Ready for the Madness? Start with my fiancée’s bold bracket predictions
March Madness provides great entertainment for everyone, but I always get a little extra fun out of it thanks to my I-don’t-like-sports-but-I-do-love-to-win fiancée, Alex.
She gets so invested in her bracket and winning our (free) pool, that she trash talks teams she knows nothing about and yells “get into it” at the TV when her champion pick is teetering toward an early dismissal in a nail-biting Sweet 16 game.
During a particularly tense 2018 game, she put her hair in a baby bun like Houston’s Rob Gray to channel her support during the final five minutes, only to see Michigan hit a buzzer-beater to knock Houston out of the tournament. She sat motionless for several minutes after seeing her chances at winning our pool go down the drain.
As long she has something to win, she’s all in. Her antics are easily one of my favorite parts of the NCAA tournament, above Bill Raftery calls but below Sister Jean.
To share some of this entertainment with all of you, I interviewed her for this bonus newsletter after she locked in her bracket on Thursday morning. Here are Alex’s picks, along with her mostly baseless, but not completely inaccurate, analysis.
Sweet 16: Gonzaga, Virginia, USC, Iowa
Elite 8: Gonzaga over Iowa
You went to Mizzou, but you picked them to lose in the first round. Why is that?
As a Mizzou alumna, I understand and accept that Mizzou never wins anything of importance. This is a reality that most fans, you included, can’t accept. Get with the program!
This year, I actually feel like rooting for and picking them. They maybe have a shot to make it past the first round. In years’ past, it’s just been straight-up pointless. However, something I’ve learned is that if picking Mizzou gives you a pit in your stomach, it’s better to just not pick them.
I’ve never in my life not felt a pit in my stomach picking Mizzou to survive and advance, ever since they lost to Norfolk State as a 2 seed.
I see you have UC-Santa Barbara upsetting Creighton in the first round.
I get good vibes from them. Into it. Into the Gauchos.
Also, I’m not that impressed with Creighton. I think they’re maybe over-seeded. I just don’t think they’re a threatening 5 seed. They’re little, which is not what you want in basketball, ya know? Maybe I’m wrong, but I think they play in an overrated conference.
The Big East?
The Villanova, Seton Hall conference. That one.
I’m just having a hard time believing Mizzou couldn’t beat Creighton. And if I’m using Mizzou as my benchmark, then I think Creighton will also lose in the first round.
I see you have USC beating Kansas in the second round.
This is actually one that took me a long time to choose because I really love the Shockers (Wichita State), and I almost picked the Shockers over USC, assuming they beat Drake. But USC seems really promising this year. They have an NBA lottery pick. They’re in the Top 20 in KenPom — A-Piz is better, but I take KenPom into consideration, as one is apt to do — and that’s really good for a 6 seed.
I almost always think Kansas is a threat, but I don’t think they’re as much of a threat this year. I’m not saying they won’t advance, but for the first time since I’ve done a bracket, I don’t see them as an automatic advance, so I’m willing to gamble and pick an upset. It doesn’t really matter because I think Iowa will beat either team.
A quick tangent
Let’s go back for a second. What is A-Piz?* For those reading at home who might not know…
(Editor’s Note: A-Piz is an abbreviation for Alex Pisauro, a la KenPom for Ken Pomeroy.)
Oh, that’s my analysis for March Madness. It’s a combo of my gut/intuitive feelings, a pinch of stats — but only the ones I feel like caring about — a deep understanding of heart and passion of a team that evades most fans, street smarts, and over-generalized, but not irrational, standing rules. And unlike KenPom, I offer these winning picks free to your audience.
I see. Can you share an example of an A-Piz standing rule?
I’ll give you two. Anything beyond that will cost you $5.99 a month.
The first is, winners always win. Everyone wants to be a hotshot sports nerd “predicting” the upsets because they’re just sooo intelligent. Guess what? Chalk wins. Winners win.
So you don’t ever pick an upset?
No. That would be boring. But understand that picking chalk in the late rounds isn’t “cheating.” No one tells a millionaire, yes, I understand you invested and played the market, but your gains don’t really count because you picked Blue Chips instead of spotting the Unicorn. Money is money. Winning is winning.
