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Billy Reed: In this year’s NCAA tournament, concept of upset is as out of date as old Chuck Taylors


I see that Holy Cross, which has a 14-19 record, has earned a spot in the NCAA basketball tournament by winning the Patriot League tournament. This miracle happened in Bethelem, Pa., and is surely the most amazing thing to happen in a town by that team since a certain baby was born in a manger 2016 years ago.

But I am not shocked. Not at all. This college basketball season has been so weird and crazy that nobody should be surprised at anything that happens after the field, seedings, and pairings are announced late Sunday afternoon.

Unlike last season, where unbeaten Kentucky was a prohibitive favorite, this field has, oh, 15 teams that have legitimate reason to believe they can win the whole thing. It’s almost to the point where the concept of an upset is as out of date as Chuck Taylor All-Star hightops, which is something to keep in mind as you fill our your bracket for the office pool.

(Image from Creative Commons

(Image from Creative Commons)

You thing you know something about basketball? You’re one of those closet Joe Lunardis who stays up late to scout the obscure teams from the West Coast? Well, sorry, it doesn’t matter. This is one of those years where your 10-year-old grandchild has as good a chance of picking the winners as you.

I know it’s maddening to have all your charts, graphs, power rankings, RPIs, and videotapes rendered meaningless. But that’s the way it is. Chances are that most brackets will be turned into spitballs before the first round is done. You know it’s a strange year when Duke, the defending national champion, ends up with only six able-bodied players.

One of the few things we know for certain is that Louisville will not win the 2016 title. That’s because the Cardinals will not play in the post-season for only the fifth time in 50 years. On Feb. 4, in an unprecedented decision, President Jim Ramsey took his team out of the post-season because the university had verified at least one rules violation stemming from the Katina Powell stripper scandal.

Interestingly, however, North Carolina, which has been sitting on a monstrous academic fraud scandal for several years, will not only play in the tournament, but likely will be a No. 1 seed. The Tar Heels have as much talent and depth as anybody, but they also have thrown in their share of clunkers.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if (a) a No. 15 seed beats a No. 2 in the first round; (b) a No. 10 seed makes the Final Four; or (c) all the No. 1 seeds crash and burn before they get within sight of Houston.

What I’m going to do now is give you eight teams and tell you I believe one of them will be your next national champion. I admit that these picks aren’t based on anything except personal bias. Feel free to clip and save so you can make fun of me in early April.

In alphabetical order…

GONZAGA. The Zags had to win their conference tournament to get their 18th straight NCAA bid, but doggone if they didn’t do it. They aren’t strong at guard, but they try to compensate with a devastating inside game. They’re on my list for a very good reason: Senior Kyle Wiltjer, who played two years at UK before transferring. At 6-10, he can nail the three and is one of the nation’s toughest players to guard.

KANSAS. Maybe the Jayhawks will win one for Clyde Lovellette, who died this week. A 6-foot-9 center, he led Kansas to the 1952 title on his way to a long and successful NBA career. The current team has no player as dominant as Lovellette, but it has a couple of veteran leaders, senior Perry Ellis and junior Wayne Selden Jr., who make sure the youngsters understand exactly what Coach Bill Self wants.

KENTUCKY. This is hardly the most talented team of the John Calipari era, but it nevertheless has the nation’s best backcourt in brilliant point guard Tyler Ulis and shooting star Jamal Murray. If 6-foot-11 Skal Labissiere can maintain his late-season improvement, and if senior Alex Poythress shows up ready to play every game, the Wildcats could be knocking on the door of their ninth title. And by the way, I expect the Cats to be playing in the regional in Louisville.

INDIANA. Tom Crean’s teams sometimes seem to peak in late January and look worn out by the time the NCAA tournament starts. But this bunch of overachievers seems to have a lot of good basketball left in them. The surprise regular-season champs of the Big Ten, the Hoosiers let point guard Yogi Ferrell run the show and they love to shoot the three.

LSU. I know, I know. The Tigers might not even make the field. If they do, though, the question will be whether they have enough talent to overcome the coaching of Johnny Jones, who is horrible. I’m picking them because of the recent news that freshman sensation Ben Simmons apparently has, ah, been neglecting his academic work this semester. Wouldn’t it be sweet to see the NCAA have to present the big trophy to a team led by a guy who represents the worst of the one-and-done rule?

MICHIGAN STATE. Tom Izzo doesn’t draw a lot of attention to himself. He doesn’t run up and down the sidelines during games. He doesn’t make outrageous comments. He doesn’t load up on one-and-dones. All he does, year after year, is take hard-working, blue-collar guys and turn them into teams that resemble Ford trucks more than Cadillacs. This year, however, he does have a top-of-the-line star in Denzel Valentine.

NOTRE DAME. Inexplicably, considering all the talent that has come through South End over the years, the Irish have made it to only one Final Four, and that was way back in 1978 when Digger Phelps was sporting long sideburns and leisure suits. But Mike Brey has done such an outstanding job that surely there must be a Final Four out there with his name on it. This could be the one.

VIRGINIA. The Tony Bennett who coaches this team is no kin to the venerable crooner, but the Cavaliers do play a throw-back style that drives opponents mad. Although they have an All-American in Malcolm Brogdon, they are essential an Old School team that depends on a ball-control offense and one of the nation’s best defenses. Their big weakness is that they are so locked into their style that they will have trouble coming back from a big deficit.

This is the best I can do. If Holy Cross can make the field at 14-19, anything can happen. Not that the Crusaders aren’t welcome, of course. They’re one of the former champions in the field, having won the 1947 title behind Bob Cousy, the ball-handling wizard who went on to a long career with the Boston Celtics.

Let the madness begin.

billy-reed

Billy Reed is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame and the Transylvania University Hall of Fame. He has been named Kentucky Sports Writer of the Year eight times and has won the Eclipse Award twice. Reed has written about a multitude of sports events for over four decades, but he is perhaps one of media’s most knowledgeable writers on the Kentucky Derby


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