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March Madness Survival Guide: RIVALRY WEEK

WE’RE BACK! After a prolonged absence, your favorite college basketball column returns with status reports on all of the contenders, and what we learned from the fourth best week of the season.

IMG_9354Written By: Matt Craig | @MrMattCraig
Editor in Chief of Chirp City
Host of the Ball Hogs Podcast
Member of Ball State Sports Link


 

People have been asking me recently…what happened to March Madness Survival Guide?

To be honest, this has been one of my favorite college basketball seasons of my life. I loved writing about it and trying to make sense of it. Despite the craziness, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on teams and was feeling good about my bracket chances.

Then, bombshell.

When I started the March Madness Survival Guide, I promised everyone who read it a simple three step plan: 1) read the MMSG, 2) complete the perfect bracket, 3) collect Warren Buffet’s $1 Billion reward.

It was the American dream. It was easy money. And now it’s dead.

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Warren, you smug bastard. You just saved yourself at least $1 Billion.

Survivalists, there’s only one logical explanation. Mr. Buffet has been reading the March Madness Survival Guide himself, and once he realized his proposition was no longer a funny little gimmick for attention and that he’d soon be having to write out several Billion dollar checks, he called the whole thing off.

Kind of a low blow, Warren. Can I call you Warren? Well too bad, I’m going to.

I’m sorry to all the Survivalists out there, since I can no longer guarantee a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. While there’s a possibility another billionaire (who doesn’t read this column) steps up and posts the seemingly impossible reward, as of right now there’s nothing but pride to play for.

You can now see why I’ve been unable to produce a Guide in the past few weeks. I’m heartbroken for you all. Where’s the motivation?rivalryweek.jpg
The March Madness Survival Guide almost died forever, until this week rolled around. God bless RIVALRY WEEEEEEEEK! Here’s a quick power rankings of the six best college basketball weeks of the year:

  1. The first week of the NCAA Tournament: Admit it, in the back of your mind you enjoy those first two rounds of the tournament even more than the Final Four. With 10+ games per day, all the upsets and craziness, it’s literally the greatest sporting weekend of the year (sorry NFL fans).
  2. Final Four week: Generally the mid-majors have been weeded out and four of the best college basketball teams in the country are battling it out for a national title. Every moment will be played on TV for years to come, or at the very least enshrined in “One Shining Moment.”
  3. Sweet Sixteen/Elite Eight week: We’re all rooting for those Cinderella stories, and in the back of our minds happy to see them lose so that we can see the big boys slug it out in the Final Four.
  4. RIVALRY WEEK: The home crowds, the atmosphere, the traditions, and the hatred make this week unbelievable. The environments at games like these are what makes college basketball so great.
  5. Conference Tournament week: Not as good as #4 because they are played on a neutral floor, but tickets are being punched to the big dance, and resumes are being bolstered or broken. The drama rises…
  6. Feast Week: For the hardcore basketball fans, we’re all treated to some great basketball while the rest of the country is watching football. And also hating our lives for being in the cold while watching tournaments in Hawaii, the Bahamas, or Orlando.

I’M BACK BABY! It’s time to go back to the basics, we’re going game by game!

In order to make up for lost time, I’m going to drop as much knowledge as possible, and give teams a break from me constantly making fun of them. But I doubt I’ll be able to restrain myself.

without further ado…
TO DA GAMES!!

#20 Duke 74 – #5 North Carolina 73

First of all, it’s the greatest rivalry in college basketball. Stop trying to argue that anything competes, especially Kentucky-Louisville. It’s not even close. I had a chance to go to this game last year in Chapel Hill, and it’s just the best.

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Hello ladies.

Second, HOW THE HECK DID DUKE WIN THIS GAME?!?! Guys, Duke is really not a good basketball team. Like not in a “well Duke is having a down year” sort of way either. They have about 3 and a half usable players, and the only post player is the guy on the right.

And I just gotta get this off my chest: I really hate Grayson Allen. The chest pounding, the yelling, the whining, you can call it passion if you want to, but I just hate it. He can only go to the right! And don’t get me started on that travel on the Virginia game winner.

Also, is anyone else seeing this uncanny resemblance to Republican straw-man…err I mean presidential candidate Ted Cruz?

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The first ever PLAYER doppelgänger in March Madness Survival Guide history!

 

As for tourney chances, UNC has to be near the top. “The North Carolina Men’s Volleyball Team,” is pretty good as long as they can use their big men to play volleyball at the rim. But wowzas, 1-13 from three? Marcus Paige is not a star and he’s the tallest of their backcourt members. If they’re hitting shots, they’re one of the best but if not I’d cap them at the Sweet Sixteen.

For the Dookies, if guys don’t heal up then they are on upset high alert!

