Crude Observations

Bracket this

Ah, NCAA March Madness. How I have missed you. It is hard to believe it has been a full year since I have been able to sit down and listen to the sweet and somewhat jarring sound of squeaky shoes on a gym floor as my favourite sporting event unfolds in front of me on office TVs, secretive channel switching at home and late-night PVR’d buzzer beaters. I know we are already mid Sweet 16 and all the brackets are busted, even mine, but this tournament has been pretty exciting with many Cinderella stories.


This is also the second year in about 87 that we don’t have get to see one of the game’s great coaches, Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) as he retired last year and, true to form Duke was eliminated early. Wait – that’s not true at all – they are playing as I type this!


As I wrote last year, I am a huge Duke fan as they were formative to my basketball indoctrination. I am also an old school tournament fan – those 1990’s rivalries were epic and nothing personified them more than Christian Laetner and Duke. And Kentucky. Who did get eliminated. By Yale! What a game!


Interestingly, I watched the infamous Laettner/Kentucky game at a bar called Marcos & Pepe’s in Montreal with a guy named Guy. We were sitting in the back corner of the bar watching a TV that couldn’t have been bigger than 24 inches – one of the most seminal sports highlights of all time playing out in a smoke-filled Montreal bar with him and me drinking two for one Buds and platters of tacos. The best.


At any rate, the NCAA tournament is back and after one week and one day (I don’t count the play-ins, sorry) I can already say it’s been great, not only because I love the tourney, but because it’s a return to normal times. And, true to form, here I sit on a sofa, typing and watching, watching any hope of winning wither and die as my bracket implodes thanks to, of all teams, Illinois! Good lord. At least now I can unabashedly cheer for … Creighton?


And, lucky for you, the Big Dance as it’s called is back in the energy world and, as tradition dictates, I need to do my picks for that as well.


Last year was a pretty intense energy tournament and my final match up was a doozy, featuring OPEC against Biden and an epic OPEC win. As always.



In the interests of fairness, in order to properly assess my predictive chops for the energy showdown, it is worthwhile to also take a look at my actual “basketball” picks from the last time I did this with actual basketball.



My 2023 Final 4 – Baylor-Kansas State; UCLA-Texas. Bruins beating the Bears. As we all know, those picks were trash and UConn won. Whoops!



So yeah, Gambler’s advice? Take my predictions with a grain of salt – please. And only rely on me for the early round wipe outs.


The Energy Bracket


As always, this year’s players in the energy bracket are a little different than last year.


The early rounds saw some interesting matches and upsets. Much of Canada as we know is officially out or relegated to the junior tournament, but familiar names such as OPEC and Russia remain and Permania – now coached by the disgraced Rick Pitino’s second cousin Louie and rebranded as Permian Merger Mania is still hanging around thinking they are the best thing going.


New entrants crashed the tourney from some of the mid-major tournaments and the at-large bids, so they don’t fit the energy basket specifically, but they are a big influence. Happily, the Coronavirus team didn’t make the tournament but an at-large bid went to the Interest Rates who went on a late season run for the ages, coached by the ghost of Jerry Tarkanian. Back for the third year in a row is the old school Biden Malarkeys and the lone Canadian entry – Alberta, now featuring the Guilbeault Goons.


Everyone is in tough again this year against a team that hasn’t dominated the tournament since the 1970’s – that’s right, Inflation is back baby and they mean business. So, without further ado, the major themes face off against each other in an epic battle for global relevance.



Sweet Sixteen



In the first game, perennial favourite and number one seed OPEC faced off against the United Nations based The Environment team which barely qualified as the Number 16 seed. While as always there was considerable hype before the game – mainly from the media – about how the environment was the be all and end-all of the world, they were clearly no match for the scale, execution and killer instinct of the Saudi-dominated OPEC team. While The Environment recruited some high end stars who had some basketball cred like an out of shape Leo DiCaprio, the outcome of the game was never in doubt.


In a seeding that was in essence a sign of transitioning times, the number 2 seed, Biden, found itself matched up against perennial contender, Capex.  Capex is a young team, with lots of freshman players, but in all reality they are still a year away from hitting their stride. The Biden team on the other hand learned some valuable lessons last year and plays with a quiet confidence that is typical of a team consisting mostly of seniors and super seniors. The Biden team built a comfortable lead but late in the second half started to stutter and allowed the Capex team to close the gap. However the Biden team managed to rally after a late time-out and some fortuitous intravenous Ensure injections and B12 pills. No malarkey here, Biden kicked ass late.



