Crude Observations


Ah, NCAA March Madness. How I have missed you. It is hard to believe it has been two years 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 laid low by the pandemic so this year of course is probably the most highly anticipated since the early 1990’s UNLV/Duke rematch.


In anticipation of that, I watched a handy 30 for 30 titled “I Hate Christian Laetner” which I highly recommend. Not the hatred, because Laetner was awesome, but just to see the whole 90s NCAA thing from today’s perch.


At any rate, after a two year layoff, the NCAA tournament is back and it’s 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.


And, lucky for you, after taking a year off last year, 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 Health & Science against Coronavirus with Health & Science beating Coronavirus in a second half runaway.


The jury is still out on this obviously and the runaway isn’t happening, but the tide is turning for sure as evidenced by the fact that the squeaky shoes are back on the courts and I’m parked in front of a television in the office.


That said, in the interests of fairness and with the passage of tie, in order to properly assess my predictive chops, it is worthwhile to also take a look at my actual “basketball” picks from the last time we did this with actual basketball.


My 2019 Final 4 – University of Virginia v Xavier and Villanova v Duke. UVA over Villanova. Done like dinner. Go Cavaliers. Go Charlottesville.


What actually happened? UVA beat Auburn and Texas Tech beat Michigan State. In the Championship game, the Cavaliers of UVA prevailed. How to credit this? I had three of the final four teams all wrong (with only one my other three making it to the Sweet 16 and one not even making the tournament!), but I picked the eventual winner, so that’s gotta count for something. Either I am an excellent front runner or I am limited access fortune-teller.


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


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. Also new this year is the old school Biden team and a Canadian upstart – Alberta!


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 a retooling Russia team which qualified as the Number 16 seed. While as always there was considerable hype before the game – mainly from the media – about Russia’s immense influence in the league, ultimately they were an undersized team that was no match for the scale, execution and killer instinct of the Saudis. While Russia no doubt had the most evil influence and a dominant bare-chested captain, they were pretty quiet after their one and only challenge.


In a seeding that was in essence a sign of transitioning times, the number 2 seed, Coronovirus, 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 a year away from hitting their stride. After a first half of three point bombs and inadvertent turnovers, the Coronavirus 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. This will be a team to be reckoned with in next year’s tournament.



Government Finances, the number 3 seed, found itself matched against Biden, a Delaware-based team who qualified after a late-season surge, supported by a massive injection of transfers from the Universities of Vermont, Georgia, Arizona and UNLV. In what has to be the surprise of the tournament, the Biden team rolled right over the Government Finance team in what can only be described as the most stimulating second half run since Team Trump deployed its four corners Tax Cut offence.



In a match featuring a new dark-horse entrant, 13th seeded Alberta took on a traditional high flyer Team Trump.  In what was billed as a classic matchup of a traditional power (at least for the last 4 years) vs a previously beaten down and dismissed mid-major, it turned out that Team Trump, while highly ranked, was a bit out of gas and due for a comedown. By halftime, it wasn’t even close and a confused Trump team actually finished the game with 50% less players on the court than when they started. An emboldened Alberta team, excited to just be there celebrated by cutting down the nets, which quite frankly seemed a bit premature.



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 Alternative Energy, a team that recruits both in the Natties backyard as well as the oilpatch, it seemed like Natural Gas should be able to compete against the endless series of windmill dunks and photo(voltaic finishes), but unfortunately the early promise of a decent winter season for Natural Gas turned into serial disappointment, as is always the case for the spurned bridesmaid fossil fuel. Crushed by the 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 Permaina 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 Health & Science, last year’s tournament winner. 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 Health & Sciences team Trump was able to display a true champion’s heart and won an easy victory. 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 Oil Prices. While oil prices had been ascendant for a while, they ran into a bit of hiccup during the qualifying rounds, losing to Coronavirus, which allowed that team to make the tournament and dropped oil prices from its expected number 4 seed all the way to 9. Already reeling from its loss to Corona, Oil never seemed to be in the game, fading fast as the game wore on. In a second half rally attempt, the Oil team decided to bait the environment by switching all their jersey numbers to $66 but that only seemed to get the Alberta team, watching on the sidelines, excited. As oil faded, the Environment game got cleaner and stronger. There was a late game rally, but just as Oil Prices started to give a push they realized their next opponent was going to be OPEC, so they gave up and completely cratered.


