We’re here with the genius who picked an all-ACC Final Four. Our first question: What the heck were you thinking?
I was thinking of the rain, the park and other things. I was thinking of the bears and the birds atop Wolverton Mountain. What the heck do you think I was thinking? The ACC tournament in Brooklyn was a showcase of excellent basketball, or so it seemed. (Key word: “Seemed.”) The same ACC put six teams in the Sweet 16 last year. Why not four in the Final Four?
That’s great reasoning, pal. This majestic league just sent one-third as many teams to the Sweet 16 as the football-first — and what appeared the football-only — SEC. How do you explain that?
Let’s look at my infamous picks. North Carolina and Duke were fairly obvious. Having been fooled by the Jayhawks every year since Clyde Lovellette was on campus, I refuse to pick Kansas; Louisville was the No. 2 seed in the Midwest. I’m not sold on Gonzaga, and I didn’t think West Virginia’s press would bother Notre Dame, which had reached the Elite Eight the past two years. In and of itself, I don’t think any pick was indefensible. Three of them were just wrong.
So what happened? An epidemic outbreak of Bad Luck?
Notre Dame threw the ball away early — the same Notre Dame that led the nation in not throwing the ball away. Louisville did the same thing against Michigan it had done in the ACC quarterfinals in Brooklyn, meaning play less-than-clever basketball with the game on the line. Key moment Sunday: When the Wolverines inbounded with three seconds on the shot clock and drew a foul. That can’t happen. As for Duke: That deserves its own paragraph.
Have at it.
I broke one of my bracket-picking rules by getting overly enamored with what I’d just seen in a conference tournament. I broke an even bigger one by banking on a team to play in the NCAA at a consistent level it hadn’t reached during the season. My reasoning: The Blue Devils were so stretched with injuries and Mike Krzyzewski’s medical leave and the ongoing thrill-ride that is Grayson Allen that it was impossible for them to achieve any consistency. But they were clearly the nation’s most skilled team, and Coach K is pretty darn good this time of year.
What befell this splendid assemblage against South Carolina?
The same thing that sometimes happen to Duke in this tournament. (Think Michigan State in 2005, LSU in 2006, West Virginia in 2008.) Skill can get blunted by an opponent that is physically stronger and refuses to bow to the Duke Aura. As mentioned in this space Sunday, I thought the Gamecocks had a chance to ugly up the game. I never dreamed they’d score 65 second-half points — especially after they managed seven baskets on 20 percent shooting in the first half. But they realized they could approximate Duke’s talent if not its skill, and in a one-and-done setting, belief is a powerful thing. Heck, they even got the Devils into massive foul trouble. Not to recount all the conspiracy theories, but when last did you see that?
Is South Carolina for real?
It was in Greenville, though we caution that these games were played in South Carolina. To his credit, Krzyzewski declined to make an issue of the lower seed getting a break on the setting. (As we know, Greenville was handed the games after the NCAA pulled its championships from North Carolina due to House Bill 2.) That was gracious. It was also a bow to reality. South Carolina was so good over these two games it might have won on the moon.
Why don’t you just come out and say, “The ACC was way overrated”?
It might well have been. Rightly or wrongly, we measure a league as to how it fares in the NCAA. I would, however, note that I had Florida State and Virginia going out even earlier than they did. I didn’t love every ACC team. I just liked the four I picked. Three of which were wrong.
Who wins now?
Having just proved I don’t know anything basketball, you really want my opinion?
Yes. Just for purposes of hilarity.
I still refuse to pick Kansas, so that means the Midwest will be won by Purdue, Oregon or Michigan. Take the Big Ten teams and flip a coin. The East was supposed to come down to Duke against Villanova in Madison Square Garden; it would be no great shock if comes down to Wisconsin (assuming it beats Florida) against South Carolina. If the Gamecocks can beat Duke — and they just did — they can beat anybody. I’ll guess Arizona in the West, though Sean Miller’s team must get past his former team, meaning Xavier, which is the only double-digit seed remaining. The point being: There’s no team left that you can’t imagine winning two more games.
And in the South?
I still like North Carolina to win, though the Tar Heels were staggered by Arkansas. But North Carolina is from the no-account ACC, which means it’ll lose to Butler.
Do you really believe that?
No, but I wouldn’t have believed a team could shoot 20 percent in the first half and beat Duke. That just happened. Weird stuff happens in March. That’s why I don’t get too worked up about being wrong on predictions.
Yeah. Just keep telling yourself that, Mr. All-ACC-Final-Four.
Oh, I will. At this point, I’ve got nothing left.