March 16, 2015

Our 'Expert' Advice on How to Win Your NCAA Tournament Office Pool

Can J.J. Frazier and Georgia be this year's Princess Elsa?

Someone at work is likely haranguing you about joining his NCAA tournament pool. Every office has That Guy. At Flagpole, that guy is me, City Editor Blake Aued, the kind of guy who stays in and stays up late to watch crappy West Coast games on ESPN when he should be at the Little Kings dance party like everybody else.

Odds are you don't really care about college basketball, but your annoying co-worker isn't taking no for an answer, and if you're going to fill out a bracket, you might as well try to win the prize money, right? We're here to help! ("We" being me, Music Editor Gabe Vodicka and Flagpole contributor Cy Brown, a sportswriter who actually knows what he's talking about.) As usual, we made up some questions and answered them, which is something we really ought to talk to our therapist about.

Who’s going to win this thing?

Blake Aued: Undefeated Kentucky has at least eight future NBA players, most of them taller than anyone you've ever seen outside of a Tom Visions show. They're the obvious choice. There's one problem: They can't shoot. Mitch McConnell has a better chance of getting a bill signed by the president than starting guards/twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison have of making a jump shot. The Wildcats blew out the likes of North Carolina and Kansas, but several lesser opponents have played them close, too.


Photo Credit: Blake Aued

Local celebrity Tom Visions (left) with Flagpole's 6-foot-4 music editor, Gabe Vodicka.

Cy Brown: It's ludicrous to pick any team besides Kentucky, a team with so much talent that head coach John Calipari has eschewed a traditional one-in-one-out substitution strategy for one with full platoon shifts, à la hockey. Do you know why he can do this? Because, regardless of which players he puts on the court, they will be better than their opposition. He could draw five names out of a hat, throw those guys on the floor, and they'd still dominate whatever scrubs find themselves unlucky enough to pretend they have a chance of winning.

Gabe Vodicka: Kentucky is terrifying. All their players are 1,000 feet tall, give or take a few inches. Said players have incredible names like Willie Cauley-Stein. That guy pulls down alley-oops from outer space and will dunk on your ass from half-court. Calipari is terrifying, too. Maybe because his name reminds me of “Caligari,” like that old silent horror movie. Also, “calamari,” which I do not care for.

Can anybody beat Kentucky?

BA: Wisconsin is everything awful about Big 10 basketball: the asshole coach, the boring Hoosiers-era offense, SO MANY WHITE GUYS. However, they have Frank "The Tank" Kaminsky, a Twitter master whose inside/outside game gives opposing big men fits. Plus, forward Sam Dekker's hair is what would happen if Morrissey joined the Marines. Virginia can hang with the Big Blue, at least defensively. Arizona is super-athletic, if not very deep. Duke has the nation's best player in freshman center Jahlil Okafor. (Remember, though, the downside of betting on the Blue Devils is you have to root for the Blue Devils.)

CB: Can I win the lottery today? Yes, I can, but there's no way in hell it's going to happen. As I mentioned before, the talent level of Kentucky is just at another level than most teams in the tournament. Think about that last game between UGA and Kentucky. The Dawgs were the better team for 35 minutes of that game. Then, in the final five minutes, Kentucky up and decided they'd like to keep hold of their undefeated record. So they did just that, and they didn't break a sweat. The only teams that are strong enough to beat them would face the ‘Cats late in the tourney, at which point Kentucky's momentum should carry them to the title.

GV: I like Duke. I mean, I hate Duke. But I think Duke could beat Kentucky, based solely on the one-and-a-half Duke games I watched this season. Also, I hear Virginia is good.

I'm supposed to pick upsets, right? What are you upset about?

BA: All those 5–12, 6–11, 7–10 and 8–9 matches are basically tossups. When picking upsets, I always look for teams with great upperclassmen guards and/or who got hot late in the season, like last year's champs, Shabazz Napier and UConn. But honestly, you might as well pick the team with the prettier uniforms or cooler mascot. (This could finally be the Wofford Terriers' year!) Stephen F. Austin is a good bet to off Utah, and Georgia State has a trio of star guards in R.J. Hunter, Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow and Louisville transfer Kevin Ware (he of the horrific leg injury in 2013; seriously, don’t click on this link.) In the later rounds, I like Arkansas to maybe make a deep run—the SEC is as underrated in basketball as it is overrated in football—and never underestimate Tom H-to-the-Izzo's Michigan State squad, led by Lourawls Nairn Jr., come tournament time. Gonzaga (whose best player, Kyle Wiltjer, was a Kentucky benchwarmer two years ago) is the high seed likeliest to go home early.

CB: The No. 2 seeded Virginia Cavaliers are a team I could see losing by the Sweet 16. The Cavs are the regular season ACC champs at 29-3, with a (well-deserved) reputation as one of the best defensive teams in the nation. They have had trouble scoring at times, though, especially since star Justin Anderson’s injury. While their staunch defense may be enough to keep them in play, if they run into an offensive slump, it only takes the smallest of mistakes to lose in the tourney. A poor night shooting in the early rounds could be Virginia's downfall.

GV: When in doubt, pick the upset. Upsets are great and make you look like a genius (ya bracketologist, ya!). The only time an NCAA upset sucks is when it’s an established powerhouse having a slightly subpar year doing the “upsetting.” UConn? God, that was boring. Kill me if Indiana is this year’s Cinderella. Honestly, though, I think this might finally be the tourney where a 16-seed trumps a 1. Besides Kentucky, all the top dogs look potentially vulnerable. Me, I’m going with the Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina over Wisconsin for the first-round fireworks.

Does Georgia have any chance?

BA: Georgia started the year as national title contenders, but after a series of sloppy losses… oh, wait, I forgot, we're not talking about football. Yes, the Dawgs, despite lacking a basketball pedigree, are just the type of team that could surprise people. They're not the most talented, but they're experienced and physical, and Coach Mark Fox can out-fox the competition.

If sharpshooting point guard J.J. Frazier gets hot, look out.

CB: Uh, no. Look, making it to the tournament is a huge—and necessary—step for Fox and his crew, but let's have realistic expectations. This is not a very good basketball team. It's an OK basketball team that can sometimes play above its punching weight and sometimes play far, far below it. The Dawgs' best wins are against a fairly comparable Ole Miss team, while they have plenty of head-shakers in the loss column, including two against a bad South Carolina team. So, don't worry, football fans—you'll only have to pay attention to one more loss before you can put all your focus into spring practice.


GV: Does Nemi Djurisic’s father have the finest head of hair in all of Montenegro?