Maybe there’s something in the air, I don’t know (in related news, maybe it’s the same something that has made me cough nonstop for the last eight days). But today, more than any other day, it seems like people have lost their collective minds. I have been hosting Community Trust Bank Sunday Morning Sports Talk for a little over five years now, I don’t remember ever having been as frustrated as I was leaving the studio today.
The frustration started almost as soon as I got in, well before the show started. I went to grab the Herald-Leader sports page (I think their sports team does a great job, for the record) and accidentally caught a glimpse of this morning’s Joel Pett cartoon. The cartoon depicts two homeless men with a copy of the “Herald-Cheerleader” announcing the upcoming $110 million Commonwealth Stadium renovation with pictures of UK President Eli Capilouto and Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart. One of the men says to the other “And people think WE’RE out of our minds.” Pett’s tie of the renovation money to homelessness is at best misinformed and is at worst – and likely – intentionally misleading.
The money being used to renovate Commonwealth Stadium is bonded by the University of Kentucky Athletics Association and will be repaid by the Association out of revenue and donations. No tax money is involved. No services are being threatened. Kentucky athletics is borrowing money to improve its facilities and improve its product. Since UK Athletics is in the business of fielding athletic teams, that makes them only about the billionth business on earth to borrow money to make improvements – nothing more, nothing less. Although in this case, UK athletics will also be paying for $65 million dollars of the construction cost of a new science building as well.
While I wasn’t surprised by the Pett cartoon – he’s made a cottage industry out of making a fool of himself – I was surprised that the angst over the stadium renovations extended to apparently a fair number of the fan base, based on calls and e-mails to today’s show.
The biggest concern seemed to be that the renovations don’t do enough for the fan, while the price of admission is likely to go up. Here, there are two important things to remember:
1) The greatest possible benefit to the fan is to improve the product on the field. THAT should always be the overriding goal of any money the athletics department spends. The average UK fan has NO IDEA how the new softball stadium and the new soccer stadium have improved the fan experience. My guess it that the fan impact of those projects is not significant. What is significant is that they are expected to benefit the teams’ preparation and performance and make the teams more attractive to potential players. The same can be said for the Commonwealth Stadium upgrades. Frankly, I’m not sure what more fans want out of the upgrade beyond the better bathrooms, wider concourses and increased concessions. What were you expecting?
2) The price will go up. And it has to. In the college football world, Kentucky has been practically giving away tickets to games. In the college football world, Kentucky fans have largely gotten what they paid for.
As of 2012 (the most recent numbers I could find between coughs) Kentucky spent the second least on football in the best football conference in America. That ain’t going to cut it. Certainly the numbers have risen since the Mark Stoops hire, but as of 2012, Kentucky spent $25 million less on football than Auburn. TWENTY-FIVE! It was $18 million less than Alabama. So, Big Blue Nation, here are your options. You can either demand that Kentucky play competitive football or you can demand that they continue to play football on the cheap. You can’t demand both. For years, Kentucky football faithful carried on about the need for a recruiting room. That recruiting room is included in the upcoming renovations. That recruiting room costs money. The renovations will include an improved locker room for the team. Have you seen the locker rooms at some of the power teams in college football? No? Well here’s Alabama’s locker room.
Oh and here’s Oregon’s locker room.
Should kids be swayed to come to your school because of a snazzy locker room? Maybe not, but you know who plays college football? Teenagers, mostly. You know what impresses teenagers? Cool stuff. Cool stuff costs money.
Cats fans have demanded that UK try to play with the big boys on the gridiron. They appear to be poised to make that effort. And STILL UK fans complain about that effort.
Despite my surprise at the negative reaction to the stadium upgrades it wasn’t close to the most shocking part of the show. That came when a caller said that we should start looking now for a new coach. Seriously. That happened.
Mark Stoops has been on the job for slightly less than a year. He inherited a program that was at one of the lowest points in a school history filled with low points. He inherited a roster without a clear quarterback and that was – as the lament went last year – devoid of playmakers on offense. In less than two months on the job he produced one of the highest ranked football recruiting classes in school history. Before this season started, he had garnered commitments from players in a recruiting class that would eclipse that first one. He had successfully recruited one of the two best players in the state in Drew Barker and was still very much in the hunt for Defensive Lineman Matt Elam who is the other one, as evidenced by this tweet on Sunday:
— Matt Elam™6⃣9⃣ (@FballIsLife69) December 1, 2013
Players who would have never have considered Kentucky before were getting in line to play in Lexington based on a promise of better days (and not coincidentally better facilities) to come.