Penn State 79 – #4 Iowa 75

For as good as everyone says Iowa is, they sure don’t play a lot of defense. That’s surprising considering their starting center is future WWE Superstar Adam Woodbury, who boasts the best signature move in the B1G!

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Jared Uthoff is the unanimous choice for the “Marshall Henderson Extreme Green Light” Player of the Year award. Not really a rivalry so we’ll move on.

Texas Tech 65 – #3 Oklahoma 63

Live by the three, die by the three. Oklahoma is such a good shooting team that they’ve been doing a lot of living, but go read my column about variance if you need a reminder how that works.

OU is another team with no depth, and it looks like those legs are getting a little tired at the wrong time in the season.

That’s why I’m really tentative to pencil in the Sooners to the Final Four. And that’s coming from someone who’s rooting as hard for Lon Kruger and Buddy boy as much as anybody.

Minnesota 68 – #6 Maryland 63

KASICH

The type of guy that would say, “but hey, college basketball, am i right??”

Noticing a trend here? It’s a good thing the rankings are literally just fodder for the media because every single week the top ranked teams go down. Minnesota was 0-13 in conference, but hey, college basketball am I right?

 

Which makes me wonder, what would happen if we got rid of rankings? The NBA doesn’t have them and we don’t seem to have any problem organizing which teams are good and bad.

Does determining who’s better between #20 and #19 really matter? And stopping at 25 is foolish because 64 teams make it into the NCAA tourney, and the biggest uncertainty comes from teams 25-64. Maybe the smartest thing is to go the opposite direction and rank 1-64 every week, but that would be asking a bunch of sportswriters to watch all the basketball teams they’re supposed to know about and that might be too taxing.

I digress.

#8 Michigan State 69 – Wisconsin 57

Just two quick notes:

1) Would Bo Ryan have quit/retired if he had known how good this team actually was going to be at this point in the season?

2) Michigan State is scary good. I’m 100% all in on this Denzel Valentine conspiracy theory that my boy Mark Titus is cooking up. Keep preachin’ Mark the Shark!

Iona 83 – Monmouth 67

Yeah….everybody chill on the Monmouth hype for a minute. I love those dudes more than anybody but they’re not going to get an at-large bid like everyone is saying. And honestly they may not win their conference so they may not make it to the tourney anyways.

Wow that really hurt typing that just now. EVERYBODY CHEER FOR MONMOUTH THE NCAA TOURNAMENT NEEDS THESE GUYS!!

#1 Villanova 77 – Butler 67

Villanova is a lot of things, but the best team in college basketball is not one of them.

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“I made the refs an offer they can’t refuse.”

But they are the ONLY team in college basketball that has not lost to an unranked opponent this season (try to disregard the fact that I totally discredited the rankings system a few paragraphs earlier, at least for a second). That’s an impressive stat, and it’s no fluke. This team has as low of a variance level as any in college basketball (low turnovers, not reliant on threes, don’t give up offensive rebounds).

A lot of casual fans are going to bust their brackets this year by picking them to get upset due to recency bias, but I would caution you that this Villanova team is different.

For Butler, how does that bubble feel?

#2 Kansas 72 – Kansas State 63

This was a big win, being that it was a rivalry game on the road in a tough environment.

I’ve literally said it in every Guide of this season: Kansas is the best team in college basketball. Until I see otherwise, they’ll continue to be my title favorite. They have both stars and depth, both inside and outside scoring, both ball pressure and rim protection.

They sure look like a Final Four team to these eyes.

#3 Oklahoma 76 – #10 West Virginia 62

buddyheildteeth.jpg

Buddy Heild’s rise to POY candidate lines up with him getting his braces off. Coincidence? I think not.

I can’t say what I said about Oklahoma earlier without just mentioning: THEY ARE REALLY GOOD. Well coached, super experienced, and fully equipped with flamethrowers from 25 feet deep.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win it all. I can’t even see the top of their ceiling it’s so high. But they’re going to give you gray hairs all tournament, because I can just see myself sitting on the couch yelling at them trailing in the first round with five minutes left because they are like 1-15 from three point land. Do they pull that game out? That’s the question.

#5 North Carolina 96 – #11 Miami 71

One of the most dominant performances of the season. If Brice Johnson and the midgets can play fast and hit enough threes to keep the floor spread, they’ll embarrass you.

They’re going to be really matchup dependent, but you can rest assured that the Tarheels aren’t going to be upset in the first round. Miami is a different story. They are the biggest fool’s gold in the pack right now.

They might currently be ranked #11 and a 3-seed on Lunardi’s bracket, but how did they get there? Losses to Clemson, Northeastern, and NC State with biggest wins coming against Duke and…….uh…..did I mention Duke? UPSET ALERT!

