Rob Oller: ABCs of March Madness as COVID still hopes to cut down NCAA Tournament nets
Well, we've almost made it. No. 19 seed COVID did its best to knock out the top-ranked NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year, but where there’s a will to collect $900 million — we would round to $1 billion but the NCAA begged us to make them sound only filthy and not obscenely rich — there’s a way to get it done.
College basketball is not out of the woods, but NCAA president Mark Emmert is armed with a chainsaw this time around. And with that, it’s time to pull the start cord on the annual ABCs of March Madness.
A is for attrition. Like a game of musical chairs, which teams, if any, will test positive for the virus and prematurely vamoose from the 68-team tournament, which is being held at various locations throughout Indiana? The women’s tournament begins Sunday in and around San Antonio, Texas.
B is for bracket buster. No. 15 seed Oral Roberts? Ohio State’s first-round opponent is a trendy pick to upset the No. 2 Buckeyes, who are unpredictable enough to reach the Final Four or flame out on Friday.
C is for chalk. Office pool savants know to limit their late upset picks, because numbers show that Nos. 1 and 2 seeds make up about 80% of the Final Four since the tournament expanded beyond 53 teams, in 1985.
D is for doubt. Analytics aside, the tournament lacks a lead-pipe cinch to win the title, which means fans of No. 2 seed Iowa should be worried as the Hawkeyes prepare for No. 15 Grand Canyon.
E is for entry pass. Set the over/under at 30 on how many timeouts will be called by players who can't get the ball inbounds.
F is for foul shots. Make them or go home.
G is for Georgetown, coached by Patrick Ewing, whose jersey number hangs in Madison Square Garden, which he will be sure to tell you.
H is for Hartford, the No. 16 seed that will keep it close against No. 1 Baylor for about three minutes.
I is for Indiana, which is enjoying a big promotional win — all games will be played in Indianapolis, Bloomington or West Lafayette — but also a representative loss. Purdue is the only school from the Hoosier State represented.
J is for Juwan Howard. From Fab Five to Deep Six. It looks from here as though Michigan and its coach exit early.
K is for Kentucky, which like Duke did not make the tournament. Boo-hoo bloods.
L is for lit on fire. Like most brackets after the first weekend.
M is for Michigan State Spartans, named for the band of 300 outnumbered Greek warriors who might have won the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. had they been led by Tom Izzo.
N is for national championship game. My pick: Baylor over LSU.
O is for offense, which come tournament time shortens by 47 feet into a half-court game, although that's never been the philosophy of one Rick ...
P is for Pitino, whose Iona team is the fifth different school he has taken to the tournament. The guy has his off-court issues — boy, does he — but goodness he can coach.
Q is for “Quick, you fool, switch over to the other game.”
R is for rebounding margin, a statistic that shows “want-to” on both ends of the court. North Carolina ranks No. 1, while Illinois is No. 4 and Gonzaga No. 17. Ohio State? No. 100.
S is for sedentary lifestyle. National champion couch potatoes get crowned every March. Pass the chips.
T is for tall. A relative term. Prince (5 feet, 2 inches) might have thought Tom Cruise (5-6) a giant. Still, we can agree that Zach Edey of Purdue, Matt Haarms of BYU and Connor Vanover of Arkansas, all at least 7-3, are the least vertically challenged players in the tournament.
U is for undefeated. Gonzaga, at 26-0, will try to become the first team since Indiana in 1976 to complete a perfect season. Hoosiers fans, like players from the 1972 Miami Dolphins, are hoping to celebrate it not happening. My sense? Pop the corks, IU.
V is for vaccinations. The true One Shining Moment.
W is for Winthrop. The 23-1 Eagles are the strongest bet to oust a No. 5. In this case, Villanova, which lost Collin Gillespie when the point guard tore a knee ligament on March 3.
X is for Xerox, or any other brand of copy machine/printer working overtime this week spitting out brackets.
Y is for “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and if you’re good he will grant you enough negative COVID tests to be able to play Ohio University on Saturday.
Z is for Zoom. By this time next year, virtual basketball coverage hopefully will have ended. Fingers crossed.