Editor in Chief of Chirp City
Host of the Ball Hogs Podcast
Member of Ball State Sports Link
Come one! Come all! Welcome back to the most important, most educational, and most irreverent college basketball column on the internet!
Gang, we failed last year. All of us. And honestly, I’m ashamed. I was certain that either I or one of my newly-educated readers would have nailed the perfect bracket. But, since none of you all won the $1 Billion, here you come clamoring back for another season of the March Madness Survival Guide.
Sorry Warren Buffet, we’re coming for your money.
excuse perfectly valid reason for not leading you all to the billion dollar paradise last year. I started in February! How was I to properly enlighten my audience in a little over a month! I’m not making that mistake this year.
People ask me all the time, “Matt, you seem like someone who’s wise and rich and prosperous. What’s the easiest way to make a billion dollars??” To which I reply, “Well young grasshopper, you’ve come to the right place. All you must do is read my college basketball column each week. Then when March rolls around, you’ll be fully equipped to fill out your NCAA Tournament bracket.” This is usually followed by the “BZZZT. BZZZT. BZZZT” of my phone as my alarm goes off, and it’s time to wake up and come back to reality. Ah, if only people were wise enough to ask in real life.
The college basketball season starts this week, and your guide to a perfect, $1 Billion bracket starts NOW!
AP Top 25 Poll
- North Carolina (35)
- Kentucky (10)
- Maryland (14)
- Kansas (5)
- Virginia (1)
- Iowa State
- Wichita State
- Michigan State
- Notre Dame
Congratulations to twenty-five fan bases. You’ve been awarded with the most meaningless achievement in sports: preseason ranking. Or is it? Per NCAA, “there have been 751 teams ranked in the AP preseason poll since 1984-85 and 85.6 percent of those teams reached the NCAA tournament.”
Polish those dancin’ shoes!
By my count, that means that 21.4 of these 25 schools are tourney-bound. I’ll be generous and round up to 22 out of the 25. And now, for my first magic trick of the season, I will make three teams….disappear *gasps*.
If you followed along the March Madness Survival Guide last year, you know that I do three over-rated upset prone teams every week and three under-rated cinderella teams. I’ll go ahead and knock out my three over-rated teams now, and as always pop-culture themed. This week’s theme: dancing! We’re talking about “The Big Dance” after all.
Matt Craig’s three CARLTONs from “Fresh Prince of Bel-Aire” appropriately named because he can’t dance! And these three teams won’t be dancing this year!
#18 Vanderbilt: Listen, these guys are the “hipsters” of college basketball. They put their benches underneath one of the baskets for crying out loud! I love it. Benches on the long part of the court is just so mainstream, bro. Fight the power.
But I’ll tell you one mainstream trend that they’re passing up on that’s going to kill them, and that’s signing blue chip recruits. The SEC is loaded with NBA-caliber prospects: LSU has future #1 pick Ben Simmons, Kentucky has #1 big man Skal Labissiere, even Mississippi State has the #1 shooting guard prospect in Malik “never met a shot he didn’t like” Newman.
Go ahead and try to name one player on the Vanderbilt roster…..take your time…..yeah that’s what I thought. The Commodores can go ahead and book tickets to Coachella or Bonnaroo or some other hipster music festival for mid-March, because they’re not headed for the tournament.
#25 Michigan: The Wolverines were 240th in points per game last year, 329th in rebounds per game, 231st in assists per game, 224th in field goal percentage per game, and 101st in points allowed per game. By comparison, the Ball State Cardinals were 222nd, 256th, 161st, 232nd, and 246th respectively in those same categories.
Which for those of you all keeping track at home, has the score at Ball State: 2, Michigan: 2, with one tie basically. Not saying we’re as good as Michigan, but I’m not NOT saying we’re as good as them. Beilein has basically the same team as last year, so don’t expect a massive improvement.
#20 Connecticut: Every year, there’s that one team that gets ranked preseason and everyone knows it’s totally a tradition pick. Last year it was Florida, who was preseason #9 before people actually saw them play, at which point their eyes spontaneously started bleeding. This year it’s UCONN, who I guess has an automatic placing since they’re only two years removed from a national championship?
This team lost Ryan Boatwright, aka their entire offense, and now have to rely on the most inefficient gunslinger in the country in Rodney Purvis. They admittedly play in a weak conference, but they didn’t win it last year, so you can go ahead and eliminate them now.
Now that you’ve eliminated the excess garbage, it’s time to take a look at constructing your bracket. Whether you’re a “pick your Final Four and champion regardless of matchup” type guy or a “I pick every game individually” guy, the key to nailing your bracket is to pick the correct national champion.
If you can correctly pick the champion, you have a really really good chance of winning your family or office pool, and that should cash you out a little scratch even if you don’t hit that $1 Billion jackpot (that’s the wrong mindset, we go big or go home here at the Survival Guide).
Picking Your 2016 National Champion
First of all, the “One Shining Moment” tradition may be the best thing in any sport. If you didn’t cry/scream/cheer/pump your fist just now watching that, you need to reevaluate your life. Maybe you’re not cut out to be a Survivalist.
