in

Bracket Saving Tip: Skip The Cinderella Stories

You have a problem. I get it. You haven’t paid any attention whatsoever to the college basketball season beyond seeing Mike Krzyzewski get a little testy with a student journalist. And now you’re stuck with the civic duty of having to fill out your NCAA Tournament bracket to show everyone at your virtual office that you know more than they do.

Then, you looked at the bracket so you could reflexively push Duke and Kentucky through several rounds for a few easy picks only to find out that they aren’t in the draw at all. Drake is.

Relax. I’ve got you.

The first thing to know is that all the other know-it-alls you’re competing against don’t know anything and haven’t paid attention either.

I’m here to help. It’s true that Krzyzewski isn’t in the NCAA Tournament this year. Duke didn’t make it. Neither did Kentucky and John Calipari. 

Sister Jean is back, however. The 101-year-old Loyola of Chicago team chaplain, who was the star of the NCAA Tournament in 2018 when little Loyola made it to the Final Four, is still alive and kicking. With only a limited number of fans expected to attend the games, Sister Jean, who has been vaccinated, said she believes she has talked her school administrators into letting her go with the team.

“I was like that old woman in the Gospels who went to the judge so many times, the judge finally said, `Let’s let her do what she wants. . .’ ‘’ she told the Chicago Tribune. “They said there’s restrictions. You can’t run down on the court. You can’t talk to the young men. I said, `I’m not going to run down on the court, and I’m not going to cause any disturbance.’’

Telling a 101-year-old woman in a wheelchair that she shouldn’t storm the court seems a bit excessive. But Sister Jean did survive the Spanish Flu pandemic from 100 years ago and now COVID-19. For the sake of your bracket, though, I don’t think she can lead Loyola past Illinois in the second round.

For more inspiration from the gods, you could look at Grand Canyon, whose coach, Bryce Drew, made the buzzer-beating 3-pointer for Valparaiso 23 years ago, giving a Cinderella win over Mississippi that CBS likes to replay every single year. Grand Canyon is a 15 seed against No. 2 seed Iowa. Take Iowa.

Rick Pitino, the champion and cheat at Louisville, is back to the NCAA Tournament with Iona College. This is the fifth school he has led to the tournament. Meanwhile, the other four — Kentucky, Louisville, Providence and Boston University, are out.

If you’re looking for a major upset in your bracket, Pitino at a No. 15 seed over No. 2 Alabama has got to be tempting. But that’s too much to ask. Take Alabama.

Nearly 30 years ago, Michigan had the Fab Five, a group of freshmen that came in in baggy shorts and black socks and changed college basketball and made it a whole lot of fun. The thing is, they never won a national championship. Not one. Now, one of those Fab Five, Juwan Howard, is Michigan’s coach, and if you like redemption stories, this one is it.

If you want to win your bracket, however, Michigan might be a No. 1 seed, but it isn’t going to win the national championship.

For your bracket, I’d start by putting Illinois on the line to win the national championship, and fill them in all the way through. I was picking the Illini for weeks, before anyone else was. They have the best guard in the country in Ayo Dosunmu and one of the best centers in Kofi Cockburn. When Dosunmu was out hurt, the Illini crushed Michigan on the road. When Cockburn had foul trouble in the second half of the Big Ten Tournament championship game Sunday against Ohio State, his backup dominated. And they play killer defense. And they rebound.

Everyone thinks Gonzaga, which is undefeated and ranked No. 1, is going to win. The Zags are great and from the looks of things were able to pick their own draw. They might have the easiest path of all time to the Final Four. Draw them all the way to the championship game, losing to the Illini.

Take No. 1 seed Baylor, and move them through four wins to the Final Four. Give three wins to the other No. 1 seed, Michigan.

Take all the No. 2 seeds and give them two wins. No. 1 and No. 2 seeds rarely lose early.

In the first round, I’ll take the higher seed in every game except for No. 9 Wisconsin over No. 8 North Carolina, No. 9 Missouri over No. 8 Oklahoma, Michigan State/UCLA over No. 6 BYU, No. 11 Syracuse over No. 6 San Diego State and No. 10 Rutgers over No. 7 Clemson.

In the second round, I have the top 4 seeds winning again, except for No. 6 Texas Tech over No. 3 Arkansas.

That brings us to the Sweet 16, and I’ll take Baylor, Ohio State, Gonzaga, Iowa, Michigan, Texas, Illinois and West Virginia to reach the Elite 8.

I like Illinois, Gonzaga, Baylor and Texas in the Final Four. And Illinois over Gonzaga to win the title. 

Illinois even has a home-court advantage as the entire tournament will be in or around Indianapolis. As a Chicagoan, I can tell you that while Indy is a great place for a sporting event, it’s not a great place to spend three weeks. If you try to eat dinner after 10 p.m., you might be stuck at the White Castle. I speak from experience. So the farther you are from home, the worse it will feel.

So that’s what my bracket says. But I’d gladly lose if would mean seeing Sister Jean storm the court.

-30-

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

9 Comments

Leave a Reply
  1. Greg – Thanks for the help, I’m sure 6 people will take advantage of it. That’s not a knock on your knowledge, rather just the reality of your 3 opening sentences.

    This tournament is headed for disastrous ratings. Few bars in action to gather in, no blue bloods at the top, the NBA social justice trickle down negative effect, COVID claiming a team or two in the event, and a complete snoozer of a regular season are going to doom the tournament this year.

  2. Your Illinois bias is unbelievable sometimes. “Trust Me on This”. Although it does seem the committee agrees with you giving every other 1 seed a tougher 2 seed. IMO the committee wants to seed the B1G into the finals. Gonzaga and Baylor managed to draw Iowa and Ohio State as 2 seeds compared to Alabama and Houston for Michigan and Illinois. This may be the year the B1G crowns a Natty in BB, but farthest Illinois goes is the Semi Finals. “Trust Me on This”

  3. There is one power conference team that comes in boasting the POY, the DPOY, 4 seniors in the starting lineup, a conference championship, and hasn’t lost in 5 weeks since a buzzer-beater loss to a ranked team. I won’t say who, but they are not even mentioned in this article and are apparently presumed to be a speedbump to a tiny school that defeated no one of any consequence this year and was stomped by the only good team they played. Interesting…

    • Trying to figure out which team you mean? I am guessing Houston? Their loss was < 4 weeks ago to an unranked Wichita State team and wasn't a buzzer beater loss so I am not sure. Also, Greg states, "Take all the No. 2 seeds and give them two wins. No. 1 and No. 2 seeds rarely lose early." so I don't think he is suggesting that Cleveland St is going to beat Houston. I am guessing you are referring to Cleveland State as the "tiny school that defeated no one of any consequence this year and was stomped by the only good team they played"? I am not sure because it is correct that they have not beaten anyone of consequence, but lost to Ohio State by 6. Wouldn't exactly call that a stomping. Maybe you are referring to a different team than Houston?

Leave a Reply

to comment on this post. Not a VIP? Signup Here