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Buckeyes Buckeye Archive Without a Bracket
Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

Ohio State - KansasThis year, I decided, was as good as any to skip the whole thing.  I didn’t fill out a bracket, which meant I wasn’t obsessing over things that mid-major powerhouses did well enough to scoot past a high-major with a mediocre basketball resume.  I wasn’t beating myself up over the conundrum of, “I want so and so to win, but I have blah-blah-blah in my bracket.”  For the most part, I did not have much concern for who was still standing on the final Saturday of March.

None of this is being written to say that I’m not a fan; nothing could be farther from the truth.  In most years, I’m glued to the tube for the conference tournaments, trying to determine the best back court that no one knows about, looking for a team that scratches and claws for every rebound, and identifying any potential Cinderella team that might just have a chance to stand on their own two feet after the opening weekend.  I have a system, and like the Blackjack player with big Vegas dreams, it’s usually a system with flaws.  This year, there would be no system; there would be no bracket.

Of course, I still wanted to weigh in with an opinion of some sort.  There were some things that I just really wanted to see happen, so I just floated some things out there.  Any take I had was almost immediately met with a question about my bracket, my Final Four, or who I thought would win it all.  Since I didn’t fill out a bracket, or even look at one, it was impossible to slate teams in a Final Four because I didn’t know who was in what region.  Picking Kentucky to win it all was a little bit easier because I don’t think anyone can beat them in a game that matters, regardless of what their path to and through New Orleans might have been.



"March Madness just a few hours away, I haven't even seen a bracket, and won't be filling one out. I like Murray State, South Dakota State, Ohio, Iowa State, and whoever is playing a Pac-12 team. As much as Duke sucks this year, I can't predict a first round exit for them that everyone would enjoy so much."



I had a few simple, safe predictions.  I had seen Murray State play, and I thought they had a good chance to make a deep run, but I admit to drinking some of the VCU and Butler Kool-Aid from a year ago, and an open mind starts to make the exception look like the rule.  Then, you had the Jackrabbits of South Dakota State, a trendy pick because of their impressive play against Washington on December 18.  Trendy picks tend to be dangerous because they come with an unwanted bullseye on their backs, and the “nobody believes in us” card motivates the “favorite” in these matchups.

Ohio beats MichiganThe Iowa State pick was less about the Cyclones, and more about paying back a debt to karma for Connecticut after playing with a horseshoe up their ass with Kemba Walker last March.  The only thing more fun than slating the defending champs with a first round exit is picking Michigan to lose, and that’s what picking Ohio was all about.  If you want karma, for a school that deserves nothing nice, watching the Ohio without the State beat Michigan would be a big old platter of justice.  Picking a weak Duke team to escape their first set of games, and forecasting that the weaker teams from the top of the Pac-12 would not be as lucky was done in an effort to show I can co-sign on what the status quo dictates.

Well, Iowa State took care of the defending champions and Murray State made it into the weekend, but I missed on South Dakota State and Colorado crushed my dream of zero Pac-12 teams in the field of 32 with a victory over UNLV.  Duke lost to Lehigh in the first round, which was enjoyable for some reason, even if I specifically said it would not happen.  But, nothing brought greater joy to the state of Ohio than the Bobcats victory over Michigan, who will take advantage of the time off to prepare for a run in next year’s NIT.

In a world where I exist as a die-hard sports fan, it was nice to take a step back and be a casual fan, if only for a few weeks.  I can’t say that I was especially productive, or that my life changed significantly because I didn’t have a bracket.  I was denied the opportunity to bore my friends with why I picked a mid-major because of how well they rebound, or how I saw a high seed getting bounced early because of matchup problems.  I didn’t get to roll my eyes at the lucky guess brackets that were in line to take the office pool, a loser’s attitude to the equivalent of “my son can beat up your honors student”.  Most importantly, I wasn’t a slave to the television for any game, that meant going out and living my life without worrying about the time of any tip-off.

When and if the time came where I wanted to sit down and watch a game, I would do so.  Truthfully, that time would not arrive until last Saturday’s Ohio State-Kansas game.  Ordinarily, Ohio State is one of my biggest pains in the ass at bracket time because you have to evaluate how good they are on paper without weighing in the choke factor that so many fans understand to be in play with Thad Matta’s teams.  For example, this year I would have had Gonzaga taking them down in Round 2, and their run to the Final Four would have screwed me.  Having said that, I thought they were a better team than Kansas going into action on Saturday.

Sullinger sidelined December 10Now, the Buckeyes did lose to the Jayhawks in Lawrence back in December, but that was without their best player on the floor.  With Jared Sullinger on the floor for the Buckeyes the second time around, things promised to be different.  For about 18 minutes of the first half, things were different.  Ohio State shot the ball well, and played some shut down defense to hold a double digit lead for the better part of the first half.  On Ohio State’s final possession of the half, a sequence of events did not go their way, and swung the momentum in the Jayhawks favor.

Though I feel it’s a disservice to not credit Kansas, any Ohio State fan aware of the events that have taken place on the gridiron and hardwood since January 8, 2007 had to understand how much the choke factor was in play.  To be fair, Kansas played poorly in the first half, and that made Ohio State look very good, but it was fool’s gold.  If I’ve learned anything from the last few decades of watching college basketball, especially this tournament, it’s that the shots tend to fall more often when you create momentum on the defensive end of the floor.  Once Kansas started successfully penetrating and scoring in the paint with ease, Ohio State jumpers started clanging off the iron.

It didn’t amaze me that Ohio State fell apart, but I wasn’t prepared for them to hang on for so long.  That was a little thing called hope, and it was screwing with me the same way that Ohio State success has screwed with me since the days of Earle Bruce and Randy Ayers.  Maybe it was the miraculous win over Xavier in 2007 that allowed me to think only good thoughts as Aaron Craft went to the line for a 1 and 1 with a three point deficit in the final seconds of the 2012 National Semifinal game.  Forget the “crafty” cliché that comes with the kid’s name, the sophomore from Findlay is a good basketball player that can make things happen. 

Craft at the lineAfter making his first free throw to shrink the Kansas lead to 64-62, he tried to sneak one off the front of the rim and put it back up to tie the game.  He got out of the starting blocks a little early and was called for a lane violation, which game Kansas a chance to inbound and suck the remaining life out of the clock and Ohio State’s season.  And like that, it was over, this was the one game out of sixty-six that I watched from start to finish.

If I was just watching this game as a fan of the game, it wasn’t a bad show.  I can look at Kansas and see them as a better matchup with Kentucky, even if Kentucky did run them out of the gym in New York City back in November.  If I was watching that as an Ohio State fan, I have to admit that I might just be numb to the pain of disappointment by now.  Honestly, a day has passed and I still don’t know where I sit with it, but I do know that a champion will be crowned in the Superdome on Monday night, and that nothing I said or wrote three weeks ago will be affected by who wins.

I don’t know if ignorance is bliss, but my 2012 version of March was far from condemned by stress, but this won’t be a recurring theme.  Next year, I promise to return to the Madness and all of its infinite insanity, but not without my bracket.

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