With Coastal Carolina punching a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, my pick for the 2015 men’s basketball national champion is penciled in. However, I still have three spots left in my Final Four. Taking full liberty to dream very big, I am going to assume that the rest of the teams I list actually make the tournament and that the Selection Committee does me a personal favor and places them all in a different region. I feel they owe me.
Well, I don’t have to assume anything about the tournament status of this second team that I predict to make the Final Four. I am talking about Gonzaga! This 2014-15 Bulldog squad is supposed to be the best in school history. This says a lot as I had the opportunity to watch a bunch of really good ones growing up in Spokane both while serving as a ball boy and as a fan. I hope this is the year Gonzaga finally gets past its own personal best of the Elite 8 and lands in the Final Four. As they will most likely garner a #2 seed they will play the #15 seed Chanticleers.
Do you think I would wish anything less than success for my old employer? I predict that for the first time ever a Big Sky Conference team will make the Final Four and Griz Nation will go nuts. Led by senior Jordan Gregory I am picking the Montana Grizzlies to go very deep in the tournament. Of course they must go deep in their own tournament first. The University of Montana is hosting the Big Sky Conference tourney this week and let me tell you, it is difficult for opposing teams to win in the Adams Center. I believe they will make it through and then shock the world later this month.
So those who know me well could probably guess that Gonzaga and Montana were givens. But my final choice? Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Oregon State Beavers. When I worked at Montana, Wayne Tinkle was by far one of my favorite coaches I got to work with. Not too soon after I left for Coastal, Coach Tinkle was hired at Oregon State. What he has done this year in Corvallis is nothing short of spectacular (he inherited a completely depleted roster). Anyway, the Beavers will have to win the PAC-12 Conference tournament to make the Big Dance but with the coaching skills of Wayne Tinkle they will be able to do it. Oregon State will then out-defend and out-hustle opponents as they manage to squeak out win after win until they make it to the Final Four. Waiting for them in the other national semifinal will be the Montana Grizzlies.
Under the bright lights of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Gonzaga will come out slow and sluggish and Coastal will bury them with the three-ball all night long. What was supposed to be a blowout win for the Bulldogs turns into an easy victory for the Chanticleers. The #15 seed Montana Grizzlies will then battle the #11 seed Oregon State Beavers in the major storyline of the tournament. Wayne Tinkle will coach his heart out against his former team but it won’t be enough as Montana plays its best game of the tournament in front of 4,000 crazy Griz fans that made the trip to Indiana.
The first ever #15 seed vs. #15 seed national championship will be one for the ages. The game will go to three overtimes and will contain 53 lead changes. However, a charge that Tristian Lucas takes late in the game sends Coastal on a 5-0 run in the final minute and, just like during the FCS playoff game, the Chants beat the Griz.
Perhaps a little far-fetched? Maybe a little. But it is March now and anything can happen. As Dick Vitale would say, “I LOVE IT BABY!” Don’t Blink.