Welcome, welcome, welcome to another edition of the Friendliest Tournament in Sports. March once again brings us to the start of Friendship Madness, but things will be a little different this year.
Let’s begin with the question we’ve all been asking: What will happen to Chris Lusk? He’s been mired in controversy in recent weeks with everyone wanting to know whether he did it (the Big Eight sure seems to think so). The commissioner has been silent during the scandal with many wondering if Lusk’s 2013 title could be stripped from him. Well, not so.
“After careful consideration of the investigation conducted by the Committee on Infractions, it is my conclusion the laces worn by Mr. Lusk during the game in question do not meet the competitive standards in place by the FMAA,” the commissioner said. “However, any evidence that Mr. Lusk willfully cheated has not been collected at this time. Because of this, I have chosen not to strip Mr. Lusk of his 2013 Best Friendship.”
The commissioner instead outlined postseason penalties against Lusk for lack of institutional control, barring Lusk from the top 12 spots for the 2018 tournament. This will be the first time since the inaugural games he won’t be a 1 seed.
A report by The Friendly Times also outlined potential collusion during conference realignment in 2013. The commissioner emphasized his dedication to ensuring the conference system reflects the fairness and sportsmanship the FMAA promotes. He expects to address the issue after the conclusion of the tournament.
A rejuvenated Pack-10 Conference leads all leagues with nine total friends, closely followed by an OKC Conference full of newcomers with eight.
The traditional players are all here from the Big Eight (5), CMA (4) and Daily (3). A back-from-the-brink Urb League ships out four this year after nearly missing the tournament entirely last season.
Two independents who hope to form the next superconference this offseason round out the field with the solo Catholic 7 representative.
One final thing to note: For the first time in FMAA history, the tournament will include play-in games. Four friends will fight for two spots. This should be fun.
So let’s get to it.
Joseph Bradley & Holly Thorp: 11 St. Bonaventure
The Pride of Estes Park make their tournament debut after a strong showing throughout the regular season. The duo are favored to get more national exposure — and better tournament seeding — in the coming years with the pending formation of the Rocky Mountain Conference and its lucrative TV deal.
Joseph and Holly are two of the best people on Earth, and their love for Colorado is only surpassed by their love for good people. I kinda hate Brian for not introducing us sooner.
Notable superpowers: Rock climbing, Corgis
Clark Torbert: 11 UCLA
After a brief stint overseas, Torbert is back and ready to get friendly. The lessons he learned through his travels have translated well to the court, where he looks to return to form.
I missed Clark and his wife Lori while they were in Singapore, but I’m glad they were able to experience what they did. The handful of interactions I’ve had with Clark since he got back have reminded me just how legit he is.
Notable superpowers: Dentistry equipment, Karaoke
Kaitlin Murphey: 11 Arizona State
The Urb League has taken a significant dive in recent years due to struggles on the road, but Murphey has been putting in the work and will likely nab a spot in the forthcoming Rocky Mountain Conference in 2019.
Kaitlin is the jam. I think we’ve hung out more since she moved to OKC than we did in Norman. It’s been a pleasure getting to know her better, and I know we’ll be killin’ it in Denver in a few short months.
Notable superpowers: Small dogs, Catheters
Jenny Gilbreth: 11 Syracuse
Another success story from the floundering Urb League, Gilbreth has consistent flashes of dominance. Her fiery tenacity is unmatched among the field of competitors, which could give her an edge against conference foe Murphey for a spot in the Big Dance.
Ms. Boo Boo is one of my favorite people and isn’t ever afraid to dish back what you dish her. I see a lot of patio days in the months ahead with this one — quietly judging our shenanigans as only she can.
Notable superpowers: Curls, Reality TV stardom
Max Calanni: 1 Virginia, 16 NC Central/Texas Southern
Big Eight Conference
2012 Best Friend
It could be argued Max had the strongest regular season of the field, hosting three separate tournaments and handily winning all three — much like he wins just about anything he touches.
