(This story was originally published on Raleigh & Company)

NCAA Tournamentapalooza 2016

Shaker Samman
Jan 9, 2019 · 19 min read
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Dear friends, it’s my honor to welcome you all to NCAA Tournamentapalooza 2016. It’s time for the best month in sports. March Madness is upon us, and I intend to embrace this hallucinogenic fever-dream of a season. I’m all in on the chaos. For the past two years, I’ve not-so-successfully predicted every game in the NCAA Tournament. Third time is the charm, right?

Basketball is my favorite sport, and I favor college basketball to the pros. The quality may not be as high, and the pace may be slower, but there’s something inherently amazing about a group of kids you see in your dining halls, and classrooms battling the country’s elite athletes for eternal glory. Fans are bound together by love for their alma mater, and hatred for their rivals. By the purest form of ecstasy that’s only found in nail-biting wins, and the all-consuming emptiness that haunts losses. A year-long quest will be decided by six games in the Spring, governed by a holy law: survive and advance.

March Madness is like modern day tuberculosis. Everyone you know has it, and the only cure is leeches. Or something like that.

Last year, I climbed up to the highest rooftop, and proclaimed Duke’s superiority for all to hear. Spoiler alert: I was right. Duke rewarded my trust (and took all my winnings — damn you, tuition), and redeemed my bracket-picking skills. This season, unlike the last, was defined not by the gap between the haves and have-nots, but rather by overall parity. Sure, teams like Kansas or North Carolina seem a cut above, but anything can happen in March.

You’ve probably guessed it already, but I feel the need to add a disclaimer here anyway. I am a Duke student. These picks will be subjectively objective. Or something like that. I am all-powerful.

Now that we’ve established my methodology, let’s get to it.



The NCAA can call them the First Four, or the First Round games, or whatever other names they make up. But you know what that is? It’s facism. Or socialism. Or whatever the pundits and politicians on my television are warning me about. These are the play-in games.

11. Vanderbilt v. 11. Wichita State

The selection committee did well here in putting together a game people will want to watch. Dayton, Ohio is a miserable place, but it’s slightly less miserable now that these two teams are facing off. Truthfully, I’d be happier if St. Mary’s or Monmouth was here instead of Vandy, but I’m just going to have to deal with it. The Shockers have one of the best backcourts in the sport. They move on.

16. Holy Cross v. 16. Southern

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Holy Cross, I guess?

16. Florida Gulf Coast v. 16. Fairleigh Dickinson

The return of Dunk City will be swift, and ferocious. Who cares if FGCU doesn’t play at all like they did. Think of the nostalgia! Think of the excitement! Think of the people who don’t know who Fairleigh Dickinson was! FGCU wins.

11. Michigan v. 11. Tulsa

Okay, so I’m not thrilled about Michigan’s inclusion in the field, but I get it. They beat Indiana. They made a late season run. Fine. Whatever. But TULSA? REALLY? YOU PICKED 20–11 TULSA OVER KENPOM’S 34TH BEST TEAM ST. MARY’S, OR MONMOUTH, OR HELL, EVEN VALPO? FOR SHAME. WOLVERINES SLASH THE GOLDEN HURRICANE.





1. Kansas v. 16. Austin Peay

Kansas is absolutely going to win this game, but I want to use this time to talk about how Austin Peay has the best chant in basketball. I shit you not, their most popular cheer is “Go Peay!” and it’s not even close. What a weird school.

8. Colorado v. 9. Connecticut

That’s weird. Those clouds look pretty ominous. Oh hey, UConn needed a crazy shot to make it out of their conference tournament…and there’s no real great team in college basketball this year. Oh god, THAT’S DANIEL HAMILTON’S MUSIC. They’re going to win the whole damn thing, aren’t they?

5. Maryland v. 12. South Dakota State

A sane person would tell you that Maryland is overrated, and proved that late in the season. Well let me tell you something, internet: they are, and I couldn’t care less. I hate Maryland. I hate so much that it jeopardizes my health. They’re still gonna run the jewels on the Jackrabbits. Onward, Terps.