Beyond the recruiting, despite a 2-10 record identical to last year’s, the product on the field was demonstrably better. A defense that had looked confused in 2012 and was relentlessly shredded looked more organized, tougher and kept teams in games. Offensively, the numbers weren’t what UK fans had hoped for with the return of the “Air Raid” offense – an offense that Kentucky couldn’t truly run this season. But on offense Kentucky did show that it had players from that first Stoops recruiting class that had the kind of explosive potential that left Lexington with Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke.
This program didn’t get broken in a year and it wasn’t going to be fixed in a year. If you’re already bailing on this coaching staff, feel free to stay bailed.
In addition to having the opportunity to host Sunday Morning Sports Talk, I have been a season ticket holder for the past three seasons. I have greatly enjoyed having the opportunity to share time with my family at games. Am I concerned that the process of strengthening Kentucky football will price me out of that time? Absolutely, I am. If in the coming year or two years, I have to make a decision that we can no longer do that, I will miss the experience, losses and everything. However, as a UK fan, I am much more concerned about Kentucky fielding a football team the entire Commonwealth can be proud of than I am about whether I watch that team from the stadium or from my couch.
On a sweltering July 4 morning in 1986, an already out of shape and well past his prime 17-year-old former cross country runner struggled through four miles in his Northern Kentucky town’s little Independence Day race. He wobbled home about four minutes slower than he had finished the same race over the same route two years before. So ended his – my – running career. Well, at least until tonight.
After a couple of false starts, Community Trust Bank Sunday Morning Sports Talk co-host Larry Vaught has finally roped me into a 5k, and I managed to be in reasonable shape and haven’t hurt myself long enough to actually run it. So I’ll be in Danville tonight taking part in the Pigskin Classic Twilight 5k. I’ll be running in a challenge with Larry, Ryan Lemond of Kentucky Sports Radio, Amanda Lemond and Jen Maggard (the wife of former UK quarterback Freddie Maggard. At one point it was supposed to be me and Jen versus Larry and Amanda, but when Ryan agreed to get involved, I think it became all of us against him. And that will be the extent of my “racing” tonight. Unlike the cross country days, I am nowhere near fast enough to win anything (although after turning 45 last month, I will be one of the youngest people in my age bracket, so there’s always a chance for that, I guess).
While tonight will be my first race in a long, long time, it won’t be my first run. It actually falls 10 months almost to the day after I hit the road again for the first time in a couple of years (a previous effort ended in a fall, ER visit and hip injury). I started running not because I love the idea of exercise (I decidedly do not) or on some sort of journey of self discovery (although as journeys of self-discoveries go, this one is touching, funny and involves Godzilla. I highly recommend it.)
I started running again in October because one day I thought I was going to die. Sitting at my desk I heard and felt three big pulses in my left temple and heard and felt a little snap. The only other person I knew of who had reported such a sensation passed away from an aneurysm, so we rolled off to the hospital. Clearly I didn’t die and the hospital trip resulted in STILL not knowing what had caused the sensation, but after years of being at least a little (maybe more than a little) overweight and having some high-ish blood pressure issues, it seemed like as good a time as any to start taking it seriously. The next Sunday following the show, I started a Couch to 5k program.
To be clear, I HATED running, even when I was young, in shape and good at it. I didn’t imagine I’d like it any better now that I was older, heavier and slower. But since I despise all forms of exercise equally and running was the one I knew and that I thought I could at least see progress with, that’s what I went with. And a funny thing happened. As I started to lose weight and started to see some improvements in distance and speed, I started to enjoy running, really for the first time in my life. The 45 minutes or so three or four times a week where I was unable to read text messages, or e-mail, or twitter or even answer my phone became some of the best, most relaxing times of my week. So I was able to continue. In fact, in the stretches where I haven’t had time to or been able to run, I’ve missed it.
So tonight, nearly 25 pounds lighter than I was in October and without the dizzy spells that marked the blood pressure problems, I will take my first “competitive” strides in more than 26 years. Certainly I hope I beat Larry and Ryan, but more importantly I’ll be in better shape than I was in at 35 and probably at 30. I feel better on a daily basis than I have in years. I’ll be pretty close to as fast as I was that July 4 in 1986. And even if they beat me; I’ll tie up my shoes and run again on Monday and start looking for my next 5k.
If you happen to be in the Danville area tonight or if you feel like coming down, we’d love to see you. The race starts at 9 and will begin and end in the Danville Admirals’ football stadium, so you can be in the stands to see who wins the old-guy radio running challenge. Be forewarned: I’m more than a little nervous about this, so if you say hello before the race I may throw up on you. After the race you can say hello to a tired, sweaty and quite possibly humiliated version of me. In that sense it will be a lot like meeting me right after the show.
Wish me luck.
Fashion Note: I will be running tonight it a custom-designed Kentucky Catnados t-shirt provided by show listener The Rally Cat. It’s pretty spectacular. Thanks to him for sending it along.
