Friendly Four vets favored for championship

Lovett, Henry hope previous success, title-game experience gives them an edge

Friendly Four vets favored for championship

And then there were four. Headlined by two former runner-ups, the remaining friends in the hunt for the 2018 title will meet on the court Saturday to decide who gets a shot at Best Friendship.

Let’s recap the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight action.

Survive and advance

In celebration of a visit from the First Family of Friendship Madness, we gathered, we drank, we were merry. Jared LoveladyChris SilbersteinBrian Henry and Scott Michael came out to celebrate a treasured visit from Chris and Lindsey Lusk. Cheers.

Perhaps the most-talked-about matchup in the Sweet 16 was between Jessie Opoien (Kentucky) and Megan Crawford (Kansas St.). Opoien rallied behind her team hoping to make another return to the Elite Eight.

However, she fell short as Crawford’s Wildcats crashed the boards and owned the inside, sending Opoien home.

Crawford’s run would soon be halted by Craig Marose (Loyola-Chicago), only the second 11 seed ever to make it to the Friendly Four. However, her impressive showing proved she deserves to be in this tournament and will likely net her a higher seeding next year.

Ty Calanni (Florida St.) surprised everyone with a big win, becoming one of the few sub-8s to reach the Elite Eight.

He was dispatched by Jake Lovett (Michigan) in the regional finals, though, and will have to wait until next year for a shot at the title game.

Greg Horton (Duke) ousted surprise standout Jenny Gilbreth (Syracuse), ending an impressive run that began in the play-in games.

Horton ran into stout competition from Jared Lovelady (Kansas) in the Elite Eight and lost a thriller in overtime.

The Friendly Four

The 2013 season has been much-discussed lately due to controversy about eventual champion Chris Lusk‘s involvement in a scandal. What hasn’t been discussed was just how close Jake Lovett came to eternal glory.

As a founding member of the CMA, Lovett has been consistently present in the conversation each new tournament, but falling just short of a title in 2013 has got to haunt him a little bit. Though he earned co-MVP honors for his contributions that year, he has yet to make a return trip to the big game. It looks like 2018 may be his best chance yet, and — armed with the same Michigan team he took to the title game — the only thing standing in his way is tournament darling Craig Marose.

More colloquially “Creg” and more recently “Macho,” Marose wasn’t expected to still be in this thing this late in the game. If anything, his primary Florida team had a better shot on paper to make some waves. What paper never accounts for, however, is the madness of friendship.

It seems everyone without a real horse in this race is pulling for Marose, including a former president and a sweet old lady people love for some reason. Macho is so humble about his success, in fact, that despite numerous conversations about the tournament, he was almost oblivious to his advancement to the Friendly Four.

“Oh, I’m still in it?” he said Monday. “Cool.”

Members of the CMA, led by MVP candidate Jessie Opoien, have rallied around Lovett in the contest, slated for Saturday afternoon.

Another friend for whom a title has been agonizingly elusive is Brian Henry, an odds-on-favorite to finally nab the trophy this year. He fell just short last season, bested by Lusk in a thrilling title game after stringing together dominant wins, and saw his championship hopes dashed in the Elite Eight in 2016. His team that year? Kansas. The team that beat him? Villanova. With the tables turned in 2018, Henry has got to be nervous his bad luck follows him like smoke around a camp fire.

The man sitting in the Jayhawks chair is a rising star in Friendship Madness, securing his first top seed in just his second tournament. Jared Lovelady (henceforth “Jed”) has been waiting for this moment his entire life. It’s fitting he will face Henry in the Friendly Four — the only thing more appropriate would be title-game matchup. The pair, however, consider this game a de facto championship, claiming the winner of their contest will defeat the survivor of the other game for Best Friend. Faith in his opponent or not, he has one question for the remaining three friends: Do you smell what the Jed is cooking?

The tournament MVP will be announced at halftime of the Best Friend game Monday.

May the best friend win.