4. California v. 13. Hawaii

Hawaii are one of sportscasters’ sexy upset picks this year, and who can blame them? Most people have never seen the Rainbow Warriors play, and won’t think twice about diving headfirst into the hype. It’s a shame California is going to win this game by 30.

6. Arizona v. 11. Wichita State

This isn’t your dad’s Shockers team, which is to say that it actually probably is. Wichita State is 12th in Kenpom this year, but wound up with the 11 seed in the South because the selection committee, like the Oscars, is pompous and pretentious. ALAN RICKMAN DESERVED A BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR NOM FOR SNAPE, DAMNIT. Whatever. Wildcats put my namesake out of their misery.

3. Miami v. 14. Buffalo

When I think of Buffalo, I think of how Bobby Hurley abandoned them and stole half their best players. Then I think about that scene in Hot Tub Time Machine where they’re in the car and they keep whispering “Great White Buffalo” in unison. I hated that movie. The fighting Jim Larrañagas move on.

7. Iowa v. 10. Temple

The Hawkeyes started the season strong, and were ranked as highly as third before completely imploding, as they’ve been known to do (see: Iowa Football). Against any other 10 seed, I’d send them through, but Temple is fighting for the glory of Philadelphia, and moves on. GODSPEED, FRAN DUNPHY.

2. Villanova v. 15. UNC Asheville

I’m not here to hate on branch campuses. I’m really not. Asheville is a wonderful place. They just don’t play good basketball there. Step forward, Nova.


1. Oregon v. 16. Holy Cross

The crusades were pretty fucked up, weren’t they? Puddles the Duck will extract his vengeance for these ancient transgressions.

8. Saint Joseph’s v. 9. Cincinnati

The Hawks put together a good year, besting Dayton, Temple, and VCU en route to an A10 Title. Don’t sleep on St. Joe’s. Also, what even is a Bearcat anyway. Pick an animal. St. Joe’s moves on.

5. Baylor v. 12. Yale

Yale! You did it! You can finally say you’re better than Harvard at something! Unlike Harvard, though, you’re getting bounced in the first round. Sorry, guys. Next time hire Tommy Amaker and weather a massive cheating scandal. Gotta cover your bases and pick a little from both sides of Tobacco Road to ensure victory in March.

4. Duke v. 13. UNC Wilmington

Now I understand some of you Duke haters are picking Wilmington to upset the Devils. You’re citing things like their solid guard play, and their size inside. Too bad homerism is stronger than logic. DUKE TO THE SECOND ROUND.

6. Texas v. 11. Northern Iowa

On the surface, this is a tasty upset choice. Northern Iowa has done it before (sup, Kansas), and as far as I’m concerned, Ali Faroukmanesh still plays there.

What’s that? He graduated six years ago? Oh. Hook ’em horns.

3. Texas A&M v. 14. Green Bay

Two places best known for football square off in the battle for relevancy. A&M is the talk of the town, but only because they somehow got a 3 seed over Kentucky, who beat them just days ago. A&M wins this, but not without subtweeting Calapari first. #checkyourSATscores #MarcusCamby #DRose

7. Oregon State v. 10. VCU

The HAVOC just sounds terrifying. Do they still run that even though Shaka is at Texas now? No one knows for sure. I’m sending the Rams through based on fear alone. Plus, Young Metro doesn’t trust Oregon State.

2. Oklahoma v. 15. California State University Bakersfield

Buddy Hield is the human equivalent of the rap air horn. He’s the Jose Bautista bat flip.


1. North Carolina v. 16. Florida Gulf Coast

This is going to get so ugly, so fast. It’s a good day to be a Tar Heel.

8. USC v. 9. Providence

No more Parties for LA. Providence rolls.

5. Indiana v. 12. Chattanooga

I might be the only person on Earth who doesn’t buy Indiana as a title contender. Any team that lost to this year’s Duke team by 20 has no business competing for a championship. They still beat Chattanooga, though, because no team from Chattanooga has any business competing with a team who lost to Duke by only 20.

4. Kentucky v. 13. Stony Brook

As much as I hate Coach Cal, even I have to admit he’s done well with this year’s squad. He’s made due with an underperforming Skal, and gotten the most out of Ullis. I love Stony Brook’s story, but this is going to be a #BeatEmDown.

