Sports with Chuck McGill Dedicated to the stats and the silly in sports

Busted brackets: Father vs. son

My son, Gunnar, is 4 years old. This is, technically, the fifth NCAA tournament he has witnessed (although I bet he doesn’t recall much, obviously). Even so, I have always taken the time to fill out his bracket.

The concept is simple: I give him the four No. 1 seeds in the first round, but the rest is decided by a coin flip (better seed advances with heads, tails means it is Upset City.)

I have never beaten him, which goes to show you how much of a crapshoot the brackets can be. I’ll never think highly enough of myself to declare myself an expert, but there’s no doubt I watch more basketball than 99 percent of people, especially in years in which I am West Virginia’s only representative Associated Press Top 25 poll, which was the case this year.

Well, Gunnar can’t defeat me this year, but we can still tie.

Entering the Final Four, we’re deadlocked at 80-80. I can still earn 16 points with an Oklahoma win, but if the Sooners fall and Villanova advances, we’ll tie. I didn’t come up with a tiebreaker, although I think he should win on cuteness.

He held a commanding lead after the first round games. You see, not only do I award the standard 1-2-4-8-16-32 point system, but for first round games ONLY there is a bonus for picking an upset. The bonus points are determined by the number of seeding lines between the two teams, so if a 15 beats a 2 and a person picks it correctly, they get the 1 point for the win and 13 additional bonus points.

Gunnar raked here.

He had Wichita State over Arizona (5 bonus points), Yale over Baylor (7 bonus points), Northern Iowa over Texas (5 bonus points), VCU over Oregon State (3 bonus points), Providence over USC (1 bonus point), Little Rock over Purdue (7 bonus points) and Syracuse over Dayton (3 bonus points).

Obviously, he benefited greatly from Syracuse’s run. He had the Orange in the Elite 8.

He’s done earning points, though. He had Colorado vs. A&M. Yikes. Plus WVU vs. Little Rock. Double yikes.

But I still have Oklahoma. And, perhaps, a little bit of dignity.

March Sadness, not-so-Sweet Sixteen

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My bracket is like yours: busted.

My South Region final is OK, but that’s it.

Baylor, one of my Elite 8 teams, is gone. WVU, one of my Final Four teams, is gone. Utah, one of my Elite 8 teams, has vanished from the bracket.

I do, however, still have my national champion — Virginia. And the team I have losing to Virginia is Oklahoma, which is still alive.

But overall, man did I whiff here.

I called for chaos — and it came. Never before had there been 10 double-digit teams win on the first two days, so I was right about the madness that was sure to ensue.

I just missed on where it’d come from.

Like, for instance, I picked UNCW over Duke. I did not pick Yale over Baylor or Little Rock over Purdue. Obviously, I did not have WVU losing to SFA, although I tried to warn of the possibility. I had Michigan State ranked lower than any AP voter for weeks, but never did I think the Spartans would fall to C-USA’s champion.

So here is where my bracket stands:

South Region: Kansas vs. Miami after the Sweet Sixteen. That’s what it still could be, and it’d be a doozie. I think I’d gamble with Miami if I had to do it over again, but I have Kansas winning on my bracket. I also thought Villanova would be gone by now, so the Wildcats will probably be in the Final Four, instead.

West Region: Oregon vs. Oklahoma. I had Baylor taking out the Ducks. Should’ve given the Pac-12 regular season and tournament champs a little more credit. Or maybe I should’ve just recognized the Bears’ stretch run. Pro tip: the stretch run matters. When you make your bracket selections, check how a team has fared over the last two or three weeks. If one would look at Baylor, they’d see a team that, with losses in the Big 12 tournament and NCAA tournament, finished 5-8 in the last 13 games. That’s from the start on February. Pay attention, Chuckles.

East Region: I really thought WVU had a favorable draw here … except for SFA. That was dangerous, as the Mountaineers couldn’t get SFA out of its comfort zone because they play a similar style. But that’s not the only thing that derailed this region. I had Providence over UNC in the second round. Wrong. Pitt over Wisconsin. Wrong. Xavier over Pitt. Wrong. UK over Indiana. Wrong. UK over Providence. Wrong. WVU over Xavier. Wrong. UK vs. WVU in the Elite 8 — not happening. Tear this region up.

Midwest Region: So I thought my Virginia vs. Utah regional final could happen … and then my beloved Zags happened. Can’t be even mad about this one. Virginia vs. Iowa State is going to be an all-time matchup in my book … and I can’t wait to see Few vs. Boeheim for a regional final spot.

So, how’d you do?

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The game was played in Kansas City and involved Georgetown College (from Kentucky) and Mid-America Christian (from Oklahoma). It wouldn’t seem the NAIA men’s basketball championship game would have ramifications here in the Mountain State, but it did.

Mid-America Christian hit a basket with 0.1 seconds left late Tuesday night and defeated Georgetown to win the title. It marked the end of the collegiate career for Noah Cottrill, the oft-traveled basketball star who got his start right here in the Kanawha Valley.

