This is the most wonderful time of the year. As a college basketball loyalist, the overdose of hoops this past weekend is a high, which is very difficult to come down from. Only four games on Thursday?!?!
Editor’s Note: This piece was written before tournament action got underway, so Will looks prescient here later.
The good news for those of us who love golf, too: We have another full bracket to fill out this week. Last year, I offered a (completely humorous) mashup of all 64 golfers in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play field with their NCAA tournament basketball doppelganger. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Cue Luther Vandross…
Dustin Johnson is Duke: The odds-on favorite to win it all every week over the last month, both entities have embraced what it takes to win at the highest level. DJ mastered the wedge, while Coach K mastered the one-and-done recruiting strategy. In 2017, both are long and full of offensive explosiveness. There was also enough soap opera drama surrounding both (who will Grayson Allen trip next?) to create water cooler conversation.
Jason Day is Villanova: Each won it all a year ago and were still on top a couple weeks ago, even though many secretly doubted that. Injuries have derailed the pursuit of a second title, punching holes in the short-lived, indestructible armor. Will they rise back to the top? Your heart says ‘yes,’ but your head is processing a lot of information that makes you question that answer.
Rory McIlroy is North Carolina: Simply the most talented in the field, but it feels like we have to wait long periods of time between displays of dominance. For every 100-point game, North Carolina gave us a Virginia snoozer. Rory left us this year before he ever met us but now appears ready to peak.
Hideki Matsuyama is Gonzaga: Die-hards in both sports love to pump this brand as the most talented one that doesn’t get enough respect. Now, in 2017, it feels like all that hype is realized. The Zags are legit talented. Matsuyama is legit winning. The biggest question for both is if they truly can win the big one. There will continue to be doubters.
Jordan Spieth is Arizona: Just hanging out with a higher seed while you focus on everybody else. There is so much talent here, but you are too worried about how good Duke looked in the ACC Tournament, or how far Rory hit it on No. 9 at Bay Hill. This brand is as consistent as any in the sport. When they win it all, you’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, how could I have ignored them/him?’
Justin Thomas is Kentucky: Like Coach Cal’s one-and-done arrogance, Thomas has fully embraced the go-for-it mentality many rising superstars would tiptoe around. Both have prodigious prep talent and superior confidence. Kentucky hobnobs with celebrities and welcomes the spotlight. JT embraces social media, the No Laying Up wave and all expectations. Is it sustainable?
Sergio Garcia is Butler: The new kid on the block years ago that came so close to winning the big one when nobody thought it possible, now they are grizzled veterans who seem like they are owed the title. They may have more fans now than ever before and would be the fan favorite to get it done. Go Dawgs.
Alex Noren is Florida State: Admit it, you have no idea how either is seeded this high. While you were watching other ACC games, the ‘Noles were winning. While you were taking a break from golf, Noren was winning everything in Europe in late 2016. Now here we are, one day away from losing to a more experienced veteran (Xavier) on the big stage.
Patrick Reed is Kansas: Nobody trusts Kansas to win six games. Nobody trusts Patrick Reed to win a major. Both are pissed off as hell that you think that way. Reed’s fiery tournament match is Frank Mason III, while his mysterious ways equate to the questionable actions of Josh Jackson and the vultures circling his participation in the tournament.
Danny Willett is UCLA: The shine from their signature wins seem to be slipping further and further away. Willett’s Masters triumph is accompanied by the asterisk of Spieth’s collapse and Danny’s subsequent 2016 swoon. The Bruins are clinging to the title of ‘elite program.’ Willett has to deal with his brother. UCLA has to deal with LaVar Ball.
Paul Casey is Lousiville: So hot at the flip of the calendar, everything was right in front of them. Casey hit greens and kept it in play. The Cards guarded and got just enough offense. You need firepower to win in March, however. What got you here might not be enough.
Tyrell Hatton is Minnesota: This may be too harsh for Hatton, whose hot play has translated seamlessly to the United States, but like Minnesota, he was in purgatory 12 months ago. What a difference a year makes. The Gophers were an easy upset victim pick. Is Hatton?
Bubba Watson is Virginia: One-trick ponies that have run out of scoring at a rapid decline this season. The Cavaliers were embarrassed by Florida in the tournament. Austin may not be kind to Bubba and his missing putter.
Phil Mickelson is Baylor: Surprisingly still relevant and in a better position this year to win than in the past couple of years. You felt this story was cute and over, but it is now a real possibility. Plus, how about the ability to play well in the midst of chaos around them? Baylor Athletics is a dumpster fire. Mickelson has more insider trader claims circling. If only Phil wore more neon.
