Paste's Sweet 16 Predictions (Based on Musical Alumni)

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In most years, our most rigorous measures for handpicking a perfect bracket fail. No matter how hard any of us will try, it’s impossible to predict a Final Four run by Virginia Commonwealth or Butler’s back-to-back title-game appearances. Only two people out of 5.9 million correctly predicted last year’s Final Four. So rather than rely on those reliable measures like RPI, conference wins and strength of schedule, I’ve decided to make my 2012 March Madness picks based solely on each school’s musical alumni.

While Duke may enter March Madness with a 27-6 overall record and an impressive 13-3 conference standing, they’ll get no love in my bracket. Why? The most notable Blue Devil alum in the music industry is Mike Posner. While the Virginia Cavaliers probably won’t do much based on their basketball skills, the school was once home to Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich (as well as David Berman), and that counts for something in my bracket.

Sweet 16 (South Bracket)

No. 1 Kentucky (My Morning Jacket’s Jim James) vs. No. 12 Virginia Commonwealth (Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam)


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In one of the tougher and most hirsute Sweet 16 matchups, Jim James and Sam Beam face off. The My Morning Jacket frontman briefly attended UK as an art student, while the man behind Iron and Wine picked up his B.F.A. at VCU. Beam may have had more experience at his alma mater, but James excites me the way fellow Wildcat one-and-done star John Wall did in 2010. Winner: Kentucky

No. 3 Baylor (Willie Nelson) vs. No. 7 Notre Dame (Ted Leo)


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Ted Leo has the advantage as a Notre Dame graduate, while Willie Nelson dropped out after two years. As a moral principle, however, I refuse to pick Notre Dame in anything (sorry Ted!). Winner: Baylor

Other teams we like: No. 4 Indiana (Booker T. Jones)
Dark Horses: No. 9 Connecticut (Moby), No. 11 Colorado (Devotchka’s Tom Hagerman), No. 16 Western Kentucky (Will Hoge)
Potential Upsets: No. 6 UNLV (The Killers’ Ronnie Vannucci)

Sweet 16 (West Bracket)

No. 1 Michigan State (Frontier Ruckus) vs. No. 12 Long Beach State (Righteous Brothers)


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In probably the weakest Sweet 16 matchup remaining, the blue-eyed duo of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield unchain Frontier Ruckus’ defense. Winner: Long Beach State

No. 6 Murray State (Chris Thile) vs. No. 10 Virginia (Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich)

Chris Thile’s talents keep this one close, but his one-man virtuosic act falls short at the buzzer against the ACC-tested gold soundz that Malkmus and Nastanovich create on the court. Winner: Virginia

Dark Horses: No. 15 Norfolk State (Marvin Gaye guitarist Gordon Bank)
Potential Upsets: No. 7 Florida (Stephen Stills), No. 2 Missouri (Sheryl Crow)

In most years, our most rigorous measures for handpicking a perfect bracket fail. No matter how hard any of us will try, it’s impossible to predict a Final Four run by Virginia Commonwealth or Butler’s back-to-back title-game appearances. Only two people out of 5.9 million correctly predicted last year’s Final Four. So rather than rely on those reliable measures like RPI, conference wins and strength of schedule, I’ve decided to make my 2012 March Madness picks based solely on each school’s musical alumni.

Sweet 16 (East Bracket)

No. 1 Syracuse (Lou Reed) vs. No. 13 (The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy)


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Colin Meloy, who attended Montana in order to study creative writing, managed to get his alma mater all the way to the Sweet 16 on his own. He can’t keep up, however, with the depths of Syracuse’s musical roster—which features Lou Reed and Ra Ra Riot. Although Reed’s struggles have been well documented this year (see Lulu), his teammates pick up the slack to overcome a valiant effort from Montana’s Meloy. Winner: Syracuse

No. 2 Ohio State (The Cars’ Ric Ocasek) vs. No. 6 Cincinnati (The National’s Matt Berninger and Scott Devendorf)


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In this cross-state rivalry, Ohio State would be the clear favorite if this bracket only valued basketball metrics. When it comes to musicians, it’s a different story. Ric Ocasek spent his college years in Columbus, and The Cars reunited last year. But does anyone really care about either? On the other hand, The National continue to celebrate their Cincy roots, curating the MusicNow festival in their hometown (Rumor has it that “Abel” was written about Bob Huggins’ DUI arrest as the Bearcats’ coach). Cincy fans travel in numbers to support Matt Berninger and Scott Devendorf, who lead the Bearcats to a major upset. Winner: Cincinnati

