NCAA Bracket predictions: Picking winners based on beer

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

In which we pick NCAA Tournament winners based on the schools' proximity to breweries. More like Malt Madness, huh?!

There are many other places to get actual bracket predictions based on actual basketball. This is not one of them, because here we are going to base the picks on beer, a topic I know a little bit about via consuming a lot of it and homebrewing several completely drinkable beers. Despite my best efforts, I have regrettably not tried every craft beer in the country, so please let me know in the comments below where I am terribly wrong.

(Also, in parenthesis next to each first round match-ups' winners, I've included a personal recommendation from that region, where applicable.)

MIDWEST

ROUND OF 64

No. 1 Louisville vs. No. 16 NC A&T/Liberty

Better beer: NC A&T (Recommendation: Foothills Seeing Double IPA)

Reasoning: I'm not saying there isn't a brewery in Louisville doing neat things, but I am saying I've never heard of a single one of them. Meanwhile, in Greensboro -- A&T's home -- you have Natty Greene's, which I know from experience is outstanding, along with Foothills near by, which is arguably the best brewery in a state stacked with great breweries.

No. 8 Colorado State vs. No. 9 Missouri

Better beer: Colorado State (Recommendation: Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Imperial Stout)

Reasoning: While Missouri is doing some fine things -- notable Boulevard -- they can't come close to what Colorado is putting out. To name a few within striking distance of State's Fort Collins campus: New Belgium, Oskar Blues, Left Hand, Odell. This is going to be a tough team to beat.

No. 5 Oklahoma St. vs. No. 12 Oregon

Better Beer: Oregon (Recommendation: N/A)

Reasoning: I can't claim to have sampled many of the craft beers Oregon is producing due to lack of east coast distribution (aside from Rogue), but I've read and heard many great things. The same can be said for Oklahoma beers, except the "great things" second part.

No. 4 St. Louis vs. No. 13 New Mexico St.

Better beer: St. Louis (Recommendation: Budweiser)

Reasoning: Budweiser produces many horrible beers. Good ol' Bud Heavy isn't one of them. It's a fine session beer on a warm, patio-drinking day.

No. 6 Memphis vs. No. 11 Middle Tenn./St. Mary's

Better beer: Memphis (Recommendation: Yazoo Hop Project IPA)

Reasoning: We're assuming this will be a Tennessee vs. Tennessee match-up, so we'll let Memphis advance based on seeding. As for breweries in this state, Yazoo is the only one I'm well acquainted with and find their beers to be just alright.

No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 14 Valpariso

Better beer: Michigan State (Recommendation: Any of Founders' Breakfast Stouts)

Reasoning: An embarrassment of riches resident just outside of East Lansing: Bell's, New Holland, Founders.

No. 7 Creighton vs. No. 10 Cincinnati

Better beer: Cincinnati (Recommendation: Christian Moerlein Northern Liberties IPA)

Reasoning: Creighton is in Nebraska. I've never had or heard of a beer from Nebraska. Cincy, meanwhile, has a fine stable of microbreweries and also resides in the same state as Great Lakes.

No. 2 Duke vs. No. 15 Albany

Better beer: Duke (Big Boss Big Operator Belgian Strong Ale)

Reasoning: North Carolina beer > New York beer /starts Internet flamewar

ROUND OF 32

No. 16 NC A&T vs. No. 8 Colorado St.

Better beer: Colorado St.

Reasoning: While my North Carolina beer bias has already been showing, the edge here goes to Colorado State for the aforementioned breweries. It's a craft beer mecca.

No. 12 Oregon vs. No. 4 St. Louis

Better beer: Oregon

Reasoning: Despite my Oregon beer ignorance, I'm gonna ride with them here based on reputation alone.

No. 6 Memphis vs. No. 3 Michigan St.

Better beer: Michigan St.

Reasoning: You saw the breweries I listed under the Spartans above, right?

No. 10 Cincinnati vs. No. 2 Duke

Better beer: Duke

Reasoning: Cincy's distant connection to Great Lakes cannot push them past Duke's immediate vicinity to Big Boss, Natty Greene's, Fullsteam and Lonerider.

SWEET SIXTEEN

No. 8 Colorado St. vs. No. 12 Oregon

Better beer: Colorado St.