6. Notre Dame v. 11. Michigan

I can guarantee two things: Michigan will not get shutout, and Brady Hoke will not be clapping on the sidelines, so it’s guaranteed to be better for Michigan than the last time these schools met in something significant.

3. West Virginia v. 14. Stephen F. Austin

Never sleep on Bob Huggins. Seriously, if you slept on top of Bob Huggins and he rolled over, you’d probably die. West Virginia smothers the Lumberjacks.

7. Wisconsin v. 10. Pittsburgh

Wisconsin has had a weird year. First, their Hall of Fame coach gets tangled up in a sex scandal and abruptly skips town. Then they sort of flopped through the first half, crawling to a 9–9 record before beating Michigan State and winning 11 of their last 14. They’ll keep up the trend. Wisconsin beats the Panthers.

2. Xavier v. 15. Weber State

FUN FACT: Damian Lillard went to Weber State. Nothing else about them ever is remotely interesting. Xavier wins.


1. Virginia v. 16. Hampton

lol no

8. Texas Tech v. 9. Butler

You fell victim to one of the classic blunders — The most famous of which is never get involved in a land war in Asia. But only slightly less well-known is this — Never go against a Bulldog when March is on the line!

5. Purdue v. 12. Arkansas–Little Rock

Purdue has some size, and some swanky freshmen, and that’s a decent formula for success in March. The Boilermakers move on.

4. Iowa State v. 13. Iona

I don’t know what a Gael is. I went to a public high school. They didn’t teach us that kind of stuff. Cyclones by default.

6. Seton Hall v. 11. Gonzaga

Seton Hall: We have an army.


[fire emojis]

Zags win.

3. Utah v. 14. Fresno State

Jacob Poeltl does some downright dirty things with basketballs. He is very good at the basketsport. Long life the shootyhoops man.

7. Dayton v. 10. Syracuse

Zone is for cowards. That Syracuse is in the field while far superior mid-majors stay home is criminal. Similarly heinous is the committee’s lack of regard to the Orange’s NCAA sanctions. If you overlook their record during Boeheim’s absence, why suspend him at all? Thankfully, the Flyers do well against the zone. Buh bye, Cuse.

2. Michigan State v. 15. Middle Tennessee




1. Kansas v. 9. Connecticut

Any other year, and UConn would be the Team of Destiny. It just feels right. Tons of parity. Duke won last year. Early round matchup with a big team. This could be 2011 all over again. Except it won’t be. Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden Jr. have the Jayhawks firing on all cylinders. When Kansas is on — and they almost always are — there are few squads that can take them down. Kevin Ollie’s team isn’t one of them. Rock Chalk Jayhawk all the way to the Sweet 16.

5. Maryland v. 4. California

Since January, I’ve spouted the same nonsense about six teams being talented enough to win the tournament: Kansas, Oklahoma, Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan State, and Maryland. I’ve been yelled at, teased, called a lunatic, and nearly assaulted for that last one. Ivan Rabb and Jaylen Brown are going to make NBA GM’s very happy someday soon. They just won’t get by Maryland’s Melo Trimble/Diamond Stone buzzsaw. The Terps unfortunately move on.

6. Arizona v. 3. Miami

Miami is the better team here. They are. Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan have pushed this Hurricanes team to the top of the ACC. Something’s gotta give though, and Arizona will push Miami to the brink of death. Unfortunately for Miami, they’ll cave. Somewhere, Troy Bolton is flexing. Jackass.

10. Temple v. 2. Villanova



1. Oregon v. 8. Saint Joseph’s

Oregon is a damn good squad from a damn good conference. Puddles the Duck jokes aside, this team can ball. I like what St. Joe’s has done all year, but they’re running into a neon green buzzsaw with eyes for Houston. Advantage: Ducks.

5. Baylor v. 4. Duke

BLATANT BIAS ALERT: Duke will win this game. It’ll be close, though. Taurean Price and Rico Gathers are going to cause trouble in the paint, and I don’t know if Marshall Plumlee and Chase Jeter can handle that kind of physicality down low. Brandon Ingram and Grayson Allen will overpower Baylor’s defense, but it won’t be a walk in the park. The defending champs march on.

