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Just Sayin’: Here’s a little NCAA bracket help from an old (clueless) friend

Michigan's Isaiah Livers (4) and Loyola-Chicago's Cameron Krutwig (25) battle for the ball at the tip off during the first half in the semifinals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament, Saturday, March 31, 2018, in San Antonio. For the past three weeks, it's been all about buzzer-beaters, bracket-busters and basketball — a much-needed reminder about just how beautiful this game can be. AP Photo/Morry Gash)

A year ago at this time — on these very pages, no less — I predicted a brief, basically inconsequential, don’t-let-the-door-hit-you-on-the-way-out sort of appearance for Loyola in the NCAA Tournament.

Instead of the Ramblers, who ended up in the Final Four, my Cinderella team was New Mexico State, which went quietly into that good night in the Round of 64.

These were merely two of the ways in which I brought shame and humiliation upon my news organization and myself by publicly filling out a tournament bracket — an endeavor that falls somewhere in between juggling lit charcoal and playing underwater Twister with jellyfish on the “This is going to end well” scale.

I’d make a big deal out of having correctly picked Villanova to win it all in 2018, but the Wildcats were a rock-solid No. 1 seed and, besides, it was pretty much the only thing I got right.

So — and especially if you’ve yet to fill out your bracket — take my pick of Gonzaga to cut down the nets a few weeks from now in Minneapolis with a grain of salt.

But enough preamble. Your bracket sheet — a sea of titillating, horrifying blank spaces — is staring up at you. Clearly, you need help, and it’s too late to be picky about who’s giving it. So, consider a handful of dos and don’ts:

Do play the Dayton game: The beauty of the First Four games in Dayton, Ohio, is that you typically don’t have to pick the winners of those games before entering pools. But keep this year’s two matchups of No. 11 seeds in mind, because a First Four team has survived Dayton and gone on to win at least one more game an impressive eight years in a row. Those eight teams won a combined 14 games after Dayton.

Don’t do the 12-vs.-5 thing: There have been 47 12-vs.-5 upsets in the first round. But as much as people talk about this as though it were some sort of phenomenon, the fact is, No. 12 seeds are only 47-89 (.346) all-time against 5’s. (In 2018, they were 0-4.) Only seven 12’s have reached the Sweet 16, and only one of those — Missouri in 2002 — went on to the Elite Eight. Not much “there” there after all.

Do get your 11-vs.-6 on: Loyola was a No. 11 seed last year. So was Syracuse, which went from the First Four to the Sweet 16. And get a load of this: 11’s are 18-14 in the first round over the last eight years. They went 3-1 in both 2016 and 2017.


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Is Zion WIlliamson-led Duke the pick to win the NCAA Tournament? In a word: Nope

Don’t get in too deep with those 5’s: Since the NCAA began seeding tournament teams in 1979, a No. 5 seed has yet to win it all. A 6 hasn’t cut down the nets since 1988. Keep your cool, you bunch of upset-minded maniacs.

Do keep your guards up: Think of Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo in 2018, North Carolina’s Joel Berry II in 2017, Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono (whatever happened to him?) in 2016, Duke’s Tyus Jones in 2015, UConn’s Shabazz Napier in 2014 . . .

All were cold-blooded guards who dominated in pressure moments. All won Most Outstanding Player honors in national championship efforts. At the end of every tournament, a shortish guy who fits this bill is the one left standing tallest of all.

Will it be Duke’s RJ Barrett? Virginia’s Kyle Guy? Michigan State’s Cassius Winston? Purdue’s Carsen Edwards?

There are many such guards out there who are capable of taking their teams to unexpected heights. Remember, too, the names of Marquette’s Markus Howard, Auburn’s Bryce Brown, Houston’s Armoni Brooks, Wofford’s Fletcher Magee and, of course, Murray State’s Ja Morant.

Please, your thanks isn’t necessary.

I’m just sayin’

You can yell at me for any misguided bracket advice later. And let’s face it: There will be lots to yell about.

Patrick Kane is having the best statistical season of his career. He is the clear MVP of a Blackhawks team that has shown true resilience in fighting for an unlikely Western Conference wild-card berth. To rip him might be beyond the pale.

But let’s be real: His utter non-effort to stop the Canucks’ Bo Horvat from scoring 16 seconds into overtime Monday night was a problem. Kane easily could have broken up the chance with his stick or his body. Even sneezing or the old “You’re skate’s untied!” trick might have worked. Instead: nothing. Even for an offensive superstar whose average ice time is through the roof, that’s unacceptable.

• How fun and adorable seeing Kris Bryant on his Instagram, dunking — well, trying to dunk — a basketball. He misses on several attempts before throwing one down nicely.

Not pictured: millions of Cubs fans shrieking with terror.

Careful with those ankles, big guy.

• I asked Illinois guard Ayo Dosunmu at the Big Ten Tournament if he’ll be back for his sophomore season. The former Morgan Park star gave a non-answer answer, which is fine. He needs more feedback from the NBA first.

Here’s my feedback: Stay in school. Get stronger. Tighten your dribble. Improve your shooting form. Yes, those things can be worked on at the pro level, but your team will be more invested in you — literally and figuratively — if you’re a first-rounder. Which, right now, you’re not.