Zion Williamson

USA Today

The Tournament of Zion

This year's field is stacked, but let’s be real.

March 19, 2019 - 9:48 am
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Now that you’ve had time to digest the NCAA bracket, it’s time to go to work and start filling it in. So how do you go about doing it? Are you grabbing a pencil and working it out, match up by matchup, round by round? Or do you start with a Final Four and work backwards? Or do you have the confidence to go pen from the beginning and the ability to turn in a perfect bracket, one without any cross outs or second thoughts?

And then what’s your actual strategy in making your decisions? Are you using computer simulations? Gut feeling? What’s your 12-5 upset? Do you have a 13 over or a 4? Or maybe even a 14 over a 3? I’m looking at you, Yale versus LSU.

We know that a 16 can beat a 1, do you have the guts to call that shot again this year? And speaking of guts, how are you feeling about Virginia this year? If you were burned by them last year, what’s your approach this year?

Are you going with a Jungle Karma bracket and just putting Fairleigh Dickinson into the Final Four right now?

Because as good as Greg Herenda was when he came on the show back in 2016, he was even better yesterday. I’m still running on the Herenda Juice from yesterday. And the Karma is strong with him, but he’d be the first to tell you, they’ve got a battle on their hands tonight with Prairie View A&M and you could tell he was very concerned about how the Panthers get after you on defense.

Here’s what I won’t be doing – I won’t be telling you how to fill out your bracket. But I know you will be filling out a bracket. And there’s a decent chance that you might even be getting down with some legal sports betting.

And if you’re like just about anyone on the planet, Duke is in your Final Four. And you’ve probably got them winning it all. To call Duke the heavy favorite is a heavy understatement. They're the heaviest favorite in years. 

They’re the 2-1 favorite in many spots, which makes them the heaviest favorite since undefeated Kentucky back in 2014-2015. And that Kentucky team made it to the Final Four before they were upset by Wisconsin.

This year's field is stacked, but let’s be real. This tournament is all about Duke and Zion.

And for good reason. In Zion Williamson, Coach K has the most dominant weapon in college basketball. Not this season, but in years. He is an absolute force and if you didn’t know it before he was injured, you know it now. Because Duke is a different team since he came back.

As I’ve said before, he’s the best player in college basketball since the guy you think is the best player ever. Pick the best college player ever in your mind, Zion is the best player since that guy.

And he has two other top ten picks next to him in RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish. And they get after it. The most impressive part of Zion’s game isn’t the athleticism, it’s that he competes for everything. There is no off-switch for him. He’s diving on the floor, jumping into passing lanes, and rejecting shots he has not business reaching. In other words, he doesn’t just kill you with dunks, he kills you with putbacks and tip-ins.

And the rest of the team follows suit. They compete. Hard.

But, and in the NCAA tournament, there is always a but. If you want a reason to pick against Duke or a reason to be worried that you are picking Duke, here it is: Duke is not a good three point shooting team

In fact, they’re pretty lousy, which is shocking, given their talent. They went into the ACC tournament title game ranked 333rd in the country in three point shooting. They hit less than 25% from deep in the ACC tournament. Duke fans will point to that number and then ACC tournament trophy and say, yep. Hit less than 25% and still won, which tells you how good this team is. Forget 25%, they went 2 for 14 against Florida State, which is 14%, and still won by double digits.

And tells you that if they actually do starting hitting from deep, nobody is going to beat them.

But everyone’s been waiting on that switch to be flipped all season and it hasn’t. It’s been a consistent issue. And it means that if they get in deep against a good team, like perhaps Virginia Tech in the Sweet 16 who does shoot well from deep and has beaten Duke once this year, they are going to have a hard time shooting their way out of it.  

You’re not going to stop Zion Williamson, so don’t even waste time on that. Maybe try to slow him down, but to beat Duke, force them to shoot threes and hope for the best. And given how they’ve been shooting threes, you might not have to hope that hard.

So there you go – a little advice about what you’re getting into when you pick  Duke and what you’re getting into when you pick against them.

And as always, this is my public service announcement – if you are wanting to call in sick on Thursday and Friday, today is the day to start setting that up. Don’t go too early. Don’t start talking about clammy hands and cold sweats this morning.

Maybe mix in a cough or two. Hold your head a little, rub your temples. Talk about your scratchy throat. But don’t throw all of the symptoms against the wall too early. You’ve got to save it for after lunch and maybe even late in the day. Go too early and people know your game. Wait until this afternoon or maybe just before you leave work tonight.

Plant the seed that you’re sick, then mention it a couple times tomorrow, just letting everyone know that you’re battling something and they’ll think you’re a trooper for coming in to work on Wednesday. Then, you call in sick on Thursday and Friday and everyone understands. You’re welcome, but don’t thank me now. Thank me when it works.