3. North Carolina

In elementary school the biggest sin was swearing. In middle school swearing was upgraded to smoking cigarettes. In high school it was underage drinking.

Don’t swear. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink. Follow these rules and you’re a good kid. Break these rules and beware of being labeled the “bad boy” or the “dangerous girl” in the parental gossip circles.

Then comes college and all hell breaks loose. Whether you came in as a “good kid” or “bad kid”, there’s almost no avoiding the bad, the weird, the fun, the questionable, the slightly awesome decisions out there to be made.

If you made it through college without ever doing any of the following: getting drunk, smoking, streaking across campus (nude or in your underwear), waking up in a place you didn’t remember ever arriving at, sleeping through a class, sleeping in a class, skipping a class because you wanted to go to the beach or being involved in at least two cell phone videos that you wouldn’t want to watch 10 years later, then I hate to say it, but I think you missed out.

Like that one episode of South Park said, “There’s a time and a place for everything and it’s called college.”

The college years are the four most forgiving years of life.

For example, if you are found passed out on a fraternity house lawn at age 19, your peers will post the photo online and move on. Get found passed out on the same lawn at age 45, what is wrong with this guy?

As a college freshman, it’s a hilarious story to tell your friends. At age 45 you could lose your job over it.

I feel like North Carolina is the the third grader who told his teacher, “This is bullshit” and got sent to the principal’s office. Or the seventh grader who smoked cigarettes after school. Or the high schooler who got drunk and puked at a dance party.

At the time, oh man, that kid is absolute trouble! Now? Those don’t seem that bad at all.

As life goes on and everyone has moments/decisions they are not proud of, that “bad kid” from junior high is no longer bad at all. He was just a kid.

In sports, as in life, you don’t have to be perfect or even try to be perfect. Being perfect, like Wichita State, becomes even more stressful. If they lose in the tournament, the disappointment is far more severe than having an off night back in December.

North Carolina’s “bad” losses to Belmont, UAB, Wake Forest and Miami all took place before February. These don’t look as bad now since other teams caught up with bad losses of their own. Plus Belmont ended up being a pretty solid mid-major team.

Every team, besides Wichita State, has blemishes now. What the other teams don’t have are North Carolina’s four extremely quality wins. Michigan State (when they were #1). Louisville (when they were #3). Duke (when they were #5). Kentucky (when they were #11).

That is why North Carolina is No. 3 on this list. Oklahoma State could beat any team on the bracket, UNC has beaten the top tier opponents. I was going to put them at No. 1 because of their potential, but the Pittsburgh loss in the ACC Tournament reminded me of the same frustrating truth of every other team on this list: they could lose first round.

Q: Ok, so now that I’ve received a weird lecture on why making mistakes is ok and pretty sure you just encouraged every college kid to go out and make mistakes, can I get some actual analysis on the UNC roster?

North Carolina’s motor is point guard Marcus Paige. He has been consistent all year long averaging 17.4 ppg and dishing out about four assists per contest.

James Michael McAdoo is having a decent season. He’s victim of there being huge expectations after his freshman year, not having a breakout sophomore season and putting up quality but not great numbers as a junior.

Why Pick North Carolina?

Usually with Roy Williams teams, dating back to when he was head coach at Kansas, the strategy seemed to always be, “We’re gonna get out and run, play ok defense and try and win games in the 80’s/90’s.” This year’s North Carolina team plays better defense and can win in a variety of ways. They held the Spartans to 65 points and in their win against Duke, held Coach K’s team to 66.

If you want to take the Tar Heels to the Final Four, you are absolutely validated in doing so. It’s not crazy, they have the wins to back it up. I would, however, advise against picking them to lose first round. Those early ACC losses? This team has grown up since then. Roy Williams will have them ready and I feel pretty good about a Sweet 16 run for the Tar Heels.

As for anyone going off to college, I’ll echo the wisdom of Dr. Frazee:

“It’s alright to get a little bit crazy, just don’t do anything stupid.”


Medium Rare Bracketology

By: Chris O’Brien

Have you ever been entrusted to create a playlist?

Any kind of playlist. Background music for a dinner party. A collection of soft rock hits for the dentist. Grinding music for a sweaty dance party.

