Thursday, March 27, 2014

Robbins Rants: 16 is Oh So Sweet!

**I am covering March Madness for the "Louis Live" show on  Check back here for weekly updates on March Madness.  This is the third post in the series.  Click here to read a previous post.**

I released a Live Album of my Poetry!  Click HERE to check it out on iTunes today!!!

Well that was awesome.  They call it March Madness and the first two rounds of this year's NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament definitely did not disappoint.  After six overtime games, multiple other games decided in the final moments and a host of classic games, we have arrived at the Sweet 16.  It was dicey at times for some teams--and even dicier for people who had those teams in their brackets--but the 16 teams playing tonight and tomorrow have all earned their right to March on.

In the words of a certain beverage company who did not pay for the rights to have their name printed in this blog, "Here We Go!"

Miller Bros.
On Saturday night, Archie Miller, head coach of the Dayton Flyers, led his team to a hard-fought upset over struggling Syracuse.  It capped off a tough season for Syracuse that saw the Orange finish with a 28-6 record after beginning the season 25-0.  But this game should not be classified as a Syracuse loss:  it was a Dayton win that propelled the 11 seed Flyers and their third year head coach into the spotlight as the closest thing remaining in this Tournament to a Cinderella.  Miller has done a phenomenal job at Dayton, turning the program into a success story that is in the Sweet 16 for the first time in three decades.  After upsetting in-state rivals Ohio State 60-59 to ruin most people's brackets in the first game of the Tournament, Dayton avoided a late Syracuse run and last-second attempt by star point guard Tyler Ennis to defeat the Orange 55-53 in the second round.  While their combined margin of victory in the first two rounds was three points, Dayton positioned themselves to win both games, and reminded the world that "Survive & Advance" is all a team needs to do in March Madness.

On Sunday evening, one seed Arizona faced off against eight seed Gonzaga in a game with an ungodly tip-off time of 9:53 p.m. Eastern.  (Tonight's tip-off is even more ridiculous for people who have to function on Friday mornings, as Arizona is not scheduled to tip-off until 10:17 p.m. Eastern, which means there is a good likelihood that the game will start after 10:30 p.m.)  A highly-anticipated matchup between a Gonzaga team that looked strong in dispatching Oklahoma State in the first round and an Arizona squad that seemingly had to prove itself despite being ranked number one for eight straight weeks this season, ended in a rout as Arizona had the game all but wrapped up at halftime.  As close friend and Huffington Post blogger Lewis Krell put it before the game while we were discussing what Arizona needed to do to beat Gonzaga, "Turnovers lead to easy points, easy points lead to March wins."  The Wildcats obliterated Gonzaga, converting the 21 Gonzaga turnovers it forced into 32 easy points.  The Wildcats looked like not only the top defensive team in the country, but a fluid offense that is and always has been about unselfishness and teamwork.  The unselfish style of play, work ethic and success that Arizona exhibits on the court is due to its leader and head coach, Sean Miller.  Miller is widely considered to be the "Best Coach to Never Make a Final Four," leading both Xavier and Arizona to huge success in his relatively short amount of time at the schools.  In addition to having the Wildcats posed to make the trip to North Texas for the Final Four, Sean Miller is the older brother of Dayton head coach Archie Miller.

Although he is one of the brightest young coaching minds in college basketball, Archie Miller was a relative unknown before Dayton's run.  Those who did know him outside of Ohio, most-likely knew him as the younger brother of Arizona head coach Sean Miller.  When Archie left his position as associate head coach at the University of Arizona to take the Dayton job, big brother Sean praised him as a great coach who would do fantastic things for the Dayton program.  Three years later, as they both prepare to coach their teams in this year's Sweet 16, Archie proved that big brother knows best.  Last weekend was a pretty darn good weekend to be a Miller.  For the sake of Dayton & Arizona fans, lets hope this weekend turns out to be an even better one.

