Sports Editors Wai Sallas (in black text) and Michael Kasdan (in blue text) let you peer into the random workings of their collective minds as they wind their way through a stream of consciousness discussion of NCAA basketball and the upcoming Tournament while touching on various and other sundry matters of great import.
This is the latest edition of our Sports Exchange series, where we compose a sports piece on a topic of interest through a series of email exchanges. (And we give a shout-out to Bill Simmons here for his ‘Curious Guy’ series of email exchanges between he and “successful” and “interesting” people like Malcolm Gladwell. That, in part, served as the inspiration for what you see here. Except instead of emailing someone successful or interesting, I, Wai Sallas, just emailed Mike Kasdan.)
And…away we go!
I promised myself I’d try and be rational, but I’m having a hard time holding it together. My Arizona Wildcats just won the Pac-12 Tournament doubling up their Pac-12 shared regular season championship while avenging the honor of a blowout at the hands of the Cats latest victims, the Oregon Ducks.
Arizona has been here before, as recently as 2 years ago, but this time it’s different. The Wildcats started the year by losing Ray Smith to a career-ending torn ACL, then star guard Allonzo Trier was suspended for unknowingly taking PEDs. (While I’ll usually put quotes in unknowingly, my bias won’t allow it this time) Senior guard Kadeem Allen and point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright both missed games early in the year, but they battled. They fought. Clawed their way to a title. Uh oh, I don’t what’s taken over me, I seem to be channeling the effervescent spirit of Bill Walton…
For so many decades, the majestic black and white panda has been the symbol of wildlife conservation. Panda populations in the wild have risen steadily by 17 percent in the decade up to 2014, when a nationwide census found 1,850 giant pandas in the wild in China. The increase has led to the panda no longer being on the endangered list. Much like these Arizona Wildcats, most of the nation never thought they’d have a chance to be successful this year, but here they are atop the Pac-12 wildlife, shining bright. Black and White Panda, Red and Blue Wildcats, Conference of Champions, breathe it in, exhale it out. Nature at its finest. Sustainability and clean, green energy. Conference of Champions.
Well, that kind of rabid fandom is what March is made for. Though I might remind you that Arizona Basketball has been disappointing fans since the days of Sean Elliot. I remember that year when I was in college that they lost as the #2 seed to Santa Clara and their plucky no-name PG, Steve Nash. And I might be mistaken, but I thought they suffered an early exit last year at the hands of the Wichita State Shockers? (I’m not mistaken. I looked that up before writing that last sentence.)
At any rate, you might want to temper the whole Pac-12 wildlife Panda-Sustainable-Conference of Champions thing, just a touch.
Meanwhile, my Penn Quakers took part in the first ever Ivy Tournament, with a chance to Dance, despite their 13-15 record. We’re a long way from the glory days of Matt Maloney and Jerome Allen. We took Princeton to overtime, but then … lost. So for me, the season is over. I’m done watching.
UM. NO I’M NOT – IT’S MARCH MADNESS!!!
But I do admit that as I’ve grown up, with parenting and work and now this whole political scene taking up so much energy, I am an even less educated fan than usual. Luckily, the more things change, the more they don’t. There are some familiar programs in the upper echelons. Yet again. Does this EVER change?
Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, UNC. Yadda yadda yadda.
But who else could surprise this March??
You have to understand…I grew up in Hawaii. We didn’t have professional teams where we could all root together as a form of civic pride. All we had was the University of Hawaii and they were never winning a national championship. We were just happy when they made it to a bowl game or received an NCAA tournament bid. So to go to the University of Arizona and be a part of a culture that is expected to compete for a national championship in basketball (favorite sport) every year, revel in victories with thousands of alumni and students, yeah, I’m going to be irrational. And no, I will not respond to your cheap shot regarding last year’s team. How dare you.
As for your Penn Quakers, you own the Palestra and no one can ever take that away from you. That is until someone decides to knock it down for something that will make money. Sorry, did that take a turn towards the dark side? It’s hard to stay positive with the cultural landscape.
But for 3 weeks the madness will take hold. Let me rephrase, college basketball madness will take hold. The madness started a long time ago and I don’t see it relenting anytime soon. Dammit, Michael, my mind wants to go on a political tangent but my fingers won’t allow it to.
Ok I’m back. Yes, Duke, UK, KU, UNC are all near the top of the NCAA elites once again, but the great thing about the tournament is you never know. Last year we were treated to the greatest final 10 seconds in a national championship game. You had 15-seed Middle Tennessee State dismantling blue blood Michigan State, 10-seed Syracuse making the Final Four. 10 double-digit seeds made the round of 32. In the immortal words of Kevin Garnett, ‘Anything Is Possible!’
So yeah, the top teams are there, but there’s no one team that has a leg up on the competition. This year’s field has more chances to look like a John Wick battle scene than anything else.
Wait. We have a new gritty slashy Wolverine movie out, and you’re making John Wick references? Sigh.
Speak of sighing, you know what my least favorite part of March Madness is: The ESPN Bracketology-Prognosticator Complex. If I need to listen to Joe Lunardi talk about bubbles and strength of schedule for even one more minute, I might descend into a Logan-like rage.
But that’s not important right now. Let’s get back to business.
You’re right. What has made March Madness great (again?) – can I even say that without going on a Trump bender? – is the rise of the so-called “Mid-Majors.”
It’s that Wichita State can beat…say…Arizona. Oops. I did it again. Bad example. But you get my point.