This has to be some kind of record even for me. Andrew Wiggins (the next, LeBron, Jordan, Magic, whoever was Magic before Magic) is a little over 12 hours from announcing which college that he probably really doesn’t want to and shouldn’t have to go to that he will attend for a year or so, and I’m already disgusted by the reaction to it.
To be fair – to me and to the reaction – much like Wiggins’ prolonged decision-making process, the reaction to it is sort of an ongoing entity.
There have been fans who have been upset that he’s drawn the process out for so long, claiming that he’s seeking publicity. God forbid the guy make a thoughtful, rational decision about where he wants to spend his college season and wait until he’s sure.
In the lead up to Wiggins’ announcement every man, woman, child, puppy, badger and hedgehog who covers recruiting – whether on the internet, stone tablets, papyrus or smoke signals has been harassed nearly to the point of retirement with the “Where will Wiggins go?” question. It has been a months-long study in whether or not “I don’t know” really means “I don’t know.”
Once upon a time people complained about high school athletes turning their announcements into massive media events. Now that there’s a cable channel in ESPNU that dedicates a fair portion of its time to helping make these announcements massive media events, the tide seems to have turned. Today I saw Wiggins referred to as a “diva” for making his announcement privately, among family friends and coaches with one print and one TV reporter on hand to chronicle the event.
Moral of the story: No matter which way these kids decide to go, it won’t be good enough for somebody who somehow feels entitled to their decision.
And once Wiggins’ decision hits the airwaves, Twitterverse and wherever else, some set or sets of inexplicably aggrieved fans will take to those same channels and blast the kid. Some of what is said to and about him will be the vilest material you will ever wish you had never read. Sure, Herald-Leader columnist Mark Story has hoped out loud that that won’t happen. That’s what I really like about Mark, he hopes for the good in people. Unfortunately we all know that masses of those people will let him down.
This is what happens when we become obsessed with the decision making of 18 year olds; when we get so wrapped up in the process that they go through to make what may very well be the first major decision of their lives, that we lose all sense of reason, of decency and of civility.
The response has become all too common as fans who were once interested in the scores of actual games, have become increasingly concerned about teenagers who may never play for their team.
I’m not sure when it became this way. I guess somewhere at the conflux of the internet age and the social media boom. The first three high school players I ever remember caring about where they went to college were Dicky Beal and Troy McKinley (Kentucky) and Doug Schloemer (Cincinnati) – all northern Kentucky guys. And even if I had been disappointed in their decisions, I had no way to tell them how angry I was at them. Well, I could have told Schloemer since he played pickup basketball sometimes at a house up the street from me, but I wouldn’t have – and not just because he was bigger and older than me and could shave, but because I didn’t have a say in where he went. Well, that and because he was bigger and older than me and had to shave.
To be clear, I don’t blame the recruiting reporters and the recruiting Web sites for any of this. I respect the work they do, and those guys work their tails off. One of the many things that has made this country great is that if there is a way to make money, somebody can and will make it. I’ll never fault anybody for that, but you can’t say that their proliferation – coupled with the direct access to athletes that social media provides — has been good for us as sports fans.
First of all, it’s turned us into people who never seem to care enough about today, about this game. No sooner had Kentucky won the 2012 National Championship (and in some cases before then), people were talking about the next recruiting class coming in and the chance to win a ninth. And no matter how the last UK season went (ending with a loss in the NIT for those of you who have wiped it from your memories), people were talking about No. 9 again with another round of recruits even before those recruits arrived on campus. Second, it’s turned some of us into monsters, hiding behind screen names and false identities to spew venom at a teenager who had the gall to go to school wherever he wanted.
I’m not sure what the answer is for guys like Wiggins – athletes who live in the public eye at a young age, occasionally reluctantly. I’ve heard it said that he sought all this out. How, exactly? By being good at something? Because he can play basketball better than anybody else his age, that gives college basketball fans a reason to be bothered by a choice he makes? Is it because he plays games on national TV? So should he turn down the chance to play in the All-Star games? Turn down the opportunity to make the most of his abilities in exchange for the chance to not get hassled? How does that make sense?
I will say this; were I Wiggins’ parents (which as far as I know I am not) I would have him shut off his Twitter, his Facebook (if he has one) and whatever other outlet people have to be directly obnoxious to him. No good can come of reading any of that. Of course, that’s unfair to him. I’m sure his friends have those things. Twitter and Facebook are kind of cool, lots of kids have them and I’m sure he’d love to have those options, but in the modern sports world, the tradeoff for his talent is apparently not being able to do many of the things his less sports-talented friends do without worry.