Other teams we like: No. 4 Wisconsin (Zola Jesus), No. 11 Texas (Eleanor Friedberger)
Dark Horses: No. 12 Harvard (Rivers Cuomo), No. 16 UNC-Asheville (Dale Earnhard Jr. Jr.’s Josh Epstein)
Potential Upsets: No. 5 Vanderbilt (Dierks Bentley)

Sweet 16 (Midwest Bracket)

No. 1 North Carolina (Superchunk’s Laura Ballance) vs. No. 4 Michigan (Iggy Pop)


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Laura Ballance not only helped to form Superchunk while attending North Carolina; she also launched Merge Records in her early Chapel Hill days. In doing so, she’s established a enduring legacy similar to the Tar Heels over the past two decades. She’s helped indie-rock’s emerging acts flourish—Jeff Mangum and Win Butler are her Vince Carter and Tyler Hansbrough. On the other hand, Michigan’s musical roster runs deep, starring Iggy Pop and Joe Henry with impressive role players like Colin Stetson and Chris Bathgate filling out the roster. I like Ballance’s consistency (with Tift Merritt also lending a hand), but will take Michigan in a single game. Winner: Michigan

No. 2 Kansas (Mates of State’s Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel) vs. No. 3 Georgetown (Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto)


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Guy Picciotto comes from Georgetown’s established program, earning his Bachelor’s degree before joining Fugazi’s ranks. But Mates of State’ double threat will be hard to stop, especially given the fact that both Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner were Jayhawks. It’s been a big year for the married duo, and I’m expecting that success to continue throughout March Madness Winner: Kansas

Other teams we like: No. 11 North Carolina State (Spoon’s Jim Eno),
Dark Horses: No. 12 California (The Police’s Stewart Copeland) No. 16 Lamar (Janis Joplin), No. 16 Vermont (Phish)
Potential Upsets: No. 5 Temple (Hall and Oates), No. 8 Creighton (Cursive’s Matt Maginn)

In most years, our most rigorous measures for handpicking a perfect bracket fail. No matter how hard any of us will try, it’s impossible to predict a Final Four run by Virginia Commonwealth or Butler’s back-to-back title-game appearances. Only two people out of 5.9 million correctly predicted last year’s Final Four. So rather than rely on those reliable measures like RPI, conference wins and strength of schedule, I’ve decided to make my 2012 March Madness picks based solely on each school’s musical alumni.

Elite Eight

No. 1 Kentucky (Jim James) vs. No. 3 Baylor (Willie Nelson)


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In the battle of these two college dropouts, Jim James squeaks out a victory dance over Nelson, who was suspended after showing up late due to his recent marijuana misdemeanor. Winner: Kentucky

No. 12 Long Beach State (The Righteous Brothers) vs. No. 10 Virginia (Pavement)


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This was by far the weakest bracket in terms of music alums, which opened it up for double-digit seed to advance to the final four. The Righteous Brothers are just happy to be playing this far into March, while Pavement and David Berman punch their ticket to New Orleans. Winner: Virginia

No. 1 Syracuse (Lou Reed) vs. No. 6 The National (Cincinnati)

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The National keep this one close until late in the second half, when Lou Reed busts out of his recent slump to carry the Orangemen to the Final Four. Winner: Syracuse

No. 4 Michigan (Iggy Pop) vs. No. 2 Kansas (Mates of State)


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Michigan’s depth causes problems for Hammel and Gardner, who can’t seem to overcome Stetson’s stifling baritone saxophone or Iggy’s raw power! Mates of State miss a last-second shot, allowing Big Blue to advance to the big dance. Winner: Michigan

Final Four

No. 1 Kentucky (My Morning Jacket) vs. No. 10 Virginia (Pavement)


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Malkmus ends up on the losing side of this match, as Jim James makes his way to the NCAA title match. Winner: Kentucky

No. 1 Syracuse (Lou Reed) vs. No. 4 Michigan (Iggy Pop)


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While Iggy Pop, Joe Henry, Colin Stetson and the rest of Michigan’s musical cast put up a good fight, Lou Reed and Ra Ra Riot head to the finals. Winner: Syracuse

Championship Game

No. 1 Kentucky (My Morning Jacket) vs. No. 1 Syracuse (Lou Reed)


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Lou Reed > Jim James. Winner: Syracuse

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