Even though I've told this story before, it bears repeating - I'll probably end up with a bracket that's worse than the one your four year-old son picked at random, but for a brief moment in 2006, I tasted NCAA bracket immortality. Heading into the Elite 8, I was in the Top 10 of ESPN's Tournament Challenge. I used my closely guarded private server and address (BallinBoy@Pickensemail.com) to alert everyone that my name was appearing in lights on ESPN.com. I mapped out my road to winning the entire thing. If I correctly picked the final seven games, the title was mine, but my dreams came crashing down....I flew too close to perfection on the wings of Darius Washington Jr. and lost all four Elite 8 matchups. I've been waiting nine years for another chance. 2015 just might be that opportunity.
My college football results this season left a lot to be desired, but I'm ready to redeem myself. I feel refreshed after some time off from writing. My basketball picks aren't distracted by having to defend Al Golden week after week. I love predictions that aren't destroyed by questionable two-point conversion decisions or missed extra points. I picked 33 conference tournament games on Twitter last week and was thrilled to go 19-12-2. It's time to win.
Before picking some games, I want to share four important opinions about the NCAA Tournament. If you don't like them, we can just agree to disagree.
1. The College Football Playoff is fine at 4 teams. I might accept an eventual extension to 8 teams, but it must end there. Throughout March, we are going to be inundated with opinions or statements like "This tournament is incredible. If only college football had something like this with 16 or 32 teams...." Stop it. Please don't be the person saying this following every exciting finish over the next three weeks.
2. If you run a firm, let your employees watch the games on Thursday and Friday. If you employ sports fans or even just casual bracket participants, just accept that people won't be doing work anyways. Opt for team-building instead of forcing employees to have their heads on a swivel all afternoon, minimizing their browser every time there is a hint of footsteps in the distance.
3. Do NOT run or participate in a pool that gives extra points for picking upsets. If you believe in an upset, pick it in a traditional bracket with normal scoring. Another reason why the upset points makes no sense - several teams seeded 9-12 are actually favored to win outright.
4. Fill out ONLY one bracket. I know that this opinion is extremely unpopular, but I feel strongly about it. I pick one bracket every year and live and die with every game. Step up, have some conviction, and make the tough decisions. I cringe when someone says: "I have Demarco Murray in my other league," but the most insufferable people say things like: "I picked Georgetown in two brackets, but have Eastern Washington in my other two."
THE PICKS - Plus a look at what would happen if the schools met on the football field.
BYU - 3 vs Mississippi - TUESDAY 9:10pm - truTV
Basketball - I love BYU in this game. G Tyler Haws is one of the best scorers in the nation and Kyle Collinsworth is capable of a triple-double on any given night. Ole Miss barely made the Tournament thanks to a slump over the past two weeks (losing 4 of their last 5 games). Losses to Vanderbilt and South Carolina showed me the Rebels aren't good enough to advance on Tuesday night.
Football - I actually saw these two teams play against each other in Oxford in September 2011. The atmosphere was great and I loved visiting the Grove. While it was low-scoring, the game lived up to the preseason hype. BYU trailed 13-0 early, but rallied to win 14-13 in the fourth quarter. JAKE HEAPS threw a touchdown and Kyle Van Noy scored on defense to give the Cougars the victory.
IOWA -2 vs Davidson - FRIDAY 7:20pm - TNT
Basketball - This should be one of the most competitive games of the week. Davidson can play with anyone, but I'm trusting my instincts and picking the Hawkeyes. I love the leadership and intangibles of Aaron White and expect him to play a key role down the stretch. A game-winner by either team in the final minute won't surprise me.
Football - Davidson's football team finished 1-11 in 2014, with the victory being a 56-0 destruction of a school named College of Faith. I was curious how many students that school had so I looked it up....Please read about this football team, the story is unbelievable. Davidson's only win came against an online school of 60 students. Iowa's football team has been mediocre in recent years, but at least Kirk Ferentz excels at beating inferior opponents. The Hawkeyes are 34-30 the past five seasons while Kirk continues to count his money. If Iowa scheduled Davidson more often, Ferentz would be challenging Warren Buffett in net worth.
IOWA STATE -13.5 vs UAB - THURSDAY 12:40pm - truTV
Basketball - Iowa State is getting hot at the right time and won the Big 12 Tournament despite trailing by large margins in every game. UAB was 7-9 in non-conference play and the Blazers aren't efficient on offense. The Cyclones have five guys averaging double digits and should put up 80+ points on Thursday. Georges Niang and Monte Morris are capable of leading this team all the way to the Final Four.
