By Joel Silverberg / @JoelSilverberg
It’s good to be back.
OK, technically I still haven’t returned to the station since Tennessee was bounced in the Sweet 16 against Purdue (and won’t until Eric Cain and I host Saturday Sportstalk live from the Vol Shop on campus this weekend from 8-10), but I didn’t want to wait too long before hitting up the blog again.
P.S. Thanks to everyone for the well wishes over the past couple of weeks. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed our wedding and honeymoon.
Everyone loves a good ole fashioned accountability report, and if your NCAA Tournament bracket looked like mine you could probably use some comedic therapy. Which is why I’m bringing back the Brackademy Awards to display the most hilariously awful picks from my bracket.
Award: Worst pick of a double-digit seed
Nominees: Minnesota losing to Louisville, Belmont to the Sweet 16, Murray St. losing to Marquette.
And the award goes to…: Belmont to the Sweet 16
Recap: There’s really no competition here. Sure, maybe Louisville’s final stretch of the season should’ve indicated more about the Cardinals, and maybe I should’ve given Ja Morant more credit to help the Racers beat Marquette, but neither Minnesota or Murray State made it past the second round. Belmont looked poised to upset Maryland in the opening round and had an opportunity at the end to make it happen. A boneheaded pass into a crowded paint did the Bruins in against the Terps. It would’ve been fun to watch that team square off against LSU in the second round, but at least Maryland provided an exciting game against the Tigers.
Award: Team I purposefully overlooked and got bit for it
Nominees: Virginia, Texas Tech, Auburn
And the award goes to…: Auburn
Recap: For what it’s worth, I had a lot of respect for all three of these teams going into the tournament. I love what Chris Beard is doing in Lubbock and I wasn’t looking at what happened last year as a reason to write off the Cavaliers (I know that doesn’t seem believable since I had neither team in the Final Four), but Auburn had been a bit of a disappointment through most of the SEC schedule and looked more like a team that got hot for a stretch rather than a team that was primed to make a deep run in March. I took the Tigers to get to the Sweet 16 by default with Kansas being so decimated by a myriad of issues, but North Carolina and Kentucky meeting in the Elite Eight seemed like the easiest regional final to pick. I took Auburn a little too lightly and got burned for it.
Award: Best pick that would’ve looked awesome had it paid off
Nominees: Tennessee making the title game, Michigan State winning it all, Villanova making the Sweet 16, Buffalo making the Sweet 16
And the award goes to…: Tennessee reaching the title game
Recap: The way the Vols looked in February and early March left many skeptical about Tennessee’s chances at making the third weekend of the tournament. As I mentioned before, I thought this was a much improved Virginia team and liked how the Cavaliers bounced back this year, but I thought Tennessee matched up well with Tony Bennett’s team. Unfortunately we never got to see it since the Vols fell to Purdue in the Sweet 16. I was more uneasy about the game against the Boilermakers than I was against Virginia, and apparently for good reason. Tennessee is still searching for its first Final Four appearance in school history.
Award: Dumbest pick that killed my bracket
Nominees: Virginia failing to make the Final Four, Texas Tech getting bounced on opening weekend, North Carolina making the Final Four
And the award goes to…: Texas Tech getting bounced on opening weekend
Recap: I took two 6-seeds to beat 3-seeds in the second round. Villanova beating Purdue and Buffalo beating Texas Tech. Both picks were very, very wrong. The Texas Tech pick was especially puzzling because I had been high on the Red Raiders all season, then thought a high-octane offense like Buffalo’s might figure out a way to score enough in a scrappy game if Tech’s offense struggled. Instead the Red Raiders advanced all the way to the title game. As much as I liked this team all year, I thought it could’ve made the Final Four maybe at best. The West region was easily the toughest going in and the only real upset was Murray State’s win over Marquette. Credit to Texas Tech. It crushed Buffalo, shut down Michigan and Gonzaga before stifling Michigan State to reach the final. The Red Raiders erased a ten-point deficit and led by three late before a clutch three-pointer from Virginia ultimately forced overtime where the Cavaliers won it. Texas Tech nearly became the first team in history to lose its conference tournament opener and win the NCAA Tournament. Keep in mind Beard has been a Division 1 Head Coach for only four seasons.
Award: Best overall pick
Nominees: Oregon making the Sweet 16, Ohio State upsetting Iowa State, Michigan State beating Duke
And the award goes to…: Michigan State beating Duke
Recap: This ended up being a moral victory at the end of the tournament, but still a good one. Duke was the overwhelming favorite heading in and picking Sparty as a Final Four team meant leaving the Blue Devils out of the Final Four entirely. Risky business, but it paid off. Did I really think Michigan State could really knock off Duke? I wouldn’t have bet the house on it, but it was the pick to go against the grain to possibly get a leg up in the bracket pool, which would’ve been great if my other Final Four picks had actually made the Final Four. Oh well. There’s always next year.