The Shockers
On Sunday afternoon, the Wichita State Shockers faced off against the Kentucky Wildcats in the best game of the Tournament, thus far.  In a Tournament that has been this exciting and garnered the best ratings in 19 years, having the title of "best game" is no joke.  Wichita State came in as the 35-0, in-the-record-books mid-major team looking to prove itself to everybody.  Kentucky came in with a recruiting class for the ages that had been ranked number one in the nation during the preseason before faltering throughout the regular season.  Kentucky finally came together as a team towards the end of the season, running through the South Eastern Conference Tournament, ultimately losing to Florida by a point in the Title Game.  Wichita State entered the matchup as the only one seed to look strong in its first round matchup.  Kentucky entered the game with all of its talented freshmen finally clicking, exhibiting the chemistry that had eluded them all year long.  This was a matchup that many argued never should have been set up in the Round of 32 (with Kentucky deserving much higher than an eight seed in the tournament) and numerous pundits and the coaches of both teams remarking after the game that it was reminiscent of a Final Four game--if not a National Title game.

After a back-and-forth battle that showcased all of Wichita State's stars and included the dunk of the tournament and 31 points from Cleanthony Early, and the skills that made Kentucky's recruiting class the unquestioned best in the nation, Kentucky bested Wichita State 78-76 to advance to the Sweet 16. Immediately the conversation focused on Wichita State's credentials:  were they deserving of the one seed they were given?  Were they as good as their 35-0 start?  Had they earned the top seed in the Midwest Region of the Tournament?

The answer is yes.  To any questions about Wichita State's ability, to any questions about its coaching and its players, to any questions about its resume and its qualifications and accomplishments.  2013-2014 Wichita State was a great team led by Gregg Marshall who should runaway with every "coach of the year" award.  After leading the team to a Final Four last year, Marshall brought them back and kept them extremely focused despite the distractions and extra-incentive for other teams that inevitably follow undefeated teams.  They were scrutinized, they were picked on, and they prevailed through it all.  Coming into the Tournament, I had Kentucky beating Kansas State in the first round, to set up the exact matchup we witnessed with Wichita State on Sunday.  I had Kentucky winning the matchup because of its athleticism--a type of athleticism Wichita State did not have to face all year.  And I, someone who picked Kentucky to upset Wichita State, am here writing that there is no doubt in my mind that Wichita State deserved their one seed.  I do not care what conference you play in:  going undefeated in the regular season and conference tournament gives you elite status.  They were a well-oiled machine that ran through their schedule, as soft as parts of it may have been.

In March Madness, athleticism often wins out, especially when teams from smaller conferences ("mid-majors") face teams from "major" conferences.  I picked Kentucky to win for that reason, but there is no doubt in my mind that Wichita State is the better team overall.  On Sunday, Wichita State was a great team that came up against an unfortunate opponent.  Had Kentucky been seeded differently, Wichita State would still be dancing.  The fact that they are not should not take away from what they accomplished this season.  Wichita State set records and won in a way that had never been seen in a single season in NCAA History, during a time when unprecedented media coverage and technology allow anybody to be a pundit.  They turned the microscope into the limelight and triumphed all season long in spite of it, before ultimately losing a Title Game-esque matchup to a Kentucky team that played as well as it possibly could have.  Wichita State is back in Kansas this weekend, likely wondering what could have been.  They and everybody else should focus on what was, because their season was a thing of beauty and their team was one for the ages.

Back-Weighted Brackets
Historically, I have been great at picking the first round games, even going undefeated in my bracket through the first weekend one year.  (By comparison, one person in all of Yahoo! Sports brackets and zero people in ESPN's brackets were perfect after the first round this year.)  As any die-hard bracketeers know though, it is the later rounds that matter the most.  I was discussing this with OMG Poetry fan and fellow Arizona Alum. David Abraham last Thursday while we were watching the first round of the Tournament.  David had plenty of upsets in his first round, making sure that he also picked the teams he actually thought would make it, to go far in his bracket.  This gave him Dayton over Ohio State and Mercer over Duke, while only costing him some 12/5 match ups.

