Never Mind Obama’s Bracket: MINE’s Got More Canada!

Happy Spring, lovers of green and newness and absurd levels of attention to American college sports! That’s me, and maybe you, too.) My mind has been mainly not thinking much about Madness south of the border – or way way west of the West Regional, in Dalian, China – what with jobs and obligations of spirit and a sweet little community that thinks March is a heavenuva good time to celebrate New Year’s. (Happy to you!) The Thursday night games of the opening weekend of the NCAA tournament are all in the books, and I accidentally know a couple of results. I also know that I (again) won’t likely be able to watch anything on-line. But I’m in.

The True North, deep and talented.

My bracket is done. (Like yours, it’s likely already wrecked, but I’m not sure yet.) It’s an impulsive, ill-informed, laundry-biased, ancient-loyalty-skewed and tremendously Canuck-friendly set of predictions. I’ll spare you the details, but I do have a shocking winner, a fair slew of upsets, and a quality of analysis you’ll not likely see anywhere else. So let’s get right to it!

In round one, I have mild upsets: Stanford (10) gets through because its players really are students who play great ball (in many sports), and I know nothing about New Mexico except for gorgeous sunsets and the Navajo. Harvard wins, one of my obligatory 12-seed-over-the-5, which doubles as brains ‘n’ skill over Cincinnati’s brawling, mauling physical talent. (This is always Cinci, isn’t it, even though Huggins is long gone?) I have Providence (11) over the fabled Tar Heels, because North Carolina’s been wacky and I believe in several forms of natural and divine Providence. I have the vague impression that Texas (7) is also undercoached, though I enjoyed learning from Rick Barnes years ago. (He put on a clinic. Literally. Who knows what to believe among all the gossip about coaches? I guess I’ve bought into the Barnes Effect, though.) So, Arizona State (10) it is, though I couldn’t name a player or their coach. Oh, and I have North Carolina State, likely one of the howling errors of the selection committee for even making the field, continuing their horseshoes-and-anuses trickery with a 12/5 upset of Saint Louis, whose mighty Billikens (!) can’t everlastingly benefit from the divine intervention of their deceased and beloved former coach, Rick Majerus. Besides, they took the 5th seed, and everybody knows that fives will go down.

There’s one major upset, and how could it be otherwise? New Mexico State, with four Canadians, including the 7’5” Sim Bhullar, are first-round poison to the fourth-seeded  San Diego State lads; SDS’s Steve Fisher is so much better than I thought he was in the Fab Five days at Michigan, and they may have other Kawhi Leonard-type players (big Kawhi fan, a perfect Spur, he is!), but it’s a Canada thing. They’re doomed. This also explains why Baylor, with Brady Heslip (I played against his Dad) and Montreal’s Kenny Chery, will take out Creighton in the second round, as the Blue Jays have only Jahenns Manigat. (But wait: Manigat’s from Ottawa, and I saw him in high school, and I love the father/son story of Coach Greg and college-superstar-but-will-he-cut-it-in-the-NBA Doug McDermott.) Sheesh. Between those last parentheses, I just talked myself back into Creighton avoiding the upset to Baylor in round 2.¹

¹ I refuse to count the play-in games as a “round”. They are a “farce” and a “money grab”.

It won’t be an upset when Michigan (2) takes Duke (3) in the third round, but it is a slight earth tremor that I just picked against the Blue Devils, whom I fearlessly love for ancient reasons. One of them – Canadian content, back in the Greg Newton/Danny Meagher days – is this year’s fatal Blue Devil weakness, and Michigan’s Nik Stauskas is a Canuck sharpshooter and rising star. ‘Bye, Coach K! Another 3rd round matchup is a real pain-in-the-maple-leaf, though: Syracuse (3), with their great Greater Toronto Area freshman point guard Tyler Ennis, will face second-seeded Kansas with the impossibly talented GTA freshman flyer Andrew Wiggins. And when KU takes that one, they’re slated to face the same team that beat them in the Big 12 Tournament final, third-seeded Iowa State.

3.7 GPA. Planning on a law career. Player of the Year in his conference, over Wiggins. Melvin Ejim’s my new fave Canadian player; Kevin Pangos didn’t even get a *mention* in this article, how soon we forget.

Now, I’ve never seen Melvin Ejim (also a GTA lad, and a senior, and a fine student) or his GTA buddy Naz Long play, and I’ve only seen highlights – and they’re high – of the young Mr. Wiggins of the Jayhawks, someone I’ve read about for three years. This Final Four midwestern mash-up is a tough call, but I’m going with the Jayhawks and the brilliance of Wiggins, the Kansas legacy of eastern Ontario’s James Naismith (you’ve likely heard of him: the Jayhawks roots run deep), and the combined strength of their having among the best uniforms and the best name in college sports.

All of this, of course, sets up the dream national championship game: two Kansas teams, dynasty versus upstart, blue-bloods against the forgotten side of the family. On one side will be Kansas, the legendary school of Naismith and Chamberlain and Manning and Mario’s Miracle, and now Wiggins. On the other, after they out-Canadian the Pac-12 powerhouse Arizona Wildcats (who, it must be said, in this theatre-of-the-mindgames scenario, had already knocked off the Creighton Blue Jays – wait, another contender for Best Name in Sports! – and their Ottawa Man-igat; hmm, rethinking as we read/write),

Andrew at left, Nick the Shocker in white. It’s all about the Wigginses.

are the Wichita State Shockers, a “mid-major” school that despite going undefeated has still not gained the respect of most, and certainly not of the cross-state Jayhawks². They’re tough, they’re experienced, they’re extremely well-coached, they’ve got real talent – AND they have a Wiggins, too!

² This matchup has shades of the Canadian Interuniversity Sports men’s basketball final, where the recently-dynastic Carleton University Ravens defeated their fevered cross-town “Canal War”rivals, the Ottawa Gee-Gees, in the final. Another great story, told here.

Yes, it’s not just the battle for Kansas bragging rights, nor a mere NCAA championship: it’s the Wiggins Bowl! The older brother, Nick, comes off the bench for the Shockers, and nobody talks about him even making the NBA, let alone being the number one draft pick next June. But a chance for Older Bro to take part in one last smack-down of the Talented Twerp? You gotta go with that. (Andrew, by the way, inspires not only breathless hype but also headlines like, “Is Wiggins Too Nice To Be a Superstar?“) Not only will Wiggins win, but the Shockers will shock, and there’ll be an undefeated national champion for the first time in whenever.

There you have it. Now to some results, where I’ll get to read how wrong I am already after Day One of the Madness.

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