Branden Grace is Florida: Around for so long, but you feel like you don’t know anything about either this year. Who took over for Billy Donovan? Where has Grace been playing? How are both ranked so high?
Matt Kuchar is Purdue: Plodding, tall and predictable. The Boilermakers showed bits of explosiveness in advancing to the Sweet 16. Kuchar has the ability to win it all too, with nobody paying any attention to those chances when it all started.
Russell Knox is Creighton: At one point this season, both were rapidly rising stars. (Remember the Ryder Cup debate for Knox?) Creighton lost its best player and limped to the finish line. Knox hasn’t validated his ranking yet.
Jimmy Walker is Notre Dame: Two steady brands that exceeded expectations in recent years, but may be on the back side of the mountain. The Irish had their Elite Eight streak cut down, while Walker’s PGA triumph feels like a career achievement award for a once top-10 player.
Brooks Koepka is Oklahoma State: So much explosive potential, but what is going wrong? The Cowboys showed no interest in guarding Michigan. Koepka is riding an inconsistent streak right now that is perplexing. Both may be in the market for a new coach soon.
Brandt Snedeker is Vanderbilt: More than just pairing the Commodores with their most famous golf alumnus, Sneds’ game does sort of mirror year one of Bryce Drew’s squad: value the ball, hit shots/putts and look squeaky clean while doing it.
Rafa Cabrera Bello is Oregon: Get comfortable with both on the high seed line for years to come. There is also plenty of flash to both. Rafa has all the tools. Dana Altman is the truth in Eugene.
Jon Rahm is Wisconsin: Underseeded will be the buzzword thrown around this week about both here. The Badgers shocked nobody by beating Villanova. Rahm will shock nobody if he wins this week. Strong, fundamental and not intimidated by the big stage, these are kindred spirits.
Charl Schwartzel is Maryland: The pedigree and talent are there, but in 2017? Something about both just isn’t as trustworthy as last year.
Louis Oosthuizen is Xavier: Injured and left for dead on the curb, why not make a deep run to prove the doubters wrong?
Thomas Pieters is West Virginia: Some days, it looks like this could be the one to win it all (did you see the Mountaineers press Notre Dame into submission?!) while other days it is missing the cut by a wide margin. Huggy Bear is still dancing with his team. It wouldn’t be a shocker for Pieters to do that same in Austin.
Matthew Fitzpatrick is Northwestern: Because he went there for a cup of coffee as a college golfer, I had to marry them together. Also, fans won’t be as attracted to either as the media members pushing the storylines.
J.B. Holmes is Iowa State: Both offer levels of explosiveness many opponents can’t match, but is it sustainable for multiple wins? Feast or famine for fans of both.
Emiliano Grillo is UNC-Wilmington: Hold a lead on pace for an upset and then completely implode. We saw it from both in the same weekend. But, the form on that club toss was solid!
Francesco Molinari is Cincinnati: Look at their records since last fall and tell me you knew how good they played. Liar!
Gary Woodland is Wichita State: The underseeded monster you don’t want to see in your bracket right now. Woodland hasn’t won enough to warrant incredible praise, but he’s on the verge it seems.
Tommy Fleetwood is Michigan: Young and unknown commodities a few weeks ago, Fleetwood got afternoon airtime on Sunday at Bay Hill, while Michigan rode its young stars into the Sweet 16. It’s not about how talented you are, but how hot you are too.
Ryan Moore is SMU: Both are overlooked properties. SMU languishes in the American Athletic Conference, one step below the Power 5, but with a roster of players with all the tools. Moore has all the tools too, but never garnishes much attention either. He’s okay with that.
Daniel Berger is Miami: Florida products that have been close to being the real deal, but still can’t seem to rise to the level of their peers. Rock solid, but spectacular?
Bernd Wiesberger is Dayton: Good for years now, but without the big-stage success to be thought of as a major threat. If Archie Miller leaves for a bigger job, what happens to the Flyers? If Wiesberger doesn’t earn more success in the U.S., what next?
Yuta Ikeda is Saint Mary’s: Both had Strength of Schedule question marks in terms of getting into the field with such a high seed. A support group for RPI and OWGR haters in the same room would likely center on these two case studies.
Kevin Chappell is Marquette: Glimpses of great play got both to the bracket, but are we really convinced there are six Ws to be strung together here?
Scott Piercy is Rhode Island: Both may be trendy picks to advance. That has more to do with the draw, where Rhode Island got a banged up Creighton squad. But, like Piercy, it has been a career year.
