68 teams. 63 games. 21 days. Millions of fans. No second chances.
What happens when something predictably unpredictable becomes so unpredictable that we don’t even know what to expect when expecting the unexpected? Madness.
The NCAA tournament is one of those rare occasions on which human beings embrace madness. Every year millions of brackets are filled out in what has become a national pastime in the States, with people entering into online competitions and office pools alike in the hope of predicting the tournament correctly. Even Barack Obama has a go. But, clever though he may be, the odds don’t look good: there is about a one in 147.57 quintillion (18 zeroes) chance of picking the perfect bracket. Why do people subject themselves to such an exercise in futility? If they needed an incentive beyond the fun, the office pot, or an innate desire to defy the odds (a rare motivation, I’ll admit), Warren Buffett has provided one. For those unfamiliar with Mr. Buffett, he recently became the world’s second-richest man, and is thus able to promise a $1 billion prize to anyone who can pick the winner of all 63 games. I wouldn’t bet on it.
This isn’t the NBA Playoffs, no matter how much casual basketball fans love that comparison. Yes, the stakes are high and the best players are on display, but what separates March from April, May and June is that every game is Game 7. The atmosphere doesn’t reach fever pitch, it starts there. Because every team has a chance. Bracket busting teams of the past, like Butler in 2010 AND 2011, typified the unpredictability of the tournament with their ‘Cinderella stories’. Except this year, there are so many teams whose feet might fit the proverbial glass slipper that so-called ‘bracketologists’ will have a harder time choosing than Prince Charming. There seems to be an abundance of ‘giant killers’, but few, if any, giants to kill. Obviously there are the big-name programs and stalwart coaches who are present year in, year out, but none has set itself apart.
If the NBA’s new Commissioner gets his way, and the league’s age limit is raised from 19 to 20, March Madness 2014 could be the last of its kind. This year NBA scouts have been giddy with excitement about possibly the most heralded freshman class in recent memory. The likes of Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Joel Embiid, and Andrew Gordon have not disappointed thus far, but they don’t have much more time to prove themselves. Because of the increasingly popular ‘one and done’ trend, highly-touted prospects have tended to spend just one year in college before declaring for the NBA draft. These players and their teams get one shot at the title, in contrast to those mid-major programs comprised of upperclassmen that have been together for years. It will be interesting to see whether this class of freshmen really is as good as advertised; does any of these players has what it takes to shoulder the weight of a long run in March? Keep in mind that the team ranked No. 1 in the country, Florida, has just that many freshmen on its roster.
Michigan State 9.00
(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)
At the time of writing it’s still championship week, so, if you haven’t already grasped how fickle the nature of this tournament is, here is my disclaimer: while I’ve begun by mentioning the two teams I’m most interested to watch, the unpredictability of March Madness could mean their hopes are up in smoke within a day or two of this preview going live.
Oklahoma State have flirted with being both overrated and underrated since the season began, but the consistent fact of the matter is they will go as far as Marcus Smart takes them. When he is dialled in, this team can be very difficult to beat, as Kansas found in the second half of their game earlier in the month. Admittedly I have a fetish for 6’4, 220lb guards (see Wade, Dwyane), but Smart has shown he can pretty much do it all. Against Texas Tech in the First Round of the Big 12, Smart stuffed the stat sheet and, more importantly, showed the character that has been questioned since the last time the teams met. If Smart stays focused and gets some help from his teammates, OK State may still justify some of the hype.
After watching UCLA edge out the much-fancied No. 4 Arizona, I don’t see why the Bruins couldn’t make some noise at the Big Dance (especially now that Ben Howland is gone). They have some intriguing pieces in Jordan Adams and Zach LaVine, but the star of the show in LA this year has been Kyle Anderson. The 6’8 point-forward was given the keys to the team by new coach, Steve Alford, and has responded with per-game averages not far off a triple-double. He hasn’t gotten the hype his play has deserved, but a few wins in the coming weeks would change that. Watch this space.
The fun of the tournament is finding your own teams to follow, so grab a bracket or six and share in the madness.
Betting Instinct Tip – UCLA face Tulsa in their opener, and UCLA -9 is -115 with AllYouBet.ag
Intertops Sportsbook will pay out $25,000 for a perfect bracket — 63 correct picks. If no player manages to select a perfect bracket, the prize money will be divided equally amongst the 25 players with the highest number of correct picks. Entry deadline is March 20th, 2014.
CATHAL LOUGHRAN (cathalloughran) is a student and writer from Ireland, based in London. He writes about college basketball and the NBA for Betting Instinct