For added context, and not just a display of shameless self-promotion, you can check out Part 1 of this column, here. Or, simply put: Think of it as an option to take your mind off last night’s debacle.
But of course, considering this post goes live on the afternoon of St. Paddy’s Day (right around the time I’ll be telling my boss I’m not feeling well), here’s the Coles Notes version:
1. Speaking from a personal point of view, though chances are many of you can relate, the history of the NCAA tournament is quite similar to that of the Raptors. Case in point: They’ve both represented the opportunity to become emotionally attached to the journey of an underdog.
2. However, especially in recent years, both landscapes have since shifted. On the college level, programs have essentially lost their identities — following a school (even an underdog) becomes less and less meaningful when players sticking around past their freshman year are the exception to the norm.
As for the Raps, and this represents something far more positive, sustained success tends to change a fan base’s outlook — the majority no longer roots for this team without expectations attached.
3. Expectations are a tricky thing, though, cause they lead to being fearful of the outcome. Most notably: The fear of this team not living up to what they’re capable of.
Now, it is Friday, the NCAA tourney has arrived, Raps-Pistons is just hours away and green beer awaits.
After reminding yourself that Russell Westbrook has one more triple-double (20) in his last 37 games than the Raptors have in franchise history, we could all use one. So let’s crank up the March Madness theme by giving the Raps their very own bracket:
Note: The bracket seedings are a reflection of where each player, coach or GM currently sits in the team’s hierarchy. Better yet, it’s a combination of my own personal opinions and my take on how the masses view this organization.
But first, since the bracket only has room to go 16 deep, a select few had to battle it out just to get in:
The play-in game: Fred VanVleet vs. Bruno Caboclo vs. Pascal Siakam
While VanVleet has impressed (he’s got a bit of Lowry in his game, doesn’t he? Well, the Villanova version at least), the Raps simply employ too much depth at the point guard position. He’s a keeper, but by default, he doesn’t make the cut, even with Lowry’s future somewhat uncertain — an unfortunate reality.
When it comes to Bruno, well, 1.5 threes and 1.3 blocks per game (27 minutes a night) for the 905 are encouraging, but he hasn’t exactly taken his development to the next level. If anything, he’s fallen even farther down the pecking order.
Winner: Pascal Siakam’s rookie season has been a trip. Extended and promising minutes off the hop, only to become essentially non-existent since the middle of January. However, regardless of how raw his polish is, or the work needed to sharpen is offensive IQ, his athleticism alone represents the head start needed to get there. The Raps are now crowded at almost every position, but the opportunity to gain traction still lies in the frontcourt.
Alright, without further ado, the Sweet Sixteen:
Wait, I lied…Another Side Note: Stay tuned for the third and final instalment of this column, where the following matchups will actually play out, coming in the middle of next week. For now, although certain outcomes are of the obvious variety, I’m looking for feedback/reactions to incorporate. So feel free to agree, rip the rankings to shreds, or make your own. But before you do either, keep in mind that the purpose of this bracket is to find out who’s future worth is the most valuable. Whether you value the not-so distance future over the long haul or vice versa.
The North Region:
1) Kyle Lowry vs. 16) Pascal Siakam
At times, this community indulges in a Lowry vs. DeMar rivalry, and I can only imagine the No.1 seed sparking a debate. Put it this way, if we never really knew which version of this team was going to show up on any given night before Lowry’s injury, that notion is now taking performance-enhancing drugs.
8) DeMarre Carroll vs. 9) Norman Powell
I imagine this one will need overtime.
5) Dwane Casey vs. 12) Jerry Stackhouse
Jerry Stackhouse? You might know where I’m going with this or you might think I’m crazy. Either way, you’ll find out soon enough. By the way, how much respect did Casey earn for last night’s apology to the fans. That was a refreshing change of pace to the cliché sports world we still live in. Though Russell Westbrook also offered up something different when asked about Steph Curry’s MVP comments. I used to point to his team’s place in the standings and his record-breaking usage rate, but I think it’s time I smartened up.
4) Masai Ujiri vs. 13) Delon Wright
AKA: The architect people never should have lost faith in to begin with vs. an added reason why.
6) Jonas Valanciunas vs. 11) Cory Joseph
One is now the most polarizing player in Raptors’ history. The other, he just recently joined the top 10.
3) Serge Ibaka vs. 14) Jakob Poeltl
Just because this matchup has a clear-cut winner, doesn’t mean this one-on-one doesn’t have interesting strings attached. A player who was specifically selected to help fill a need, but to be patient with at the same time, vs. the instant-impact version the former can learn from.
7) Patrick Patterson vs. 10) P.J. Tucker
These two can be described in a similar fashion, just in opposite directions. PP: A shot-maker (though not exactly at the moment) who’s also an underrated defender. PJ: A defensive stopper who’s also underrated from behind the arc. This one’s going to be close, somebody’s hitting a corner three or drawing a charge at the buzzer.
2) DeMar DeRozan vs. 15) Bebe Nogueira
Needless to say, this won’t be anything like Steve Nash’s 15th-seeded Santa Clara Broncos upsetting Damon Stoudamire’s Arizona Wildcats (if you can remember that far back). But just like Ibaka and Poeltl, DeMar and Lucas do share a connection, one that provides a decent background story. There was a time when the masses didn’t think DeMar would wind up anywhere close to what he’s become. Sound familiar? Even Bebe’s baby steps represent a giant leap from what the majority once thought.
Again, thoughts on my original rankings or how this bracket should play out are encouraged. Question marks like these should be an interactive exercise.
Either way: Go Michigan, Go Middle Tennessee State, flip a coin to see if the Raps will rebound, shoutout to Ireland (it’ll be 5pm in Dublin when this gets PUBlished, so the party should be in full swing), and enjoy your St. Paddy’s Day.
Here’s that aforementioned trip down memory lane to help: