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March Madness is About to Get a Bit Sweeter

And then there were sixteen. The first weekend of march madness did not disappoint. We can expect more thrillers in the second weekend, as the next round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament tips off this Thursday.

The exciting weekend was highlighted by the number one overall seed Villanova being upset by Wisconsin. Wisconsin played with a chip on their shoulder after receiving a lower seed than expected. The 2nd seed in the East, the Duke Blue Devils, were upended by the 7th seeded South Carolina Gamecocks. Coach Chris Mack led 11 seed Xavier into the Sweet Sixteen after upsets over Maryland and Florida State.

Xavier is the last double-digit seed left in the NCAA tournament.

With the first and second seeds out of the picture, the question remains who will come out on top of the East region? Which teams from the other regions will make it to the Final Four? Which teams are most vulnerable to an upset, and which teams have the easiest route to the Final Four?

East Region

Duke and Villanova are out, making 3rd seeded Baylor the highest ranked team in this region. Expect big man Johnathan Motley to perform well as Baylor handles South Carolina. The Florida and Wisconsin game in the top half of the East region should be a battle. Wisconsin is coming into the game with a lot of momentum after beating Villanova, while Florida shut down 5th seeded Virginia to a tournament-low 39 points. Led by senior guard Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin will slip by Florida in a nail biter. Something about the Wisconsin Badgers and March go well together. I’d bet on Wisconsin making it on out of the East region.

Midwest Region

The top seeded Kansas Jayhawks are still the favorite in this region, but watch out for Michigan. The Wolverines beat Purdue and Wisconsin to win the Big Ten Championship and won two games this tournament over formidable teams in Oklahoma State and Louisville. Oregon should have lost in the round of 32, but Rhode Island blew a four-point lead in the last two minutes. Expect Michigan to continue their run as they take down Dillon Brooks and Oregon in a high scoring affair. Led by Wooden award nominee Frank Mason III, Kansas will take care of Caleb Swanigan and Purdue. Then, Kansas will dash Michigan’s Cinderella run when they take down the Wolverines in the Elite Eight.

Powerhouse 1 seed Kansas, led by Frank Mason III (left), is the favorite to take the Midwest.

South Region

Beware of Butler. The Bulldogs from Indiana have a history of carrying out Cinderella runs. This talented team had also beaten top ranked Villanova twice this year. However, Butler is a hit-or-miss team. Kennedy Meeks and UNC’s high powered offense will be too much for the Bulldogs in the Sweet Sixteen. Expect UCLA to keep on rolling and beat a Kentucky team that narrowly escaped Wichita State. For North Carolina, UCLA’s high powered offense will be too much to handle. Lonzo Ball will lead his UCLA squad to the final four.

West Region

The West was the weakest region when the bracket was announced, and still is. I am yet to be convinced that Gonzaga is as spectacular as they are made out to be given their weak conference. Gonzaga nearly lost to Northwestern in the round of 32, and West Virginia will be the toughest defense that Gonzaga will have faced all year. I predict West Virginia’s full court press will kill Gonzaga’s championship aspirations. Maryland has been mediocre all year, and Florida State didn’t deserve a three seed, so I am not impressed with Xavier’s two tournament wins. Allonzo Trier and Arizona will easily take out the last double digit seed in the tournament. Arizona will continue to roll when they beat West Virginia in the Elite Eight.

Allonzo Trier (middle) and Arizona are poised to take the West.

That leaves us with Wisconsin, Kansas, UNC, and Arizona in the final four. I wouldn’t take my word, because I did pick Duke to win the tournament. From how I saw teams play during the first weekend along with each team’s regular season and tournament history, those teams are in the best position to make it out of their respective regions. By Monday, we will know if I should ever predict a March Madness game again, as the Final Four will be set in stone by then.

What Will the Chicago Bulls Do Next?

Going into the 2016-2017 season, the Chicago Bulls had high expectations. They lost their injury-prone once franchise player Derrick Rose, along with veterans Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol. In return, the Bulls brought Dwyane Wade back to his hometown and and snagged point guard Rajon Rondo from his unhappy home in Sacramento. It seemed like the fresh start Chicago needed.

The Bulls began the season strong, winning eight of their first twelve games. By the end of week four, the Bulls ranked fifth in ESPN’s power rankings. Since then, it has been a frustrating struggle to play as a team and win basketball games. Today, the Bulls sit at seventh in the Eastern Conference with their record hovering around .500. The downfall for the Chicago Bulls has been filled with drama.

