Let met get this straight. OSU is playing Gonzaga in an NCAA Tournament opener in San Diego, while OU is in Spokane, Wash., home city of Gonzaga.
In OU’s opener, the Sooners are playing North Dakota State, with a win likely sending OU to a game against San Diego State in a regional quarterfinal, while OSU is down in San Diego, home of the Aztecs. It’s sort of the basketball version of one of those wife swap shows. San Diego State and Gonzaga are trading places for awhile.
Such are the ways of the NCAA Tournament bracket, a delightful organism that transfixes Americans every year on this week, as basketball novices fill out brackets and try to decide if American or the American East champ is the better upset pick. Whether George Washington or Stephen F. Austin is the greater American. Whether Manhattan or the team from Manhattan has the better against the behemoths from the commonwealth of Kentucky.
No reason to bank on anyone’s bracket more than others. Certainly not mine. Back in 1990, I nailed the Final Four — picked all four of them — but that was 24 years ago. So I’m working on a quarter century of futility myself. But hope springs eternal. Here are my picks:
1-Arizona vs. 16-Weber State: UofA. When I was a kid. Weber State was good. Had a guy with a great game. Willie Sojourner. And Portland dynamo Damion Lillard went to Weber State. Little good that will do.
8-Gonzaga vs. 9-Oklahoma State: OSU. The Cowboys are playing great down the stretch. And they’ve never beaten the Zags, in six tries. Surely it’s time.
5-Oklahoma vs. 12-North Dakota State: OU. The 5-12 upset strikes somewhere in every NCAA Tournament. The Bison are solid. The Sooners will have to shoot reasonably well.
4-San Diego State vs. 13-New Mexico State: San Diego State. Twenty years ago, in that memorable NCAA regional at the Myriad, when Tulsa upset UCLA and then OSU, and when Arkansas started its run to the national title, beating Georgetown in OKC, OSU’s first-round game was as a four-seed against No. 13 New Mexico State. Tough game, as I recall.
2-Wisconsin vs. 15-American: Wisconsin. The Badgers are a tough out in March. They would not be a good matchup for the Sooners or Cowboys. Too big.
7-Oregon vs. 10-Brigham Young: Oregon. OSU came perilously close to being matched up with Oregon again in a first-round game. That would have produced some unfortunate memories.
3-Creighton vs. 14-Louisiana-Lafayette: Creighton. Both the Bluejays and Nebraska were sent to San Antonio. Shows that the committee thinks vertical more than horizontal. And maybe that’s proper. That’s how time zones are drawn up. But it’s a far piece from Nebraska to south Texas, even if the Big 12 once arranged a little geography. Think of it this way. All that San Diego/Spokane stuff? You know how far it is between those two Western cities? 1,300 miles. It’s closer from San Diego to San Antonio.
6-Baylor vs. 11-Nebraska: Baylor. Did you realize the Cornhuskers never have won an NCAA Tournament game? This will be the first NCAA matchup between a Big 12 team and an ex-Big 12 team. I don’t know about you, but I was thinking Kansas-Missouri, or Texas-Texas A&M, or OU-Missouri. Something like that. Baylor-Nebraska doesn’t get my juices flowing.
Arizona vs. Oklahoma State: Arizona. Even if the Cowboys play well, they are a marred team. Not enough depth, not enough size to handle a heavyweight like Arizona.
Oklahoma vs. San Diego State: OU. Rematch of the 2013 NCAA opener. These Sooners are better.
Wisconsin vs. Oregon: Wisconsin. Great Rose Bowl matchup. The Badgers are known for two things. Big, burly offensive linemen, and long, tall white guys who look like they’ll leave the bracket early but never do.
Creighton vs. Baylor: Creighton. Hey, why did Baylor get sent to San Antonio? That doesn’t seem fair. Not that someone else deserved to be in San Antone, but that third-seeded Creighton could have to play against the crowd, if Baylor Nation can rally itself down to Bexar County. No reason why it can’t.