Inflation, the feared number 3 seed, found itself matched against Alternative Energy, a team that strangely plays its best games during the day and, to the disappointment of the most passionate fan base in all of sports, is prone to simply up and disappearing for maddeningly long stretches of time. In a throwback performance that would have made Christian Laettner proud, inflation was all elbows, cheap fouls and dirty play and managed, in one epic first half run, to dismantle whatever confidence the Alternative Energy squad had and ran them out of the stadium in the second half. As the sun set on an epic statement game, it was clear that inflation was here to stay. This was not a team prone to blowing in the wind.



In a match featuring two teams from the oil export division, 13th seeded and newly re-branded Alberta and the Guilbeault Goons took on a traditional energy power Russia.  In what was billed as a classic morality play of a highly ethical yet not very relevant mid-major vs a former conference super-power and league bully, it turned out that Team Russia, while highly ranked, was a bit of a paper bear after all. By halftime, it was obvious that the Alberta team, dominated as it was by Ukrainian ex-pats and featuring the orange prison suit wearing Guilbeault goons wasn’t going to buy into team Russia’s bullying BS. Even the bare-chested Captain of the Russia Team, Vlad (don’t call me gravy) Poutine was reduced to a pudgy caricature of himself by the end of the game. Excited by their relatively easy win, the Alberta team cut health care funding.



Moving to the middle of the bracket, the team rankings get closer and the upset potential that much more probable. In a big surprise, Natural Gas has remained as a highly competitive 11 seed. Matched up against Oil Prices, a team that recruits both in the Natties backyard as well as the oilpatch, it seemed like a resurgent Natural Gas should be able to compete against a team as volatile as Oil Prices, but unfortunately the early promise of their decent winter season for Natural Gas turned into serial disappointment, as is always the case for the spurned bridesmaid fossil fuel. Oil Prices, even if they are off their peak performance from last year made short work of the dispirited Natties, whose transitions were still a bit clumsy, despite their passing being relatively clean. Crushed by their defeat yet again at the hands of whoever shows up, Natural Gas fired their coach and rebranded as “clean coal off-gas stuff”.


10th ranked occasional powerhouse Equity Markets found itself matched against a surprisingly high ranked Permian Merger Mania at #7. Once an important player in the energy community, the Equity team lost interest in the game at the tip-off, realizing that they had just lucked into the tournament on the strength of years gone by, name recognition and some love from the selection committee. Permian Merger Mania on the other hand firmly believed they were a team of destiny. Interesting.


In what was expected to be a marquee matchup, the plucky and downtrodden Energy Services team at #12 saw itself matched against number 5 ranked Capital Markets. A doormat for the past few years, Energy Services was buoyed by some of the new technologies it has been using in its training recently and was also helped by a youth movement which has seen it develop a lot of younger and hungrier players eager to make their mark. Unfortunately for energy services, capital markets was able to play keep-away for the entire game. Energy Services was in fact lucky to even get a shot away that one time when the shot clock expired. Much like Capex, Energy Services was undermanned, over-matched and out of their league. Better luck next year Energy Services!


The last matchup of the opening round was YUGE pitting number 8 ranked Trump et al against 9th ranked upstart Interest Rates. While Interest Rates opened high and dominated the game early, the level of cheating happening in the Trump et al camp was on a scale not seen in, well, 3 or 4 years. With the support of a rabid crew of red-hatted lunatic fans buoying them on, the Trump crew managed to confuse the interest team so much with nonsensical speaking, invented words and hidden opponent game plans that at the end, it wasn’t close.


Elite Eight


A number of intriguing matchups in this round.


In a highly anticipated matchup, quasi Cinderella-story Trump et al went up against OPEC. While the Trump team isn’t really a true upstart they do employ a frenzied defensive style that keeps every opponent guessing and have no lack of confidence in everything they do. OPEC on the other hand is a perennial powerhouse team that is able to bend how the world derives energy to its whims and, absent members from Western democracies, when it comes up against teams like Trump, well, let’s just say it, they don’t care and they play dirty. The first inkling this wasn’t going to be pretty was when OPEC simply gave the eponymous Trump $2 billion to drop out. Leaderless, the Trump team had no answer for the ruthless OPEC attack and dirty play under the basket. By the end of the game, it wasn’t close and the OPEC players weren’t even on the floor.