A huge chunk of why I’m moving to Colorado is Max and his wife Maggie. They have been such good friends for so many years (I’ve only known his brother Ty longer — by a month or two — than Max out of all these great people), and they’ve been beyond gracious to host us when we visit, especially for my 30th. I’m probably looking forward to seeing them more often most of all for the move.
Notable superpowers: Instant expertise, Tusken Raider impression
Luke Olsen: 2 Cincinnati, 15 Iona
Olsen has notched win after win in the latter half of the season, closing stronger than almost anyone else heading into the postseason. On Sundays, he’s almost Vintage Tiger unbeatable. He leads the rejuvinated OKC Conference into the tournament.
My Sunday nights used to be for unwinding from a rough week of work. Now, in large part thanks to the comaraderie the closing trio have formed at R&J, they’ve become a night I look forward to most of the week. Be it movies, music, philosophy or politics, he’s got an opinion to share but always lends an open ear to consider different ideas.
Notable superpowers: Denying the Multiverse, Collecting dishes
Jeremiah Davis: 3 Tennessee, 14 Bucknell
Always an active participant in the social media sphere, Davis brings a wealth of tournament experience and perhaps the most iconic use of hashtags to yet another year. Could this be the season he survives to the Friendly Four and beyond?
Jeremiah is one of the people who best exemplifies why this tournament even happens. Aside from some Twitter interactions, I don’t get to talk to the guy that often, but I know he’ll always be there when March rolls around.
Notable superpowers: Race cars, Sports commentary
Chris Lusk: 4 Arizona, 13 Marshall
2013, 2015, 2017 Best Friend
Despite a rough couple of months, Lusk can still bring the heat to the court — even from a 4 seed following his disciplinary action. Based on previous tournaments, it wouldn’t be that surprising if he fought his way to the Friendly Four anyway.
What more can I say about Chris? All of this silliness wouldn’t be possible if he hadn’t dove headfirst in supporting it with his myriad of skills and his heart. He’s a trooper to put up with all the scandal stuff with a smile on his face. Here’s to hoping we rediscover the joys of work-life balance and keep finding ways to be in the same city.
Notable superpowers: Keyboards, Guilt-tripping
Jessie Opoien: 5 Kentucky, 12 New Mexico St.
Another year, another tournament bid for one of the most consistent mainstays of Friendship Madness. Don’t count her out — she’s a darkhorse favorite for the Friendly Four.
Jessie is easily one of the most talented journalists I’ve had the pleasure to know. Although she writes about things happening states away, she has me pulling for the fine folks of Wisconsin and hopeful for the future of the industry.
Notable superpowers: Dog bows, Whiskey
Maddi Fox: 6 Miami (Fla.)
One of the most promising of the new additions to the bolstered Pack-10 Conference, Fox makes a strong debut this tournament. With just one team because of the play-in games, she’s putting all her eggs in the Hurricanes’ basket.
Maddi is one of the coolest people with which I work. She’s witty, sharp and a real joy to be around. And now that she’s finally old enough to hit the bars with us, I imagine the shenanigans will only increase under her care.
Notable superpowers: Not controlling her face, Checking Brian’s shit
Scott Michael: 7 Nevada, 10 Oklahoma
This guy again. We’ll all be in for a treat in the Round of 64 as he’ll have both the Sooners (fingers crossed) and Not Texas. He’ll most likely tweet about how little he cares about all this, then lob some nice snark bombs at whomever is unlucky to be in his way.
I don’t know many people like Scott. He’s probably the fiercest Thunder fan I know, and he never hesitates to point out when things aren’t going so well. He’s always hilarious, though, so I keep him around.
Notable superpowers: Lead vocals, Hot wife
Ty Calanni: 8 Creighton, 9 Florida State
He makes his triumphant return to the tournament this year and stands to benefit most from the formation of the Rocky Mountain Conference in the offseason. Acting as an independent for now, he’s eyeing a matchup with the other Calanni in the Round of 32.