David's strategy is a good one when it comes to differentiating oneself from the other people in your pool.  The scoring for most brackets is skewed towards the later rounds, meaning that correctly picking a Sweet 16 game is worth more points than picking a First Round game.  I had a shaky first round by my standards, going 24-8.  This dropped me towards the bottom of both of my brackets and left my prospects looking bleak after day two.  However, I was not despondent, as I knew a bounce-back Second Round would have me right back in contention.  I had already lost three of my Sweet 16 teams, Duke, New Mexico and Ohio State.  Out of the 13 possible remaining teams, I went 12-1, missing out only on the Wisconsin/Oregon matchup.  I had top seed Wichita State losing to Kentucky, as well as second seeds Villanova and Kansas, and third seeds Syracuse and Creighton losing.

Even though I lost one Final Four team (Duke), two Elite Eight teams (Ohio State and New Mexico) and three Sweet 16 teams (the aforementioned three teams) in the first round, my second round picking enabled me to bounce back and jump all the way up to second in both of my pools.  While the games could obviously not go my way the rest of the Tournament, I have put myself solidly in contention and I will win both of my pools if my National Champion pick (Arizona) comes through and wins it all, in spite of my tough first round.

This is a reminder to everybody for the future:  while upsets are fun and we all want Cinderellas to advance in the Dance, it is important that you are able to see which teams will be around during the second weekend when you peer into your Crystal Ball.  These are the teams that position you to win your brackets.  These teams are your Prince Charmings.

16 is Oh So Sweet!
With 16 teams to go and my bracket and results posted above, I figured now would be a good time to make my predictions for this weekend's games, and give a few brief sentences on my reasons why.  (My picks are bolded.)

West Region:
Arizona vs. San Diego State
Arizona and San Diego State both feature great defenses.  Arizona also has a great offense.  San Diego State has Xavier Thames.  He is a great offensive player, but he is not enough to beat this caliber of a team singlehandedly.

Baylor vs. Wisconsin
Baylor's offense was unstoppable against Creighton in the Second Round and its defense smothered the Blue Jays and their star player Doug McDermott.  Wisconsin is a better offensive team than it ever has been under Bo Ryan--it is also arguably the worst it has ever been on defense.  Baylor offense/defense overcomes Wisconsin's offense for the win.

Midwest Region:
Kentucky vs. Louisville
Kentucky looked incredible against Wichita State, playing as well as it could have.  Louisville hasn't looked great in either of its wins, but it was also coasting through the first two rounds.  Kentucky will have to be at its best to beat a Louisville team that I expect will come out with the best it has to offer. Kentucky won't be at its best.

Tennessee vs. Michigan
Tennessee is a hot team that is severely outplaying its opponents.  It has a bonafide star in Jordan McRae and a huge interior presence.  Michigan is lacking an interior presence, but it is a better team and a deserving two seed.  Michigan will stay on track and outshoot Tennessee, just as it did to Texas and the Longhorns' inside-outside game.

East Region:
Iowa State vs. UConn
Connecticut looked great knocking off a soft Villanova team.  Iowa State lost its leader and most versatile player to a broken foot in the first round--and still came back to beat a very good North Carolina team.  Iowa State may not be the same contender it was with Georges Niang in the lineup, but it is still better than UConn.  Look for UConn PG Shabazz Napier to have a good game in a losing effort.

Virginia vs. Michigan State
I picked Michigan State to win this matchup on my bracket and nothing I have seen in any of the four Michigan State and Virginia games I have watched this Tournament tells me to do otherwise here.  But I am going to.  I have a Cavalier feeling inside and I am going with Tony Bennett's team to score the "upset" over Sparty here, preventing Michigan State's seniors from reaching the Final Four.  (I might be a round off on this Michigan State loss, but I have to go with my gut--as small and finicky as it may be.)