On the other side of the bracket, we got to see a matchup of Oil Prices, always a major player, going up tournament crasher Inflation.  This game of course was a rematch from last year. The Oil Price team was clearly more prepared for this matchup than they have been for Elite 8 matchups in previous years and showed tremendous discipline against a team that draws its strength from across the world, including poaching players from the Oil Price team itself. Oddly, as the Oil Price team got stringer so did the Inflation squad. Overtime was needed to solve this one and, in a tourney defining movement, a last minute transfer of players from OPEC to the oil price team allowed them to swamp Inflation’s defenes


Speaking of which, that leads us to the most unlikely match of the day. A matchup between tournament upstart – Alberta and one-time perennial power Capital Markets. With a roster comprised of red-blooded Canadians and talented US-based ex-pats, the Alberta team was coasting off its tournament-busting upset of Russia, while Capital Markets, another team with a strong global pedigree had stomped out Energy Services, a team also blessed with many Alberta based players. Alberta held its own for a while as a recent funding injection from high Oil Prices allowed it to bring on some new players, but ultimately it simply seemed to run out of energy. The final nail in the coffin for the Alberta team came when assistant captain Stephen Guilbeault decided to limit playing time for players and then put all his players on the bench.. With no one on the court it was impossible for Alberta to win, let alone compete.


The final match featured Biden, fresh off a dominant win against overmatched Capex, taking his wily like a fox game of malarkey and shenanigans toe-to-toe against Permian Merger Mania, who had so recently silenced Equity Markets. Steady and inexorable, some would say sleepy even, the Biden team was remarkably implacable in the face of the high-flying antics of the starting five of the Permian team as no combination of no-look passes, recycled Harlem Globetrotter head-fakes, buckets of confetti and assorted flim-flammery seemed to be able to penetrate the Biden defences. Desperate to rally in the second half, the Permian team decided to pull their starters and go after value players that had been sidelined for years. The sudden appearance of energy dinosaurs seemed to confuse the Biden team sufficiently enough that a last second shot snuck by the wily veteran Biden team and, against all rational thought, bounced in off the backboard.



Final Four


In the opening match, top seeded OPEC took on the now tournament surprise team Capital Markets, and it quickly became apparent that OPEC was an incredibly deep team with many options and strategies available to it against any opponent, and that while Capital Markets had done well to get this far, they were for the most part just a few years ahead of their time.  Ultimately, OPEC swept Capital Markets aside as easily as any team in memory at this late stage and moved to the final to await its opponent. But don’t hang your head Capital Markets, you will always have Bitcoin.


OPEC’s opponent was determined in the second match of the day, pitting Oil Prices against Permian Merger Mania. In what many are calling and epic throwback match to the 2010’s these two titans of another era matched up for a slugfest for the ages. Oil prices ran a fast-paced and volatile attack full of high energy aggression and sudden pullbacks. The Merger team countered with their counterintuitive strategy of overpaying for all their players and pretending that they were winning no matter what. It was this reckless confidence that carried the day for the West Texas all stars as the Permian Merger Bros managed to convince everyone in attendance that theyr had won the day, even if oil prices actually scored more points.





OPEC vs Permian Merger Mania. It’s a classic energy tournament confrontation, one which we haven’t seen in years, mainly due to the hiccups caused by Corona back in 2021. What have we done to get to this stage? Unprecedented. An upstart retread – Permania with a different name and spin facing off against a perennial power. Flash and sizzle against plodding and unassailable strength and power.


Who would give first?


True to form the Permian squad reached into a bag of tricks to unleash a barrage of classic bait and switch tactics, unpredictable ball movement, three-point bombs and turnover fuelled runs to move out to a healthy lead in the first half, doubling their points every few minutes. But as the second half got under way, the offensive explosion started to fizzle. OPEC, a clunky, hard to turn inertia driven team started to adapt. Adapting a new strategy, “point management”, OPEC started to assert itself defensively, then was able to come out on the offensive, deploying tactics such as allowing some of its younger and more junior players to increase their offensive production and contribution.


As the game moved into crunch time, the Permian team ran out of opportunities and ideas. Meanwhile the OPEC crew was at full capacity, raining baskets so rapidly that the will resist disappeared. Desperate to fight back the Permian team tried to recruit a couple of super majors but they declined, Permian was done. When the clock finally hit zero, OPEC celebrated their win and agreed to buy yet another Gulf Coast refinery.



So there you have it – agree or disagree, it’s hard to argue that the metaphor got taken behind the proverbial woodshed and beaten to death.



Oh, and my final four? Iowa State – New Mexico; Marquette – Creighton. Creighton crushes the Hawkeye.


What an awful set of picks.


Maybe Gonzaga will win tonight… Or Purdue next weekend. We can only hope. Canadian content and all.

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