6. Texas v. 3. Texas A&M

I already used the Battle [insert location] joke, so how about this. This game could decide who truly shines brightest deep in the heart of Texas. For the record, I’m pretty sure it’s A&M. This is a matchup we’re more used to seeing on the gridiron, but damn if it won’t be fun on the hardwood. Shaka Smart is one of the best coaches in college basketball, and A&M has, for the first time since Acie Law was around, a formidable group of ballers. Texas A&M goes back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since ’07.

10. VCU v. 2. Oklahoma

Next time you’re on a date, ask your significant other how they feel about Buddy Hield. If they don’t immediately drop to their knees and pray to the heavens, they’re not right for you. Oklahoma. Don’t overthink it.


1. North Carolina v. 9. Providence

Kris Dunn is so stupid good. To win in March, you need a top-tier point guard, and a top-30 defense. Providence has both. Unfortunately for them, Carolina isn’t messing around this year. Brice Johnson was a revelation this season, and should be recognized for what he is — a superstar. Throw in a few high-functioning guards in Joel Berry and Marcus Paige, and you have a recipe for disaster for any team they face. And I haven’t even mentioned Isaiah Hicks, Justin Jackson, or Kennedy Meeks. Tar Heels in a game that’s a little closer than it should be.

5. Indiana v. 4. Kentucky.

Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.

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Just kidding. Kentucky in a blowout.

6. Notre Dame v. 3. West Virginia

The way to beat West Virginia is to hit corner 3s and slash hard — two things Notre Dame does exceptionally well. Despite that, West Virginia still finds a way to exhaust the Irish, and a late game push falls short due to tired legs. The Mountaineers fight to see another day.

7. Wisconsin v. 2. Xavier

I sort of feel bad for Wisconsin. Last year was almost their year. And the year before was almost their year too. Every year is almost their year, but it never is. Neither is this one. Xavier moves on behind excellent wing play.


1. Virginia v. 9. Butler

Butler is good — they are. But Virginia is stupid good. They boast the country’s 9th best offense, and 4th best defense. They put on a clinic in crisp passing and complete team defense. They’re not losing to anyone this early. Tony Bennett’s team makes the second weekend.

5. Purdue v. 4. Iowa State

Every single season, people mention Iowa State as a dark horse title candidate. I’ve been guilty of it in the past. This season feels different though. Georges Niang has been fantastic, as expected, but his supporting cast has left a lot to be desired. The way you beat Iowa State is with size, and that’s exactly what Purdue has. Caleb Swanigan and AJ Hammons carry the Boilermakers (what a dumb mascot) to the next round.

11. Gonzaga v. 3. Utah

Oh, Gonzaga. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. The streak continues. This is March of the Poeltl.

7. Dayton v. 2. Michigan State

Check your calendar. What month is it? January? No. February? No. March? No. Izzo? Yes. Denzel Valentine is the second best player in the country behind Saint Buddy, and with Matt Costello, they make up two parts of Tom Izzo’s newest team-eating monster. Sparty on.



1. Kansas v. 5. Maryland

This is the first matchup of teams I think are talented enough to cut down the nets. Kansas knocked out the team of destiny last round, and they’ll keep the train moving, and mow down the Terps. Maryland’s dance ends early, much like their Big Ten tournament.

6. Arizona v. 2. Villanova

Every single spring, I’m led to believe Villanova has changed. That this year’s team is different, and won’t crumble in the tournament against an upstart athletic squad with inferior talent. I take the bait almost every time, too. But not this year. I won’t fall for that trick again. Arizona spoils the party, just as they did against Duke in 2011, with Ryan Anderson playing the role of Derick Williams. I’m sorry, Jay Wright. It’s not you, it’s us.

Actually, it’s you.



1. Oregon v. 4. Duke

I’ve asked everyone I know to talk me out of this. Duke isn’t good this year. They’re not. They have no interior presence defensively, or offensively, and they allow nearly as many points as they score. They play with a short bench — 7 men in the rotation on a good day. They can’t possibly take down Oregon.

