The next four days will see 48 games—more than three-fourths of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament—contested throughout the country by a bunch of kids who at any given moment can get really hot or go really cold, rise to the occasion or play down to inferior competition, hit a game-winning buzzer-beater or—as we saw in last year’s finals—miss a game-winning buzzer-beater. This weekend is the best weekend of the year. And Tablet Magazine’s official team for it is the University of Wisconsin Badgers.
Last year, it was the University of Tennessee; we cheered as the Volunteers and Coach Bruce Pearl (who also helmed the last Maccabi USA squad) put together a string of upsets, including against overall favorite Ohio State, to reach the program’s first Elite Eight. But, there have been … problems with Pearl. Recruiting violation-type problems. I’ve extenuated (and extenuated more), and while I still stand by my basic belief in the NCAA’s inherent corruptedness, with new charges being levied against Pearl as well as the news, broken yesterday, that to keep his job he basically needs to bring the Vols another Elite Eight (or at least a Sweet Sixteen, which would require beating Duke in Charlotte), well, it just feels wrong to get back on the orange bandwagon.
Honorary mention, it should be said, goes to St. John’s, which gets automatic points for being a New York City team and extra ones for having a Jewish coach, Steve Lavin. But (trust me on this) St. John’s is going to lose: Probably in the first weekend, quite possibly in the first round (if your pool has upset bonus points, definitely pick against them).
But the Badgers! Significant Jewish collegiate population. Jewish football star Gabe Carimi. Possible Jewish player Mike Bruesewitz. Prominent Jewish fanbase, including the likes of Russ Feingold, Rabbi Andy Bachman and, um, me. Best mascot ever. Also, they are way, way good this year, one of only two teams to defeat overall number-one Ohio State. Their first game is tonight, around 7:30, on TruTv (whatever that is), against Belmont. Root for whomever you like, but Tablet’s official line is: Go Badgers!