South Region:
Stanford vs. Dayton
Stanford is too big inside, coming off of too big of a win, with too great of a scorer in Chasson Randle to lose their first game in the Tournament as a favorite.  Johnny Dawkins has this team clicking and rolling.  While Dayton is playing storybook basketball, their Cinderella Story comes to an end tonight.

UCLA vs. Florida
This was my second-hardest decision after UVA and Michigan State.  I have Florida beating UCLA in my bracket.  Florida is a one seed and has played that way for most of the season.  They are senior-laden and capable of winning it all.  But UCLA is pesky, with stars at almost every position and Kyle Anderson who is a 6'9 point-forward and matchup nightmare for any team.  What UCLA may lack on the interior, they make up for everywhere else.  Florida was shaky for the first 30 minutes against Pittsburgh.  UCLA will not excuse that shakiness.  Get ready for an all-PAC-12 matchup in the Elite Eight!

Until Next Time...
Enjoy the games, you beautiful readers!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Robbins Rants: Let the Madness Begin!!!

**I will be covering March Madness for the "Louis Live" show on  Check back here for weekly updates on March Madness.  This is the second post in the series.  Click here to read the first post.**

I released a Live Album of my Poetry!  Click HERE to check it out on iTunes today!!!

The Madness has officially begun!

After a great Championship Week that saw Virginia grab the last number one seed after every other team in the running for it faltered down the stretch, and a decent "first round" of play-in games, the round of 64 has begun in the greatest tournament in all of sports!

Billion Dollar Bracket
As millions of people know, Quicken is offering $1,000,000,000 to anybody who picks a perfect bracket.  This means if you are a savant, lucky, and blessed enough to pick every game from the Round of 64 down to the National Title Game correctly, you walk away with a cool Billion Dollars (annually over 20 years, or Five Hundred Million Dollars on the spot).

Let's get this out of the way before any of you get too excited:  nobody is going to win a Billion Dollars.  While the chances of winning are listed as one in nine quadrillion, the odds are even worse than that because Quicken Loans, Warren Buffett (who is underwriting the prize) and partner Yahoo! Sports limited the spots to 15 Million entries.  Additionally, there is no way to quantify the heightened level of play, amount of buzzer-beaters and all of the other intangible factors that contribute to March Madness being the greatest sporting event of the year--in any year.

As I'm writing this, I--along with hundreds of thousands of other fans--have already been eliminated from contention for the Billion Dollars due to Ohio State's upset at the hands of in-state foe, Dayton.  I genuinely wish those of you who are still in contention the best and hope you win the Billion Dollars, but don't get your hopes up.  I would be very surprised if anybody is perfect after the round of 32 (heading into the Sweet 16).

Pools, Pools & More Pools...& My Bracket
Luckily, although none of us will be placed into the highest tax bracket as a result of the Tourney, many of us are still in pools that give us the opportunity to win some money.  March Madness is universally loved because everybody can fill out a bracket, regardless of basketball knowledge.  There are stories of people winning their pools because they picked all of the Catholic Schools to win, picked schools with the mascots they liked best, or picked their favorite uniform color combinations.  All of these have proven to be winning strategies and this adds to the excitement.  There is something special about the way people come together to root for (and against) teams, and there is something for everybody in March.  As OMG Poetry fan Alex Poolda put it, "I'm in way too many [pools] currently.  Haha I'm gonna go broke."

Whether you have filled out a bracket for yourself for fun, a $5 per entry office pool, or spent all of your money on pools, there are thousands of options for casual fans to get involved in March.  As usual, I have joined the "Israel Sports Radio" pool on Yahoo! Sports.  My bracket is located below for your viewing pleasure.  I have shared my Bracket Soul with you, please be gentle with it.

Wait, The Selection Committee Weights Regions?
There could be no Tournament without the mysterious Selection Committee who ranks each team and decides who makes the 68-team field, which teams play each other and which geographic regions they play each other in.  Every year there are many gripes and rants about teams who made the field of 68 who should not have, the teams who were snubbed by the Committee and left out of the Tournament, and the match-ups each team has.

