The weekend felt weird. I kept switching from Netflix or Kindle on the iPad over to the ESPN app to check scores. Except: no scores!
Sunday night felt the weirdest. As we walked into church for evening Mass, I said to my wife (who knew already), “This is the first time I’ve gone to this Mass on this Sunday.” Because the NCAA Selection Show always airs at 6 p.m. Because, since 1988, there’d been a Bradley’s Bracket Fiasco and therefore a bracket to fill out. But this Sunday: no show, no pairings, no contest.
I’ve mentioned this before, but the genesis of the Fiasco was something I heard Gerry Overton, then an AJC editor, say: “Even if you haven’t followed college basketball, it’s every American’s duty to fill out a bracket on Monday morning.” With the advent of the internet, that became Sunday night. Well, there’s no tournament this year, but it’s Monday morning and I …
Filled out a bracket.
Joe Lunardi’s final installment of ESPN Bracketology served as the official field. (I’ve long thought that Lunardi does a better job than the NCAA basketball committee.) I took it from there. I picked every game, the Dayton play-ins included. Here’s how the Atlanta Final Four that wasn’t would have looked:
Wisconsin, Florida State, Texas Tech and Michigan State.
None were No. 1 seeds, per Lunardi. Only FSU was a No. 2. Texas Tech was a No. 10. But hadn’t we been saying all winter that this was the strangest season of college hoops ever? Hadn’t we averred that 40 teams had a legitimate chance to reach the Final Four? Did you expect me turn around and pick chalk across the board?
Kansas was the best team over the fullness of the regular season. That doesn’t mean Kansas would have won. It usually doesn’t. I have the Jayhawks losing to Wisconsin, which finished with eight consecutive wins in a Big Ten that saw 10 teams make Lunardi’s tournament, in the Sweet 16. I have Kentucky beating Duke – tasty regional semifinal, eh? – to face the Badgers in the Midwest final. I have Wisconsin winning because I’m sticking with what I’ve said: These Wildcats weren’t an especially vintage batch.
I agonized over the East Regional. My two favorite teams from 2019-20 were seeded here. Can’t pick both. (Darn that Lunardi!) Florida State has a much rougher ride to the Elite Eight – Utah State in Round 2, Villanova in the regional semis – than Dayton, but the Seminoles have everything I’ve liked about them in years past plus two take-control guys in Devin Vassell and Trent Forrest. There’s no question the Flyers, who hadn’t lost in regulation this season, were good enough to win a national championship. I’m not sure they were good enough to beat Florida State.
The West Regional is where I went nuts, pick-wise. The Nos. 1 and 2 seeds – Gonzaga and San Diego State – are gone in my Round 2. (LSU beating the Zags, Texas Tech felling the Aztecs.) I have No. 12 Yale toppling No. 5 Michigan in Round 1. I have No. 10 Texas Tech winning four games, the last coming against No. 4 Oregon in the Elite Eight.
And here you’re saying: “Is this the Texas Tech that lost 13 games?” My answer: Yes, it is. But eight of those losses were by single digits; four came in overtime. The Red Raiders’ season ended with a three-point loss to Baylor in OT and a four-point loss to Kansas, both of which became No. 1 seeds in Lunardi World, though neither in the West Regional. Ken Pomeroy’s rankings have a category for luck: Texas Tech finished 346th of 353 teams. But sometimes luck changes
The South Regional offered personal clarity – I was never going to tab No. 1 Baylor to win; I have the Bears falling to Rutgers in Round 2 – and another dilemma. I was prepared to anoint No. 2 Creighton as a Final Four team, but there’s Michigan State at No. 3. Picking the Spartans to reach the Final Four is never a reach, as it were. They’ve made it eight times this century. This MSU bears the look of most Tom Izzo teams: It loses games early, and then it sorts itself out.
There’s your Final Four Saturday in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, or there it would have been: Michigan State vs. Texas Tech in the first semifinal, just like last year; Florida State against Wisconsin in the second. The title game would have matched FSU and Michigan State, the teams I’d told myself a few weeks back I was picking for my Final Four no matter what – though I confess my “no matter what” never foresaw what’s now reality.
Last week a Florida State legislator, who’s also a Florida State grad, introduced a resolution to proclaim the Seminoles the 2020 NCAA champs. We here at Fiasco HQ aren’t so formal. We’ll just say, “Florida State is the official Bradley pick to win the tournament that won’t be played.”
As we know, being the official Bradley pick is usually a ticket to oblivion. On this Monday morning, I have every confidence that, for the first and last time, I can’t be proved wrong on anything. Heh, heh.
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