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March Madness 5.0

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. Last year’s tourney of course was a muted affair, played in front of sparse crowds and all pandemicky, so this year of course is probably the most highly anticipated since the early 1990’s UNLV/Duke rematch.

 

Speaking of Duke, this year also marks the definitive end to the career of one of the game’s great coaches, Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) as he is most definitely retiring, the only suspense being what actual day he is retiring given that Duke is in the tournament. According to my winning bracket, that day is apparently going to be March 27th when Duke will lose to Gonzaga in the Elite 8.

 

As a tribute to Coach K, I watched a handy ESPN 30 for 30 documentary titled “I Hate Christian Laetner”, which I highly recommend. Not the hatred of course, because Laettner was awesome. But just to see the whole 90s NCAA thing from today’s perch and to get a flavour for Coach K that the fawning tributes currently happening might not give.

 

Of note, 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.

 

At any rate, the NCAA tournament is back and after one day I can already say it’s been great, not only because I love the tourney, but because it’s a return to normal times, sort of. And, true to form, here I sit in my office, typing and watching, waiting patiently for my bracket to implode and all my bets to wither and die – thanks Richmond – you’ve blown up my Final 4, but boy was it not great to watch Kentucky get taken down by the 15th seeded Peacocks of St. Peter’s – that well-known Jesuit school in Jersey City (if there’s a better name, tell me)?

 

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.

 

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

 

 

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 2021 Final 4 – Gonzaga-Texas; Arkansas-Illinois. Zags prevail over Illinois.

 

 

What actually happened? Gonzaga beat upstart UCLA and Baylor rolled over Houston. Then Baylor annihilated Gonzaga in the Championship game. How to credit this? Well I had one team make it to the final and while three of the final four teams were all wrong the eventual champion was still from the state of Texas. So you are guaranteed that at least one of my teams will be a correct prediction, there’s just no guarantees which one it will be.

 

 

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 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. Sadly, the Coronavirus team is still in the mix, as they avoided sanctions and renewed coach Bobby Knight’s contract. Back for the second year in a row is the old school Biden Malarkeys and the lone Canadian entry – Alberta!

 

Everyone is in tough this year against a team that hasn’t dominated the tournament since the 1970’s – that’s right, Inflation is back 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 Florida-based What’s Left of Trump team which barely qualified as the Number 16 seed. While as always there was considerable hype before the game – mainly from the media – about Trump’s immense influence in the league, ultimately they were an out-of-shape one trick pony that was no match for the scale, execution and killer instinct of the Saudi-dominated OPEC team. While WLOT wrote some unhinged letters and memos during the game and had them hand-delivered to the officials, the outcome of the game was never in doubt. Even after registering an official challenge and staging a riot amongst the Trump team’s 50 fans, who refused to accept the loss, the Trumpers were last seen hopping in an Uber by the stage door and quietly fading into the distance.

 

In a seeding that was in essence a sign of transitioning times, the number 2 seed, Biden, found itself matched up against an up and comer, Capex.  Capex is an up and comer, lots of freshman players and a conference that is fading, but in all reality they are still a year away from hitting their stride. After a first half of three-point bombs and clumsy, inadvertent turnovers, the Biden team started to assert control coming in multiple waves and employing all sorts of variants on their offense such that the Capex was overwhelmed. With time winding down, Capex’s coach smartly pulled his starters so that the second team could get some tournament experience, ironically making the game closer than expected, but the Biden team managed to confuse Capex with a suite of trick plays, mixed messages and a corrupt referee who docked the Capex team two point every time they hit a three-pointer. This will be a team to be reckoned with at some point, but the Biden team’s savvy carried the day.

 

 

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 there was a new player to be reckoned with.

 

 

In a match featuring two teams from the oil export division, 13th seeded Alberta 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 wasn’t going to buy into team Russia’s bullying BS such that a confused Russia team actually finished the game with 50% less players on the court than when they started. 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. Unfortunately, the overly-excited Alberta team, spurred on by water-boy Kenney, celebrated their by cutting down the nets early, which as we all know is super bad luck for next games.

 

 

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, peaking at the absolute perfect time made short work of the dispirited Natties, whose transitions were still a bit clumsy, despite their passing being relatively clean. Crushed by their defeat, Natural Gas fired their coach and joined the LNG division based in Canada.

 

10th ranked occasional powerhouse Equity Markets found itself matched against a surprisingly high ranked Permania at #7. Once an important player in the energy community, the Permania team lost interest in the game in the second half, realizing that they had just lucked into the tournament on the strength of last season and some love from the selection committee. Once the Equity Markets team showed their fangs, the game was for all intents and purposes over for Permania.

 

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 felt a bit undermanned and likely a next year story when the youth movement really takes hold. Better luck next year Energy Services!