Arizona vs. Oklahoma: ‘Zona. Rematch of that 1999 NCAA opener when Kelvin Sampson got his first post-season victory, and of the 2002 regional semifinal, when the Sooners exacted revenge. OSU has a much better chance of upsetting UofA than do the Sooners. The Cowboys can be dysfunctional, but they’ve got elite talent. And OU does not.
Wisconsin vs. Creighton: Creighton. The McDermott family fairy tale continues. Doug McDermott is the closest thing college basketball has to a senior superstar. Greg McDermott has caught another coaching wind after failing to do much at Iowa State.
Arizona vs. Creighton: Arizona. The Wildcats haven’t been to the Final Four since 2001. That drought ends.
16-Cal Poly vs. 16-Texas Southern: Cal Poly. I’m pulling for Poly because its hero of the Big West title game, Ridge Shipley, played at Hebron High School in Carrollton, Texas, with my wife’s cousin. Find me a better reason than that.
12-North Carolina State vs. 12-Xavier: N.C. State. I’ve always been a big fan of the X-men, but the Wolfpack is on a roll.
11-Iowa vs. 11-Tennessee: Tennessee. No way should Iowa be in the field. No way. Which doesn’t mean they won’t win.
1-Wichita State. vs. 16-Cal Poly: Wichita State. From the hunter to the hunted. How will Wichita State handle it?
8-Kentucky vs. 9-Kansas State: Wildcats. OK, just kidding. Kentucky. I’m pulling for K-State, but a little too much elite talent, even if it is young.
5-Saint Louis vs. 12-North Carolina State: N.C. State. I saw Saint Louis last year out in San Jose. Total dud.
4-Louisville vs. 13-Manhattan: Louisville. It’s about time we got serious about Rick Pitino as one of the 3-4 greatest coaches of all time. Three schools to the Final Four. Two schools to the gold ball.
2-Michigan vs. 15-Wofford: Michigan. Speaking of coaches, John Beilein sort of knows what he’s doing, too.
7-Texas vs. 10-Arizona State: Arizona State. The Steve Patterson Bowl. Oh, wrong sport. But UT did swipe ASU’s athletic director a few months back. That’s about the only thing that interests me on this game, other than Big 12 pride.
3-Duke vs. 14-Mercer: Duke. I’d love to see Bob Hoffman pull the upset. But beating Duke in Raleigh is like beating Castro in Havana.
6-Massachusetts vs. 11-Tennessee: Tennessee. The Minutemen vs. the Volunteers. The Militia Bowl. The Vols are playing well.
Wichita State vs. Kentucky: Wichita State. The Morality Play Bowl. The Children of Light vs. the Children of Darkness. The way things ought to be vs. the way things are. At least for once, the good guys win.
Louisville vs. North Carolina State: Louisville. N.C. State can hang with the Cardinals, but the ‘Ville advances.
Michigan vs. Arizona State: Michigan. The Wolverines might have the easiest road to the Sweet 16. Seriously. Who else? Not Arizona. Not Wichita State. OK, maybe Florida. But only because Florida is so dang good.
Duke vs. Tennessee: Tennessee. Upset special. Even Castro has to die sometime.
Wichita State vs. Louisville: Louisville. You can’t be Cinderella two years in a row. At the ball the second year, everyone knows exactly who you are.
Michigan vs. Tennessee: Michigan. The Wolverines’ Crisler Arena was a total dump when I was there 18 years ago. I’ve been told it’s been renovated.
Louisville vs. Michigan: Louisville. Repeat of the 2013 title game. Same verdict.
16-Albany vs. 16-Mount St. Mary’s: Albany. Because I saw a few minutes of its America East title game victory over Stony Brook on ESPN2.
1-Florida vs. 16-Albany: Florida. The Gators are awfully close to one of the best seasons ever. Two tight losses, long ago, on the road, to Wisconsin and Connecticut.
8-Colorado vs. 9-Pittsburgh: Pitt. Wonder if the Buffs could have used Andre Roberson this season?
5-Virginia Commonwealth vs. 12-Stephen F. Austin: Upset special. The Lumberjacks are for real.