Obviously, I don’t know where Wiggins will decide to play his several months of college basketball. The more I read about it, the more it seems nobody else really does either. Wherever that happens to be, though, I wish him well, hope he manages not to get injured playing a season that shouldn’t have to happen and that by and large, the people who seem to feel so entitled to his services don’t spend their entire afternoons acting like idiots tomorrow.
So, Rick Pitino’s Louisville team will face off with Mike Krzyewski’s (and for the 1 billionth consecutive time I had to look up that spelling – by typing in “Duke Head Coach.” Seriously, I can’t even spell it well enough to Google the proper spelling) Duke team for a trip to the Final Four on Sunday. This “lucky coincidence” of the bracket has predictably brought a flood of memory stories and columns about the 1992 UK-Duke Regional Final – the game many refer to as the greatest college basketball game ever played. The great Gene Wojciechowski (also looked up, also without even trying to spell the last name – can’t ANYBODY be named Smith?) called it The Last Great Game in the title of his book on the epic struggle. So I thought it only appropriate that I share my memories of the game as well.
My date that night looked amazing. She had on a gold and black (GO NORSE!) dress and her 90s-era big, curly hairstyle that was all the rage was at its biggest and curliest. And her smile, as always, lit up the room.
That’s pretty much it. I never saw the game. In fact, to this day I haven’t seen more than a few minutes of the game – Sean Woods’ shot to put UK ahead, and of course the Laettner shot that CBS is so kind to show a billion times each February and March. Other than that, I got nothing.
It’s true. In a lifetime of watching sports for sports sake – whether I cared about the game or the teams at all – and of commitment to seeing all of sports’ biggest moments, there is one giant hole in my sports viewing life. I saw NONE of the greatest college basketball game ever played, even though it was my favorite team playing in a huge spot against a team I detest with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
I have a good excuse though…she was so pretty (<- you really need to click that link. I still laugh every time I see it).
I had been living in Texas. It was my first job out of college. I was working in the Athletics Marketing Department at what is now Texas State –San Marcos, then known as Southwest Texas State. In an odd twist, they helped me see my first ever game at Rupp. The Bobcats played Kentucky at Rupp in a classic December mismatch that year. I’ll never forget the column lead in the Herald-Leader that day (wish I could remember the writer) – “nickname Bobcats. Codename cupcakes.” After 20-plus years as a UK fan, I finally got to see a game on a visiting media credential. While “my” team took a drubbing from my team that night (we had to guard Jamal Mashburn with a freshman high jumper named Marcus Cooper we plucked from the track team. Carlos Toomer scored 12 in the 82-36 win, which could have been much, much worse.), it did lead to one of my all-time career highlights – I both met Cawood Ledford for the first time, and at halftime I looked down press row and realized that both me and Cawood were talking on the radio from Rupp at the same time. The big difference was people were listening to Cawood.
Shortly after that game, I flew back home for Christmas and against all odds (those of you who know me well and especially those who knew me then can attest the longshottedness) had a couple of dates with a girl I had known from college. We stayed in touch after I went back to Texas. She visited on spring break (and trust me, while nice, San Marcos is no spring break destination point) and I came back to see her for a week in March. Which is how I came to be at the Northern Kentucky University Delta Zeta sorority chapter’s Spring Formal while the greatest college basketball game ever played was happening. Were there TVs at the formal location? Sure. Had I just flown home the day before? Yes. Did I think it was in my bets interests to sit glued to a TV at her event? No. No I did not. So it came to pass that I…saw…nothing.
Obviously, after all these years and with the advent of such awe-inspiring technology, I could go back and watch the game in its entirety, but I have never been a fan of watching sports after the fact. A great deal of the joy of sports is the unknown. How do things turn out? Can we pull this off? What happens next? Knowing any of those things turns the unique excitement of watching sports into watching an ok-ish cable drama. It’s just not the same. I have to do it sometimes these days, but only because I have to sometimes in order to sound reasonably coherent on First State Financial Sunday Morning Sports Talk (9 am-Noon on NewsRadio 630 WLAP).
So it is that I have no personal recollection of a game that is so fondly remembered by some and still causes others so much pain. Maybe it’s better that I don’t remember. I’ve never been one to handle defeats well (I still hate the Oakland A’s because of the 1972 World Series).
Oh, and that pretty girl? She eventually agreed to marry me. I’ll take the tradeoff.
My annual Blog Bracket experiment has gone fairly predictably. The Kenpom Bracket – last year’s champion – not only has a comfortable lead, but it also has two of four Final Four teams (Louisville & Florida) remaining, as well as Florida winning it all, which makes me want to throw up.
The loss of three No. 1 seeds and the failure to get more than one Elite Eight game matchup right has all but doomed the Higher Seed Bracket at this point, although it still sits in second place and has champion Louisville left.
