Who will be the Elite?

And then there were eight. The 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has been absolute madness. It’s tournament years like this one that gave this event its nickname, March Madness.

The opening round brought on so many upsets that out of 13 million brackets, only six perfect brackets remained. The biggest upset which was a major blow to my basketball season was No. 15 Middle Tennessee’s win over No. 2 Michigan State. Why Spartans, why?

The round of 32 brought on some exciting matchups, but the upsets were halted as the clock struck midnight and Cinderella returned home. To be honest I’m not even sure who I would name this year’s tournament Cinderella. Potentially my home state’s University of Hawaii?

Thursday night tipped off the second weekend in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament with the Sweet 16. This is the first time since 2012 that all four No. 1 seeds have advanced this far, and they are joined by six other top fours. But perhaps the most interesting statistic of the 2016 Sweet 16 is that 37.5 percent of the teams come from the Atlantic Coast Conference. All but one ACC team won in the first weekend. As a conference, it went 12-1 with the one loss going to Pittsburgh, who the ACC may just have to kick out for this mess up. Will the ACC have just as much luck in week two?

As I am writing this, not all Sweet 16 matchups have taken place, but if all pans out like it should, I am ready to give you my Elite Eight predictions.

WEST

In the Sweet 16, I predicted Oregon over Duke and Oklahoma over Texas A&M. Right now I know I am on the money with the Sooners, who beat the Aggies 77-63.

Between the Ducks and the Sooners, I have to go with the Sooners to reach the Final Four. For your information, I still have a perfect bracket for the West and South regions.

In this Elite Eight matchup expect to see an up-tempo game. Both teams like to play fast, but both will try and work their magic to throw off the other. I’ll take Oklahoma in that arena.

But the big difference maker for me is defense. Where Oklahoma plays tough defense and can also rack up the points, Oregon puts up points but has difficulty stringing defensive stops. Expect high scoring and a win by one or two possessions.

SOUTH

With 16 teams left, four from the south, I picked Villanova over Miami and Kansas over Maryland. As I am writing, Kansas and Maryland are in their first quarter, and Villanova completed its rout of Miami, 92-69.

Unfortunately, no matter who advanced from the Wildcats’ and Hurricanes’ side of the bracket, it was always going to be Kansas moving to the Final Four.

I think the toughest matchup for the Jayhawks is their Sweet 16 opponent, the Terps, and if the Terps can’t do it, no one can. What the Jayhawks have going for them is contributors on all fronts. They have their standouts, but even their backup staff is playing better than some of their opponents’ main threats.

EAST

North Carolina over Indiana and Wisconsin over Notre Dame for the Sweet 16 matchups from the East. Both games take place Friday night, but if I am right, I am picking the Tar Heels to be the region champions.

These two teams have already played each other twice this year and they are currently 1-1. Notre Dame took the first game, but just two weeks ago UNC crushed the Irish, 78-47. The Tar Heels keep improving on all fronts and are perhaps the most complete team in the tourney right now.

MIDWEST

Both region Sweet 16 matchups take place Friday, and I have Virginia over Iowa State and Gonzaga over Syracuse. Turning to the Final Four, I predicted Virginia falling short once again, but I could only see Michigan State pulling that off, so now I’m taking the Cavaliers to the Final Four.

Here we are looking at consistent Virginia versus you-barely-made-the-tournament Gonzaga. The disciplined Cavaliers will best the Zags by controlling the pace of play and ultimately the game.

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Madness Has Arrived

Each year I ever so eagerly wait for March. It’s the best month of the year for two reasons. One, it’s my birth month; and two, March Madness. While I like to think my birthday is a pretty big deal, we will forget about that for now because the reason people around the country have been MIA since Sunday is the NCAA Tournament.

To anyone who tried to reach me outside of work hours this past week, I am sorry I never got back to you but I was analyzing every bracket matchup possible. I finally finished my bracket with minutes to spare Thursday morning. It’s always so stressful!

FIRST ROUND

The first round kicked off at 10 a.m. Wyoming time Thursday. These first 32 games are some of the most exciting. The round of 64 provides the crazy upsets and unveils this year’s Cinderellas. One of the hardest things for me this year was predicting those upsets. I felt there were a ton of talented teams, but I felt they weren’t all blessed with the greatest matchups.

