This year, yes, this year, 2013, would be MY year.
2011 was supposed to be my year, once upon a time. But then Louisville lost in the Round of 64 instead of the Final Four and all of my other Elite Eight teams were heartbreakingly slaughtered to rest before they could complete their circuit through my bracket.
2012 was the year that I came in knowledgeable; I studied, read and projected my way through the entire month of February with a fervor. I knew that I had to adapt and learn from previous mistakes; I made sure that Louisville got bounced early and selected teams like Missouri to make their way to the final games with good guard play and positive momentum. Once again I was pommeled in the early rounds. I probably still owe Anthony Davis and the rest of last year’s Kentucky team a muffin basket, they were the only reason that I finished in the top half of my pool.
And so I lamented, and I agonized, and I cursed the NCAA and its’ addictive 64-team pit of despair. And then I healed. And I started watching again this year after football season ended, intent on filling my mind with as many odds and ends as I could in advance of Selection Sunday. Because 2013, a year that the Mayans didn’t even project to exist, would be the year that I projected 63 games correctly and made history. March Madness is infectious, but whether the hysteria is harmless or deeply sinister remains to be seen.
Never has there been a single day that I have been as thoroughly dominated by defeat as the 21st of March, 2013. Thankfully, none of the losses have had many far-reaching implications (15 of my sweet 16 remain) but I will still rightfully endure the brunt of pessimistic speculation by friends who have patiently listened to me impart “valuable” tournament wisdom over the last few weeks.
I can only hope that, however slowly, I am beginning to decipher the NCAA’s encyclopedia of secrets, but apparently I didn’t reach the page on deceptive mid-majors. I selected four such small conference dandies to triumph over their over hyped paper tigers of opponents. If you tuned into the tournament today, you might have noticed that there haven’t been many upsets taking place. The only true upset that has occurred as of the writing of this article was orchestrated by Oregon, who no one could mistake as an under the radar selection after taking home the Pac-12 title. By process of elimination, that leaves me with a crop of losers, some of whom lost less dubiously than others, but losers nonetheless. Add in repeated heartbreak and a dense package of remorse and you realize that Mid Majors are truly the gift from hell that keeps on giving.
Here’s a game by game breakdown of what transpired with each of my upset predictions for today.
Disappointment #1: Bucknell
I made my way to a local restaurant with some friends to catch the second half of Bucknell’s battle against former bracket buster Butler touting the merits of insatiable beast known as the Muscala Monster. Who wouldn’t love a 6’11” center who put up 19 points and 11 boards per game flanked by two guards who shot 39% from behind the arc? And Butler? Sure, there was some good history under Brad Stevens, but this year’s team was one of his least talented yet, when they went cold they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. Bucknell did give Butler a run, going up by as many as six points in the second half, but when it counted Rotnei Clark and Co. stepped up in a big way and delivered the inaugural kick to my bracket’s integrity.
Disappointment #2: Davidson
This one was flat-out ridiculous. People always mention the basketball gods in passing, and I would like some answers about Davidson vs. Marquette if they really do exist. Davidson, a team that shoots the ball exceptionally well from the perimeter and also has the size to compete inside, does nearly everything right against an overachieving and dreadful long-range shooting Marquette team and still manages to lose. Davidson battled all the way through until they were able to secure a nine-point lead with less than five minutes remaining, at which point the game essentially came down to making free throws. Did Davidson crumble under the pressure at the end of the big game? Nope, Davidson made nearly all of their attempts from the charity stripe in crunch time. Their completely logical undoing came from three consecutive three-point field goals from a team that shot 4-15 from beyond the arc for the day, a panic induced turnover, and a nearly uncontested last second lay-up. Davidson deserved this one in every sense of the word. Sure, they crumbled a bit in the final minutes, but Marquette, or any other 3 seed for that matter, had no business being that clutch out of nowhere.
Disappointment #3: South Dakota State
I admit, this pick mainly dealt in comparisons. I reasoned that since Nate Wolters almost singlehandedly beat down a Baylor team that made the Elite Eight last year and Michigan had lost to an Ohio squad with a similarly dazzling guard named D.J. Cooper, the obvious recipe for an upset had been cooking for over a year. One of my greatest faults in sports is relying on comparisons as evidence. A good comparison works in many places, but not on a basketball court where thousands of unspoken variables change daily to influence a game. Wolters went cold and the Wolverines thoroughly outplayed the Jackrabbits. This one was over as soon as both teams came back out onto the floor to start the second half.
Disappointment #4: Belmont
Oh, how the Bruins lure stat junkies onto the band wagon. Every year Belmont is the can’t-miss upset team that shoots the lights out and sends the other team into fits on the defensive end. The 2013 Belmont squad even had an added bonus; star power to the tune of Ian Clark’s 18 points per game. Inversely, Arizona was trending in the wrong direction, having split their last twelve games. Which is why Arizona rolled onto the floor and played a sound 40 minutes against a (should have been) predictably disappointing Belmont effort that yielded 64 points on 29.6% shooting from behind the three-point stripe. This marks the second straight year that Belmont chipped in to bust my bracket, but are they really to blame?
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Oh, shame on me. Hey, I’m already hearing that 2014 may be the year of the perfect bracket. Keep your head up sports fans.