Football - Now this is an interesting matchup on the football field. I know what you're thinking - Didn't UAB's program disband at the end of the year? While that may be true, I still think that a collection of walk-ons that chose to stay in Birmingham could keep pace with the Cyclones. Seneca Wallace isn't walking through that door. Iowa State is 5-19 the past two seasons, but the coaching prowess of Baby Mangino would be just enough to earn Paul Rhoads a proud 6-3 victory in Ames.
OREGON +1 vs Oklahoma State - FRIDAY 6:50pm - TBS
Basketball - Before losing badly to Arizona, Oregon had won 11 of 12 conference games. The Ducks are led by an elite scoring guard in Joseph Young. OKST limped into the Tournament, losing 6 of their last 7 contests. The Cowboys rank near the bottom nationally in assists and rebounds and unless Phil Forte gets hot from outside, this team won't have a chance on Friday. Oregon's stud freshman Dillon Brooks will have a big night.
Football - Of all the NCAA games, this one would one of the most exciting on the gridiron. Both teams would put up big numbers of offense, but without Marcus Mariota, Oregon would still be searching for a quarterback. I love OKST's young QB Mason Rudolph and will be excited to watch him take on the Big 12 in 2015. Boone Pickens might not be a billionaire anymore, but his money can keep his guys competitive against Phil Knight and the Ducks.
VCU +3 vs Ohio State - THURSDAY 4:40pm - TNT
Basketball - It took a few weeks, but VCU has figured out how to win without injured star guard Briante Weber. Shaka Smart's team won the A-10 Tournament in impressive fashion, winning four games in four days. Senior Treveon Graham has NCAA experience and he'll lead his team to a victory. Ohio State freshman D'Angelo Russell is an elite prospect, but he'll struggle against the Havoc and pressure caused by VCU's aggressive defense. If Russell doesn't put up big numbers, the Buckeyes are doomed.
Football - The defending champion Buckeyes take on VCU's club football team. (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/VCU_Rams_football) This one would get out of hand. Unless Shaka let his guys play both ways, the Rams wouldn't sniff midfield on offense. Urban Meyer would play 12 different guys at QB just to prove a point. If Ohio State was a 98 point favorite, Urban would kick a field goal in the closing seconds to win by 100.
SAN DIEGO STATE -2.5 vs St. Johns - FRIDAY 940pm - CBS
Basketball - St. John's will really miss the presence of recently suspended C Chris Obekpa. SDSU struggles to score, but the Aztecs are physical inside and play tremendous defense. If SDSU can dictate the pace of the game, Steve Fisher's team should win by 6-10. St. John's doesn't have anyone with NCAA Tournament experience and nerves could be a factor.
Football - St. John's (NY) doesn't have a football team, but they are fortunate that Saint John's University (located in Collegeville, MN) has a quality DIII program. The Minnesota team is ironically known as the Johnnies as well, and went 10-2 on the field in 2014. SDSU's football team has been solid in recent years under Brady Hoke and Rocky Long. Even if Steve Lavin could borrow some players from Minnesota, St. Johns would still get blown out by SDSU on the field. Don't expect that momentum to translate to the NFL though. As the Arizona Cardinals know all too well, QB Ryan Lindley is the most recent Aztec to see major playing time.
BELMONT +16.5 vs Virginia - FRIDAY 3:10pm - truTV
Basketball - Virginia hasn't been the same without a healthy Justin Anderson. The Cavs can't score, keeping teams hanging around too often. Belmont has a talented shooter in leading scorer Craig Bradshaw and the Bruins will hit enough jumpers to keep this one interesting for most of the afternoon. UVA wins by 10.
Football - Belmont doesn't have a football team, but I guess the soccer team could strap on some pads. As long as the Bruins don't hire Al Golden's staff as advisors, Mike London's coaching would still find a way to keep Belmont in the game in the fourth quarter. UVA by a field goal.
EASTERN WASHINGTON +8 vs Georgetown - THURSDAY - 9:57pm - truTV
Basketball - Georgetown is one of the worst 4 seeds in NCAA Tournament history and the Hoyas love to exit the brackets early. EWU's Tyler Harvey is one of the best players that nobody knows about. Harvey will put up his average (23 ppg) and this game will go down to the wire. This game being in Portland is a nice geographical edge for the Eagles.
Football - These are actually two FCS teams so we can easily compare them. Georgetown had a rough year, finishing 3-8 and at the bottom of the Patriot League. Eastern Washington is a perennial powerhouse at the FCS level and won the 2010 National Championship. Even without QB Vernon Adams who will now star at Oregon this fall, the EWU Eagles would dominate the Hoyas, especially if the game were played on that blinding red field.