Filling out a bracket feels like a multiple-choice exam. If you get any letter more than three times in a row, you know you’ve done something wrong. As I made my way through my practice bracket, I soon realized I was going with all the favorites. If that is your plan of action, there is no money in your future, let me tell you that. So like I did in college, when time allowed, of course, I went back and tried to rework the problem.

I eventually figured it out and my predicted upsets in the first round are: Yale over Baylor, Hawaii over California, Wichita over Arizona and Gonzaga over Seton Hall. At one point I really wanted to go out on a limb and name my Cinderella team Holy Cross, but that was just asking for it. While Oregon definitely did not deserve to be a No. 1 seed over Michigan State, don’t try to argue with me on this one, the Ducks are definitely one of the most overlooked teams in the tournament.

My favorite part about this first round is definitely the upsets. All in one day you can have your heart ripped out, torn into a million pieces, have it taped back together, and start beating again. I like to call March the unknown — more times than not no one really has any idea of what is going to happen when two teams take the court.

I got my first hoorah Thursday with Yale’s upset win over Baylor. I knew I could count on the Bulldogs, but I don’t have them getting past the next round.

Then hours later I got my heart stomped on by Purdue. Way to go Boilermakers. I had them going to the Elite 8. I really wanted an MSU-Purdue rematch but they went and messed it all up for me.

The first round continues Friday, so plenty more room for upsets.

IN IT TO WIN IT

Minus Purdue, if none of my other predicted Elite Eight or Sweet 16 teams get beat, I’ll be happy. Minus one seven seed, I only have top three teams making the Elite Eight, and I’m pretty basic when it comes to my Final Four predictions. Check back next week for my rundown of the tournament thus far and my Elite Eight predictions.

When Damage leads to Success

Almost seven years have passed since female sportscaster Erin Andrews made her spotlight debut. Unfortunately for her and for aspiring women in sports, her debut wasn’t a positive one. On July 16, 2009, a video of Andrews where she appeared completely nude was posted online and quickly went viral.

I can remember when it all first went down. As a sophomore in high school and an aspiring sports journalist, I could only feel sorry for Andrews. I had been told over and over again how tough it is for women in the industry and this seemed to be making things worse.

There were debates on whether it was a publicity stunt. There were people saying it was another reason why women should not be in the industry.

The video was filmed by Michael David Barrett with a cellphone through a hotel peephole at the Nashville, Marriott adjacent to Vanderbilt University. Barrett was arrested in October 2009 and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. He has already served over two years.

Prior to the incident, if someone had dropped Andrews’ name I would have been like, “Who?”

Since the video’s release Andrews’ career has taken off. Before the video, people described her as the blonde girl on ESPN; after the video everyone knew who Andrews was.

The idea that it was all a publicity stunt followed Andrews for a while via the media. But even when the news forgets, people do not. When reporting from the sidelines there are still men who yell down at her, “I’ve seen your video! I saw you naked!”

In October 2015, Andrews filed a complaint against the Nashville Marriott and Barrett for $75 million. The hearing began on Feb. 22, and on March 7 the jury awarded Andrews $55 million. The jury found Barrett to be 51 percent at fault and the Nashville Marriott 49 percent at fault.

When I heard that the jury went in favor of Andrews, I could not be happier for her. But at the same time I can’t help but feel for her because once again she is the topic of conversation and not in a fully positive light.

There were comments on articles saying that the two parties should not have to pay because she did not suffer any damages. There were comments saying she abused the system. Comments saying she should be thankful that someone thought she was hot enough to go to those lengths.

“Her career skyrocketed, her career went up, so from our perspective, none of the benchmarks that would indicate a serious mental injury existed,” Marc Redman said after the verdict.

Redman is a lawyer for the two companies that owned the hotel at the time.

My question to the lawyers of the hotel companies: Would you have preferred Andrews to let everything she worked so hard for disappear?

I was never a big Andrews fan. When I would tell people I wanted to be a sports reporter, they’d ask, “Like Erin Andrews?” And I would always reply with no. But her strength through everything that happened, staying in the business, charging forward and not letting all the comments get to her, at least not in the public eye, made my respect level soar.

Women in the sports industry walk an extremely thin line. We need to be extra cautious of our actions and our words. We need to constantly be on our A game.

Andrews may never get the $55 million, but that isn’t what matters. The result of this lawsuit represents assault victims alike. It can hopefully help Andrews heal. And most of all it will hopefully act as a benchmark so that future incidents never happen.