Crude Observations


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 a week into the tournament and all the brackets are busted, even mine, but this tournament has been pretty exciting with many Cinderella stories.


This is also the first 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 finally retired and, true to form Duke was eliminated early. Which is too bad, because it would have been nice to see a little run from the Blue Devils.


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.


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.


At any rate, the NCAA tournament is back and after one week and 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. 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, Gonzaga! Good lord. At least now I can unabashedly cheer for the Florida Atlantic University Owls.


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 Inflation 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 2022 Final 4 – Gonzaga-Texas; Arkansas-Illinois. Zags prevail over Illinois.



What actually happened? UNC beat Duke and Kansas beat Villanova. Kansas beat UNC for the championship. Where did those teams come from?



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 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 when to the Banking Crisis Dollars 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!


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 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 a Fox News van driven by Tucker Carlson and blowing a red light on the way out of town.


In a seeding that was in essence a sign of transitioning times, the number 2 seed, Biden, found itself matched up against former champion, Capex.  Capex is 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 te other hand learned some valuable lessons last year and plays with a quiet confidence that is typical of a team consisting mostly of seniors. The Biden team built a comfortable lead but late in the second half the Capex team managed to close the gap as the Biden team tired when the clock hit 8 PM. However the Biden team managed to rally after a time-out and some fortuitous Ensure and he Biden team managed to confuse Capex with a suite of trick plays, mixed messages and B12 pills. Not to mention 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 that inflation was here to stay.



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 and featuring the all-female Smith-Notley backcourt 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. Excited by their relatively easy win, the Alberta team spent $80 million dollars on new made in Turkey uniforms.



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, 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 years gone by, name recognition 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 (I mean really, they only fielded four players despite a season long advertising effort) and were already looking forward to breakup. Better luck next year Energy Services!


The last matchup of the opening round was YUGE pitting number 8 ranked The Environment against 9th ranked upstart Banking Crisis. While The Environment has been ascendant for a while, making deep tournament runs for the last few years, this year they felt somehow off their game. The Banking Crisis team on the other hand was new to everything and were completely fearless and not overwhelmed by the moment. While well coached and disciplined, the Environment team was no match for the running and gunning style of the Banking Crisis and when Greta fouled out, the game was for all intents and purposes over.


Elite Eight


A number of intriguing matchups in this round.


In a highly anticipated matchup, quasi Cinderella-story Banking Crisis went up against OPEC. While the Banking Crisis is a true upstart and employs a frenzied defensive style that keeps every opponent guessing, 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 Banking Crisis, 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 purchased the three largest players on the Banking Crisis team. Leaderless, the Crisis 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 were basically handing money to the remaining banking crisis players, presumably to pay their cab fare home.


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 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. However, as the game went on, the Inflation team clearly gained an upper hand. In one moment that will forever symbolize this game, Inflation stepped on each Oil Price player’s back on the way to a game ending posterizing dunk. Ouch.


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 seemed to run out of energy. All seemed lost until Alberta called timeout with the clock winding down and drew up a play that will live in tournament infamy. Inbounding the ball to its former enforcer Kenney, the rest of the team clotheslined all the Capital Markets team members allowing an unobstructed path to the basket – even a hard foul by the most woke player on the floor – ESG,  couldn’t stop the game winning shot from going in.


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 the now tournament darling team from Alberta, 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 Alberta 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 three years before.  In a dominating performance that basically said “we’ve got this”, OPEC swept Alberta 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 Alberta – you have never made it this far and next year, maybe you’ll even have a permanent coach selected by the actual players.


OPEC’s 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 accelerating 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, some player named IRA and hoping that no one noticed that each player is more expensive than the last. Last year, the Biden team got run off the court in humiliating fashion so not much was expected. This game actually came down to the wire and as it turns out, Pete Buttigieg, recently retuned from paternity leave was actually the team captain and point guard for the McKinsey team in a previous and helped coordinate a Chicago Bulls style triangle offense to perfection. With Hunter, the coach’s son drawing up plays on a new laptop and snarly, mean Jerome Powell keeping the paint clear, the baskets kept on coming. When Inflation tied it up with less than 5 seconds left, and everyone knowing the ball was going to the Jimmy Chipwood’esque Mayor Pete, the Biden team faked everyone out and ran the old picket fence, with dark horse star of the game Elizabeth Warren hitting a corner three for the win. As it turns out, the inflation win streak was transitory.





OPEC vs Biden. 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 old guard politician who has been drinking the renewable Koolaid and slaid the dragon that is inflation against arguably the greatest force for continued fossil fuel expansion and consumption in the world. 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 Biden squad reached into its wily old nag 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 – draining their Strategic Player Reserve along the way. 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, 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 Biden team seemed to stuck at 70 and the SPR was no longer available. Meanwhile the OPEC crew was at full capacity, raining baskets so rapidly that the will resist disappeared. Desperate to fight back, Biden thought briefly about a bipartisan alliance with the What’s Left of Trump team, but quickly realized that it was the CBD arthritis cream talking. When the clock finally hit zero, OPEC celebrated their win and agreed to restock the Biden team’s SPR with newer talent in exchange for some simple scientific guidance on nuclear physics. 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 final four? Baylor-Kansas State; UCLA-Texas. Bruins beating the Bears.


Curse you Zags! I could have had three final four teams!


Oh well, Florida Atlantic vs Gonzaga is my new national championship. But I still can’t pick the Zags – they are the natural gas of the NCAA – they always disappoint.

Crude Observations
Sign up for the Stormont take on the latest industry news »

Recent Posts