The RPI Bracket is almost tapped out, but has the nausea-inducing Duke National Championship possibility still alive.
The Coin Toss Bracket even has a championship possibility left in Duke.
At least my Homer Bracket was one of 0.95% in the ESPN Bracket Challenge that picked Florida Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16. Long live Dunk City.
I generally detest all forms of sports bigamy. I grew up before ESPN and before cable, so you didn’t get to (have to) watch every Yankees game on ESPN, so you liked the team that was closest to you. Well, you didn’t like that team; you LOVED that team and despised all others. That works better for pro sports than college sports it seems. With colleges, you can end up liking a number of teams from your area. You can like teams from different conferences that will almost never play each other. You can like teams that are on different levels. So it is that I have become a Kentucky Wildcats fan AND a Xavier Musketeers fan.
Unfortunately, when the NCAA Tournament opens later today, NEITHER of those teams will be in it. So, I have had to pick a back-up team.
Maybe you are a Kentucky fan or your team is just always bad. Sure you fill out your brackets and obsess over every game, but sometimes it’s nice to have ONE team that you latch onto and live and die with.
In case you’d like to do that and just don’t know where to start, never fear, I have given the remaining 64 teams a thorough going-over and I present you here with all of your options.
If you’re a Kentucky fan and aren’t interested in trying to learn a new nickname on short notice, there are four teams in the field to help you out. Arizona, Villanova, Kansas State and Davidson all have Wildcats as their mascots. Davidson is also a low seed that could win a game or two, so you could have the added bonus of rooting for a Wildcats team AND being an underdog hipster if they win.
Do you already have a bunch of blue clothing and don’t want to go out and buy something new to wear for three weeks (or less) while you follow your new adopted team? That’s easy too. There are 26 teams that have some form of blue in their team colors. The South Dakota State Jackrabbits actually use the exact same shade of blue as Kentucky (PMS 286 for you graphics people), so all of your current blue clothes will look ok. The next closest blues (PMS 287) belong to Duke, Florida and St. Louis. And since rooting for Duke and Florida are unacceptable to UK fans, you can back the Billikens and still look like you meant to.
Do you think you don’t have time to learn a new cheer? Well, Wildcats fans, you’re still in luck. Michigan uses the Go Big Blue cheer, so you can jump on their bandwagon, although you will need to go buy different colored clothes.
Maybe the best blue to back is that of Florida Gulf Coast. Their colors are Cobalt Blue and Emerald Green, which signify the colors of the earth and the sea. And given how cold it still is here, who isn’t thinking about sitting near the ocean right now?
FGCU also works if you’re a hippie trying to enjoy the Tournament while not giving into “the man,” or animal oppression, or factory farming or whatever. The colors were picked to be in line with the school’s environmental mission.
If you don’t have a team and just like colors that’s all two teams have for nicknames. You could back the Syracuse Orange (which also uses blue as an unofficial color for trim) or the Harvard Crimson.
Are you one of the seemingly millions of animal lovers who posts every picture of an animal you see on Facebook? Well, there’s plenty here to love in addition to the Wildcats. For example, my mom has always loved tigers. She has two options – Missouri and Memphis — in the field.
There are four bears in the Tournament if you count Bears (Cal), Grizzlies (Montana) and Bruins (UCLA and Belmont). There are also four Bulldogs, if you count Georgetown and North Carolina A&T who use bulldogs as mascots to go with different nicknames (Hoyas and Aggies, respectively), along with Gonzaga and Butler. Dog lovers who don’t love bulldogs can also go with the Albany Great Danes.
A lot of people love wolves and with all the sweet wolf T-shirts out there, who wouldn’t. Those folks also have two options in New Mexico (Lobos) and the North Carolina State Wolfpack.
There are also two Eagles with Marquette and Florida Gulf Coast.
If you still haven’t found an animal you can support, your other options are – Badgers, Bearcats, Bison, Bluejays, Buffaloes, Cardinals, Ducks, Gators, Gophers, Jackrabbits, Jaguars, Jayhawks, Owls, Panthers and Wolverines.
Maybe you don’t like authority. There are two Rebels to back in the Tournament in Ole Miss (which has a REAL rebel on the roster) and Nevada-Las Vegas.
Like old westerns? There are Cowboys (Oklahoma State plus New Mexico State if you go by mascot characters) and Indians (Illinois) in the fields.
Love to fight? You have the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and the Fighting Illini of Illinois.
Are you proud of your Scottish or Irish heritage and aren’t quite ready to let go of St. Patrick’s Day? Of course there is the Fighting Irish, but you could also back the Gaels of St. Mary’s and Iona.