Texas A&M 79 – #20 Kentucky 77 (OT)

What’s really amazing is that no matter what happens, Kentucky finds a way to make headlines. It doesn’t matter if they have one of their worst teams, playing the mid-afternoon game, against an unranked opponent, they’re going to find a way to be the lead story on SportsCenter. No matter how many times Kentucky loses, #BBN (aka Big Blue Nation aka the gravy train that may or may not be financially helping the recruiting efforts) is undefeated.

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#BBN, undefeated.

Luckily, as far as predicting the NCAA tournament goes, these two teams are pretty simple. If Texas A&M remains a 5 seed as they currently are slotted, then sound the upset alarm! In this month alone they had four straight losses to Vandy, South Carolina, Alabama, and LSU. And……yep….hearing this now in my ear….sources are confirming to me now that this is in fact not football, making those losses substantially worse.

Kentucky is pretty easy to read this season also. They’re going to struggle against any team that has competent big men. This year’s team has the classic “Kentucky disease,” a term I coined to describe how the AAU All-Star big men of Kentucky are so focused on getting the big blocks for Vine that they always allow a ton of offensive rebounds. So their tournament hopes rest on matching up with a lot of guard heavy squads, because mighty midget Tyler Ullis and Jamal “This Kid’s a Top 5 Pick?” Murray still comprise one of the best backcourts in college basketball.

#18 Louisville 71 – #20 Duke 64

All I can say is, the coaches of 64 NCAA Tournament teams will be sleeping a lot easier with the knowledge that they won’t have to face Louisville in the tournament this year. Those boys are rabid junkyard dogs. But with this being the MARCH MADNESS Survival Guide, can’t waste any more breath talking about them.

Recap: Duke isn’t a good basketball team, Grayson Allen can’t even beat Donald Trump in a presidential campaign, and Marshall Plumlee is going to be defending our country next year, God bless him, breaking the hearts of so many D-League teams looking to fill bench spots.

#25 Baylor 78 – #24 Texas 64

Watch out for Baylor. Out of the seven teams from the Big 12 currently in the field (OUT OF TEN!), I’m having a hard time finding a team that’s playing better right now than Baylor. Their upset last year to tourney darlings Georgia State might scare some folks, but this year they don’t have a single loss to teams out of the top 50 in the RPI.

If you don’t believe in the Bears, take it up with the guy below.

rico gathers

Texas is going to be better off in the tournament the lower they drop in the seeding. I have the same take on them as I have on VCU the last few years: excellent as a spoiler, disappointing as a favorite.

#22 Indiana 77 – #17 Purdue 73

Ah, you thought I forgot! No no, I just like teasing you. Everybody knows the anticipation is the best part. Let’s talk about the best rivalry north of Louisville, south of Ann Arbor, west of Cincinnati, and east of Chicago. Let’s talk about the oldest rivalry in the B1G. Let’s talk about Indiana-Purdue.

The legendary coaches are gone, as are the national championship implications, and that feeling like fans were as likely to witness a fight to the death as a basketball game.

But none of those things are what made this rivalry special. It really is the most unique rivalry for one reason: it truly is Indiana’s game.

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#CREANFACE! Check your pants, coach.

Most of the players, more than you’ll find in any other rivalry, are from the state of Indiana. You hear the old cliche that “these kids all played against each other in high school,” but in this case they really did in most cases. Guys like Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon, AJ Hammons, Caleb Swanigan. All told, sixteen kids on the squads are from the Hoosier state.

There’s only a handful of states that have enough high school talent to stock two high major college basketball programs (Texas, California, Florida, North Carolina), but Indiana is the only one that has the state pride and competition that drives these kids to want to stay in-state and represent their region. It’s very prideful, and very team-based, which is something that Duke and North Carolina have lost somewhat in the last five years. It feels like a high school basketball game in all the right ways.

That is all well and good, but what did we learn from this game? The fact that Purdue couldn’t win this game would be disappointing, if it weren’t for that crowd in Assembly Hall accounting for probably five points (they lost by four). They, on paper, are a matchup nightmare for the Hoosiers with all of their size.

I just don’t know if they have enough outside shooting to make those bigs effective in the tournament. To me they scream second round and out, if they come against one of those Big 12 run-and-shoot squads.

Indiana is the exact opposite. They play like they just licked an electrical socket, which is to say fast, fidgety, and prone to make bad decisions. Despite the “Ewing Theory” loss of James Blackmon improving their defense, they’re still easier to score on than *insert promiscuous character from The Bachelor here*…sorry guys I can’t bring myself to watch that trash.

Alright that’s all for now, hope you enjoyed, glad to be back! Stay frosty Survivalists, and petition your local billionaire to post up that reward money for me, will ya?

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By Matt Craig

@MrMattCraig

Please leave your thoughts and comments below!

About Matt Craig (64 Articles)
Chirp City Founder & Director of Content. Hey Bill Simmons, if you're reading this, hire me.

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