What a world we live in. College basketball in 2015 is so much different than 20, 10, even 5 years ago. It’s truly a messed up world now, and you’re going to have to pick your way through the murky water to find nuggets of gold.
Remember the movie Glory Road, the scene when Don Haskins was in the home of Harry Flournoy? Flournoy’s mother asks Coach Haskins two questions: Is my son going to get a good education, and do you go to church? Ha! now in 2015 Roy Williams has seen his recruiting dip in recent years because he has the public reputation of trying to keep his kids in school.
No, seriously, Scout.com wrote a great piece on Roy Williams’ recruiting obstacles, which are far more than just the NCAA investigation that is poised to slam the Tarheels with penalties. Here’s a telling quote from it:
“The media promotes the idea of our guys staying more than anybody,” Williams said. “Look at last year, we had either 15 or 16 (players in the NBA) and some other school had 10. But it’s promoted that ‘oh you go to North Carolina, Roy puts his handcuffs on you’ and stuff like that. We fight myths all the time in recruiting.”
Roy Williams has to PUBLICLY go on record and state that (essentially), “no don’t worry, highly touted recruit X, you don’t have to worry about school too much. I promise I care as little about your education as the next guy!!” But wait, maybe Roy has pivoted into being the good-guy recruiter, who looks for high-character guys?
What John (Calipari) has recruited, what Mike (Krzyzewski) has recruited, I tried to recruit those same guys.”
“I say that we’ve gotten to be a bus stop,” said Williams. “I’ve said that publically between high school and the NBA, but while you’re at my bus stop enjoy the crap out of it. And while you’re there work your butt off and when it gets to be time for you to leave, I’m with you.”
Well I’ll tell you one thing, over the past year Roy has been the place to go if you’re a reporter and you want a juicy quote! These candid comments come on the heels of last year calling out his fans for being asleep.
But wow, this gives us a pretty good picture inside the mind of the top college basketball coaches. Whoever has the best and fastest bus stop wins.
We now live in a world where John Calipari has to send tweets to assure everyone that him and Drake are cool, after Kentucky reportedly sent Drake a cease-and-desist letter. And Roy Williams is asked at press conferences if he’s doing a bad job as a coach for not connecting with celebrity alumni.
There are no issues with @Drake and UK, and Drake is and always will be a part of our Big Blue family. I hope to see him on campus soon.
— John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari) July 22, 2015
Is this man a basketball coach?? It’s crazy to me. These fifty, or sixty, or seventy year old men have to try to act young and cool with kids, with pop culture, in order to entice them to come to their schools.
I personally came to college to, in part, grow up. Now we live in a world where if you’re tall and athletic enough, these grown men will learn popular songs and childish vine dances just to impress you. It’s actually hilarious.
Meanwhile, Mike Krzyzewski had a heel turn that Anakin Skywalker himself would’ve been proud of, from that guy that only recruited “the right kind of guy for Duke” (admittedly, a lot of times that meant white) to now being the Darth Vader to John Calipari’s Emperor Palpatine. Not only has he sold his soul to the “bus stop” style program, but he’s actually doing it better than Calipari is now.
Speaking of which, is the evil empire of Kentucky crumbling? It was only a year ago that we were crowning them as having the greatest college basketball team of all time, but suddenly, going to Kentucky isn’t the cool place for recruits to go anymore. And since nabbing these McDonald’s All Americans for their obligatory minor league year before hopping to the NBA is now the most important part of being a college basketball coach, Calipari is reeling a little bit.
This year the #1 overall recruit Ben Simmons is going to a conference rival in LSU, the #1 shooting guard decommitted from Kentucky to pick a conference rival in Mississippi State. Just like we started seeing with North Carolina around 2010, slowly the blue chippers that always went to UNC, started going elsewhere.
Maybe these guys all were watching TV last year, and saw future #1 pick Karl Anthony Towns, a guy that would have been 25&10 on almost any other team in the country, only averaging ten points per game, only playing twenty minutes per game. Why do I (if I’m a blue chip recruit) want to go there and sacrifice for the good of the team? I don’t care about the team! I’m gone after one year! I just want a place I go play ball at, do whatever I want, play the whole game and average 25.
I’ve said it all along, that the flaw in the one-and-done system is when guys actually decide to stick around. We saw it last year when the Harrison twins stayed, when Cauley Stein stayed, uh oh. Now I can’t guarantee the opportunities to these new freshmen studs that I promised them in the recruiting process! Oh well at least I can promise 40-0 and a national championship! Oh wait, nevermind.
Guys, Calipari may have really screwed up with Tyler Ulis. The kid is a stud, but he’s also like five-foot-eight. Best case scenario he’s the next Isaiah Thomas, but why would he leave early for the NBA draft? He doesn’t have a pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow like the rest of these guys. He’s staying in school. But he’s really good! He may be the starting point guard for the Wildcats for the next three years. Suddenly Calipari is going to have a really hard time recruiting the best high school point guards in America knowing they won’t start at Kentucky for three years (coach, what does “patience” mean?).