Right after the bracket was released, there was an immediate reaction to the Midwest Region, headed by number one seed, undefeated Wichita State.  The region features three teams from last year's Final Four (Wichita St., reigning National Champions Louisville, two seed Michigan) and the always dangerous, perennial contender, Duke Blue Devils.  Athletic, talented teams have historically done well in the Tournament and the Midwest Region also includes the Kentucky Wildcats, arguably the most athletically gifted team in the Nation.  Assuming Wichita State beats upstart Cal Poly in the first round (more on that below) and Kentucky wins their first round matchup, Wichita State would have to play Kentucky in the second round.

As soon as the Selection Show finished and the bracket analysis began, NBA Legend Charles Barkley stated that he felt that Wichita State was singled out by the Committee and given the toughest bracket
because they played a weaker schedule than the other number one seeds.  I made the same argument as soon as I saw the bracket and took it a step further to explain the West region, as well.  My argument was as follows...

Wichita State earned a number one seed as the first team to make it to the Tournament undefeated in over 20 years.  Their perfect 34-0 record is impressive in any conference, mid-major or not.  They showed they were an elite team when they made a run to the Final Four as a Cinderella in last year's Tournament and they returned all of the starters from that squad and coalesced to earn their place in history entering this year's Tournament.  They are a very good team and there is no question they deserve to be a one seed.  The lone question is their strength of schedule.  Wichita State played a soft schedule because they play in a mid-major (non-power) conference that had a down year.  The Selection Committee loves to talk about how many factors go into its decisions and ranking process.  While I do not doubt the numerous factors, it is hard to ignore the fact that Wichita State, who had the weakest strength of schedule out of any one seed, was given the toughest region in the bracket by far.  It is hard to disregard the assertion that Wichita State was given the hardest strength of schedule in the Tournament, after playing a "weak" schedule of opponents during the regular season.

On the flip side, the University of Arizona arguably has the easiest road to the Final Four in Dallas.  While there are very good teams in their region and teams such as Oregon that are peaking at the right time, the region features underachieving teams, teams that Arizona is primed to beat due to its style of play and many teams lacking a bona fide superstar.  Get by Oklahoma State and star guard Marcus Smart in the second round, and there is a strong belief between pundits and fans alike that Arizona will make it to the Final Four.

Arizona is the best defensive team in the nation as measured by multiple metrics, including defensive efficiency per possession.  They were undefeated for the majority of the season, and spent eight weeks with the number one ranking in the country.  In their first loss of the season--at Cal against a tough team projected to make the Tournament at the time--Arizona lost its most versatile offensive player in forward Brandon Ashley two minutes into the game.  It was reported by halftime that Ashley had broken his foot, was scheduled to have surgery after the game and would miss the rest of the regular season and March Madness.  The Wildcats rallied in that game before ultimately losing to by two points on a buzzer beater by Cal's star guard Justin Cobbs.  Arizona regrouped without Ashley and finished the season with a record of 30-4, earning their number one seed.  Three of their four losses came by a combined nine points, including the aforementioned two-point loss at Cal, a double-overtime road loss to rivals and tournament team ASU, and a four-point loss in the PAC-12 Conference Title Game to four seed UCLA.  Many people surmise that Arizona would have joined Wichita State at 34-0, had they not lost Brandon Ashley.  It is hard to ignore the fact that Arizona was rewarded with a region fit for a team that went 34-0 in a major conference and it is hard to disregard the assertion that Arizona was given the easiest road to the Finals despite being the second overall team in the Tournament to the University of Florida.

Wichita State may very well reach the Final Four.  If they do, nobody will be able to question the difficult route they navigated to get there.  Arizona is a favorite by many to make it to the Final Four. If they do, there will undoubtedly be fans of other top seeds who do not make it to Dallas complaining about the "easy road" Arizona had to the Final Four.

