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We're pretty sure we knocked these picks out of the park.
This time of year, sports fans and many non-sports fans are thinking about one thing: their NCAA Tournament brackets. For the next few days hoops fans will dissect rebounding margins, three-point shooting percentages, experience of guards and the ability to force turnovers. But for those of us who spend much more time studying pitchers’ velocity, prospects’ development and fielding practice on back fields in Florida and Arizona, it can be a bit difficult to complete basketball brackets.
But here goes. A completed NCAA Tournament bracket from a baseball nerd, uh, fan.
1 Louisville vs. 16 Liberty/North Carolina A&T
8 Colorado State vs. 9 Missouri
The fighting Sid Breams of Liberty will live to face Louisville in what we call the first round. We understand enough to know that 16s don’t beat 1s. Claiming Garry Templeton’s son, Garry Jr., isn’t enough for NC A&T. We love 8/9 games. Colorado State and Missouri is a classic. The Tigers with Max Scherzer, Aaron Crow and Ian Kinsler advance. But our favorite Mizzou alum might jut be Homer Summa.
In the second round Mizzou knocks out Louisville. There are only five former Cardinals who ever reached the majors, four of them in the 2000s. The tradition just isn’t there for Louisville.
5 Oklahoma State vs. 12 Oregon
4 Saint Louis vs. 13 New Mexico State
Oklahoma State and Oregon should be a real battle, but Okie State advances. After all, the Ducks just revived their program five years ago after rival Oregon State won a couple of College World Series titles. Saint Louis and New Mexico State? Really? How can I pick against a team from Saint Louis?
But being from Saint Louis is good enough only for one round. Not having produced a big leaguer since 1971 can’t match a school that produced Robin Ventura. Cowboys advance to Sweet 16.
6 Memphis vs. 11 Middle Tennessee/Saint Mary’s
3 Michigan State vs. 14 Valparaiso
St. Mary’s easily slides by Middle Tennessee. The Gaels have produced about four times as many major leaguers as the Blue Raiders. But we’ll take Dan Uggla’s alma mater (Memphis) over Mark Teahen’s (Saint Mary’s). Michigan State dominates Valpo. Steve Garvey and Kirk Gibson begin making plans to drop in on the Final Four.
Sparty keeps moving. There have been 38 players in the bigs who matriculated at East Lansing. Far more than at Memphis.
7 Creighton vs. 10 Cincinnati
2 Duke vs. 15 Albany
Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson, who grew up in Omaha, was a basketball star at Creighton in the 1950s. He appeared with the Harlem Globetrotters, so this is a no-brainer as the Bluejays soundly defeat Cincinnati. Dick Groat, a teammate of Gibson’s on the 1964 World Champion Cardinals, was an All-America hoopster at Duke. No one from Albany has ever played in the majors.
The Blue Devils’ Groat hit .317 off of Creighton’s Gibson in his MLB career with no HBPs. Advantage Groat and Duke.
Things begin to get serious in the Sweet 16. The Oklahoma State Cowboys have appeared in 19 College World Series, Missouri just six. Groat continues a march toward MOP. He hit .320 in 101 plate appearances off Hall of Famer, and Sparty alum, Robin Roberts.
Crash Davis, an infielder not a catcher, played in 148 games over three seasons for Connie Mack during WWII. Basketball All-American Groat won NL MVP in 1960. Two-sport star Quinton McCracken played defensive back for Steve Spurrier before playing 999 games in the majors. With those three stars, Duke takes this bracket rather easily.
1 Gonzaga vs. Southern
8 Pittsburgh vs. 9 Wichita State
I’m sticking with the rule that 16s don’t lose to 1s, but I like Southern’s heritage with players like Lou Brock and Rickie Weeks. Pitt has never reached the College World Series, Wichita State has been to Omaha seven times, winning it all in 1989. Easy call. Not to mention the Pittsburgh Pirates haven’t fielded a winner since 1992.
The Zags have such little baseball tradition, Wichita State shocks the No. 1 seed.
5 Wisconsin vs. 12 Ole Miss
4 Kansas State vs. 13 Boise State/LaSalle
Wisconsin has produced a few heavyweights through the years, namely Addie Joss and Harvey Kuenn. But long-time Cubs shortstop and Ole Miss alum Don Kessinger was named to the SEC Decade of the 60s basketball team along with Pete Maravich, Louie Dampier, Dan Issel, and Neal Walk. We’re sold on the Rebels. No major league hitter explored LaSalle or Boise, and the schools have combined to produce just five pitchers. With 194 major league wins, Larry Jackson gets the nod for Boise State. Even though Carlos Torres, who spent some time in Manhattan, Kan., is kicking around spring training with the Mets, Boise State advances to face Ole Miss.