And then you have Gonzaga. Gonzaga is like what would happen if Cinderella got a permanent fairy Godmother. Bippity Bobbitty Boo. They run with the big boys now.
Who are your favorites to make the big boys sweat?
Just like a Yankee fan to side with the immortal super-hero killing spree than a retired hitman avenging the murder of his puppy given to him by his dead wife by a Russian mobster with possible ties to Donald Trump, allegedly. John Wick the ultimate nobody believes in me/I’ve been retired that people forgot how dangerous I really am/will not be denied protagonist an every-man like myself can get behind.
John Wick is the Mid-Majors! Going against impossible odds, to the death!
(editors note: Wai halted his John Wick rant due to the Selection Sunday broadcast)
And we’re back…
So, who do I like? Who’s the school that people will underestimate until they get a kick to the crotch and a bullet to the brain–metaphorically speaking? I mentioned Middle Tennessee State’s victory over Michigan State last year. They’re back this year and a 12-seed. Rule number 1 of March Madness is always select a 12-seed. Looking at their bracket the Blue Raiders could make it to the Sweet 16 this year. Biggest upset? I like New Mexico State taking down Baylor who has lost 4 out of its last 7 and always underperforms in the tournament. Some other lower seeds I like: Dayton/Witchita State possibly knocking off Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Vermont!
(cough) Bear Down (cough)
Vegas oddsmakers have Duke as the odds-on favorite to win it. But since when has Vegas ever pre- well…maybe I will go with Duke in one of my brackets.
Though it’s really hard to root for the shooter guy who is this team’s Christian Letter type. You know, the guy who trips people?
So maybe not.
I’ll be scanning the bracket this aim for slipper-worthy teams. My formula: defense + experienced guard play + grit + one transcendent college player (think Stef Curry’s Davidson squad).
2 years ago, I did a “5 Quick Tips to Win Your NCAA Tournament Pool” post and nailed down some winners; Pick Blue to win it all (Duke), I picked top seed Villanova to lose in the second round, I also said Wichita State was a sleeper, and they knocked off Kansas on its way to the Sweet 16. So I’d like to say I pride myself on my intimate knowledge of the NCAA tournament. (editor’s note: He also said “don’t pick duke”, so there’s that) I will not pick Duke. I know they’re as hot as a jackalobe cruising the sonoran desert at high noon, but there are too many inconsistencies with this team. Before the tournament started the Blue Devils had lost 3 of their last 4. In the ACC tournament, they won all 4 games by a combined 27 points with 10 of those coming against North Carolina in the semifinals. I will say that the committee has blessed them with a path paved in unicorns and shamrocks and I see them making another Final Four, beating Villanova in the Elite 8.
In the other regions, I like Kanas in the midwest, but don’t be surprised if Oregon ends up in Glendale. In the South, I like North Carolina but easily think UCLA could take the region, and in the West, give me my Wildcats of Arizona.
Do I think, 3 Pac-12 schools could make the Final Four? Absolutely. Will it happen? Probably not, but that’s what makes this so crazy man.
As for sleepers, I like what you’ve picked as your formula. I envision you during Snowpocalypse 2017 staring at a chalkboard–because you’re old school like that–putting together formulas and algorithms while 68 teams, mascots, and gritty guards dance in and out of your head like Oompa Loompas getting ready for their next musical number. For me, I want an experienced team, with NBA talent and confidence from barely losing all season.
In the East, I like 12-seed UNC-Wilmington and 13-seed New Mexico State. In the Midwest, I like Rhode Island to win a game or two, maybe even give Nevada a puncher’s chance against Purdue. Down South, I really like Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders did it last year and Minnesota is highly overrated by the committee. Also, watch out for the winner of Wichita State/Dayton possibly upsetting Kentucky in the round of 32. In the West, no real double-digit seeds, but I do think Notre Dame makes the Elite Eight again.
Hey, Michael, just in case you were wondering, me and the wife are going hiking tomorrow morning in the mountains of Southern California overlooking the ocean and the city. Supposed to be around 70 degrees so I’ll be sure to bring a sweater.
I’m sitting here during SnowPocolypse 2017 in a hooded sweatshirt, sipping hot cocoa and eating a hearty home-cooked beef stew, watching a mixture of The Mummy, the original X-Men, and the Food Network, all the while “working from home” and marveling at how we only got about 6-8 inches, after being promised nearly 24 inches (That’s What She Said!).
But unfortunately I am without a single chalkboard.
I fully realize that this is not an exercise in which superior information and algorithms win. We all know that Janice from Accounting Who Just Picked The Teams That Sounded Good always wins the Office Pool. Therefore, given my relative lack of overall college basketball knowledge this season, I’m feeling pretty good about my chances.
I like Villanova to come out of the East, Gonzaga to justify their No. 1 seed, beat back the competition, and come out of the West, Oregon out of the MidWest (If it quacks like a Duck…), and UCLA out of the South. UCLA always disappoints, and I probably should have picked Kentucky, but I do love that high-octane offense and would love to see Lonzo Ball lead them deep into the tourney.
As for Sleepers, I like SMU to make some noise in the East and to take down Duke, Notre Dame into the Elite Eight before succumbing to the Zags, and will hop on the Middle Tennessee State bandwagon as a 12-5 first round upset.
Now that we’ve made our predictions, let’s sit back and enjoy. And after the champion is crowded and the nets are cut, we can check back in and see how we did. JUST KIDDING! Everyone knows that none of these talking heads actually circle back to see how accurate their picks were!
Now, Let’s Dance.
Photo credit: John Locher/AP