Underachieving...For Now
In my first blog post, I was going to include a section on Michigan State with the same header as this one ("Underachieving...For Now"), about how the Spartans were underachieving, but would put things together for the Tournament like Tom Izzo coached-teams always do.  Since that blog post, Michigan State ran through the Big-10 Tournament, winning the Title and earning a four seed in March Madness in the process.  They then became the darlings of the Tournament and bracket selection process, becoming the instant favorite of many pundits to win it all.  While I personally have Iowa State beating Michigan State (as noted in my bracket above), Michigan State is a veteran team, expertly coached by a Hall of Famer who has won it all before.  Look for them to do some damage and make it to the Elite Eight, if not further.

Every year a team comes out of nowhere to surprise the world and make a deep run.  Last year it was 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast University shocking two seed Georgetown, en route to a Cinderella run to the Elite Eight.  While the potential Cinderellas will be locked down by this coming Sunday and we will know who to watch for in the Sweet 16, I have a team that I am currently rooting for with all of my Cinderella heart, and all of my Cinderella might...

The Cal Poly Mustangs have a 14-19 record.  They were 10-19 when they entered the Big West Tournament for a matchup against two seed University of California Santa Barbara.  They thrashed the Gauchos 69-38, beat the league champion Anteaters of UC Irvine in the next game, before winning the Big West Title Game against Cal State Northridge.  They carried the Big West momentum into last night's play-in game, easily handling Texas Southern despite a 38-point contribution from star Texas Southern big man Aaric Murray.  Cal Poly is now 14-19, but more importantly, they are on a four-game winning streak and they believe they can beat anybody.

No 16 seed has ever defeated a one seed and there is very little chance it will happen this year when the Mustangs lace up against Wichita State on Friday.  Having said that, I know who I'll be rooting for when the teams face off in the Midwest Region.

Nobody ever thought Cinderella would make it to the Ball, and she took down a prince.  Nobody ever thought Cal Poly would make it to the Big Dance.  Time for them to Shock the world by taking down Wichita State!

Until Next Time...
Enjoy your weekend of buzzer-beaters, upsets and non-stop basketball.  It's Madness Baby, Madness!!!  And this is as good as it gets.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Robbins Rants: Conference Tournament Week

**I will be covering March Madness for the "Louis Live" show on  Check back here for weekly updates on March Madness.  First post starts now...**

It is March and the Madness is upon us.  That’s right folks:  while the weather outside is frightful, the college basketball is so delightful!

This week marks Conference Championship Week, where all of the Division I Collegiate basketball conferences hold tournaments to decide who gets to go dancing in the granddaddy of them all:  NCAA March Madness.  I’ll be your host over the next month, as we navigate this wild ride that is universally accepted in an Americentrist world as the greatest sporting event of the year.  Tune in to “Louis Live” as I cover everything March Madness-related in print and on air.  Let the Madness Begin!

Back Problems
Injuries to star players have the potential to derail championship teams.  Cincinnati’s title hopes were dashed in ’00 when future number one overall pick and current New York Knickerbocker Kenyon Martin broke his leg in the Atlantic-10 Conference Tournament a week before Selection Sunday.  While no team has suffered a season-ending injury of that magnitude over the past week, many teams are currently struggling with injuries to their stars.  Specifically, back problems have been an issue as of late.