Elite Eight


A number of intriguing matchups in this round.


In a highly anticipated matchup, quasi Cinderella-story The Environment went up against the 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 Alternative Energy, always a major player, going up tournament newcomer Biden.  The Alternative Energy Team was clearly much better prepared for this matchup than they have been for Elite 8 matchups in previous years and showed tremendous discipline against a team that played what can most charitably be described as octogenarian four corners basketball. As the game went on, the Biden team seemed to get more and more tired, notwithstanding their laser accurate shooting. In a bizarre twist late in the second half, the bulk of the Biden team switched jerseys and started playing for the Alternative Energy team, much to the consternation of the OPEC crew and Alberta who felt all of this was decidedly unfair.


Speaking of which, that leads us to the most bizarre match of the day. A bizarre between tournament upstart – Alberta and last year’s champ Health & Science. 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 Trump, while Health & Science, 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 a lot of players left as their parents were laid off and/or simply relocated. 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. The star if the game was Health & Science’s mutant Bigfoot – a towering presence in the paint that had the Alberta team completely flummoxed while three pointers rained from outside accompanied by uncontested dunks. Better luck next year Alberta, your run is coming, but management needs to reorganize themselves for the modern game.


The final match featured Coronavirus, fresh off a dominant win against overmatched Capex, taking their evil, malicious and sometimes cheating game against Equity Markets, who had so recently silenced Permania. Steady, robotic and inexorable, the Coronavirus 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 Coronavirus defences. Desperate to rally in the second half, the Equity Markets team decided to pull their starters and go with the scrubs and what resulted was truly one of the great turnarounds in tournament history as what can only be describeed as “value players” staged the upset of the decade. Notwithstanding repeated attempts to poison the Equity team late in the second half, they couldn’t be stopped. By the time Corona realized what had happened, the lights in the arena were already out and appropriately social distanced cleaners were disinfecting seats for the next game. Victory to the unappreciated doormats of the Equity Markets as they were able to inflate the score to a convincing victory.



Final Four


In the opening match, top seeded OPEC took on Health & Science, 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 Health & Science 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 the year before.  In a dominating performance that basically said “we’re back”, OPEC dispatched last year’s champ 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 Equity Markets against Alternative Energy. As many will remember, Equity Markets was the Cinderella story that beat the evil empire Coronavirus team while Alternative Energy has a relatively easy ride when their last opponent, Biden, decided to actually join their team. This trend of course proved to be the order of the day again, as the Alternative Energy team proved quite resilient to the lofty game of Equity Markets and, as luck would have it, they all merged together, supported by a boost from some eliminated teams including the Environment and the mutant Bigfoot from the recently eliminated Health & Science team. Even Alberta threw a player or two into the mix, anticipating that the next matchup, against OPEC, could help its prospects in the Capex division and as a supporter of Alternative Energy (note this particular Alberta strategy of “playing both sides” has since been hailed as a stroke of genius).  What followed was a rather workmanlike game where it actually felt that each team was in a way helping the other out. Ultimately it came down to a final possession, Alternative Energy up, a few seconds left and equity markets holding the ball… 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Buzzzz. What happened? They ran out the clock. Wait, is that even allowed? Didn’t even try a shot. Handed the ball to Alternative Energy with a nod and wink. “You got this” the captain of the Equity team was overheard saying.





OPEC vs Alternative Energy. In a classic energy tournament confrontation. 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 runs in fits and starts but has so much potential that it is impossible to ignore. 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 first half drew to a close a remarkable thing started to happen – the offensive juggernaut slowed. 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 similar tactics to Alternative Energy such that as the game started to wind down, they were beating them at their own game, preening and playing to the crowd, keeping their fossil players on the bench and fielding a squad of new recruits that the Alternative Energy team never saw coming. Even a late game desperation move, the insertion of former star Elon Muck into the game, backfired as OPEC countered with yet another group of new defenders. When the clock hit zero, OPEC celebrated their win 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 final four? Gonzaga-Texas; Arkansas-Illinois. Zags prevail over Illinois. Undefeated!

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