that would be based on fairness, not commerce. Anyway, since I spend much less time watching college hoops than you, any predictions I'd make would be pointless.
Artie: For all of my expertise as a spectator, I've got no better clue than someone who just goes "chalk," picks the higher seed every time.
Frank: With CBS sharing the broadcasts with TBS, TNT and truTV, there'll be four games going simultaneously for most of Thursday and Friday.
Artie: Besides all the time I need to fill out my bracket, I need more to clear space on my DVR. There goes that "Laugh-In" retrospective on PBS that I saved.
Frank: The NCAA is sockin' it to ya.
A Pain in Our Side's Sides
are the Brewers going to be able to field a full team for opening day?
Frank: The big pitching star, Zack Greinke, breaks a rib playing hoops. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy breaks a pinkie from a bad-hop throw. Corey Hart gets an aching "oblique" in his side, which can linger a long time. Rickie Weeks has a groin problem. Manny Parra has a back problem. Various other pitchers have been slow to get going because of aches and pains. And now Ryan Braun comes up with an "oblique" twinge, too.
Artie: Plus Mat Gamel is ailing again, maybe playing himself—make that non-playing himself—right out of the organization. We joked last year about giving a "John Jaha Award" to the first Brewer with a season-ending injury. Looks like they're taking us seriously and all trying for the "JJ" this year.
Frank: All these problems with the ribs or muscles in the side. When we played ball we never strained anything swinging a bat or turning for a fly ball. Of course, we often didn't hit the ball or catch the fly.
Artie: It's got to have something to do with spending too much time in the weight room. Is it really necessary for baseball? Braun came into camp talking about the weight he put on. There's something odd going on. You never heard of Greg Luzinski or John Kruk having "oblique" trouble!
Frank: Of course it's only March, so fans shouldn't panic. We'll let everyone know where the team is headed when we do our baseball preview in the March 31 issue.