A lot of your friends are notorious for trying to negate the fact that I beat them in the pool because, “well you picked UNC so of course you won!” Yeah, sports nerd, I did. You should try it.
Yes, you’re big into winning. What’s your second tip?
Free throws make or break an advance. Fight me on this. I swear this is the most over-looked stat in the tournament and its the one that will, in some cases, completely decide my choice.
I would say they only really matter if you have a lead in a close game.
No. Because, one, I don’t even really know what you’re talking about, and two, free throws are great because they’re all the same no matter what conference you play in, no matter your seed. Show me how well you can just put the ball in the hole.
For example, I really wanted to pick UNC Greensboro over Florida State, but their free throws are rough, so I couldn’t do it. I thought maybe they could take on the Seminoles. But, no, because even against their own scrub rivals they can’t shoot properly without interference.
Do you know how many teams would have won a tournament game by like 7–15 points had they made all their FREE shots? No one talks about this. Odd.
How many, A-Piz?
Like, a lot.
Thanks for all of that. Super evidence-based. Back to the West bracket, you seem high on Iowa, so why are you picking Gonzaga over Iowa?
I am getting good vibes from Iowa. Luka Garza just sounds like a stud. Or the name of a great Italian deli. Here for that. But I do think Gonzaga is solid and will probably win.
But I don’t think Gonzaga will win the whole thing. I think they have some losing pressure — ‘will this finally be our year?’ — like ‘when is Leonardo DiCaprio gonna win an Oscar?’ Every award season, it becomes ‘is he gonna get it this time?’ I know they’re so poised to get it this year, but that’s why I think they won’t.
Sweet 16: Michigan, Colorado, Texas, Alabama
Elite 8: Texas over Michigan
Georgetown is a hot 12 seed that people are picking, but you actually have Colorado beating Georgetown and then beating Florida State. Walk me through that.
I think Georgetown is a hot pick because Georgetown is like a celebrity. The name carries weight, like a UCLA, and people like picking them. But just because they won their last few games and Patrick Ewing is their hotshot coach does not mean that they’re that amazing. I mean, they’re still a 12 seed.
I actually really, really like Colorado. I’m not feeling a lot of strong gut reactions to this bracket this year, I’m picking chalk for the most part because it’s all a crapshoot, but I’m getting really good vibes off Colorado and being second in free-throw percentages is fire. Dominate those fundamentals little Buffaloes, get those free points, snatch that win.
You have Texas taking out Alabama and Michigan and going to the Final Four. I guess you like Texas this year, huh?
Yes, I watched them play a game this year and I thought they were dirty.
Wait, which game?
I don’t know, but they were really good.
I think Alabama is overrated. Not that they’re not good or not the best they’ve ever been, but I really think a 2 seed is a stretch for them and I almost picked UConn to beat them. I don’t think Texas will struggle with Alabama at all.
I usually pick Michigan to go far, but for some reason this year, I’m feeling like Texas is the stronger choice.
Is there reason?
Not really, no.
Sweet 16: Illinois, Oklahoma State, San Diego St., Houston
Elite 8: Houston over Illinois
You have Oregon State beating Tennessee in the first round. I watched with you when Tennessee destroyed Mizzou early in the season, so I’m surprised to see you pick against Tennessee.
When we watched Tennessee play Mizzou, I literally wanted to vomit because Tennessee was so good. I sat here and I said “I’m picking Tennessee to win the whole thing,” because I’ve never seen a team be so fluid and so dynamic. They looked like an NBA team.
I was so blown away by how they clobbered us, but then Mizzou beat them later in the season. That showed to me they’re not this flawless team I thought they were. And when they lose, they lose badly. So I think it’s just going to take a matchup that doesn’t gel well for them. And I think Oregon State is really solid and has a lot of passion and can be that matchup.
That said, Kenny P. told me they’re not great at shooting. Which is less than ideal. So this is one where I fully accept it may have been a foolish choice. But the gut trumps all. Plus I love an underdog, how could you not?