Syracuse began the season at 25-0, before dropping four of five games, nose-diving to a 26-4 record before righting the ship against Florida St. on Sunday.  The rough patch included losses to Georgia Tech, and an inspired, but lowly, Boston College team.  While Syracuse was never good enough to be an undefeated team and they had a Strength of Schedule (SOS) of over 100 when they lost to Boston College—meaning that they had yet to play their toughest opponents, as their SOS now sits at 61st—their streak did coincide with a back injury to star forward Jerami Grant.  Although Grant was productive in back-to-back losses to Boston College & Duke, he played 13 ineffective minutes in a nail-biting 57-55 win over Maryland three days after the Duke loss.  After receiving treatment for the rest of the week, he attempted to play in Syracuse’s next game, ultimately managing a grimace-filled 13 ineffective minutes in Syracuse’s blowout-loss to Virginia.  In their next game, a home game against Georgia Tech, Syracuse lost 67-62, while shooting under 40% from the field, as their vaunted zone surrendered 47% shooting to their opponents.  Grant was absent in the loss to Georgia Tech, sitting on the sidelines in street clothes, watching his teammates struggle without his interior presence creating spacing problems for opposing teams.  Grant’s return in the next game couldn’t have come soon enough for the Orange, who blew out a pesky Florida State squad on the road, behind Grant’s 16 points and eight rebounds.  Syracuse shot 48% from the field against the defensive-oriented Seminoles, while their zone bounced back and held their opponents to 38% shooting.

While C.J. Fair leads Syracuse in scoring, Grant leads them in rebounds and physicality and it became abundantly clear to Syracuse fans just how much they need him on the floor.  The same can be said for Kansas and its star center, Joel Embiid.  Embiid, projected by some to be the number one overall selection in this year’s NBA Draft, has missed the last two games with a stress fracture to his lower back.  It was announced on Monday that he will miss the entire Big-12 Conference Tournament and may miss the first week of the NCAA Tournament, as well.  In his absence, Kansas crushed a bad Texas Tech team, before being upset by West Virginia in what was arguably its worse and most telling loss of the season—a loss that has at the very least temporarily knocked Kansas out of a number one seed in March Madness.  Like Grant, Embiid does not lead Kansas in scoring—that mark goes to fellow freshman superstar Andrew Wiggins, who scored 41 points in the loss to West Virginia on Sunday.  However, like Grant, Embiid leads the team in rebounding, blocks and overall physicality and is a huge force for Kansas on both ends of the floor.  While it remains to be seen just how much time he will miss and when he will return to the court—if he ever does return in a college uniform—the impact of Embiid’s loss was felt mightily on Sunday.  Kansas is talented enough to win without their big man, but they are likely not talented enough to win it all if he does not return.

What Does it Take to Be, #1?
With less than a week remaining until Selection Sunday, three number one seeds are seemingly locked-in:  the top-ranked Florida Gators will be a number one seed regardless of what happens in the SEC Tournament, the Wichita State Shockers completed a 34-0 season, and the Arizona Wildcats currently have the top RPI (the metric used to reflect the toughness of a team’s schedule and how they fared against the schedule—the all-important metric for deciding seeding in the NCAA Tournament) and number four overall SOS in the nation.  A loss to Oregon was presumably frustrating to the Wildcats, but losing to a fellow tournament team on the road in a conference game did not hurt their chances at a number one seed.  Like Florida, they should be a number one seed regardless of what happens in the PAC-12 Conference Tournament.  Three teams down, one to go.

For those of us who have anxiety over unfinished business, we are anxious about this fourth number one seed.  So are four teams who can’t seem to make up their minds on whether they want the one seed or not.  Although they were playing without Embiid, Kansas would have all but locked up the number one seed with a win over West Virginia.  Instead, the loss has them trending downward as a two-seed.  Similarly, Wisconsin lost to Nebraska on Sunday.  While Nebraska is a tournament team and Wisconsin had been playing some of the best basketball in the nation as of late, the loss knocked them down to a two-seed, as well.  Similarly, a Duke loss to Wake Forest knocked them off of the top-line, despite their bounce-back domination of archrival North Carolina on Saturday night.

So who does that leave to grab the fourth number one seed?  Villanova & Michigan are the two most-likely candidates, as of now.  The winners of the Big East and Big-10, respectively, will each need to win their conference tournaments to have a shot at the number one seed.  It is currently theirs to lose, although if Kansas runs through the Big-12 Tournament to sweep the regular season and conference titles in the toughest conference in the country, the Jayhawks might just leapfrog Villanova and become the first team in history to earn a number one seed with eight losses on the season.