Zach Johnson is Michigan State: Normally seeded way higher, life hasn’t been as great as the glory years. The name value, however, will earn plenty of respect. Plus, you know the competition will have them playing higher than the seed line.
Bill Haas is South Carolina: Bold prediction time. Both will advance to the round of 16. C’mon, Billy, don’t let me down!
Martin Kaymer is VCU: This isn’t the same golfer who won two majors. This isn’t the same basketball team that bled for Shaka Smart. But, both are a lot better than we given them credit for in the wake of incredible expectations. Sometimes, being really good just isn’t sexy enough to pay attention to.
Jeunghun Wang is Texas Southern: The guaranteed money from a tournament appearance means more to some than others. Cherish the automatic checks and perks of having your name called.
Kevin Kisner is Arkansas: Grit, hustle, determination and a fiery competitive spirit. All are guiding principles of how each plays. The Razorbacks had North Carolina dead to rights and couldn’t close. Kisner was in the same boat at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Kevin Na is Princeton: Lots of thinking and execution here. Both promise to be a thorn in the side of their opponents. Not an easy out.
Byeong Hun An is Vermont: Enter the tournament on one heck of a heater, but is there enough firepower to really take down a top 16 player/team?
Lee Westwood is Bucknell: Always here. Always tough. Always cordial in the hand shake line.
Jim Furyk is Seton Hall: A champion in a previous generation, there is plenty of veteran talent here, but the mixture isn’t as strong as the heyday. Nobody would cheer against a deep run.
William McGirt is Virginia Tech: The last year has seen a surge to new heights, but what is the ceiling? Has it been scraped already?
Brendan Steele is Northern Kentucky: The Norse made the field in the first year of program eligibility. Steele made the field after the first year of the anchoring ban. Yeah, that was a stretch. I know.
Ross Fisher is South Dakota State: You see the name drawn and you say, ‘I’ve seen this one before.’ You’re right. Fisher is in the midst of another mini surge in his career. Like SDSU, this isn’t his first rodeo.
Chris Wood is Florida Gulf Coast: A darling the first time we met them, the name brand is strong and warrants plenty of respect. Not sure Wood will be picked as much for an upset, but it didn’t work out on the basketball side.
Andy Sullivan is New Mexico State: Sorry, Andy, you were the last name I came to and this is what was left. I’m sure he would find the campus beautiful.
Shane Lowry is Iona: I own a lot of faith his Lowry’s game. See what I did there?
Hideto Tanihara is Mount St. Mary’s: No, not Saint Mary’s. No, not Yuta Ikeda.
Jhonattan Vegas is Nevada: The Wolfpack have two pros, which prompted a lot of upset picks. Vegas looks like a pro any time you see him in person. Can he build more substance than style after getting his groove back last year?
Webb Simpson is Kent State: Once in the big time, both are navigating a new landscape. The Flashes have to survive a one-bid league, while Simpson has reinvented his game with the putter. Some winter success has sparked excitement.
Thongchai Jaidee is Winthrop: The smallest scorer in the NCAA Tournament ran circles around opponents, pestering them. It wasn’t enough, but Jaidee may be the little guy who goes deeper.
Marc Leishman is Middle Tennessee State: No longer a secret on a lower seed line, it is hard to sneak up on the competition when your face is plastered on every preview. Leishman may wear Arnie’s sweater to the first tee this week. But, he won’t be lulling anybody into a false sense of security.
Charles Howell III is ETSU: Big names. Big results?
Soren Kjeldsen is North Dakota: Because I wouldn’t flinch if somebody said the governor of North Dakota was named Soren Kjeldsen.
Jason Dufner is Kansas State: Had to fight just to get in the tournament and carries enough big-name power to sell a few more tickets.
K.T. Kim is Jacksonville State: Happy to be here. Where’s the players’ buffet?
Joost Luiten is Troy: Because it would be so much easier to get the pronunciation of his name right if it was Troy.
Pat Perez is Southern Cal: Big personality and a bunch of negative attention. Many felt the Trojans stole a worthy spot as the last team in the field. They went out and won, twice, to prove their worth. Perez took a ton of (unwarranted) backlash for his Tiger comments. What better way to tell the naysayers to pound sand than by pounding people in match play.
Si Woo Kim is NC Central: I’ll be honest, I am writing this on a plane and don’t know who won the play-in game to get rolled by Kansas. I also didn’t know Kim was the last in the field for Match Play. This is a lazy layup in garbage time of this column.