Ole Miss easily dispatches the Broncos.
6 Arizona vs. 11 Belmont
3 New Mexico vs. 14 Harvard
Arizona has 16 CWS appearances and is the reigning champ. I love Belmont, but the Bruins are not going to knock off the Wildcats. New Mexico has never been to the College World Series. Harvard made four CWS appearances in a span of seven years from 1968-74. But that was a long time ago. Three Lobos spent time in the bigs last season, so New Mexico advances.
Arizona easily advances past New Mexico.
7 Notre Dame vs. 10 Iowa State
2 Ohio State vs. 15 Iona
It’s pretty simple, really. Iowa State defeated Notre Dame 13-8 in 10 innings in the 1957 College World Series, so there. Both teams were eliminated the day before Cal beat Penn State 1-0 for the title. We’d have to see Nick Swisher of Ohio State face Jason Motte of Iona to be sure, but since the Gaels have yet to produce a major league hitter or play in the College World Series, we’re moving the Buckeyes into the next round.
Ohio State wins big over Iowa State, a school without a major leaguer since Mike Myers retired in 2007.
The Shockers have had an alum in the major leagues every year since Bryan Oelkers and Joe Carter entered the league in 1983. Ole Miss is no match. Arizona is looking like a tournament favorite with all its tradition. Former Wildcats have accounted for 793 saves in the majors, 601 coming from Trevor Hoffman.
In a battle of heavyweights, Arizona by virtue of 16 CWS appearances to Wichita State’s 7 moves on to the Final Four.
1 Kansas vs. 16 Western Kentucky
8 North Carolina vs. 9 Villanova
No. 1 seed Kansas played in the 1993 CWS. The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers did not. Villanova has produced 49 big leaguers, but only 10 have made it to the show since the 1940s. Of the 60 players UNC has produced, 23 have played in the majors in the 2000s. Go Tar Heels.
During the second round, most basketball pundits will want to talk about Roy Williams and the UNC-Kansas connection. We’ll be talking about Brian Roberts’ comeback in Baltimore and breakout seasons from Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager. Tar Heels keep moving.
5 VCU vs. 12 Akron
4 Michigan vs. 13 South Dakota State
Evidently VCU has a smart coach and Brandon Inge, of course. There are no major league hitters from Akron. Zip. Nada. Rams advance. Way back during the Dead Ball era, Vean Gregg won 92 games, 72 coming with the Indians. He’s the lone Jackrabbit to make it to the show. And really, if you have to go back that far, forget it. Wolverines in a cake walk.
Michigan has the old: Hall of Famers Charlie Gehringer and George Sisler while VCU can counter with Jerry DiPoto, the general manager of the Angels. Edge to the old guard.
6 UCLA vs. 11 Minnesota
3 Florida vs. 14 Northwestern State
Who would have thought that a cold weather school like Minnesota would have more CWS appearances (8) and titles (3) than UCLA (4,0)? But the Gophers haven’t been there since 1977 and UCLA has been twice in the past three years. Bruins in a squeaker. Although in the 1973 NBA Draft (when John Wooden was still at UCLA) Jim Brewer from Minnesota was drafted second, Ron Behagen seventh before Swen Nater of UCLA was picked 16th. In that same draft, Golden Gopher Dave Winfield was the 79th pick by the Atlanta Hawks. He opted for baseball. Good decision. No big league hitter has ever come out of Northwestern State. Florida has produced three All-Star hitters since the 1980s. Laugher.
In a battle of two baseball factories, Florida has had 18 players drafted in the last two years, UCLA just 16. We’ll take Mike Zunino over Trevor Bauer or Gerrit Cole. Chomp!
7 San Diego State vs. 10 Oklahoma
2 Georgetown vs. 15 Florida Gulf Coast
Oklahoma can lean on basketball star Ryan Minor who hit .177 in 142 games for Baltimore and Montreal. He was a second-round pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1996 NBA Draft, but never played in the NBA. His claim to fame is that he replaced Cal Ripken in the lineup to end the Iron Man’s streak of 2,632 consecutive games. San Diego State has the school’s all-time assists leader, Tony Gwynn, who also managed more than 3,000 hits in the majors. Yep, Gwynn is better than Minor. You know a No. 15 has beaten a No. 2 six times. Of the 35 former Georgetown Hoyas who made it to the show, just one has played in the majors since 1960. Florida Gulf Coast has Chris Sale. Upset!