Each setting has a list of ol reliables. For example, there has never been a documented case of “Get Low” failing at a dance party. Same can be said for “All I do is Win” or Usher’s “Yeah”.

But you can’t loop the handful of reliables for two straight hours. Eventually you have to go a little riskier. Not a problem at first. You add Beyonce, Ke$ha, Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z and the playlist still looks great. Only problem is you don’t feel like you’ve made your own personal stamp. The list is too generic. You gotta think outside of the box.

That’s when things get weird. Sometime around 3 a.m. you take a good hard look at the following songs:

  1. Thong Song
  2. Who Let the Dogs Out
  3. Total Eclipse of the Heart
  4. Mambo No. 5
  5. Sweet Caroline
  6. Party in the U.S.A

I have seen all six of these songs work and I have seen all six of these songs fail miserably. Sweet Caroline can win over an entire baseball stadium or kill a dance party. I witnessed Mambo No. 5 clear out a basement of 80 people like it were a bad fart. I have seen Party in the U.S.A get booed and I have seen Party in the U.S.A. get an introvert to dance on a bar.

These are the songs, and there are hundreds more, that can make or break a playlist. When they connect, you’re a genius. When they fail you’re an idiot.

Just like–and here comes the loose transition to college basketball–your March Madness Bracket. This year the race is wide open. I’m two weeks away from seeing a bracket and I already feel like I’ve screwed up my picks.

Just a few minutes ago I watched Penn State beat Ohio State, Arkansas win at Kentucky and Duquesne win at Saint Louis. Yesterday I was contemplating Saint Louis to the Final Four, now I’m contemplating how to pronounce Duquesne!

This year my plan is to over-plan. I am preparing in advance, hoping to make some sense of this year’s tournament picture before I see the bracket. These are my Reliable Picks:

  1. Florida
  2. Kansas
  3. Syracuse
  4. Duke
  5. Arizona

Low chance of losing before Sweet 16, high chance of making the Final Four and if they do get upset, most of the people in your pool will go down with you.

My next group is the 16 teams I feel good about taking to the Round of 32 and almost feel safe putting in the Sweet 16.

  1. Cincinnati
  2. Louisville
  3. Wichita State
  4. Villanova
  5. Creighton
  6. Michigan
  7. Wisconsin
  8. San Diego State
  9. Michigan State
  10. Kentucky
  11. Virginia
  12. Memphis
  13. Ohio State
  14. UCLA
  15. New Mexico
  16. Oklahoma

Could they go further than the Sweet 16? Absolutely. But picking them would give me a little heartburn.

So the logical thing for me to do, I have 21 teams above, I should wait to see the matchups and try to get 16 of them to the Sweet 16. The problem is:

1) March Madness is never that simple

2) There are 16 teams, the “Bittersweet 16”, that are itching to be the bracket busting equivalent of the Thong Song. That sentence gets weirder each re-read, but what I’m trying to say is these 16 teams are a couple of beers and some ESPN.com roster searches away from looking like Final Four contenders.

They also have a high risk of losing in the first round. Or being selected to the N.I.T.

They are the teams you kick yourself for not having the guts to have picked further or ban yourself from ever picking again after they lose by 10 to some team from the MAC.

Over the next 16 days I will focus on one team a day and bring some confusion/clarity for you to consider later when the bracket is released. There are at least 275 better sources of March Madness advice than what you will receive here in my Medium Rare Bracketology, but who knows, maybe one of these 16 teams will turn out to be the sleeper pick that your bracket needs. Or they may ruin your bracket. Time will tell.

For now, here are the 16 Bittersweet teams in alphabetical order. Click the team for their article or head back to the ‘Medium Rare Bracketology’ tab above for the list.

Florida State, Gonzaga, Iona, Iowa, Iowa State, North Carolina, Oklahoma State, Saint Louis, SMU, Stephen F. Austin, Texas, Toledo, UCONN, UMASS, VCU, Vermont.

Did I forget a team? Should any of these 16 teams be moved up a category? Does anyone have game film on Stephen F. Austin? Let me know. Message or tweet me @MediumRareBooks or send me an email chrisobrien30@gmail.com.