His journey is one I’ve followed closely, and I documented it in a story in our sports pages last January (link here). Cottrill is an intriguing story, and when I wrote about his ups and downs I was impressed with his confidence and candor about the good and the bad.

If you’re unaware — or didn’t click the above link — he battled drugs and it derailed his playing career and life until he regained control.

“It’s the best thing in the world when you’re blinded to it,” he said. “You feel like it’s your best friend, sometimes your only friend. You do it alone, behind closed doors. You don’t want anyone knowing. It clouded my brain and my vision. I would do things on a day-to-day basis, make promises or talk to people I don’t remember talking to. It clouded my judgment.”

He consumed oxycodone, Lortab, hydrocodone and Percocet. It was a gradual reliance on prescription drugs. First he used the pain pills to treat injuries sustained in a car crash, but it soon escalated. He’d take pills to deal with general soreness, to sleep, in anticipation of a challenging workout.

“You start making excuses to find ways to take it,” Cottrill said. “When you start making those excuses, it starts taking over your life.

“It helped me play through the pain. It helped me cope. It numbed me.”

Who knows where Cottrill’s career could’ve gone if he had stayed clean and stayed with Bob Huggins at WVU. Maybe he would’ve developed into an All-Big East or All-Big 12 performer. Maybe not.

But one cannot argue with his path now. Cottrill is an all-conference performer. He had a tremendous senior season, averaging 18.7 points per game (team best), while shooting 48 percent on 3-pointers and 87 percent from the line. Surely someone will pay him to play basketball, if that’s what he wants to do in the coming years.

But methinks his best work still remains outside of the lines of a basketball court, where he can influence far more people. That’s his journey now, and no matter the losses in a championship game or any other, each day is a new beginning.

Meeks: I’m just stupid enough to dream

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Since I returned to West Virginia in 2009, I’ve covered my share of girls high school basketball tournaments. I’ve covered my share of St. Marys and coach Howard Meeks.

The state tournament stage offers coaches and players a taste of the collegiate and professional post-game media setting. There is an elevated platform, microphones and a table with a skirt. A coach will sit with his players and field questions from the media, and this produces a wide range of outcomes because the athletes are teenagers and aren’t used to staring back at media members and cameras.

Meeks, however, has always pumped life into these press conferences. He is known for his candor. He can be blunt. He is certainly opinionated. He cannot stifle his passion for topics related to Class A girls basketball.

St. Marys defeated Madonna easily Thursday night in the last of the 12 quarterfinal games that stretched across two days. On Friday, St. Marys will face No. 1 seed St. Joe, which has won the last seven Class A state titles. St. Marys lost four of those championships.

It is a common opponent for Meeks, so maybe that is why he recently let some words slip that he admitted he shouldn’t have.

Unprompted, Meeks discussed those words with the media Thursday night as the clock drifted toward midnight. He could’ve sidestepped the topic, kept it to himself, but what resulted was a few minutes of authentic human emotion. It was real and good and a breath of fresh air.

Below are Meeks’ words:

I apologized to these girls earlier in the week because I had some words come back to me that I didn’t like. An esteemed coach, a friend of mine, won the conference this year was talking and he goes ‘I heard maybe you got it right, maybe we’re all playing for second place.’The good Lord woke me up last Sunday at 3 o’clock in the morning and said, ‘Coach, I believe in dreamers. You’re a dreamer and you started this. These girls need to have the dream. If you don’t believe they can win it, you think you’re really playing for second place.’

Why are we doing it for? I got down on my knees and cried and prayed and thanked Him for reminding me. It’s about those girls up there. Every one of them are in the gym trying to get better …

It still boils down to one of these days someone is going to get over that mountain, and maybe it won’t be against this St. Joe team, but someone is going to get over that mountain. Hopefully it’s this team tomorrow.

I just thank God that he reminded me that, not only that I still need to climb that mountain, that He put the same mountain in front of me. And so I’m going to do what I teach these girls: give it all I got, they’re going to give it all they got, they’re going to play their butts off, and tomorrow someone is going to win and someone is going to lose and life goes on.

Maybe the Lakers will beat Golden State tomorrow. If not, I’m back to dreaming, we’re going to keep working, and no one can sit there and say that we don’t do it hard and in a special way. If that’s not good enough for anybody else, you want to right something different, that’s OK. That’s OK.

I’ve learned it’s not about me, it’s never been about me, I’m just stupid enough to dream.

St. Marys and St. Joseph will square off at 7:15 on Friday night at the Charleston Civic Center.

West Virginians make mark on college hoops

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This has been a year our little state has made a big mark on college basketball.

The Mountain State isn’t going to produce dozens of college hoops stars each year, but this year seems to represent a spike in production from homegrown basketball talent. Why, just yesterday (Tuesday) former George Washington High School basketball player Dequon Miller was named the Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Year, and Miller also took home honorable mention all-conference honors for his performance during his first season of Division I basketball.

