There must be something in the water in central Illinois.
Feel free to Google my name and you’ll most likely see me doing everything from hanging out with UCLA co-eds in their underwear (hey, it was an ‘undie run’) to literally being picked up by an elephant. The only person who I’ve ever seen exert more on-camera energy in this field -- aside from Dick Vitale -- has been Mr. Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports. So when I received his phone number and realized he was from the ‘217’ as well, should I have really been shocked?
We both grew up – and still are – avid Illinois Fighting Illini fans. I’m sure we both reminisce over the days of the ’89 Flyin Illini, the ’05 Regional Final against Arizona and the Chief’s last dance. Champaign, Illinois is truly a basketball town and because of that legacy and culture instilled in us since birth, March is, without a question, one of our most favorite times of the year.
Basically the only difference between Brad and I – other than the fact half my family is Amish and I have an unhealthy obsession with Back To The Future -- is that Brad avidly follows every basketball team in the country. He’s Yahoo’s go-to guy for March Madness insight and can therefore throw as many names, stats and evaluations at you faster than you can say flux capacitor.
I'm happy I got to pick Brad's brain leading up to the tournament this year. With another disappointing Illinois season, I'm counting on having a solid payout in my bracket pool.
Josh: Who do you see as a Cinderella this year?
Brad: There are a couple teams I like… Baylor. I think the Baylor Bears are very scary right now. They’ve had a tremendous win streak down the stretch…Scott Drew is one of the best coaches in America. They’re loaded with talent, very long, very athletic. With Isaiah Austin and Gathers and Jefferson, they’re just loaded.... The biggest thing for Baylor in my mind is defense. If they can continue to play [defense] I can see this team knock off a two seed and make the Elite Eight.
Oregon is in a similar class as well…They’re one of the biggest offensive juggernauts in the college basketball landscape. They got walloped by UCLA…but up until that game I believe they had won seven in a row. That’s a team I wouldn’t be surprised to see win a couple games.
Now if you want to get real deep, looking for the Florida Gulf Coast this year, probably not one. A couple of mid-major teams I really like: North Dakota State…that’s one of the best shooting teams in the country. I also like Delaware a ton. I would argue they have the best three-guard lineup in the country. I think it’s as good as Villanova’s.
Josh: Any teams you could see make an early exit from the Tournament this year?
Brad: Ya, there’s a couple of teams I’m down on. I’m not real high on Kansas. This whole Joel Embiid injury…and as good as Andrew Wiggins has been…. they really need a guy to step up. Wiggins, all he has to have is one off night…if they don’t have a guy to stop that fill-gap, they’re going to be very susceptible to getting beat.
I’m also not fond of Villanova. Again, I like their three-guard lineup quite a bit…those guys are really good three-point shooters, but that’s their biggest issue right there. They’re too three-dependent… Those are two teams I’m not going to have going far in my bracket. St. Louis is another one too.
Josh: How many teams legitimately have a shot to go all the way?
Brad: Not many. The teams riding the hot hand right now: maybe Baylor, maybe Oregon…. I think Florida, no doubt about it. The only downside with Florida is ‘well, they’ve played in a weak SEC.’…they’re the only team to go undefeated in SEC play…there’s only two teams ranked in the top 12 nationally in defensive and offensive efficiency. Florida is one. Wichita is the other. Right now I think Florida is the number one #1. Wichita, if I had to make a choice for my number two, it would be the Shockers. A lot of people are polarized by them, but I think that’s a team that’s extremely balanced, they have three very nice non-conference wins in St. Louis, Tennessee and BYU, they’re better and more efficient than they were last year and I think they can handle the pressure….I think they could maybe pull off the impossible…
Arizona is another team that’s very, very good. They’ve been in a tie since losing Brandon Ashley to a foot injury a few weeks ago. Hollis-Jefferson and York have really stepped up and filled that scoring void. So they’re the number one defensive team in the country. They just need to show more consistency on offense…Maybe some dark horses, I like Cincinnati….they can lock down defensively like Arizona. They got a dude, Sean Kilpatrick, that is one of the most impressive players in the country. He doesn’t get enough love. That guy is money. Absolute money… And Iowa State is another team I can definitely see making a run. They’re very balanced. Everyone on that team can shoot the three…I think Hoiberg is going to get the most out of his guys.
Josh: What’s your number one rule when filling out a bracket?
Brad: Do not pick all four number one seeds to go to the Final Four! People who pick straight chalk are straight losers. And they’re boring. And those are the people who show up to a party acting as wallflowers…you gotta have a little variety. Variety is the spice of life – in regular life and also in picking your bracket….last year you had a nine seed in there, you had one #1 and two number fours. Only 41 percent of number one seeds have actually made it to the Final Four.
Josh: I have a theory that the more you know the worse you do. I swear 75 percent of the time, it’s someone’s mom or grandma who wins the office pool. Do you have your mother, sister or wife fill out a bracket for you every year?
Brad: I do not. They do their own. My seven and five-year-old boys will fill one out this year based on mascot names and we’ll see where that takes us….Truth be told, I’m not really good at these things either. I feel I know a lot about it… I tend to over-analyze and it’s just so unpredictable. To give you a prime example…the Butler year, there was only one person in the entire Yahoo universe that got all four Final Four teams right. She was a librarian in Oregon. She knew nothing about college basketball. She used the mascot strategy. She said she was picking a dog as far as she could – that was Butler and Uconn.
Josh: With Warren Buffett’s ‘Billion Dollar Challenge,’ they say the odds of selecting a perfect bracket are around 9.2 quintillion, but that’s only if you select every game without considering statistics or odds. If you actually know what you’re doing and follow the teams -- you’re very informed -- what do you think the odds are of really winning this thing?
Brad: Oh gosh…I would say…probably one-in-nine quintillion [laughs].
Josh: Basically you think Warren Buffett is pretty safe with his money?
Brad: Warren Buffett is really safe…. You have a better chance of being pulverized by random, falling space junk than you do of picking the perfect bracket….I watch this stuff for a living. I eat it, I breath it, I love it. But when push comes to shove, I’m just as much of an expert as that librarian in Oregon. You never know what’s going to happen this time of year -- that’s why it’s called March Madness.
Josh: Say you win, and after taxes are taken out you have about $500 million, how would you spend the money?
Brad: I would buy a very private island in the Caribbean. Just live a life of leisure. What else ya gonna do? I would sit there and drink Coronas all day. I would be able to afford a lot better of a beer, but there’s nothing better than a Corona on a sandy beach in the Caribbean.
Josh: We obviously can’t root for Illinois. Any other team you have a personal rooting interest in?
Brad: Personally, none, as of now. I’m an Illinois die-hard through and through. I’ll pull for the Big Ten….The Big Ten is 0-5 in National Championship games since they last won a title for the conference in 2000. Will the trend buck this year? I’m not completely sure. Michigan is dangerous.
Josh: What’s your all-time favorite Fighting Illini moment?
Brad: Oh, it has to be the 2005 Elite Eight game against Arizona.
Josh: Oh my God yes. Best comeback in the history of college basketball!
Brad: That is correct. And I have…I’ve watched it – this time of year – about once every other week… I’m still drop-jawed. I’m like Bill Murray in the stands. Just, my mind is blowing every time I’ve watched and seen how they came back in that game.
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