Maybe you’re a meteorologist whose team didn’t quite make the Tournament this year. One hard and fast rule about meteorologists is that they LOVE to talk about the weather. All the time. So they have the Miami Hurricanes and the Iowa State Cyclones to make them feel at home and maybe never even break out of their weather reports.
Other professions in the Tournament include farmers in the New Mexico State and North Carolina A&T Aggies, the LaSalle Explorers and even royalty with the James Madison Dukes.
Need something a little more fierce than a low-level royal sycophant to get you through the next three weeks? There are three types of warrior people in the Tournament – the San Diego State Aztecs, the Valparaiso Crusaders and the Michigan State Spartans.
Still nothing? Well, you’re being a little hard to please, but you can go with mythical creatures (the St. Louis Billikens or Kansas Jayhawks) and even devils (Duke Blue Devils and Northwestern State Demons).
Finally, you can just pick a mascot that almost nobody understands. The Ohio State Buckeyes, Harvard Crimson, Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, Georgetown Hoyas, Indiana Hoosiers, Wichita State Shockers, North Carolina Tar Heels or Akron Zips would all fit the bill.
Look, I know that’s a lot to take in. And I know the tournament is just hours away. Maybe with no real team of your own in the tournament, you’re just too depressed to follow along. I completely understand. In that case feel free to do what I intend to do while the Tournament goes on around me:
A year ago in this blog’s infancy, as a public service I chose to lay out a number of ways for people to choose their NCAA Tournament brackets without listening to a bunch of talking heads break down brackets and without doing a lot of work on their own. That process turned out to be a lot of work for me, but because I’m just that kind of guy, I have undertaken to do it all again.
And just like last year, I have paired four reasonably scientific ways of selecting a champion with three sheets of pure nonsense. As anybody who has ever produced an NCAA Tournament bracket for a competition of any kind knows, the nonsense brackets are damn near as likely to win as the scientific ones, just ask the new person in your office from some unknown country who has never seen a game before but filled one out just to fit in who won your office pool last year.
With that in mind, here we go for Brackets Made Simple 2! First the “scientific.”
Use Wall Street Journal Blindfold Brackets
I don’t know how long they’ve been doing it, but I discovered the Wall Street Journal Blindfold Brackets a year ago. The way it works is simple. WSJ assigns a value to each team in six categories. It gives those ratings to you in infographic form with a short descriptive sentence of the team and a range that it could be seeded in and then lets your eyes pick who the stronger team is from there. The results end up being fascinating. This year, that led me to seven first-round wins by double digit seeds with Davidson (14) pulling the biggest upset. I ended up with South Dakota State and Bucknell in the Sweet 16. But the Elite 8 ended up being all 1-4 seeds. It DID put St. Louis in the Final Four (more on this later).
The Blindfold Brackets were disappointing in one way this year though – team names. Last year the team names were all animals; some of them awesome. This year, they were household items. Let me tell you, a Wombats vs. Vampire Bats game is more fun to think about than a Screwdrivers vs. Coffee Tables.
Positives: Fun and fair.
Negatives: At least for this year, no Wombats
Use the RPI
The RPI is a math formula that the Selection Committee uses to select at-large teams and seed teams once they are in the Tournament. It measures a team’s performance and assigns that a number so teams can be evaluated on an allegedly equal footing.
Even with an allegedly hard and fast number to go by, the seeds to the RPI come out dodgy in a couple of places. Belmont is No. 19 in the RPI and was stuck with an 11 seed. Ohio State is 11 in the RPI headed into the Tournament and is a 2 seed. Also, two of the top four seeds aren’t in the top 4 in the RPI in Kansas (5) and Gonzaga (6). In two games – Pittsburgh-Wichita St. and Illinois-Colorado — a team with a worse RPI is seeded better than their opponent.
Negatives: Upsets are hard to come by. Even in Belmont’s case they lose their first-round matchup (I’m not counting the Tuesday/Wednesday games). The only 6 seed they would have beaten is UCLA. Oh and Duke wins. The RPI bracket finished FIFTH of seven options last year. Only mascots and coin toss did worse.
Positives: Duke wins. There can be no positives.
Use the Kenpom Rankings
Kenpom is another math thing. I don’t pretend to understand what it measures. It has something to do with overall strength and I’m told it’s a more predictive metric than the RPI, which tells you what has already happened. You could tell me it measured the relative freezing points of college basketball teams and I’d have no choice but to look at the numbers, shrug and take your word for it. There’s a reason I took my last math class in high school. Regardless, a lot of college basketball people and a ton of writers I respect swear by it.
