Sing it with me… It’s, the most wonderful time, of the year!
And a Happy Monday boys and girls, and welcome to a college basketball fan’s version of Christmas. Last night was Selection Sunday, when the 68 teams comprising this year’s NCAA Tournament were announced.
As usual, there was controversy over who got in (Tulsa? Syracuse?) and who got snubbed (Monmouth and St. Bonaventure have 100 percent legitimate gripes), but we’ll forget about that in a day or two once the games start.
As always, yours truly is here to help you break down the bracket and maybe win your office pool; finally last year after many years of finishing badly, I won an office pool for the first time. Which means I’ll probably finish 28th this year 🙂
I won’t give you my Final Four picks until Wednesday, not out of any sense of drama but because I like to take a few days to decide.
But I have lots of first-look thoughts on the bracket, and the Selection show.
— First of all, screw you, CBS, for taking a perfectly wonderful show and process and messing it up. They stretched the bracket selection show to two hours this year, and took forever in unveiling the teams and matchups. Happily, this awful experiment likely won’t be repeated, since someone on Twitter leaked the complete and accurate bracket about 30 minutes in. Gotta love the Internet.
— Toughest region to me looks like the South. Kansas is the No.1 overall seed, but they’ve got to deal with Villanova, Cal, Maryland and a very good Miami team. Brutal. The East is no picnic, either, for top seed UNC.
— Easiest region looks like the West. I know Oregon’s on a big winning streak, but I’m not sure they deserve a No.1 seed from a league that wasn’t great. Oklahoma has struggled, my Duke team isn’t playing great, and the No. 3 seed, Texas A&M, has had a breakthrough year but has little Tournament success in recent years. That region is wide open.
— Forgetting about the horrific snubs the Committee made (there are bad snubs every year), I thought the seeding was pretty strong. Maryland should’ve been higher than a 5 seed, and I think Iowa State got a very generous 4 seed, and I think Michigan State and star Denzel Valentine (that’s him, above) should’ve gotten a 1 seed, but nothing too egregious.
— I don’t expect much out of my Duke Blue Devils this year, but I’m a little torn on their first-round matchup against UNC-Wilmington. I lived in Wilmington for three years in the late 1990s when I worked for the Star-News and covered many of their games, so I still have a little soft spot for them. Lot of great friends I made then are still pals today. Still, I think Duke wins and then falls to a big, strong Baylor team in Round 2.
— Every year I hope and pray for a 16 seed to beat a 1 seed for the first time ever. I don’t see any 16’s capable this year, but Hampton might be able to give Virginia a game.
— As always, there are some fabulous possible 2nd-round matchups: Cal vs. Maryland would be superb, as would Kentucky-Indiana, and in a matchup destined to get huge ratings in Philly, Villanova could play St. Joseph’s.
— Looking for sleepers? Of course you are. I like Stephen F. Austin to upset West Virginia, I like Northern Iowa to maybe win two games, and watch out for Iona, they’ve got some solid NBA-level players and could absolutely beat Iowa State.
**Finally today, Saturday night my wife and I got to experience one of the highlights of our year, every year: I’ve written in this space several times before about the incredible organization called The Friends of Jaclyn, a group that pairs up children suffering from pediatric brain tumors with college sports teams across the U.S. It’s a wonderful charity filled with warm, loving people like the Murphy family (above), whose daughter Jaclyn is the namesake of the organization.
Saturday night, in front of hundreds of guests, we heard from children who’ve been fighting tumors from years, like the very brave Andrea Wojciechowski; from coaches who movingly talked about how the adoption process has changed the lives of their teams, and from the indefatigable Denis Murphy, Jaclyn’s Dad and the emotional heartbeat of FOJ.
FOJ is a wonderful, life-changing organization, and I couldn’t be prouder to support them with our time and money. Led by the fantastic, warm-hearted Executive Director Erin Perkins, FOJ has given hundreds of children happy experiences in times of such stress and pain, and seeing so many smiling faces Saturday night made me realize even more how important their mission is.
I wouldn’t ever tell my readers how to spend their money, but if you’re interested in helping FOJ or learning more about them, click here.