Reasoning: Alright, let's be honest: New Belgium beers are kind of overrated. But y'all have had Oskar Blues' stable of beers, right? Because they're incredible.

No. 3 Michigan St. vs. No. 2 Duke

Better beer: Michigan St.

Reasoning: No amount of N.C. beer is competing with what Michigan St. can claim. Also: our first match-up that could actually happen if we based this on sports and not beer.

ELITE EIGHT

No. 8 Colorado St. vs. No. 3 Michigan St.

Better beer: Michigan St.

Reasoning: The dream regional final beer match-up. There are no losers here, only happy drunk people. But the Grand Rapids/Kalamazoo area gives the Spartans a slight edge.

WEST

ROUND OF 64

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 16 Southern

Better beer: Gonzaga (N/A)

Reasoning: Much like Oregon, the Washington beer scene survives mostly on reputation alone. Louisiana does have Abita, but ... well, Abita isn't really all that good.

No. 8 Pittsburgh vs. No. 9 Wichita St.

Better beer: Wichita St. (Recommendation: Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale <-- not in Kansas but whatever)

Reasoning: Nothing good has ever come from Pittsburgh, including beer.

No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 Ole Miss

Better beer: Wisconsin (Recommendation: Miller High Life)

Reasoning: Despite the fact that this state is responsible for bringing Leinenkugel into the world, it also has a rich beer-drinking tradition. Wikipedia lists two breweries in the entire state of Mississippi.

No. 4 Kansas St. vs. No. 13 Boise St./La Salle

Better beer: La Salle (Recommendation: Weyerbacher Insanity Barleywine)

Reasoning: It's in Philly, which isn't far from truly great breweries like Victory, Weyerbacher and Troegs.

No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 11 Belmont

Better beer: Arizona (Recommendation: N/A)

Reasoning: Do you know anything about Arizona beer? 'Cause I don't. But we've already established that Tennessee is lacking, so we'll let the higher seed advance.

No. 3 New Mexico vs. No. 14 Harvard

Better beer: Harvard (Recommendation: Sam Adams Double Bock)

Reasoning: Sam Adams has its place. Mostly in a chain restaurant where your draught beer choices are Bud, Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Light, Stella and Sam Adams Lager. It's the craftiest beer in the world by comparison.

No. 7 Notre Dame vs. No. 10 Iowa St.

Better beer: Notre Dame (Recommendation: Three Floyds Zombie Dust IPA)

Reasoning: Congrats, Three Floyds. By being about an hour from South Bend, you single-handedly won this round for the Irish.

No. 2 Ohio St. vs. No. 15 Iona

Better beer: Ohio St. (Recommendation: Great Lakes Alchemy Hour Double IPA)

Reasoning: We'll give the Buckeyes the benefit of claiming the entire state, which included the aforementioned Great Lakes, along with Thirsty Dog and about 30 other breweries.

ROUND OF 32

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 9 Wichita St.

Better beer: Gonzaga

Reasoning: As stated, my personal experience of Washington state's breweries is lacking, aside form the big ones like Pyramid and Redhook. We'll give the nod to the one-seed.

No. 5 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 La Salle

Better beer: La Salle

Reasoning: The eastern side of Pennsylvania is sort of a craft beer paradise.

No. 6 Arizona vs. No. 14 Harvard

Better beer: Harvard

Reasoning: Really though, Sam Adams does make some really good beers beyond the Lager and seasonals that are so widely distributed.

No. 7 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Ohio St.

Better beer: Ohio St.

Reasoning: Even if we're going Ohio vs. Indiana on the whole, not just the South Bend area, the former still wins this beer battle.

SWEET SIXTEEN

No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 13 La Salle

Better beer: La Salle

Reasoning: Again: Victory, Weyerbacher and Troegs. And all these.

No. 14 Harvard vs. No. 2 Ohio St.

Better beer: Ohio St.

Reasoning: It's easy to beat New Mexico and Arizona's great brewing traditions, but Ohio is another story.

ELITE EIGHT

No. 13 La Salle vs. No. 2 Ohio St.

Better beer: Ohio St.

Reasoning: This is an extremely close call, but Great Lake is one of the best craft breweries in the county. It carries the Buckeyes to the Final Four.

