With no dominant supernova and a so-called “mid-major” ascending to a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2004, this NCAA men’s basketball tournament has the potential to be the most wide-open, seat-of-the-pants thrill ride of all time.
Many small schools are obviously getting chesty. Many power-conference schools have mentally hoisted the trophy already.
This bracket is so much of a crapshoot that Duke believes it can survive the opening weekend.
So, of course, in this time of great hope and belief you need to know about the Butler Principles. Developed in 2011 after the itty-bitty Bulldogs fell agonizingly short of shocking the universe for the second year in a row, the Butler Principles operate out of the following fool-proof declaration:
No matter how the odds swing in your school’s favor, you are eventually doomed.
Herewith, then, is why your team has no shot and once again will break your burned-out graveyard of a heart into pieces.
Might as well start with the team the principles were named after:
●There’s only one Hickory High per tournament
As much as I love Brad Stevens, only one homespun squad is allowed to become America’s underdog. It’s why Gonzaga was not allowed to beat UCLA the same year George Mason knocked off Connecticut in the region finals. The selection committee was so firm about this, they made Butler and VCU play each other in the Final Four two years ago, which was like Cinderella playing Buster Douglas. Anyhow, Butler is not that team this year. Saint Louis could be that team, but their seed (No. 4) is too low and they were given an unbelievably tough draw by the committee. Valparaiso could be but won’t because . . .
●Your coach can’t be your best shooter
Love those plucky Valparaiso kids, especially that Bryce Drew, squaring up for the win against Ole Miss and shocking the world. But that was 1998. Drew is the Crusaders’ coach now, so Valpo is done by Friday. New Mexico and Iowa State can’t win, either, because Steve Alford and Fred Hoiberg have exhausted their eligibility. Alford actually won it all a year after appearing in John Feinstein’s first book.
●If Feinstein has written a book just about your conference: no chance
Poor Bucknell, poor Patriot League. No shot. None. Ever. (As I am typing, Feinstein just walked into my office to say he wrote a book about the ACC. Who knew.)
●Perennial powerhouses never win when they should
Kansas, Duke and Louisville are all healthy and have tournament-tested coaches and résumés. Storied programs always should win in a wide-open field, which is exactly why none will. Kentucky broke the trend last year, but every year between 2012 and Bob Knight’s unbeaten Hoosiers in 1976, the team supposed to win hardly ever wins it all, including . . .
●No. 1 seeds that aren’t physical enough
I am reluctantly picking Indiana to advance to the Final Four because it is among the highest-scoring teams in the land. Under Tom Crean, the Hoosiers have come back from the brink of probation and been ranked No. 1 longer than anyone this season. They have Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, DeMatha’s own whirling dervish who is more limber than any Cirque de Soleil employee. The Hoosiers are also unfortunately softer than Bounce and Downy. They don’t hit the boards; they massage them. You can push Indiana around. You can mean-mug and make them miss. Indiana is the greatest team in the land when the score is 81-65. But they will lose a 47-43 rockfight against a much tougher, more rugged team. Think Cincinnati with more skill. Think Georgetown, because they don’t have any seniors and . . .
●No one wins with seniors anymore
Memo to uber-experienced old heads Miami, Colorado State (five senior starters) and, yes, Duke, which starts three seniors: You can’t stay in college and hope to be a national champion anymore. Kyrie Irving knew this and left Coach K after one year. Heck, kids now leave Weber State early. If you stay, you’ve been found out not to be a lottery pick. The jig is up. Besides, the Hurricanes’ average age is about 63, which is why they get along with Coach Jim Larranaga so well. Oh, another reason Miami won’t win:
●Genuine underdogs aren’t allowed to grow into favorites
Larranaga coached George Mason, okay? George Mason was “Hoosiers” come to life in 2006, led by their cornball Coach L, who was Norman Dale without issues. But now he’s the coach of the team with a legitimate chance to win it all. He’s got dump truck-big power forwards. His team is ineligible to be that good. Same goes for Gonzaga. You can’t just be this trend-setting mid-major underdog, paving the way for all the Butlers, George Masons and VCUs, and then become the No. 1 team in the nation.
It’s like the Little Engines That Could morphed into the Death Star, or Rudy going to the Pro Bowl. The rule is, you don’t get to sling the stone at the Philistine in one tournament and be Goliath in the next. It messes too much with our narratives and labels that you are supposed to embrace your entire lives and careers. You also can’t win if you are . . .
●Second banana on your own campus
Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Wisconsin, Florida and now Kansas State won’t cut down the nets — primarily because they will be hurt by lack of support at their Sweet 16 sites. Their fans will not show because the second week of spring football at their respective schools always proves to be more attractive than hoops. (Yeah, I know Florida won back-to-back in 2006 and 2007; the Butler Priciples are recent inventions.)
●Your dad and distant cousin can’t have a better career than you
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson Jr. and James Michael McAdoo won’t win it for their teams, just like Marcus and Michael Jeffrey Jordan couldn’t lift the University of Central Florida or Illinois to unseen heights. The only guy to break the hex is Sean May at North Carolina, and he had a pretty good supporting cast.
And finally, your team won’t win because:
●They’re simply not good enough
North Carolina A&T, Southern, Akron, South Dakota State, everybody out west and, really, anyone lower than a No. 8 seed, because it’s never been done in the 64-team or current play-in-game format.
That pares down the bracket to North Carolina State, Missouri, Syracuse, Marquette, Memphis, Pittsburgh — all of which will get knocked out the opening weekend because they can — and my Final Four: Indiana, Georgetown, Gonzaga and Michigan State.
Yes, Tom Izzo will definitely get Sparty to the Final Four because he’s due. He usually goes every other year, six now since 1999, and hasn’t been to one since all the way back in 2010. It doesn’t matter how bad his roster is; Izzo could take Florida Gulf Coast to the Elite Eight, okay.
Georgetown beats up Indiana on one side of the bracket, something like 55-53, while Gonzaga loses a crusher to Michigan State in a battle of brawn vs. skill. And your champion, the one team that won’t extract your soul:
Michigan State beats the Hoyas, when Otto Porter Jr. misses from 20 feet away at the buzzer.
Hey, there are no homers here. But there is oh, so much heartbreak.
For more by Mike Wise, go to www.washingtonpost.com/wise.