Meanwhile, Coach K had three freshman jump after last season’s national championship run, all of which got drafted in the first round. In their place come three McDonald’s All-Americans, and three other four or five star recruits. Get ’em in, get ’em out. The next bus leaves in June, all aboard!
Coach K is living in the honeymoon phase of his “bus stop” program transition right now, because he’s the new flashy thing everyone wants. He just signed Harry Giles (#1) and Jayson Tatum (#2) for the 2016 class, and there’s about a 0% chance those guys are staying more than a year. These guys are just cheating the system at this point, right?
But I have a hard time believing this can be sustainable for anybody. The darling of the national championship game last year, Grayson Allen, is he leaving early for the NBA? I doubt it, the kid spent 3/4ths of last year looking like, dare I say it, a freshman? If you’re going to choose to be this type of coach, you can’t make any mistakes. As my girl Cersei from Game of Thrones so elegantly puts it, “when you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die.”
That’s what’s so crazy about this whole thing. It works. It isn’t fair, and it doesn’t make any sense, but your 2016 national champion is going to be the best “bus stop” team. The amount of talent, which in past eras of college basketball was spread around to maybe a dozen schools, is now so tightly packed on four or five rosters that there are a hand-full of coaches playing the game of thrones (right now I’d say Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Arizona and Kansas) that are dominating the national title conversation. But just like the show, it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.
There’s so much more to talk about! Transferpalooza, the foreign invasion, preseason All-Americans, the battle for Indiana, coaches having too much power, Pitino not resigning, strippers on visits, #FreeTacko, the fact that there’s a Louisville player who shoots free throws granny-style, AHHHHHHH! Can’t believe college basketball is back! I’m told by my higher ups that if I write much longer then you all will stop reading, but don’t worry, all will be revealed in due time.
Oh, you thought I forgot about my under-rated teams?? Well you thought wrong, because I always deliver. Without further ado, Matt Craig’s three DABO SWEENEYs because I love the college football coach dance movement! And while Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is the founder and the king, Dabo Sweeney is the belle of the ball. Check them all out HERE.
Here’s two on the big screen just for your viewing pleasure:
To be honest with you, these are my three favorite teams in college basketball. They were last season and they will be this season again, because all three have preseason top ten rankings. I’m not even trying to mask my fandom. Deal with it.
#6 Virginia: “Ah, no, Tony Bennett and Virginia are ruining basketball!” I heard this so many times last year from casual sports fans, it made me want to slap somebody (errr I mean punch, very masculinely). No joke if Justin Anderson had stayed at UVA for his senior year (and he should have) this team would be #1, 40-0, and win the national championship. Who knows, they may have done that last year had Anderson not hurt his shooting hand half way through the season. Regardless, they return everyone else back from last year’s team, and even though Memphis Transfer Austin Nichols won’t be able to play this season the squad is deep, disciplined, and smart. And they have a crunch time go-to guy in Malcolm Brogdon, who could end up on the All-American list at the end of the season, which is as important as anything when it comes tournament time.
America will hate them because they perform the despicable act of playing defense, but it will result in winning ball games. Tony Bennett carries the torch as one of the last great college basketball coaches who hasn’t sold out to the “doorstep” philosophy, at least not yet. And that’s more than enough reason to love him. GO WAHOOS!
#10 Wichita State: I don’t know how many times I said this last year, but I’ll go ahead and say it again here in case you all have forgotten during the off-season: WICHITA STATE IS NOT A MID-MAJOR PROGRAM. They get big time recruits, play a big time schedule, and most importantly make/spend big time money. As long as they can hold onto a gem of a coach in Greg Marshall (big if), they’ll continue to be a perennial top 25 and top 10 school.
It’s the final go-round for Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, who for my money are the best backcourt in the country. It seems like they’ve been in school longer than Perry Ellis (scratch that, somehow that dude seems like he’s been at Kansas for a decade), and they bring the experience of a final four run and an undefeated season to this year’s team. Throw that in with all of the new, talented recruits, and this team is dangerous. Don’t sleep on them, they might be the best team in the state.
#8 Oklahoma: This is 100% a homer pick, and I don’t even care. Lon Kruger is as good of a basketball coach as you’ll find anywhere, and an even better person off of the court. They have an absolute game-breaker in Buddy Hield, who was named a preseason All-American this week, and pair him with another senior in Isaiah Cousins, for the closest thing you’ll find to the “Splash Brothers” at a college level. It’s going to be raining from three a lot this season. Not to mention they return two more starters in PG Jordan Woodard and C Ryan Spangler, and this team becomes the most dangerous threat to Kansas’ 11 year Big 12 regular season championship streak.
Come tournament time, you have seniority, you have star talent, and you have great coaching. Where do I sign??
That’s all for now, new March Madness Survival Guides every week! Stay tuned to Chip City for all the latest!!
And HOORAY College Basketball is back!!!!!!!!!!
By Matt Craig
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