It all began with Rajon Rondo. There had been some problems between Rondo and the administration, with reports surfacing that he and coach Fred Hoiberg didn’t see eye to eye. This resulted in benching Rondo for five games at the end of December. Claiming that he, “didn’t know why he was benched,” the Rondo drama was an unnecessary distraction to the team.


Earlier last week, Wade called out the team for lack of effort. On Wednesday, after the Bulls blew a ten point lead to the Atlanta Hawks, Jimmy Butler angrily proclaimed, “I want to play with guys who care, guys who play hard, who want to do well for this organization, who want to do whatever it takes to win.” Wade and Butler clearly have been frustrated with the lack of support from the rest of the roster.

The bickering and blaming continued over Instagram. Rajon Rondo posted an image of him when he was on the Celtics with Kevin Garnett and Paul Piece. The caption attacked Wade and Butler’s leadership with regard to developing young players.

What does all of this drama mean? There are three ways that the Bulls can respond. The Bulls can do nothing and continue to struggle. They can figure out the root of these problems and build a franchise around Jimmy Butler. Or, finally, there is always the option to trade Butler when his stock is highest.

So far, it seems the Bulls have chosen the first option. In the game after Wade and Butler called the team out and Rondo posted on Instagram, the Bulls organization retaliated by simply benching Wade and Butler – for the first 6 minutes. Clearly, this is a show of weak authority. Fred Hoiberg made a lame attempt at disciplining the stars of his team. That night, the Bulls lost to a surging Miami Heat 100-85, and other than a team meeting earlier in the day, nothing seemed to change. The Bulls won’t be any better than a borderline playoff contender if they continue to juggle lineups with their two stars and a mediocre supporting cast.


Amid the troubles on and off the court, there is indeed a solution that gets to the root of the team’s problems and builds a stronger future for the Bulls.

Step one is to fire Fred Hoilberg. The former Iowa State head basketball coach has no place in the NBA. He is too soft and lets the players run right over him. He has yet to find a consistent lineup and seems to always have a, “what should I do next?” face on his face during games. Ever since the Bulls got rid of Tom Thibodeau, the team has gone from a top five defensive team to bottom five. This is no coincidence. Hoiberg doesn’t emphasize defense and it shows on the court. A new, more defensive-minded coach would give direction to an already lost and struggling team.

The Bulls signed Hoiberg to a five year, $25 million contract a year ago. For this reason, the Bulls may be reluctant to remove Hoiberg in his second contract year. However, the administration needs to take a stand on whether they want to be a mediocre franchise until Hoiberg’s contract is up, or make changes now.


Step two to is trade Rajon Rondo. At this point in his career, Rondo doesn’t have the skills he once had during his days in Boston. Despite his regression, he could be a good addition to a playoff contending team in need of a point guard or veteran backup. The trouble will lie in finding a team that would willingly deal with all the baggage that comes with Rondo. If the Bulls are lucky, they find a team that would give up a 2nd round pick or prospect for Rondo. If the Bulls can’t get anything for Rondo, then they should drop him, save the cap space and get the cancer out of the locker room.

With Hoiberg’s weak coaching style and Rondo’s negativity eradicated, the Bulls are a new team. It is unlikely the Bulls do any better than a middle seed in the Eastern Conference this year. However, with the King’s 2017 first round draft pick in their back pocket along with any possible returns for a Rondo deal, plus the Bulls’ first and second round picks, there is reason for hope. This year’s draft class is loaded with talent. With some luck, the Bulls may be able to find the pieces needed to get back to the top of the Eastern Conference.

The third and final option the Bulls have is to trade Jimmy Butler. Right now, Butler’s stock is as high as ever. Many NBA teams would be willing to give up a lot to add a two-way star player in Butler. In today’s superstar oriented league, teams need to do whatever it takes to contend with the Warriors and Cavaliers. The Bulls could get multiple first round draft picks along with talented young players in return for Butler. Teams that may show interest in Butler include the Celtics, Clippers and Hawks.

Although option three utilizes a complete reset, it may be a bad idea for a variety of reasons. First, it is unknown if Jimmy Butler has already peaked. Every year in the NBA, Butler has gotten better, what is to say he won’t continue this trend next year? Second, Jimmy Butler is the type of player to build an organization around. He is humble, hard working, plays great defense and wants to win. Those are the traits successful NBA organizations are built around. Third, Butler is proven. If the Bulls were to trade him for a group of young players and draft picks, there is great risk for failure. Those players have the potential to bust, resulting in the Bulls being left without both a superstar and young talent.

Only time will tell what the Chicago Bulls will do at the trade deadline and beyond. However, if one thing is clear, the Bulls shouldn’t continue to sit around and do nothing.