By: Jeff Doke news services

As society in general strives to return to some type of normalcy, the sports world does the same.

We’ve finished an NFL season many people never thought would happen (or never hoped would happen if you’re a Jags fan), the MLB season has started (now with non-cardboard fans!), and the return of what was the first major casualty of the 2020 COVID shutdown – the NCAA Tournament.

Yes, March Madness is back (offer may not be valid in parts of Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina, see your respective alumni association for details).

Full disclosure; I don’t really care for college basketball, but I love March Madness.

Like Mike Golic, back when ESPN Radio had a listenable morning show, I fill out one “sheet of integrity” every year. One sheet only, and I do zero research. None whatsoever.

In fact, every year it surprises me when the tournament even begins.

I wait to hear from that one friend. I think we all have that one friend that has always been the basketball guru of your social circle.

Maybe it’s you in yours, but in mine, it’s the father of two softball obsessed girls and current owner of three out of the last four championships in our fantasy football league.

A fraternity brother I shall refer to as “Hola Pablo.” Every year he sends out the invitations to the bracket pool, and every year I make my selections as blind as an ACC referee working an Alabama championship game.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have a strategy. I have several actually, and they all came into play in this year’s brackets.

1.Find a team that’s just fun to say. That’s why I always go a little farther than I should with Gonzaga. Accentuate the middle syllable. Gon-ZAAAAAG-uh. Fun! I picked them to win it all this year.

2.Be a homer, but not too much of a homer. As a Dawg, this one’s tough.

Kind of hard to root for the home team when they’ve only made the tourney 12 times total.

So instead, I went big on SEC teams, having Arkansas, Alabama, and LSU all winning their first round at least.

Not Tennessee, though. Never pick the Vols to win anything. Or Florida for that matter. I have standards.

3.If it reminds you of an ex or makes you nostalgic for the ‘80s, pick ‘em. Kansas? Check. UNC & Georgetown? Well, there’s no Duke this year, so go for it. Oral Roberts? Weird flex, but okay…

4.Remember the Dirty Dozens. I read somewhere years ago that there’s always at least one 12 seed that beats the 5 seed. It’s happened every year since UCLA was still buying championships, so I always go heavy on the 12s. Three out of four this year.

5.If God is on their side, you should be on their side. If there’s a “Saint” or “Holy” or “Christian” in their school name, or if they have an adorable nun that suspiciously knows a little too much about hoops without an assist from the almighty, you best hedge your bets.

Best not to prime yourself for awkward questions from St. Peter.

6.Avoid family squabbles. Yyyyeah, not this year. Remember Hola Pablo? He’s a Wolverine, his wife is a Seminole.

I had them going face to face in the Sweet 16, and I didn’t want to be the one to pick the Noles to make the Final Four…but I did, and hoped he didn’t notice. Which brings us to…

7.For the love of Pete, DON’T TALK SMACK. Unless of course you wind up winning the thing…which occasionally happens, broken clock being right twice a day & all that.

Not often though, so don’t go all big & bad in the comments unless you enjoy backpedaling like a South Georgia high school football coach caught on tape with a booster.

So how did I do this year? Not good. True, I did go 2-2 on the “12s over 5s” rule, I picked Oral Roberts to go just as far as they did & no further, and my national championship pick is still in the running, but I dropped a final four team in each of the first three rounds (Purdue, Illinois, FSU).

I’m in 6th place out of 7, and the best I can do is finish 4th.

Oh well, maybe next year. At least I have the MLB All Star game in Atlanta to look forward to…wait. Nevermind.

SEC Tournament Preview

By: Drayton Hogarth news services

One of the most anticipated weekends of the college basketball season has arrived, and that is the conference tournament weekend.

The stakes are high for everyone as every conference’s automatic national tournament bid is on the line. So, a team can have a poor regular season, get hot for one weekend, and will be invited to the Big Dance.

Locally, most eyes will be on the Southeastern Conference tournament being played in Nashville. Let’s take a look at who are the favorites to cut down the nets, who may be a dark horse, and who has no chance to win the tourney.

SEC basketball practically starts and ends with the Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky has 47 conference titles; for comparison’s sake combine the next eight teams to have won the most conference titles and the total is…are you ready? 47.

Coach Calipari appears to have this year’s crop of freshmen peaking at the right time. The Cats are led by shooting guard Malik Monk and big man Bam Adebayo. However, keep an eye on sophomore Isaiah Briscoe, Briscoe seems to be the glue that keep the team together and focused on the floor.

If there is a team that can take down the Wildcats, it very well could be the Florida Gators. The Gators have had a bit of a resurgence under second year coach Mike White.

Coach White has maximized his roster, and gotten strong seasons from KeVaughn Allen and Charleston graduate transfer Canyon Barry, son of former NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry.

What may hurt Florida will be the loss of John Egbunu to injury. The Gators have had a dozen or so games to adjust to life without the big man, and may be the only team with enough firepower to knock off the Cats.

Surprisingly, the Vanderbilt Commodores are in the category of favorites heading into conference tournament play. The ‘Dores’ record is not stellar, but it is the strength of schedule that is virtually assuring them of a national tournament invite.

Vandy, under first year head coach, Bryce Drew, has really hit their stride, winning five of their last six. Led by sharp shooting big man, Luke Kornet, look for Vanderbilt to have the second most fan support given that they are playing in their home city of Nashville, but no school will be represented more than Kentucky.

Looking to play spoiler this weekend will be the Georgia Bulldogs, Georgia coach Mark Fox had multiple reports that Georgia was inquiring with other coaches about their interest in the basketball job in Athens.

Apparently, the reports were erroneous or at least premature, as the UGA Athletic Director Greg McGarity quickly dispelled any rumors.

On the court, the Bulldogs will be getting one of the best big men in the conference back from injury in Yante Maten. If JJ Frazier can continue his hot play, and Maten can provide scoring down low, the Dawgs may be able to play their way back into the national tournament.


Teams that don’t have much of a chance this weekend, despite solid records, Arkansas and South Carolina.

First, Arkansas, the Razorbacks have a shiny record of 23-8, but it is fool’s gold. The Hogs best win is over Mount Saint Marys; a really good team but not elite.

South Carolina, under Frank Martin are following an eerily similar pattern to last season. The Gamecocks have started out looking like a lock, but just completely fall apart down the stretch.

The Cocks are a really scrappy bunch, play tough defense, and even have likely conference player of the year in Sindarius Thornwell, but it won’t be enough to bring home the SEC title.

When it is all said and done, look for the Kentucky Wildcats to bring yet another trophy home to the Blue Grass state. It’s just what they do.