Okay, we mentioned Tony Gwynn’s basketball exploits earlier, so now it’s time to play the Stephen Strasburg card. See ya Florida Gulf Coast.
And with the even older history of brothers Moses Fleetwood Walker and Welday Walker — two African-American major leaguers in the 1800s — Michigan continues to advance by knocking off the Tar Heels.
Sheer numbers of the Florida Gators are too much for the Aztecs, although the Strasburg-Addison Reed combo put up a fight.
You have to go back to the Dwight Eisenhower administration (1960) to find a season in which there was no Michigan alum in the big leagues. Wolverines fight their way into the Final Four.
1 Indiana vs. 16 Long Island/James Madison
8 NC State vs. 9 Temple
Right off the bat, Long Island takes James Madison. Larry Doby is the most famous LIU alum, while Billy Sample takes that honor for JMU. Uh, no contest. However, Indiana keeps the No. 1 seeds perfect. NC State’s Tim Stoddard, who pitched 13 years in the bigs, was a power forward on the 1974 national title team that featured David Thompson, Monte Towe and the 7’4” Tom Burleson. Temple has Bobby Higginson. Go State!
The NC State Wolfpack knocks off No. 1 seed Indiana based on State’s lone College World Series appearance in 1968. Yep, it was an ugly game. I’m guessing neither team shot better than 30 percent.
5 UNLV vs. 12 California
4 Syracuse vs. 13 Montana
UNLV can impress with the Stottlemyre brothers (Todd and Mel Jr.), the Ludwick brothers (Ryan and Eric) and Cecil Fielder, but you can trace a Cal alum in the bigs all the way back to 1920. That’s a long time. Cal in an upset. No Montana Grizzly has made it to the show. A total of 26 Syracuse alums have made it, but none since Will Pennyfeather last appeared in 1994. Orange moves forward.
Cal absolutely blows out Syracuse. There have 25 former Bears in the majors since Pennyfeather’s retirement as the last Orange.
6 Butler vs. 11 Bucknell
3 Marquette vs. 14 Davidson
Doug Jones had 303 career saves and Dan Johnson hit a memorable walk-off homer for Tampa Bay on the final day of the 2011 regular season. Go Butler. Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson had 373 wins. Bucknell rules. Ralph Shinners is the lone Marquette alum to play in the bigs, and he played his final game in 1925. Davidson wins.
Christy Mathewson continues to pitch Bucknell into unchartered waters. They knock off Davidson to advance to the Sweet 16.
7 Illinois vs. 10 Colorado
2 Miami vs. 15 Pacific
Illinois has sent 71 players to the majors, Colorado only five. Blowout. The list of 11 former Pacific Tigers to play in the majors includes current Padre third baseman Chase Headley, who transferred to Tennessee. The University of Miami had 14 alums playing last season alone. Over by halftime.
Tournament favorite Miami can count 28 All-Star appearances from alums who have played since 2000. Illinois has no chance.
Ryan Braun, Mike Piazza, Chris Perez and others end Bucknell’s Cinderella run. In the top of the bracket, it’s Cal all over NC State. Jeff Kent and Andy Messersmith lead the Golden Bears past, well, Stoddard and the Pack.
There have been 55 Miami Hurricanes play in the big leagues, and 46 of them have done so since 1990. Hurricanes are in the Final Four.
The Michigan Wolverines, living on old tradition, finally run out of gas against the much more modern cast from Miami.
Arizona easily dispenses with Duke. The Wildcats call on Kenny Lofton, the sixth man on the 1988 Final Four team. After basketball season, Lofton joined the Arizona baseball team and got in just five games, mostly as a pinch-runner and had just one at-bat.
Arizona, having appeared in 16 CWS, winning four, and Miami with 23 appearances and also four titles, meet in the championship game.
The two have crossed paths in five CWS, but met only twice on the field. Arizona won 5-1 in 1979, and Miami defeated the Wildcats 4-2 in 1986, but Arizona rebounded to win the title.
In a double-overtime thriller, the Hurricanes prevail with a little help from Barry Larkin’s son Shane, Miami’s point guard.
So, there you have it. That’s how a die-hard baseball (even in March) fan fills out his NCAA Tournament bracket. Enjoy the madness. Opening Day is just around the corner.
-Charlie Miller (@AthlonCharlie)