According to Kenpom, the East Region is the easiest (average ranking is 60.125) and the West is the hardest (41.6875 average). However of the Final Four teams it picks – Louisville, Gonzaga, Florida and Indiana – Indiana out of the Midwest has the easiest route for games played at 66.5 average ranking per team. Florida’s route is the hardest at 44 average ranking.
In Kenpom, No. 7 Pittsburgh it one of the most underseeded teams with an 8 seed. No. 52 Butler is among the most overrated with its 6 seed. Minnesota is an 11 seed with a Kenpom ranking of 23, which is 21 points better than the UCLA team it plays in the first round.
Positives: Because it isn’t used in the selection process, Kenpom can allow for upsets. St. Mary’s would beat Memphis, and of course Minnesota beats UCLA. Although Butler wins their first round game over Bucknell. Interestingly that is the only 6-11 matchup they would win. Kenpom won this experiment last year.
Negatives: Florida wins it all.
Pick the Highest Seed
Negatives: No challenge. No upsets.
Positives: You get a LOT of games right.
And that’s it for “science,” which leaves us with ridiculousness.
There are several different ways to pick your ridiculous bracket if you don’t know college basketball, want to fit in and that’s what you want to go with. A favorite is by color. I’ll leave you to figure out what each team’s colors are and which ones you like best. I have concentrated on three options.
The Coin Toss Bracket
The coin toss app was noticeably heads-centric this year, going on 8- and 5-straight toss runs and ended up coming up heads 42 of 65 times (counting two play-ins that I had to figure out).
Positives: Think this is ridiculous? The coin picked BOTH 15 over 2 upsets last year.
Negatives: It is ridiculous. It picked all four 15 seeds to win last year. Also picked one 16 seed. And it picked another one this year. Oh, and Duke wins – at least in mine.
Pick Based on Mascots
Again, I was a mascot in college, so I have a soft spot for the oddly dressed, not-quite-cheerleaders whose antics either bring joy or abject terror to kids everywhere, so why not give them a say in things? The principles are somewhat Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock-like, but generally humans defeat small animals, but lose to big ones. Big fierce animals beat big less fierce animals. Poisonous things win a lot. And natural disasters are pretty tough to beat. If no principle applies, pick the higher seed.
The principles occasionally come into conflict. Twice in this tournament animals of the same kind play each other (Memphis vs. Missouri and Cal vs. Montana). In both cases you go to the higher seed. In one case Crusaders (pretty fierce) take on Spartans (very fierce). Spartans move on.
Then there’s this: The New Mexico Lobos (wolves) take on the Belmont Bruins and the North Carolina State Wolfpack takes on the Cal Bears. Who wins? Well, it’s a split. I determined that ONE bear could beat ONE wolf, but that a pack of wolves would probably do the bear in.
It gets even more confusing when Miami (Hurricanes) meets Iowa State (Cyclones) in the championship game. In the Pacific Ocean, Hurricanes ARE Cyclones. However in this case, I think Cyclones refer to Dorothy-Wizard of Oz Cyclones, which I grew up with as tornados. And while tornados are horrific forces of nature, Hurricanes have wind, rain and storm surge and are about 1,000 times bigger. Hurricanes in a rout.
Positives: Kind of fun to think about different mascots fighting each other.
Negatives: None. Mascots are awesome.
Pick Like a Crazed Homer
Normally this would mean picking my favorite teams to meet in the Championship Game with my most favorite team winning. HOWEVER, in this case neither of those teams (Kentucky followed by Xavier) is in the Tournament. Hell, neither of them are even still in the NIT, so we have to drop back to last year’s backup principles none of which make sense, but here goes:
- I am from Kentucky so I like Kentucky teams – Except I don’t like Rick Pitino and I can’t stand Ray Harper (old Great Lakes Valley Conference grudge from my days at Northern Kentucky and his days at Kentucky Wesleyan).
- I am from the Cincinnati area, so I like teams from that area – Except I don’t like Cincinnati. The favored group includes Ohio State.
- I am Catholic, so Catholic schools get an advantage.
- Teams that have somebody on staff I have worked with in the past trump all, so that means Indiana, St. Louis and Boise State go far. Indiana’s SID was my boss and mentor when I was a student worker at NKU. St. Louis assistant Jim Whitesell was the head coach at Lewis University when I worked there.
- Teams with somebody on staff I can’t stand (Louisville, Western Ky. and Akron – same reason as with Western. In fact, current Akron coach Keith Dambrot almost got me killed one year when NKU played at Ashland where he coached at the time).
- Teams that have fired somebody I worked with that I liked. Specifically, Kansas State fired Jim Wooldridge who was the head coach at Texas State-San Marcos when I was an intern there.
- Rivals of my favorite teams or teams that have knocked them out of the Tournament in the past.