SOUTH

ROUND OF 64

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 16 Western Kentucky

Better beer: Kansas (Recommendation: N/A)

Reasoning: Neither is a stand-out, but we'll continue without made-up methodology of letting the higher seed advance.

No. 8 UNC vs. No. 9 Villanova

Better beer: Villanova (Recommendation: Victory Hop Wallop Double IPA)

Reasoning: A tough draw for UNC, who would win this match-up against the majority of the schools in the bracket. But Villanova has that whole Eastern PA thing, which as we've learned is hard to top.

No. 5 VCU vs. No. 12 Akron

Better beer: Akron (Recommendation: Thirsty Dog Siberian Night Imperial Stout)

Reasoning: Being home to Thirsty Dog, plus its proximity to Cleveland, tops VCU's proximity to some fine Virginia breweries such as Starr Hill, Port City and Old Dominion. Another tough draw.

No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 13 South Dakota St.

Better beer: Michigan (Recommendation: Bell's Two Hearted Ale <--- mandatory)

Reasoning: Think it's pretty obvious.

No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 11 Minnesota

Better beer: UCLA (Recommendation: N/A)

Reasoning: Mostly the higher seed thing. Although California does have some incredible breweries, none of which are in Los Angeles, to my knowledge.

No. 3 Florida vs. No 14. Northwestern St.

Better beer: Florida (Recommendation: N/A, although desperate to try Cigar City)

Reasoning: While I'm not familiar with most Florida breweries, I do know Cigar City is one of the finest in the country.

No. 7 San Diego St. vs. No. 10 Oklahoma

Better beer: San Diego St. (Recommendation: Ballast Point Victory At Sea Coffee Vanilla Imperial Porter)

Reasoning: Breweries that call the San Diego area home: Green Flash, Stone, Ballast Point. I could survive happily off these three forever. Related: lol at Oklahoma's beer laws.

No. 2 Georgetown vs. No. 15 Florida Golf Coast

Better beer: Georgetown (Recommendation: Port City Porter)

Reasoning: Sorry, FGC, you're a 15-seed from Fort Myers; you don't get to claim Tampa. Georgetown, on the other hand, can claim DC Brau and nearby Port City, which is excellent.

ROUND OF 32

No. 1 Kansas vs. No. 9 Villanova

Better beer: Villanova

Reasoning: Between 'Nova and La Salle, I think we've established my enjoyment of beers from that area.

No. 12 Akron vs. No. 4 Michigan

Better beer: Akron

Reasoning: Yeah, I know I've let other state schools claim all of their state's breweries, but in this case we also have Michigan State to consider. And they're far closer to the goodness than Michigan. Sorry, Wolverines, we cannot let you claim Bell's, Founders and New Holland. Akron wins.

No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 3 Florida

Better beer: Florida

Reasoning: Mostly I just think Florida is much better at being drunk.

No. 7 San Diego St. vs. No. 2 Georgetown

Better beer: San Diego St.

Reasoning: Despite the up-and-coming breweries in the D.C. area, all of them combined can't touch the likes of Stone, let alone the others in the S.D. area.

SWEET SIXTEEN

No. 9 Villanova vs. No. 12 Akron

Better beer: Villanova

Reasoning: As we had in the West regional final, this is a PA vs. OH match-up. This time we'll let Philly take it. Because 'Nova > La Salle, and Akron < Ohio St. This is science.

No. 3 Florida vs. No. 7 San Diego St.

Better beer: San Diego St.

Reasoning: I could really go for a Green Flash Palate Wrecker right about now.

ELITE EIGHT

No. 9 Villanova vs. No. 7 San Diego St.

Better beer: San Diego St.

Reasoning: They make some of the greatest IPAs in the world.

EAST

ROUND OF 64

No. 1 Indiana vs. LIU Brooklyn/JMU

Better beer: Indiana (Recommendation: Three Floyds anything)

Reasoning: JMU is close to Starr Hill and Blue Mountain, two breweries that I very much enjoy as a Virginia native, but Indiana has that Three Floyds thing going for it.