About 15 months ago I wrote a piece on Miller, which you can read here. It detailed Miller’s rise from a student who didn’t participate in sports his senior year in high school to a junior college standout at Motlow. He landed at Missouri State in the MVC, a solid program in one of Division I’s top mid-major leagues.

Miller, though, isn’t alone.

Also yesterday, former Ripley star Chase Fischer was named to the West Coast Conference all-conference first team. Fischer leads BYU in scoring (18.1 points per game), 3-pointers (93) and shoots 36.9 percent from long range. He ranks fifth in the league in scoring and 13th in the NCAA in 3-pointers made. The Gazette-Mail’s Rick Ryan told a wonderful story about Fischer’s rise through college basketball earlier this season, which you can read here.

Here are a few other former West Virginia hoops stars who are doing the state proud:

Noah Cottrill, Georgetown College — Yours truly wrote about Cottrill’s journey early in 2015, which you can read here. Cottrill is in his senior season and is averaging 18.0 points per game. That ranks 28th in NAIA. He is also shooting an incredible 51.6 percent from 3, which is second nationally, 88.0 percent from the free throw line, which is fifth nationally, and has made 81 3-pointers, which is 13th nationally.

Luke Eddy, Elon — The former George Washington star is averaging a healthy 10.5 points per game, which is second at Elon and 29th in the CAA. He’s also averaging 4.6 assists per game, which is third in the league.

Jon Elmore, Marshall — Also a GW product, Elmore has been on a tear since gaining eligibility. When only counting Conference USA games, Elmore ranks 10th in the league in points per game (16.8), second in assists (6.4) and 15th in 3-point percentage (41.6). The Herd started the season 0-6 and had a 2-6 record when Elmore became eligible, but Marshall is 13-8 with Elmore in the lineup and 11-5 in C-USA play heading into the final weekend of the regular season.

Nathan Adrian, West Virginia — The Morgantown native has now started 10 of 29 games this season, and his current 10-game stretch has been impressive. While Adrian averages 4.6 points and 3.2 rebounds for the season, he is averaging 7.8 points and 4.3 rebounds in the last 10 games. In that same stretch, Adrian has connected on 14 of 22 3-pointers — 63.6 percent.

Donte Grantham, Clemson — The Martinsburg product is a key piece for the Tigers. He is averaging 10.2 points per game, which is second on the team, and averages 4.0 rebounds. He has also made 53 3-pointers at a 35.8-percent clip.

Also, don’t forget C.J. Burks, who has emerged as a crucial part of Marshall’s team. Burks is averaging 8.6 points in mostly a bench role.

As for next year, keep an eye on junior college star Jarin Hilson, a former Fairmont Senior star who is averaging 12.0 points per game. He’ll be at a Division I school next season.

Any others? Fire away in the comments.

 

Why Michigan State?

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There is a fantastic website called collegepolltracker.com (click and check it out) that lists the ballots of all 65 sportswriters who vote in the Associated Press men’s basketball poll. The website also allows the public to give ballots a thumbs up or thumbs down, and then lists the three most popular ballots, three worst ballots, three most extreme ballots and three least extreme ballots.

My ballot falls under two umbrellas this week: most extreme and lowest rated.

This probably has a lot to do with my ranking of Michigan State, which is No. 2 in the AP poll but No. 9 on my ballot. My ranking of the Spartans is the worst in the country by two spots, and most have MSU in the top three or four. Two voters even ranked Michigan State No. 1.

I just don’t get it, though, and it’s not really a slight to Michigan State.

Last week the Spartans were No. 6 overall and No. 8 on my ballot. They then picked up wins over Ohio State (RPI: 74) and Penn State (RPI: 98) while four teams in front of them — Villanova, Oklahoma, Virginia and Xavier — took one loss for the week. So, the collective votes pushed Michigan State past those four teams into the No. 2 spot.

Me? I saw no reason to penalize the four teams that lost. Villanova lost to No. 5 Xavier. No big deal. Oklahoma lost to No. 25 Texas, which has been one of the hottest teams in the country. No big deal. Virginia lost to No. 12 Miami, which also defeated No. 11 Louisville last week. No big deal. Xavier might’ve lost to Seton Hall, a sure-fire NCAA tournament team that is knocking on the door of the top 25, but Xavier also defeated top-ranked Villanova.

What did those teams do that deserved to fall behind Michigan State? How do wins over the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions convince a voter the Spartans are that much better than a week ago?

I severely underrated Michigan State in the preseason at No. 17. I corrected that mistake by ranking the Spartans at No. 1 for four consecutive weeks in December, and then I refused to harshly penalize Michigan State for losing at Iowa and had the Spartans at No. 2 in the next poll — the team’s highest ranking among the 65 voters at the time. That was three spots higher than the Spartans were actually ranked — No. 5.

Popularity is fleeting.