4-UCLA vs. 13-Tulsa: UCLA. Forget the rematch of that game in OKC 20 years ago. This is a reunion of 1980s college stars. UCLA is coached by Steve Alford, star of Indiana’s 1987 title team. TU is coached by Danny Manning, star of Kansas’ 1988 title team. For an encore, next year we’ll have a game matching coaches Patrick Ewing and Pervis Ellison.
2-Kansas vs. 15-Eastern Kentucky: KU. OSU once hired away an Eastern Kentucky coach, Guy Strong, in part because he won the All-College. Times have changed.
7-New Mexico vs. 10-Stanford: Stanford. New Mexico seems star-crossed in the NCAAs.
3-Syracuse vs. 14-Western Michigan: Syracuse. No way do I want to pick the Orange. But the Mid-American Conference, often a spoiler on the gridiron, rarely does the same in March.
6-Ohio State vs. 11-Dayton: Dayton. Another upset special. This will be a holy war for the Flyers, who would love to play Ohio State, but Thad Matta being a basketball coach, it’s not going to happen.
Florida vs. Pittsburgh: I like Jamie Dixon. He’s a heck of a coach. But this Florida team is really something.
Stephen F. Austin vs. UCLA: SFA. Stephen F. Austin was one of the fathers of Texas. He and Sam Houston probably ought to leg-wrestle for the honor.
Kansas vs. Stanford: Kansas. The Jayhawks live on, trying to get Joel Embiid healthy.
Syracuse vs. Dayton: Dayton. No way did I want to pick Syracuse. So I didn’t.
Florida vs. Stephen F. Austin: Florida. Stephen F.’s season is already made.
Kansas vs. Dayton: Kansas. You know, we’re lucky the Flyers didn’t get put in one of those play-in games. As an 11-seed, it could have happened. That would have been quite the embarrassment for the NCAA. Dayton getting to play a home game in the NCAA tournament, because of a goofy change to what was a glorious bracket.
Florida vs. Kansas: Florida. With or without Embiid, the Gators have this one.
1-Virginia vs. 16-Coastal Carolina: Virginia. Good call by the committee; Cavaliers won the ACC regular season and the tournament. They deserved the No. 1 seed.
8-Memphis vs. 9-George Washington: Memphis. Did you ever wonder why there’s not an Abraham Lincoln University?
5-Cincinnati vs. 12-Harvard: Cincinnati. Harvard is the chic pick for an upset. But I’m no believer in Tommy Amaker.
4-Michigan State vs. 13-Delaware: Michigan State. I’ve always been partial to the Blue Hens. But the Spartans are a total load.
6-North Carolina vs. 11-Providence: North Carolina. Personally, I was hoping for a Providence-Dayton play-in game. Flyers vs. Friars.
3-Iowa State vs. 14-North Carolina Central: Iowa State. This one makes me uneasy, though. NC-Central isn’t bad. Remember Iowa State-Hampton?
7-Connecticut vs. 10-St. Joseph’s: UConn. Kevin Ollie can start making his own legacy.
2-Villanova vs. 15-Wisconsin-Milwaukee: Villanova. Doesn’t feel like an upset chance.
Virginia vs. Memphis: Memphis. What the heck. Let’s go with an upset.
Cincinnati vs. Michigan State: Michigan State. The Spartans as a No. 4 seed? Are you kidding me?
North Carolina vs. Iowa State: Iowa State. Revenge for the Tar Heels getting Harrison Barnes out of Ames.
Connecticut vs. Villanova: UConn. ’Nova won the Big East. But the Big East isn’t really the Big East.
Memphis vs. Michigan State: Michigan State. Tom Izzo is Mister March.
Iowa State vs. UConn: Iowa State. Can the Cyclones keep making shots three games in a row? I’m going to guess yes.
Michigan State vs. Iowa State: Michigan State. Rematch of that epic 2000 regional final, when Larry Eustachy got ejected in the waning minutes.
Arizona vs. Louisville: Arizona. The ‘Ville is good, just not quite as good as last season.
Florida vs. Michigan State: Florida. Billy Donovan has a team. Not the great teams of 2006 and 2007, but good enough to reach the title game.
Arizona vs. Florida: Florida.