The Redshirt Senior: Nobody’s Perfect, but Don’t Pick Duke

by Evan Griffith | 3/25/19 2:00am

The Redshirt Senior: Nobody’s Perfect, but Don’t Pick Duke

If you’re like me and spent your spring break researching and overthinking your bracket, you were rewarded with a great set of opening round games this past weekend. You were also rewarded with a busted bracket, as no perfect brackets remain on ESPN’s Tournament Challenge app. The 1 in 9.2 quintillion odds are no joke; all brackets were busted by the beginning of the second round. 

Speaking briefly about the popular picks for postseason champion, there was an easy favorite. In both of my pools, two-thirds of the participants picked Duke University to win it all. My only question is: why? From a value standpoint, if Duke has a 25 percent chance of winning the tournament, the team also has a 75 percent chance of not winning. If Duke wins, and most other people in your bracket pool picked Duke, your individual chances of winning the pool are still low. However, if Duke loses, and everyone except you in your bracket pool picked Duke to win, your chances of winning the pool are a lot higher. Not to mention that Duke is the worst 3-point shooting team in the entire tournament ­— an interesting tidbit for the number one overall team in the tournament. Which team did I pick? A magician never reveals his secrets. 

Now to the games themselves. One of the most impressive teams to me so far has been the No. 5 seed Auburn University Tigers. The team’s first game against No. 12 seed New Mexico State University was close, but the end of the game was a perfect example of hilariously awful basketball. It featured:

• Auburn committing a turnover while up by two late

• New Mexico State driving late only down two, passing out of an open layup for a 3-pointer

• Auburn then FOULING that player chucking a heave of a 3

• That New Mexico State player then missing two of the three free throws

• A wide-open 3 by New Mexico State that got air-balled at the end

Auburn won 78-77. The team certainly improved in its next game, defeating the University of Kansas 89-75. Senior guard Bryce Brown finished with 25 points while shooting 7-11 from 3, a strong rebounding effort (no pun intended) after only shooting 2-8 from 3 against New Mexico State. The Tigers are well-prepared to take on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill next weekend. 

It was also a stressful weekend for some of the No. 1 seeds in the tournament. Both Duke and Gonzaga University beat their respective opponents, North Dakota State University and Fairleigh Dickinson University, relatively handily, but the other two No. 1 seeds, North Carolina and the University of Virginia, could have done more to prove that last year’s 16-over-1 upset was just a fluke. 

As I was driving to Hanover this weekend, I was listening to the radio broadcast of the Colgate University-University of Tennessee game. Toward the end of the first quarter, I heard an update that Virginia was losing by 12 to No. 16 seed Gardner-Webb University with about a minute to go in the first quarter. I immediately stopped at the next exit and found a way to listen to that game while thinking to myself, “Here we go again.” For a mid-major team out of the *checks notes* Big South conference, Gardner-Webb had done well for itself, beating two Atlantic Coast Conference teams and upsetting Radford University for the Big South conference title. Also, the team’s mascot is a Bulldog. Virginia lost to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County Retrievers last year. It almost made too much sense. 

Then at halftime, Tony Bennett must have said something profoundly motivating because Virginia outscored Gardner-Webb 41-20 in the second half to win 71-56. 

Likewise, on Saturday night, UNC suffered a similarly slow first half against the champions of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, Iona College. Iona’s strong first half was in part due to senior point guard Rickey McGill, who posted a stat line of 26 points and four steals while shooting 7-9 from beyond the 3-point line. Iona is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament either, making the tournament six out of eight years under head coach Tim Cluess. Iona had the tournament experience to make sure that No. 16 vs. No. 1 matchup a tough one and they did deliver in the first half, leading UNC 38-33. 

Roy Williams must have also said something profoundly motivating at halftime, probably with a lot more “dadgummits,” because UNC won the game 88-73. 

The first weekend was a disappointing one for the Ivy League, as Yale University lost a close game against No. 3 seed Louisiana State University. LSU seemed to control the game from the start, owning a 45-29 halftime lead and holding Ivy League Player of the Year Miye Oni to only five points, but Yale came storming back in the second half to bring the game within five points. It was too little, too late, however, as LSU won the fouling game to hold that five-point lead as time expired. Maybe next year for the Ivy League. 

The Madness continues next week, and there are plenty of good games to watch. Either No. 13 seed University of California, Irvine or No. 12 seed University of Oregon will have made it to the Sweet 16, so keep an eye out for whichever Cinderella makes it through.