It was always a longshot, but UConn is officially dead and buried. They were so bad in the regular season that they won’t even make the NIT. It’s over. But I can’t wallow in self-pity. I need to pick myself up off the mat and find a team to root for in the tournament. With 68 options, how can I pick the right one? I guess I just have to go through some of the stronger contenders and find the true recipient of the Brian’s Den Blessing.
Vermont– Since I was born in and spent the first 23 years of my life living in Vermont, this is always the sentimental pick. UVM in the tournament is always a special treat. Especially when they’re good, which they are this year. Undefeated in conference, as a matter of fact. Won a million straight games. And, as is pivotal for any good random mid major in the tournament, I couldn’t name one player on the team. I assume it’s mostly white guys with one black role player, but maybe they’ve switched up the formula this year. Either way, it’s working this season. But the thing is, I always root for UVM when they make the tournament. I would have rooted for them even if UConn had made it (unless they played each other, of course). So it would feel cheap to pick the Catamounts as my new team, since they always were my team in the first place. So sorry, Burlington, but my search continues.
UCLA– With the absence of Washington, the Celtics fan in me sees UCLA as the obvious choice. After all, I might as well get used to rooting for Lonzo Ball, right? Plus, they’re really fun to watch, playing a Warriors style of ball-movement-and-3s based offense. They’ve got at least two future pros and a bunch of good role players, including my man Thomas Welsh, who’s pretty much the white Udonis Haslem with his automatic baseline 12-foot jumpers. But can I, in good conscience, root for Lonzo Ball when that means that, by default, I’m rooting for both Lavar and Lamello Ball? I don’t think I can do it.
UNC/Duke– I already root for the Patriots and Red Sox. I didn’t see it coming, but I’m kind of tied to Barcelona now, too. Why not just go all the way and commit to North Carolina or Duke? Well, it may not seem like it, but I do still have some semblance of a soul left. Considering some of the teams in this year’s field it may seem foolish to willingly pass on two teams that could easily make the Final Four or win the tournament, I don’t think I can become the true heel.
Gonzaga– This year’s team is different! They’ve got what it takes now! It’s true, this Gonzaga team is really, really good. But so were the last 20. While I’d love to heroically guide the Zag’s bandwagon to it’s first Final Four, I’m not in the business of rooting for futility. They’ll get knocked out in the Sweet 16 (again) and I’d wind up looking like a fool. No thanks.
Northwestern– Don’t know if you’ve heard, but Northwestern’s never made the tournament before. They’ve also produced roughly 70% of the national media. If you didn’t know, don’t worry. Everyone will gladly tell you all about it next week. With apologies to the actual team, which I’m sure is full of good kids, I can’t support the most aloof, smug, and self-masturbatory group of alumni this side of Cambridge. I guarantee they win at least one game, and the response to it will be vomit-inducing. I can’t stand when like Harvard or someone wins a game and they’re talked about like some group of scrappy underdogs. It’s still Harvard! Those kids are still set for life! Don’t tell me they’re these big underdogs and we should all be happy for them and name our kids after their best players. Now I’m pissed off and they haven’t even technically made it yet. I’m passing on them, if you couldn’t tell.
Maryland– Now that I’m fired up, I just wanted throw out that I hate Maryland. Melo Trimble is randomly my least favorite player in the country and I love the fact that he passed up his small chance at the NBA his freshman year and is now a nothing prospect. I can’t wait for them to lose first round. I’m obviously out on them, too.
Florida Gulf Coast– Dunk City is back, baby! That run they went on a few years ago was so awesome, and they best part is that the university has fully embraced their brand and now only recruits players who specialize in throwing or finishing alley-oops. In addition to making everyone my age regret the fact that they didn’t know this fake college existed, they add to their tropical mystique by taking advantage of the little used blue-green color scheme for their jerseys. But it’s not like they’re gonna come out of nowhere again. Literally everyone’s gonna be pulling for them. It’s too mainstream for me. Time to move on.
New Orleans– There’s a New Orleans University? And they’re Division 1 in basketball? What the hell? Odds are they’ll have to play a play-in game, but if they escape that, look out. Every year I find a 16 seed that I think can win a game, and this year look no further than the Privateers. If they get to play Gonzaga, they’re winning. I guarantee it. Think we finally have a strong contender, but let’s keep looking just in case.
Oregon– Another obvious candidate, at least for me. I turned to them for college football long ago, especially once I realized UConn football was singlehandedly trying to set the game back 50 years. Now I see the same qualities in their basketball team: talented athletes, appealing play style, great jerseys (side note: I’ve always loved green jerseys. They’re so underutilized and I have no idea why), and, of course, the full backing of Nike. They’re also good, but not so good that I feel cheap picking them to go all the way. Are they the winner? It sure seems like it. But maybe there’s one team better?
Minnesota– Minnesota? Really? You bet your ass, Minnesota. I’m going with the Gophers for a few reasons. They’re scorching hot. Won 9 out of 10. Tearing up the B1G. They have great guards. They lead the country in blocked shots. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they say defense wins championships. They’ve got outstanding jerseys. Maroon and yellow is the best jersey combination out there. It doesn’t matter anymore, but they have a great home gym, too. Now that I think about it, I haven’t been this sure a team was going to make a deep run since the Lopez brothers were at Stanford (didn’t really work out, but still). Minnesota is my new team, and they’re about to crash the Final Four party.