This year’s bracket was devoid of the heavy conflicts last year’s had except in the South and with one GLARING exception. The first round of the South bracket is a mess here. There’s the Western Kentucky game, where I pick against a Kentucky team (Harper). Then Akron (Dambrot) gets eliminated. Northewestern State goes through on the basis of me hating Florida. And finally, while I should generally be inclined to take Georgetown as a Catholic school (or at least higher seed), I have decided to go all SEC football fan on them and take Florida Gulf Coast as the Atlantic Sun representative, and just be an A-SUN conference fan since that’s where my beloved NKU Norse play now.
In this format the Championship Game is a truly excruciating experience for me. It will match Indiana SID JD Campbell against St. Louis Assistant Coach Jim Whitesell. Both were an important part in my development as both a professional and a person. It would be awful to see either come that close and come up short, so since I can’t root for a 10-overtime thriller that is eventually declared a tie when Bud Selig jumps in and declares both teams out of pitchers, I’ll give the nod to Indiana.
By the way, in just a few years when NKU completes its Division I transitional period they are going to flat DOMINATE this bracket, whether they are in the field or not.
Positives: You are always rooting FOR something – even if it is rooting vehemently AGAINST something. This bracket came in fourth last year.
Negatives: In this Tournament, I’d have to watch two people I like and respect square off. A lot harder than watching two Catholic schools.
Finally, in the interest of fairness, here is a rough approximation of what I think might happen in the next four weeks.
Enjoy the Tournament!
Want to see how your picks stack up against these methods? Feel free to enter them in my ESPN Bracket Challenge group. The password is “gonorse”.
The Cats get underway in the SEC Tournament shortly following what has by most accounts been a disappointing season (although 12-6 and second place in the league hardly seems like a crisis). I’d LOVE to be able to tell you what you should expect tonight, but if you watched the team play this year or if you’ve listened to First State Financial Sunday Morning Sports Talk (9 am-Noon on NewsRadio 630 WLAP), you know that’s not happening.
Two reasons for that:
- 1) I am notoriously awful at predicting what’s going to happen in sporting events. It’s the reason I never gamble on games. In fact, if YOU want to gamble on games you’d be well served to find out what I think will happen and bet on whatever the exact opposite is.
- Twice in the last six games, I have given the Cats absolutely no chance to win – against Missouri and against Florida. If you follow Kentucky at all you are already aware they won both of those games.
- 2) This is the most impossible to figure UK team of my lifetime. As a result it’s also the most frustrating.
Kentucky has lost 10 games in the regular season – as they have this season — before. The difference is that when that happened you watched the team and knew they were limited. Each of the last years of the Tubby era and the two years under the Coach Who Shall Not Be Named you watched them play and you saw the problems. Who would score? Who was really a big time player (other than, it turns out, Rajon Rondo)?
This year, you don’t see that. You see guys that when they want to play can REALLY play. Which leaves the question the same tonight as it’s been throughout the year. Do they want to play tonight? Will the Good Ryan Harrow show up? Will Alex Poythress play with a little bit of fire? Will Archie Goodwin limit his mistakes?
If two of those things don’t happen, the Cats could still very well win. Kentucky has won games this year with Archie making mistakes. Kentucky has won this year with Alex playing like he didn’t want to be there. What they haven’t done – at least in a game of any substance – is win when Ryan Harrow didn’t show up. When Harrow is good this Kentucky team is good. On the Big Blue Insider Roundtable I was on Wednesday night, Aaron Smith of Cats Illustrated had the numbers for Ryan when UK wins and UK loses. Of course I can’t remember them, but the difference was staggering. The one I do recall is that in UK losses, Ryan’s assists-to-turnover ratio is something like 2.3-to-1. In losses, it’s less than 1-to-1. When Harrow plays well, the entire UK offense flows well. When Harrow doesn’t play well, the Cats don’t have answers.
Kentucky SHOULD be able to win tonight. This isn’t the Vandy team of the past few years that the Cats face tonight. This is a bad Vandy team. But it’s also a Vandy team that has played Kentucky close twice. Both times Kentucky built decent leads and let Vandy back in. The last time they faced each other in Nashville, Kentucky was lucky to escape (although admittedly Bridgestone Arena doesn’t pose the same problems as Memorial Gymnasium does). Vandy can still shoot the three, as they showed last night against Arkansas. But most of what we saw from Vanderbilt last night was bad, clumsy basketball.
And Kentucky likely still needs to win tonight. Their spot in the NCAA Tournament field is far from firm. Losing to Arkansas – who did Kentucky no favors by playing like a rec league team last night – may not have hurt Kentucky as badly as a loss to Vandy surely would.
So what will happen? In the best interests of the Big Blue Nation, I may have to go with … the Cats have no chance of winning.