March is mad enough already, so let’s get the really bad NCAA Tournament news out of the way: Despite a huge, last-minute surge by fans on social media, Trump University did not make the field.
Otherwise, Selection Sunday went pretty much according to script. The rest of the field turns out to pretty blue, too — though as we’ll argue in a moment, that’s rarely a bad thing. But first let’s crunch some numbers.
The 68 teams will play 67 games spread over four weeks, and for those of you tempted to take the favorites, remember that the crown has rarely rested so uneasy on the head of the king as it has throughout this season. Six teams were ranked No. 1 by The Associated Press. Looking at the whole top five throughout the season, and they suffered a head-scratching 37 losses combined, almost half to unranked opponents. Double that sample to include the Top 10, and they racked up an all-time high 74 losses.
Does this mean we should abandon the favorites?
Far from it. Our Final Four teams will all be blue-bloods, plenty familiar to even casual college basketball fans, as will most of the Elite Eight. By then, all the talk about parity and upsets will have been stilled. But before the reveal, let’s explain our methodology.
It could really be that simple (since those who can do the math are already pursuing careers in medicine or technology).
Teams whose official colors are blue have won the most national championships (23) and finished second the most (20). If you want to stack the odds in your favor, bet on blue, even though the two best players in the game — Denzel Valentine of Michigan State Buddy Hield of Oklahoma — wear green and crimson.
The great thing about sticking with blue is it drops a bunch of squads from consideration — red gets rid of Oklahoma, pesky Utah, Maryland, Indiana and Wisconsin. Green says goodbye to Oregon, Miami, Notre Dame and Baylor; and orange likely means that Syracuse and Texas won’t win it all.
The other great thing about sticking with blue is that it lets you further narrow your picks by cross – checking them against other questionable selection schemes.
Let’s say you wanted to use academic rankings as a guide. There are traditional eggheads like Duke (which has its own shade, titled “Duke blue”), Virginia (navy) and long, long, long-shot Yale.
If you like to look for weird mascots, no problem. Carolina is fronted by a blue ram, Kansas by a blue Jayhawk, Duke by a Blue Devil and Xavier has the best of them all — Blue Blob. Kentucky may not have its usual compliment of soon-to-be NBA picks, but it does have 5-foot-9 sophomore guard Tyler Ulis, one of the most entertaining players in the game and a just weird-enough blue Wildcat at mascot.
So, considering we’ve already mentioned most of the contenders, let’s cut to the highlights by bracket.
From the top of the bracket, Kansas survives tough games against UConn and Cal — both blue, by the way — and from the bottom, Villanova — blue, too — meets the Jayhawks in the Elite Eight. In the final, Villanova coach Jay Wright goes home blue once again.
Even without Green Bay, easily the greenest bracket in the tournament. Looks like a cakewalk for No. 1 Oregon or No. 2 Oklahoma, but Duke guard Grayson Allen forgoes tripping opponents, keeps making three-pointers and the best freshman still playing, 6-9 Brandon Ingram explodes to become a star. Don’t sleep on Mike Krzyzewski. Ever.
The No. 1 Tar Heels toughest challenge on the way to the Elite Eight will be Kentucky. No. 2 Xavier, will get its test from West Virginia, but make it all-blue regional final. Carolina coach Roy Williams will do his humble-pie routine more than once on the road, but the sky will be blue for the Tar Heels all the way to the Final Four.
If you’ve been reading this far, the gig is up. Put aside all that blue stuff you’ve slogged through so far and write in Michigan State and coach Tom Izzo as your winner. The No. 2-ranked Spartans are deep, talented, lockdown defenders when they’re pushed, and the best 3-point shooting team in the country. Valentine is a proven commodity in big games and most versatile player in the tournament. Izzo might be the best coach.
Kansas crushes Duke in one semifinal; Michigan State out-muscles Carolina in the other.
Michigan State already beat Kansas already this season on a neutral floor. They do it again, 62-60 this time in Houston.
Sure the Spartans wear green, but if you check Izzo’s collar, it’s as blue as they get.
After they won their second straight Big Ten Conference tournament squeaker Sunday to lock up the league championship, Izzo was asked whether his team deserved a No. 1, he said, “You know what? I don’t care. I mean, look it, we can barely get through our Big Ten tournament, so how you gonna get through the national one? So I don’t care where we are. I really don’t.”
By then, neither will anyone else.
Reach Brad Gilbert at 580-482-1221 ext. 2076