Finally, gracefully, NCAA tournament week has descended upon millions of easily distracted Americans like a powerful swell.
Anyone with any meaningful objectives that need to be completed over the next few weeks will have a heart wrenching choice to make. Teachers will have an (even) smaller attentive audience, bosses will cruise around offices slapping wrists and thousands of trees will be unceremoniously demolished to print millions of brackets that will eventually be butchered in every way imaginable by overzealous armchair hoops gurus. Yes, tournament time is upon us, and it remains the most engrossing time of year for anyone with an athletic pulse. Even those who otherwise have no business in the world of sports betting fork over low denominations of legal tender in the hope of catching the wave that sweeps so many others off towards the shores of hope, and, in time, despair.
When all eliminations have been completed, the winners circle for triumphant prophets encompasses about as much space as the rectangle at the center of every bracket. In other words, there will be precious few who succeed at bringing home the cash and inflated ego that are packaged with compiling the most virtual points during March. Everyone will, however, share in the knowledge and glory of new discoveries made along the road to Atlanta.
Every year the media is obliged to present sensational stories that will ensnare frustrated Americans on the verge of unplugging their televisions until baseball season. And so we have the VCUs, the Saint Louises, the Jimmer Fredettes. Here is my shot at pinning down five storylines that could become imperative water cooler lore after initial rounds of play.
1. Sim Bhullar
If you happen to be one of the few New Mexico State Aggie faithful in our nation, you may also have wondered why 7’5 355 pound center Sim Bhullar hasn’t received any national buzz. Yes, this article has been edited, the numbers are correct. Bhullar put up 10.2 points and 6.5 rebounds during his freshman campaign and has upped his game to the tune of 10 boards and 12.3 points during the WAC tournament. March Madness hasn’t seen this kind of height/weight combination since Omar Samhan, who’s image peaked during his own run in March at Saint Mary’s. If New Mexico State can pull off a first round upset against Saint Louis (which I highly doubt) then look for Bhullar’s name to surface in a big way.
2. Mike Muscala
Small conference or not, Muscala has been doing it the right way for the Bison since he walked onto the campus at Bucknell. Muscala started with a line of 9.9 points and 4.9 rebounds his freshman year and has increased those numbers in every consecutive campaign until now, a time that has witnessed Muscala take command of many a Patriot League tilt behind 19 points, 2.4 blocks and 11.2 boards per contest. Muscala is the type of four-year grinder that gets eaten up by the media almost yearly. Bucknell just needs to slip past Butler in the round of 64 to bring Muscala’s name to prominence.
3. Oregon Ducks
Undervalued, overachieving, well-rounded, disrespected. All of these words are tucked under Oregon’s beaks as they gear up for their 5/12 match up after taking home the Pac-12 tournament crown. The catch, for those that haven’t already heard, is that the Ducks are facing an uphill battle, the 12 seed despite taking all challengers in a conference that saw five teams recognized by the selection committee. Oregon was a pleasant surprise this year, starting off the season unranked and being picked seventh in the Pac-12 preseason poll only to finish with an RPI of 46 and a BPI of 33. Oregon has media darling written all over it as the Rodney Dangerfield of collegiate hoops.
Going out on somewhat of a limb, I have a good feeling about the Wildcats pulling off a 14 over three upset against an overachieving Marquette team later this week. Any team with a similarly low seed would turn some heads with a victory, but Davidson will come branded with extra Cinderella appeal thanks to the Steph Curry era Elite Eight run in 2009. Everyone loves a good comparison, and even if this year’s Davidson team only vaguely resembles the previous one there will still be plenty of pundits eager to shoehorn the both into the perfect feel good column.
5. Jay Bilas Memes
“Clearly, this year’s selection process had less to do with who you beat than who you didn’t.” – Jay Bilas
“Clearly, this year’s selection process had more to do with who you didn’t beat than who you did.”- Jay Bilas, 30 seconds later
I’m normally a big fan of the Bilastrator. He’s an intelligent, well spoken basketball analyst who I recently learned is a licensed lawyer when not working for ESPN. There aren’t many individuals involved with sports that are as worldly and well-rounded as Bilas, but that didn’t stop him from rattling off ten variations of the above quotation during a two-hour Bracketology special. If he keeps spinning the same complaint over the next few days, there will be others who will decide they have had enough. #BarkatBilas may take on a much more sinister meaning if he fails to rally behind a more positive tagline.