Chuck McGill: Without WVU in picture, man has best bracket
West Virginia's postseason-free 13-19 men's basketball season cast a pall over the hoops season for many fans of the program.
One man, however, seized opportunity when many saw gloom during this year's NCAA Tournament. He's $2,500 richer because of it.
Morgan Sheets -- a fitting surname for the so-called sheets of integrity -- finished first nationally in a Bracket Bucks competition offered to Charleston Newspapers readers. Never mind the office pools with a couple dozen people.
Sheets had the highest-scoring bracket of more than 180,000 entrants in the national contest, which includes newspapers from West Virginia to California to Minnesota to Florida.
Sheets scored 1,564 of a possible 2,000 points.
How'd the 44-year-old Tornado resident pull it off?
"I'm a big Mountaineer fan," he said. "I always let my heart overrule my head and I pick them to go all the way.
"This year, I didn't have to worry about that."
Sheets, a Charleston Catholic graduate, had Louisville against Michigan in the national championship game. He also correctly predicted Syracuse to win the East Region as a No. 4 seed. He performed well in the opening rounds to edge a Morgantown resident by one point.
"I followed basketball pretty close this year," Sheets said. "It was hard when I got to the final 16, so I based my picks on coaching matchups."
That's why he kept pushing fourth-seeded Michigan through each round. As a WVU fan, he knew Coach John Beilein would lead the Wolverines deep into the 68-team, three-week event.
"I felt strong about Michigan early in the year and they made it to No. 1," he said. "When they stumbled that was kind of a good thing, I think. Gonzaga jelled too early and were playing their best ball in January.
"Beilein, knowing him, he's a really good coach. I had a feeling after (WVU) played Michigan that Michigan would be in the championship game."
Sheets is a Charleston native who went into the Navy after graduation. He participated in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield. He later worked as a trout farmer in Pocahontas County before taking a job with Gunnoe Farms.
In his spare time, Sheets coaches fourth and fifth grade girls basketball in the St. Albans Basketball League. He might be compelled to use his extra scratch on new breathable jerseys.
"That's a good idea," he said.
This was the first-ever Bracket Bucks competition for Charleston Newspapers, but it won't be the last. A pre-tournament Bracket Party was held at Recovery Sports Grill the day after Selection Sunday, and readers, sponsors and confident prognosticators came out to a three-hour event that featured yours truly and Charleston Gazette sports editor Mitch Vingle.
Sheets will likely have the burden of expectations when filling out his brackets next year, but the downside is his favorite team has to stumble for him to have a chance to succeed.
"I owe it all to West Virginia for not being in the tournament this year," he said.
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IN BASEBALL news, right-hander Phil Irwin became the fourth West Virginia Power player to reach the parent club since the Power became an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009.
Irwin, 26, made his debut Sunday against the Cincinnati Reds. He allowed five runs (four earned) and six hits in 42/3 innings. He struck out four and walked four in the no-decision.
He got the brief call-up after an injury to starting pitcher Wandy Rodriguez created the need for a spot starter. Irwin was demoted to AAA Indianapolis after his debut.
Irwin follows in the footsteps of Chase d'Arnaud (debut: June 24, 2011), Starling Marte (debut: July 26, 2012) and Kyle McPherson (debut: Aug. 20, 2012) as Power players who went from baby to big Bucs.
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HURRICANE HIGH School graduate and Boston Red Sox pitcher Alex Wilson made his Major League debut April 11 against the Baltimore Orioles. He has three scoreless innings in two appearances, and he can forever be the answer to a tricky sports trivia question.
Wilson is the first pitcher born in Saudi Arabia to reach the Majors.
The first position player born in Saudi Arabia to reach the Majors is Craig Stansberry, who had 24 at-bats with the San Diego Padres (2007-09). He was used mostly as a pinch-hitter.
Contact sports editor Chuck McGill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-7949. Follow him on Twitter @chuckmcgill