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. 

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Eurostepped in Boulder

For the second time in ten days, the Kansas Jayhawks lost to an unranked opponent away from Lawrence. Saturday’s loss at Colorado ended at the buzzer and unlike the Villanova loss down in the Bahamas, this was a true road game with the crowd being 95/5 Colorado over Kansas.

I always have three levels of reaction to a close loss. The first is the passionate fan hoping for the late whistle, some miracle to wipe away what I watched transpire. My first reaction definitely thought this was a travel.

Second reaction is acceptance. Begrudgingly seeing the play as a Dwyane Wade/Manu Ginobili Eurostep.

Third reaction is the optimistic “this will be good for our guys” wannabe coach mentality. A tough loss brings adversity, adversity builds character, character builds leaders, etc. Plus a buzzer beater loss stings a lot less in December than it does in March.

But do these types of losses really help a team? Is Kansas better off having that shot go in than say bouncing off and the Jayhawks winning in Overtime?

My theory is a championship caliber team has to develop four traits over the course of a season. These four traits are more important than the win/loss record.

1. Ability to win despite everything going wrong. Withstand an opponent shooting lights out from three, going on runs.

2. Develop a last two minutes of the game lineup with no cringe-worthy players.

3. Three players who are willing to take the last shot.

4. Reliable three point shooting

Notice there is nothing about ‘ability to bounce back from a loss.’ Come NCAA Tournament time, that trait doesn’t matter. Buzzer beater goes in, season over.

Hey, Not Everyone’s Cheering for us coach…

Neutral courts are never neutral when it comes to KU. The United Center was predominately Jayhawks. Thousands of Kansas fans took advantage of a Thanksgiving trip to the Bahamas. Last year in the NCAA Regionals, Cowboys Stadium was 80/20 Kansas fans vs. everyone else.

Saturday’s game in Boulder was the first time ever that Andrew Wiggins, Frank Mason and Joel Embiid played in front of 11,000 people all cheering for the opposite team. The Canadian Wiggins heard U-S-A chants at the foul line. Embiid was only cheered on when he stepped out of bounds. Nobody was shouting out “FOUL REF!” on Mason’s drives to the basket.

The three freshmen handled the situation well. In the first half Embiid was dominant, living up to the recent Hakeem Olajuwon 2.0 hype. It is rare for someone Embiid’s size and age to already have this much footwork, decent foul shooting, few bad habits in terms of placing the ball on the ground or not having his hands ready for the pass. He wants the ball on offense and he’s developing as a shot blocker on defense. Against Colorado he even had three steals, two assists.

Mason had an off night shooting, but did what he does best, fearlessly attacking the rim and not being afraid to take big shots. My favorite play of Mason’s was on an outlet pass from Jamari Traylor. The ball looked like it was clearly heading out of bounds, Traylor even threw his hands in the air upset, but Mason sprinted it down, turned the near disaster into foul shots at the other end. He’s my favorite player on the team right now and should be here for all four years. Sherron Collins 2.0

I was most impressed with Andrew Wiggins. THIS is how he needs to play every game. We saw a little bit of this in the second half of the Duke game, the attacking attitude, crossing half court and deciding ‘I’m going to the basket and nobody’s going to stop me.’ It amazes me how far out he can take off from and get right to the rim.

I wish he would have stuck all three free throws on the Dinwiddie foul and definitely think he needs to switch the way he rests his hands on his hips, but big steps in the right direction.

So Colorado must have played great then

Not really. Colorado hit seven threes, but put up 22 attempts. The Buffaloes only shot 41 percent compared to Kansas at 53. Turnover margin only five and the Buffaloes missed 15 free throws (five less than KU attempted).

The only two “home court moments” were Spencer Dinwiddie’s end of shot clock 3-pointer that landed flat on the rim then somehow rolled in. Then of course the final shot of the game by Askia Booker.

This wasn’t Colorado playing their best game ever and catching KU on an off night. If anything, Colorado can look at this game tape and say, “We could’ve won this by 10-12 points.”

Like Villanova, Colorado will jump into the top 25 in the next poll and possibly end the season in the top 15. The win helps Colorado’s resume, will not be a Bad Loss for KU.

End of Game Lineup

The end of game lineup of Mason, Tharpe, Selden, Wiggins and Ellis passes the “no cringe-worthy” options. All five are comfortable taking the big shot and capable of delivering. Same can be said for Embiid, but I think we will see this four ball handlers and Perry Ellis option more often closing out tight games.

Tharpe and/or Selden need to be the 3-pt guy. Mason and Wiggins are both attackers. Embiid and Ellis are reliable in the post. The potential for this team is there, still a lot of room to grow.

Final Questions

How long before Bill Self starts Joel Embiid over Tarik Black?

Why isn’t Spencer Dinwiddie higher in the NBA Mock Drafts? The 6’6” point guard has a big opportunity to shine in a head-to-head matchup against Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart in two weeks.

How long can announcers refer to Conner Frankamp  as the ‘dangerous’ ‘incredible’ outside shooter without him turning in a few Jeff Boschee type performances?

Is Frank Mason the new starting point guard?

Wayne Simien??

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This is part of the ‘Loss for Words’ series. Articles/rants/email chains less than 48 hours after a loss. Goal is to be part coping mechanism, part silver lining hunt. Ideally won’t be posting too many of these for KU… If you want a place to vent after your team’s loss send me a message @chris0brien on Twitter or email me chrisobrien30@gmail.com and I’ll post on the site.