Except they can. The Ducks are the weakest of the four top seeds, and Duke gets a week of rest to ready themselves for the matchup. Giving Coach K seven days to gameplay sounds like a disaster scenario. Giving Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram seven days to recharge their batteries sounds like a death sentence. Duke plays giant killer for the first time in a long, long time.

3. Texas A&M v. 2. Oklahoma

Another former Big 12 football showdown here on the hardwood. Per Ken Pom, A&M has the 12th best in the country. The thing is, Oklahoma has the 11th best. Fueled by their top-20 offense, the Sooners and their soon-to-be-crowned National Player of the Year will prove too much for the Aggies. Rest well, Reveille. You fought hard.


1. North Carolina v. 4. Kentucky

When you play the game of thrones, you either win, or you die. Kentucky is North Carolina’s worst nightmare. An athletic, insanely talented, and well-coached team playing with a chip on its shoulder. The Wildcats, at their most simple level, are Duke, but with a better point guard, and less overall star power. Tyler Ullis and Jamal Murray have done well taking Kentucky this far. Alex Poythress — somehow still in college — has played strong in his final season in Lexington. But this team is one good Skal Labissiere away from a Final Four. They’ll lose to Carolina in a nail-bitter. We are all truly on an UltraBrice Beam.

3. West Virginia v. 2. Xavier

I could use this time to crack jokes about West Virginia, and the barren wasteland that fills its borders. I could say it’s like Fallout 4 but without the worldwide nuclear destruction. I could say I’d rather live in the Game of Thrones universe than Morgantown. But all of that feels petty. Xavier has a top 20 offense, and the 36th best defense in the country, per Ken Pom. They’re young, and have only one senior in their starting five. They’ve beaten Butler, Seaton Hall, Michigan, Providence, and Villanova. They’re going to lose to West Virginia. The Mountaineers have the 6th best defense in the country, and the 23rd best offense. They’ll ride their smothering defense to the Elite Eight.


1. Virginia v. 5. Purdue

The way you beat Virginia is by playing hero ball, and the truth is, Purdue doesn’t have a Batman. Malcom Brogdon is one of the best players in the country. Throw in London Perrantes and Anthony Gill, and you get a three-headed monster that takes pride in dismantling teams, crippling spirits first before going for the kill. They’re the basketball equivalent to Bane. You need NBA quality guards to knife through Virginia’s stifling D, and Purdue doesn’t have any on their roster. The Cavs move on.

3. Utah v. 2. Michigan State

You’ve heard me say it a few times now, but Michigan State doesn’t go down easy this time of year. Utah isn’t any run-of-the-mill matchup for the Spartans. They have size, and skill in the form of the aforementioned Jacob Poeltl, and fellow sophomore Kyle Kuzma. The latter grew up less than an hour from Michigan State, just down the road in Flint. His city was poisoned by the Governor, and his team is about to lose to a squad that overlooked him despite living within eyesight. Pour some out for the Utes.


1. Kansas v. 6. Arizona

Anderson, Alonzo Trier, and Gabe York have provided consistent offensive production for the Wildcats this season. On pure talent, they’re probably not good enough the get to the Elite Eight, but alas, here they stand, ready for battle. They’ll put up a damn good fight, but Kansas is just too good. Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden Jr. are as old as time itself, and Devonte Graham and Frank Mason III are more than capable starters. Even in the wildest March imaginable, Kansas moves on. In this relatively tame bracket, they steamroll the Wildcats.

Valar Morghulis.

4. Duke v. 2. Oklahoma

Writing this game prediction actually broke me. I love this Duke team. I love them. They’re scrappy, and weird, and honestly not that great. They’ve dealt with a season ending injury to their most consistent starter, and underperforming freshmen. They play with a short rotation, and inconsistent stars, and damnit, they’re going to get run off the floor by the Sooners. Buddy Hield is the best player in the country, and playing on short-rest, Duke is going to be gassed. Expect those jumpers to fall short, and those layups to lip out. Duke isn’t Drake. We’re not going back to back. There will be a new champion this season.