Why do you like San Diego State to beat West Virginia in the second round?
It’s more that I don’t like West Virginia. I picked them to go to the Final Four a few years ago and they blew it for me. I don’t hold grudges, but when I do, it’s against any team I picked to go far in a previous year’s bracket and they f**ked it up and screwed me over. It’s like, I chose you, I believed in you! And you showed up looking like scrub alley. Not even John Denver can redeem you.
What other teams fall into that category?
Virginia falls into that category when I picked them to win it all and they lost to a 16 seed. Seton Hall is another one that falls into that category — notice how they’re not even in it this year.
Also, while I love a full-court press — because like, pressure makes diamonds, baby — and I’m extremely partial to Mike Anderson’s Mizzou Tigers, I’ve never seen a team that relies on a full-court press advance past the first couple rounds.
I think West Virginia would lose to SDSU or to Syracuse if Syracuse beats SDSU, which is never out of the question — that’s another A-Piz rule.
It doesn’t matter what year or what seed, Syracuse will always freaking show up and wreck someone out of nowhere. Even when they’re having a “bad” year, they’ll still show up as an 11 seed and possibly go three rounds. I hate them because I wish Mizzou was them.
But you have Syracuse losing in the first round?
Dicey on my part, and I acknowledge this was not an easy choice for me. Because while I think SDSU could easily beat Syracuse and West Virginia, I think SDSU will fall in the Sweet 16. However, if I chose Syracuse, they could probably beat Houston.
I don’t know. There’s just already so many orange uniforms in that quadrant, I don’t think we need another one advancing.
Illinois vs. Oklahoma State looks like a pretty juicy Sweet 16 game. A lot of orange in that one.
That’s a game I’m super excited to watch. I feel like they have a lot of talented players, like NBA prospects or wooden spoons or whatever it is, and it’s a really good matchup according to the info boxes on Yahoo! I picked Illinois because people keep saying they’re amazing.
I think you mean Wooden Award finalists, not wooden spoons. Anyway, you didn’t pick Illinois to beat Houston. Why do you have Houston in the Final Four?
Well, ultimately, Illinois lost to Mizzou. I grasp that was early on in the season, but I just don’t think you can be the champion if you lost to Mizzou at any point.
I loved Houston when Rob Gray was on the team, I loved their heart, and I know it’s a different team, but I believe in them and they’re a 2 seed I’ll have fun rooting for. A 2 seed defeating a 1 seed still qualifies as chalk in my book.
Sweet 16: Baylor, Purdue, Arkansas, Ohio State
Elite 8: Baylor over Ohio State
You have a few early upsets in this bracket. Let’s start with Utah State upsetting Texas Tech.
I really like Utah State. They’re in the same conference as SDSU, who I think is good. They have a good defense and some really, like, tall players. Never underestimate height. Tacko couldn’t keep control over his limbs, but like, he’s so tall.
How about Winthrop over Villanova?
I think Winthrop is really good. I read they haven’t been tested against major competition yet, but I’m feeling good vibes off them. Villanova is missing their best player, that Gilly guy, and I think they’re like Kansas — they’ve been good in the past but aren’t unstoppable this year.
Why do you have Baylor beating Ohio State in the regional final?
I have Baylor winning the whole thing …
Baylor over Gonzaga
OK that takes us right to the final, where you have Baylor beating Gonzaga.
I just don’t think it will be Gonzaga. I think they’ll make a nice run and I won’t be shocked if they win, but I don’t think it will be their year.
For some reason, I’m really feeling Baylor. They have a really good record and there’s just no reason to not feel like they can do it. Also, I think they have the easiest path the Final Four. Who is even a threat in that quadrant? At best, Ohio State or Arkansas, and that’s not saying much.
The other quadrants have tougher match-ups. The Zags have to play Iowa. Michigan has to contend with Texas. Illinois has to deal with Houston, Oklahoma State, Tennessee, and possibly Syracuse. Rough deal.
It’s a weird year, but I feel pretty good about Baylor. It’s the right level of talent without too much pressure. I think they’re a silent killer.
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