 

The last matchup of the opening round was YUGE pitting number 8 ranked The Environment against 9th ranked Coronavirus. While The Environment had been ascendant for a while, they ran into a bit of hiccup during the conference championship round, actually losing to their current opponent Coronavirus, which allowed that team to make the tournament and dropped The Environment from its expected number 4 seed all the way to 9. Reeling from its earlier loss to Corona, The Environment faded fast in the first half. The second half however was a completely different story as it seemed that The Environment finally figured out how to live with the Coronavirus team’s shenanigans. Maybe it was switching to the green jerseys or the Biden team’s cheerleaders giving them a spiritual lift, but eventually Coronavirus just took off their masks, gave up and left the building.

 

Elite Eight

 

A number of intriguing matchups in this round.

 

In a highly anticipated matchup, quasi Cinderella-story The Environment went up against OPEC. While the Environment draws players from around the world and on occasion has great balance, OPEC 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 the Environment, well, let’s just say it, they play dirty. The first inkling this wasn’t going to be pretty was when OPEC filed a challenge and had Carbon Tax, the environment’s laser three-point bomber, put on a disqualification basis for not being an amateur. Leaderless, the E team had no answer for the ruthless OPEC attack and dirty play under the basket. A flagrant foul elbow to the head of Bill McKibben by MBS was the last play of note in the game, and it came in the first half.

 

On the other side of the bracket, we got to see a matchup of Oil Prices, always a major player, going up tournament newcomer Inflation.  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. As the game went on, the Inflation team seemed to get more and more energized, notwithstanding Oil Price’s superstar status. In a bizarre twist late in the second half, the Inflation team sent all its players out onto the court and convinced all the stars on the Oil Price team that they were on the wrong side,  much to the consternation of the OPEC crew and Alberta who felt all of this was decidedly bizarre.

 

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 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 ran out of energy. Even the best efforts at in-game recruiting failed as the “Alberta War Room” (the nickname for the recruiting office) failed to resonate with any players in search of a new gig. Ultimately, Alberta was done in by their inability to solve the Capital Market’s signature triangle ESG offense, that had the Alberta team completely flummoxed and unable to respond with much more than accusing the Capital Markets team of being unethical. Better luck next year Alberta, your run is coming, but management needs to reorganize themselves for the modern game.

 

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 Equity Markets, who had so recently silenced Permania. 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 Equity Markets 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 Equity Markets team decided to pull their starters and go with energy players and value players that had been sidelined for a long time, but there was no establishing any momentum. The Biden team was able to roll out one after another true believer in their cause, countering every Elon Musk with a rate hike or SEC investigation. In all reality the Equity Markets never stood a chance.

 

Final Four

 

In the opening match, top seeded OPEC took on 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 was an important team in the greater tournament environment, they were no match for an implacable market force that had rediscovered its mojo after a humiliating defeat to Coronavirus two year’s before.  In a dominating performance that basically said “we’ve got this”, OPEC dispatched Capital Markets as easily as any team in memory at this late stage and moved to the final to await its opponent.

 

That opponent was determined in the second match of the day, pitting Biden against Inflation. In what many are calling and epic throwback match to the 1970’s these two titans of another era matched up for a slugfest for the ages. Inflation ran a fast paced acerating attack full of home price increases, fuel surcharges and runaway wage growth. The Biden team countered with their Build Back Better counterintutitive strategy of flooding the court with free money and hoping that no one notices that each player is more expensive than the last. Coming off the bench for the Biden team was a windfall profit tax wielded by none other than the granddaddy of them all Bernie Sanders. But no matter what gimmick the Biden team tried they were no match for the inexorable force that was inflation and slowly but surely they were beaten into submission. It was particularly disconcerting to see some of their younger players, like AOC out of New York completely flummoxed by this old school beat down. The ultimate humiliation was when the laptop they were using to track scores was stolen by Rudy Giuliani and used to falsely accuse the Biden team of cheating. The Biden team lost big, but as with all things inflation related, it was actually 10% higher. Many say that the Inflation win streak is transitory, but it’s hard not to believe they are here to stay.

 

 

Championship

 

OPEC vs Inflation. It’s a classic energy tournament confrontation, one which we haven’t seen in years, mainly due to that short term honeymoon with Permania. What have we done to get to this stage? Unprecedented. The two solitudes of energy facing off in an epic battle of old school brute force vs a multifaceted team that grows stronger with each attempt to rein it in. True to form, the AE squad utilized its classic bait and switch tactics, unpredictable ball movement, three-point barrages 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 falter. OPEC, a clunky, hard to turn inertia driven team started to adapt. Adapting a new strategy, Net Zero points by the 35th minute, 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 OPEC crew was at full capacity, raining baskets so rapidly that the Inflation juggernaut started to wilt. In a chilling development, Inflation became so desperate that they invited the dreaded Russians to come and joining their team after a time-out and it was only thanks to Biden and Alberta that this epic cheat was thwarted as Alberta locked Russia in the steam room and Biden stole their wallets out of their pants in the change room. When the clock finally hit zero, OPEC celebrated their win and accepted the thanks from the Biden team for saving their reputation and, for a time, order had been restored to the universe. Was there ever any doubt that OPEC would be back on top?

 

 

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 actual final four? Gonzaga-UCLA; Arizona-Iowa. Zags lose to the Wildcats. Go Arizona!

 

 

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