1. North Carolina v. 3. West Virginia

This is another case of timing playing a factor. On paper, North Carolina should beat the snot out of the Mountaineers. UNC fares well against teams who press — with the exception of Texas, who snuck out a buzzer-beater win over the Tar Heels earlier this year. If this game is played after a week of rest, Carolina runs the jewels and West Virginia becomes another footnote in a Tobacco Road National Championship run. The thing is, it won’t be. After a taxing game against a tough Kentucky team, this exhausted Tar Heel squad will stumble, and find themselves unable to keep up with West Virginia’s constant pressure. It won’t be Roy’s fault, and timeouts won’t come into play. It’ll just be a classic case of one team being in the right place at the right time.

And now Carolina’s watch is ended.

1. Virginia v. 2. Michigan State

In 2014, it was in the Elite Eight. Last year, it was in the second round. And now, for the third year in a row, Michigan State will end Virginia’s season prematurely. As I mentioned before, you beat Virginia by playing smart basketball as a team, and having a guy who can play hero ball. Denzel Valentine is that guy. This team, like every Izzo team before it, is disciplined defensively, and takes high percentage shots. Valentine can be this season’s Tyus Stones. Virginia is a great team, and probably one of the four best in the country. They were just unlucky that fate placed them with the Spartans once more. This is UVA’s golden era, and Tom Izzo is spoiling it.


1. Kansas v. 2. Oklahoma

YES YES YES YES THIS IS GOING TO BE THE BEST FINAL FOUR GAME EVER. Two bitter rivals who played two unbelievably close games earlier this year. The first time, it took three overtimes for the Jayhawks to beat the Sooners 109–106. In the rematch, Oklahoma again fell, this time by four, 76–72. Both games felt like previews. A set-up for something bigger.

This is that something bigger. Arguably the two best teams all year will go head-to-head for a spot in the National title game. This will be the best game of the year. Apologies to Michigan State and Virginia, but neither of them can match the product these two squads can put on the floor.

In the end, Buddy Hield will prove too much for Kansas to handle. He’ll carry them to the mountaintop, and give the Sooners a chance to cement their names in the history books.

3. West Virginia v. 2. Michigan State

The best team in college basketball this season is Kansas, but the most compelling team is Michigan State, and for that reason, I’m moving them on to the National Title Game. The Spartans reached the Final Four last year, only to lose to Duke, as they charged towards their fifth title. This season will end differently, however. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, and Michigan State is as tough as it gets.

A lot of attention is given to Denzel Valentine, and for good reason. Had it not been for Buddy Hield’s great awakening, Valentine would be the runaway favorite to win National Player of the Year. To beat West Virginia, though, he’ll need some help. Matt Costello has provided support in the low post all year. Bryn Forbes has reinvented himself this season, shooting nearly 49% from beyond the arc, helping the Spartan’s number 2 rated offense operate at peak efficiency. The bottom line is this: Michigan State is not going down easy, and they’re not going down to West Virginia.


2. Oklahoma v. 2. Michigan State

They say there’s a moment, just before death’s sweet embrace, where you reach total peace, and for just a sliver of time, everything makes sense. This title game is the closest any of us will come to that moment before we meet our inevitable demise. The nation’s top two players leading their respective teams into battle. Two men enter, and two will leave — we’re not sadistic fucks — but one will leave a champion.

Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine are the best seniors we’ve had in the game in years, and they’re representative of the season we’ve had. More times than not, a season is defined not by those who stick around for four years, but by the freshman superstars who take nine-month pit-stops between high school and the league, filling up highlight reels along the way. This year was different though. It was old-school. And it’s fitting that the two players most illustrative of that difference are the ones who will draw the year to a close.

In the end, only one can cut down the nets, and for the first time since 2000, it’ll be the Green and White.

Buddy Hield is the best player in the country, but one man can’t win a title all on his lonesome. Michigan State’s supporting cast is the difference in this one, and the reason East Lansing will riot when the confetti falls. BURN CEDAR VILLAGE TO THE GROUND.

Never, ever count out Tournament Tom.

Happy March, y’all. Things are about to happen.

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