March Madness: Pick The ‘Karma’ Bracket, Avoid Teams Who May Be Cheating

Photo: Getty Images

It seems each year I write about the incredibly interesting ways I’ve seen people fill out their NCAA Tournament brackets.

Choose using the higher seeds (chalk) = boring

Choose schools based on colors = naive

Choose schools based on mascots = entertaining

Choose teams based on who has the best-looking coach = nana had a couple too many

The funny thing is that it’s usually nana, or the wife, or Peggy the receptionist who wins the bracket pool each year. Does it have anything to do with playing ‘hot or not?’ I think it’s more of a case of not being afraid to pick the reasonable upset. Go with your gut instead of your head, or your heart.

Because of the recent, unprecedented FBI probe that has exposed an incredible amount of tournament teams of alleged cheating, I don’t think there’s ever been a year in which it’s more important to choose teams with your gut.

And this year my gut is all about considering what I’m calling the ‘karma’ factor — simply picking teams to win over the teams who have been reported cheaters.

Now it gets pretty complex. Shoe companies and sports agents have allegedly been funneling money to players and their families in return for favors from the school’s coaches. But without getting too much into the weeds, below are the tournament teams whom the FBI have been investigating.

Proceed with caution with these teams when filling out your bracket this March Madness. After all, karma is a … well, you know.


Bruce ‘anything but a’ Pearl (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Assistant coach Chuck Person was arrested arrested on six federal charges of fraud and conspiracy and was reportedly indicted by a federal grand jury on Nov. 7. He’s been suspended without pay after allegedly accepting $91,500 over a 10-month period to steer players.

Since that time, two Auburn players have been suspended indefinitely: Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy.

Five-star recruit E.J. Montgomery de-committed from the school shortly after Person’s arrest.

But wait! There’s more! …

… If you don’t want to forget Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl’s shady history, which, I’m sure Illini fans don’t. But that’s another story. Pearl was fired from Tennessee in 2011 and didn’t coach for three years after he was caught lying about having a top-recruit at his home, violating NCAA rules.


Collin Sexton (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

As much as it pains me to write this (U of A alum here), Alabama was listed in the FBI’s federal complaint last fall.

Arguably they’re best player in decades, freshman phenom Collin Sexton was ruled ineligible at the beginning of the season after the FBI report said Alabama’s associate athletic director accepted bribes in order to influence Crimson Tide players (i.e. Sexton) to sign with a financial advisor once they turned pro.


Deandre Ayton (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Possibly the most egregious of the bunch, Arizona may very well be without their head coach following the season while also facing serious NCAA penalties.

Emanuel “Book” Richardson was an Arizona assistant employed by head coach Sean Miller who was accused of accepting payments to steer players. He was officially charged with conspiracy to commit bribery. And, he gone. Fired. Done.

What’s worse?

Although he highly refuted the report and is still coaching after sitting out just one game, according to an ESPN, the FBI has wiretap evidence of Miller discussing a $100,000 payment to secure a commitment from Deandre Ayton, currently their top player and projected top NBA pick.


Although very minor in the grande scheme, Duke’s Wendell Carter is a star player listed within the FBI’s evidence; his name was found on an expense report from former sports agent Christian Dawkins for a meal worth over $100.


Eric Davis Jr. is a current Texas player who was implicated by the FBI as someone who accepted payments from former sports agent Christian Dawkins. A released spread sheet shows Davis Jr. accepting $1500.


Clemson was a school named in former sports agent Christian Dawkins’ expense report in which he was seeking reimbursement for thousands of dollars he paid to college and high school players and their families. Jaron Blossomgame allegedly recieved $1,100 from sports management group ASM via a Venmo payment while he was still a student at Clemson before entering the NBA Draft last year.

Wichita State

Wichita State was another school named in Dawkins’ expense report. Fred VanVleet was a former Shockers star who allegedly received more than $1,000 form an agent during his senior season. His stepfather also allegedly received $2,000.


Edmond Sumner (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Xavier too was named in  Dawkins’ expense report. Last year’s star, Edmond Sumner and/or his father allegedly received $7,000 in advances.


Although no longer with the team after being drafted last year, Josh Jackson was a star freshman at Kansas last year. Jackson’s mother, Apple Jones, reportedly received $2,700.


Sports agents, including Dawkins, allegedly funneled $150,000 to a player to get him to commit to Miami and then sign with Adidas and Dawkins’ agency once turning pro. This same scheme also involved Arizona. Miami head coach Jim Larranaga admitted to reporters that ‘Coach-3’ was him in the FBI report, but claims he nor his assistants knew about the payments, which is possible. Likely? That’s up for serious debate.

NC State

According to the FBI’s documents, last year’s Wolfpack star, Dennis Smith Jr., received $43,500 from sports management company ASM.

Seton Hall

According to the FBI’s documents, last year’s Pirates star, Isaiah Whitehead, received $26,136 from sports management company ASM.


Kevin Knox (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

According to the FBI’s documents, last year’s Wildcats star, Bam Adebayo, received $36,500 from sports management company ASM.

Also, current Wildcats star Kevin Knox allegedly met and possibly had lunch with Dawkins, leading people to believe that Knox was given a free meal.

Michigan State

Relatively small potatoes here, but according to the FBI’s documents, current Spartans star Miles Bridges’ mother received $400 from sports management company ASM.

North Carolina

Because I can’t forget, as an Illini fan, I just can’t — UNC ran a decade’s old pervasive system of academic fraud, including fake classes, in order to keep players eligible … and got away with it.

If anyone deserves bad karma in the NCAA Tournament, it’s UNC.

UNC head coach Roy Williams (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

It’s actually amazing that the FBI nor the NCAA has swung the hammer down on these programs just yet. It would be naive to think this hasn’t been happening for years and that nearly every program in D-1 has been cheating in some way, shape or form.

Drastic changes for NCAA basketball lie ahead. Hell, Rick Pitino, a college basketball kingpin, lost his job at Louisville already.

But above were only the current NCAA Tournament-qualifying teams who have allegedly been wrapped up in some type of scandal. Based on the ‘evidence’ and the ‘karma factor,’ what does my bracket look like this year?

My 2018 ‘karma’ bracket looks like this.

I’m hoping whatever happens does so within the next 11 months. I would like to re-write this article next year using the ‘redemption method.’

In the mean time, watch out for nana.

Josh Helmuth is a long-time sports reporter who loses in his bracket pool to his wife every year. Follow him at your gambling peril.