No. 8 N.C. State vs. No. 9 Temple

Better beer: N.C. State (The Duck-Rabbit Baltic Porter)

Reasoning: It's called N.C. State so I'm gonna let it claim all of North Carolina. Mostly 'cause I'm sick of rewarding Eastern PA and N.C. not only has a ton of great homegrown breweries, but is also now home to Oskar Blues, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada's east coast brewing operations. If you like beer, visit Asheville, N.C. (Why yes, I do live in North Carolina, how'd you know?)

No. 5 UNLV vs. No. 12 California

Better beer: California (Recommendation: Lagunitas Sucks Imperial IPA)

Reasoning: The Berkeley area is home to some of the best breweries in the world, but most notably Lagunitas and Russian River, both of which about an hour from campus.

No. 4 Syracuse vs. No. 13 Montana

Better beer: Montana (Recommendation: N/A)

Reasoning: If only Southern Tier was closer to 'Cuse. As is, I'm not familiar with the breweries in either area, although Montana boasts a healthy list of options.

No. 6 Butler vs. No. 11 Bucknell

Better beer: Bucknell (Recommendation: Victory Prima Pils)

Reasoning: As Jon Bois once described it, Indianapolis is "Mashed Potatoes: The City." Nothing good or interesting comes from here. Bucknell's central PA location makes it close to some fine beer options.

No. 3 Marquette vs. No. 14 Davidson

Better beer: Davidson (Recommendation: NoDa Coco Loco Porter)

Reasoning: Its proximity to Charlotte, which has nine breweries within the city limits and more on the way this year.

No. 7 Illinois vs. No. 10 Colorado

Better beer: Colorado (Recommendation: Avery Maharaja Imperial IPA)

Reasoning: In the Boulder area alone there is Great Divide and Avery, two of the country's best.

No. 2 Miami vs. No 15 Pacific

Better beer: Pacific (Recommendation: N/A)

Reasoning: Located just outside Portland, Pacific has a shit load of craft beer options. Whoops, wrong Pacific. The one in the Tournament is in the Bay Area, which makes its win here even more obvious. Miami has a Gordon Biersch.

ROUND OF 32

No. 1 Indiana vs. No. 8 N.C. State

Better beer: N.C. State

Reasoning: I truly feel that North Carolina's beer scene, on the whole, stacks up against just about any other state in the union right now.

No. 12 California vs. No. 13 Montana

Better beer: California

Reasoning: I'm sure Montana has some swell beers, but they can't compete with the greater San Fran area.

No. 11 Bucknell vs. No. 14 Davidson

Better beer: Bucknell

Reasoning: Central PA's beer scene is more established than the young, but promising, breweries emerging in Charlotte.

No. 10 Colorado vs. No. 15 Pacific

Better beer: Colorado

Reasoning: While Rob Neyer has assured me Portland makes awesome beer, I find it hard to believe it's on par with the breweries in the Boulder region.

SWEET SIXTEEN

No. 8 N.C. State vs. No. 12 California

Better beer: California

Reasoning: It's hard to compete with most areas of California when it comes to great beer, especially this one.

No. 11 Bucknell vs. No. 10 Colorado

Better beer: Colorado

Reasoning: Basically what I said for California applies here, too.

ELITE EIGHT

No. 12 California vs. No. 10 Colorado

Better beer: California

Reasoning: A match-up that was destined from the time the bracket was released. While Great Divide and Avery do awesome things, Russian River has two of Beer Advocate's top three beers in the world.

FINAL FOUR

No. 3 Michigan St. vs. No. 2 Ohio St.

Better beer: Michigan St.

Reasoning: The Holy Trinity of Bell's, Founders and New Holland are superior to Great Lakes plus another two other Ohio breweries you wanna pair with it.

No. 7 San Diego St. vs. No. 12 California

Better beer: California

Reasoning: Two regions of the same state forced to do battle. Both specialize in big, hoppy west coast-style IPAs, but Russian River gives Cal the slight victory.

CHAMPIONSHIP

No. 3 Michigan St. vs. No. 12 California

Better beer: Michigan St.

Reasoning: Russian River alone has six of Beer Advocate's top 50 beers in the world, while Bell's and Founders combine for five. But in terms of overall versatility -- from Bell's Hopslam to Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout -- the title goes to Michigan St.

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