Need to a fresh way to fill out your bracket? Picking all the teams recently embroiled in NCAA scandal isn't the worst idea.
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“If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying,” the old adage goes. While cheating would be frowned upon (and difficult) in your office bracket pool, it’s part of college basketball’s fabric.
Perhaps there’s a way for you to benefit from the improprieties of college programs, too—by filling out your bracket according to scandals.
It might seem like I’m wagging my finger at all these schools, but I’m not. Most of these scandals are about players getting paid—which they should be!—or players getting extra help in classes they would never have been taking in the first place if major leagues let them turn pro when they were ready. The NCAA wants you to think of the cheaters as bad guys, when in fact they’re more like outlaw good samaritans. So go ahead and root for the bad guys by picking them in your brackets.
Furthermore, cheating works! Look at the list of schools involved in last year’s FBI investigation into college hoops corruption and you’ll find many of the sport’s top programs. Two of the schools most heavily implicated in that investigation are Auburn and Louisville, who are both in the tournament this year. Neither one is a bad bet to make a deep run, either. Auburn just won the SEC tournament and Louisville got a favorable draw as a No. 7 seed with a potential second-round matchup against a Michigan State team that just lost a key player to injury.
That scandal, which revolved around shoe companies funneling money to basketball recruits, isn’t even the most recent widespread NCAA scandal. There’s also “Operation Varsity Blues” in which rich and famous Americans paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their kids admitted to top universities under phony athletic pretenses. The fun of that one is that it involves some schools that would usually be considered March Cinderellas, like Yale. The Bulldogs’ first-round opponent is LSU, which—you guessed it—is also caught up in scandal and suspended head coach Will Wade after an FBI wiretap allegedly caught him discussing a “f---ing strong-ass offer” to a recruit. Good luck agonizing over that pick in your scandal bracket.
Operation Varsity Blues also ensnared Auburn, which suspended assistant coach Ira Bowman for his alleged role in a $300,000 bribery scheme during his time as an assistant at Penn. For those keeping score at home, that’s two Auburn assistants (Bowman and Chuck Person) who have been fired or suspended in the past 18 months as a result of FBI investigations. For that reason, the Tigers have to at least be in your Scandal Final Four.
If you want to dig back further, almost every team in the tournament field can be tied to some kind of scandal. Remember when North Carolina spent almost two decades putting players in classes that didn’t exist? Or when Kentucky coach John Calipari had Final Four appearances vacated at not one but two schools? Syracuse vacated 108 wins due to a slew of violations between 2004 and 2012. The list goes on and on. You’ll have no trouble finding a shady program to throw your weight behind. — By Dan Gartland
• Be wary of picking these teams to make an extended March Madness run. (By Eric Single)
• What stands between Duke and a sixth national championship? (By Joe Wilkinson)
• Tacko Fall, UCF's 7'6" center, can impact a basketball game like no one else can. (By Eric Adelson)
• Which popular first-round upset pick should you avoid? Our writers explain their choices and more fearless predictions.
• How to hack your March Madness pool with a little bit of math. (By Mark McClusky)
• Who will come from outside of the top three seeds to earn a trip to the Final Four? (By Michael Shapiro)
• Wednesday's newsletter: Four bold strategies to build a winning bracket. (By Eric Single)
Money Shot: Thursday's Best Bet
Northeastern +6.5 vs. Kansas
Northeastern is a very dangerous team, as the Huskies have the fifth-highest eFG% in the country, shooting 38.8% from three (13th in CBB) and 56.4 on twos (10th). This is a very experienced group, led by redshirt senior point guard Vasa Pusica, and the Huskies are finally fully healthy after suffering a rash of injuries throughout the season. Bill Coen is an elite offensive coaching mind, and I think Northeastern has a legitimate shot to pull off the upset against a young Kansas team that has struggled mightily away from home (this game is in Salt Lake City). — By Max Meyer
Best Thing We Saw
HARTFORD, Conn. — What’s better than getting a new pair of shoes? The feeling is like “Christmas morning,” says Florida State senior guard PJ Savoy. The Seminoles locker room was kind of like that Wednesday afternoon when players unwrapped boxes and shuffled through tissue paper to find shiny new Kyrie 5s before heading out to their first NCAA tournament practice. No. 4 Florida State plays No. 13 Vermont in the first round Thursday.
“As you can see,” Malik Osborne says while lifting up one of his sleek, black and white sneakers, “The design, it’s a pretty swaggy shoe. But what I like the most is the grip on the shoe, I can make cuts without a doubt in my mind that I’m going to slip on the floor.”
Duke star Zion Williamson famously sprained his knee when he exploded out of his worn down PG 2.5 shoe against North Carolina on Feb. 20 and missed the rest of the regular season. When Williamson returned for the ACC tournament, he wore the Kyrie 4. FSU players can relate to wearing a shoe down until they fall apart, but can’t imagine having enough power to bust through it.
“If I find a shoe that I like, I’m rocking with it until the wheels fall off,” Osborne says, noting that he likes consistency and doesn’t normally change shoes many times during a season like some players. “It got to the point where coaches were like, ‘You gotta throw those old ones away and get some new ones,’ and here we are getting some new ones.
“Look good, play good. That’s kind of how we roll here.” — By Laken Litman
SI's Dan Gartland makes his picks for the opening slate in the Midwest Region.
No. 1 UNC over No. 16 Iona: Iona (my dad’s alma mater) is my squad in the tournament every year, which it’s made for four straight years now. I can guarantee I am the only SI staffer to have seen Iona live this season. It was a blowout loss to last-place Fairfield, so I don’t foresee the Gaels repeating UMBC’s magic.
No. 8 Utah State over No. 9 Washington: The 8-9 game is the hardest pick, so I’m honestly just flipping a coin here.
No. 5 Auburn over No. 12 New Mexico State: You can’t pick against the Sex Champions.
No. 13 Northeastern over No. 4 Kansas: The Jayhawks’ Big 12 regular-season title streak ended this year, so an early exit doesn’t seem out of the question. (Also, my picks would have been straight chalk if I didn’t pick an upset here.)
No. 6 Iowa State over No. 11 Ohio State: I refuse to pick a team that’s lost 14 games.
No. 3 Houston over No. 14 Georgia State: I’ll gladly be wrong here if it means we get to see Panthers coach Ron Hunter fall off a chair again.
No. 7 Wofford over No. 10 Seton Hall: All four of Wofford’s losses this year came against tournament teams: UNC, Oklahoma, Kansas and Mississippi State. The Terriers are my pick to make a surprise run.
No. 2 Kentucky over No. 15 Abilene Christian: This probably won’t be close.
Loyola-Chicago’s Final Four run last year can be largely credited to the Ramblers’ strong core of seniors, which is why I feel semi-confident saying Buffalo—with its eight seniors—will make it at least to the Sweet 16. Guard CJ Massinburg is a scoring machine.
At the Buzzer
Lastly, give a listen to Abilene Christian coach Joe Golding. The man ripped his pants.