History Repeats Itself…Sometimes
The last time the University of Arizona Wildcats lost to the Oregon Ducks to end the regular season, they went on to win the school’s lone National Championship.  Arizona lost to Oregon to close the season on Saturday night…

Wichita State currently has a record of 34-0, going undefeated in the regular season and their conference tournament, undoubtedly earning a number one seed and a deserved place in the history books.  The last team to enter March Madness undefeated after sweeping the regular season and their conference tournament was the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV, who had a 34-0 record in 1991.  That team, a one seed featuring first round draft picks Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony (who will be calling games during this year’s March Madness) and Elmore Spencer, lost to two-seed Duke in the Final Four.  Wichita State is a one seed.  Duke is currently pretty tightly locked-in to a two seed…

The Florida Gators are currently locked-in as a number one seed and looking good for the number one overall seed in the Tournament.  They finished the regular season on a 23-game winning streak, breaking a record originally set by the ’06 Florida Gators and matched by the ’07 Florida Gators a year later.  Both of those teams won the National Championship.  The last Florida Gators team to be the number one overall seed was the ’07 squad:  they won the National Championship.

Bit of Tid
The Manhattan Jaspers, who clinched their tournament berth Monday night with a victory over fellow conference mate and tournament team Iona, are named after Brother Jasper of Mary, who founded the school’s first band, orchestra, glee club and various literary clubs.  However, Brother Jasper was not just a lover of the arts:  he also served as the team’s first athletic director and brought the then little-known sport of baseball to Manhattan College.

According to the school’s website, Brother Jasper noticed on a particularly warm and humid day of baseball that the students in the stands were becoming restless as the team came to bat in the bottom of the seventh inning of a close game.  Thinking on his feet, Brother Jasper called for a time out and told the students to stand and stretch for a few minutes until the game resumed.

The Jaspers played an annual game against the New York (baseball) Giants in the 1880s and 1890s, at which point Manhattan College’s “seventh inning stretch” was adopted by the Major Leagues.  This year’s entry marks Manhattan College’s seventh appearance in the NCAA Tournament.  Three stretches for Brother Jasper!

Israeli Dancing!
Oregon player Ben Carter is the son of former Hapoel Holon star Mike Carter.  Although he grew up in Nevada after leaving Israel with his parents when he was six months old, Carter is an Israeli Citizen.  While the sophomore plays a reserve role on the Oregon squad, he was instrumental towards the end of Saturday’s upset win over Arizona.  Carter finished with five points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block in only 13 minutes of play.  Most importantly, the forward made crucial plays and hit clutch free throws down the stretch to help seal the win for his team.  As a result, the Israeli-born player will be dancing in March for the second straight year.

We’re Going Dancing!
So far, eight teams have officially punched their tickets to the Big Dance and will be dancing when March Madness opens next week.  Congratulations to the Mercer Bears, Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens, Harvard Crimson, Manhattan Jaspers, Wichita State Shockers, Eastern Kentucky Colonels and the Wofford Terriers on winning their respective conferences.  A special shout-out to Delaware, who will be appearing in the tournament for the first time since 1999.

In the Words of my Former Governator:  “I’ll Be Back”
That wraps up this edition of “Robbins Rants.”  I hope it’s gotten you as excited about college basketball as I am, informed you on what we have to look forward to together over the next month, and helped you productively spend some time at work.

To quote Major Clipton and the final line from the 1957 classic and winner of eight Academy Awards in 1958 including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor, The Bridge on the River Kwai,  “Madness!  MADNESS!”  It is upon us.


Joseph D. Robbins is a poet and an educator based in New York City.  He has a BA in Creative Writing & Judaic Studies from the University of Arizona and a Masters in the Teaching of English from Columbia Teachers College.  He is pursuing a Masters in Jewish Education at JTS and State Certification in Students with Learning Disabilities at Teachers College.  His poetry album, “One Man Gang” was recently released.  You can find it online here.