Ty is just one of the best people you could hope to know. I dare you to find someone who’s met Ty and didn’t want him to be your best man or something. He and his wife Natalie are two of the dopest people in Colorado, and I foresee many craft beers being destroyed in the very near future.
Notable superpowers: Every instrument ever, Hat game
Austin Dean: 1 Xavier, 16 Penn
Big Eight Conference
Few had a postseason as strong as Dean last year. He crushed the competition for MVP like he was averaging a triple-double. If the lead-up to this year’s tournament is any indication, he looks to make a case for the first MVP repeat.
I don’t know many people who have made the kinds of personal strides Austin has in the last few years. He’s taught me so much and inspires me to always be better than the day before. I’ll be happy to be a much-cheaper-flight away from him soon, and the pair of times we got to see each other this year were two of my favorite memories. Though he no longer has them, we still call the wild impulsive tomfoolery we get ourselves into “Steen Nights,” after the master himself.
Notable superpowers: Dunking, Power beards
Lindsey Ruta Lusk: 2 North Carolina, 15 Cal State Fullerton
The Daily Conference
She will not go down without a fight. As an avid opponent of the post-alignment CMA and tenacious proponent for The Daily, she brings a chip on her shoulder into every postseason. This might be the year she bests her counterpart and brings home some hardware of her own.
Lindsey is one of the people I miss the most who has moved away from this silly little state. I miss the animated arguments we would get into when I was still forming my political opinions because she won most of them and made me better for it. And I will deny until the day I die that she ever beat me at beer pong. Never happened.
Notable superpowers: Lawyer stuff, Food porn
Jake Lovett: 3 Michigan, 14 Wright State
It was with Michigan that he came a few bounces from eternal glory, so this season has all the right plot points for a comeback story. A date with Ruta Lusk in the Sweet 16 seems all but certain.
Jake is a model person as a talented journalist, loving husband, dog parent and all-in sports fan. I’m glad every time he makes his way back to the Sooner State and we get to catch up a little. The stars seem aligned for a Louisville reunion in the future now, too. Let’s see if we can still howl at the moon like we used to when we were just kids.
Notable superpowers: Beating OU, Surviving Austin
Kyle Todaro: 4 Gonzaga, 13 Charleston
Big Eight Conference
This hometown hero looks to restore a sense of pride in the Pacific Northwest, much like his own. Though a trip to the Friendly Four would undoubtedly need to go through conference rival Dean, he’s here to prove the Zags can close.
This dude can do it all: play music, compose music, draw, paint, make a camera do his will — basically create anything with his hands. His Thunder insights make our group text a must-read, and he’s always got something funny to pepper in, too. I wish we’d have had more time to visit the last time he was in town, but I guess that makes it my turn to head out to Seattle. Darn. That doesn’t sound awesome at all.
Notable superpowers: Using rocks as drums, Coffee
Brad Ackerman: 5 Ohio State, 12 Murray State
Making his tournament debut, Ackerman has that “it” factor you look for in a coach. You get the feeling he could accomplish anything with the right squad at his disposal.
Brad took a chance and brought me on at my favorite bar and has been exceptionally patient with my work quirks. He sets a great example as a new dad. I’m still trying to figure out when he’s messing with me and when he’s not, but I’ll get there.
Notable superpowers: Mustaches, Group chat burns
Jenni Kincaid: 6 Houston
Kincaid is a fresh face to the Pack-10 Conference, but she looks to make an early splash in the tournament. A strong regular season gave her a full head of steam heading into the year-end campaign.
Jenni is a sweetheart. Her notes of encouragement behind the bar inspire positivity in the face of doom, and her laugh is contagious. I’ve enjoyed getting to know her better this year, even though our schedules are pretty much opposite now these days. Summer will fix everything, as it always does, because patio drinking.
Notable superpowers: Beanie game, Coffee shop Instagrams
Katy Schones: 7 Texas A&M, 10 Butler
It’s hard not to notice this one on the court. She makes her presence known and never falters from her quest. A tough Pack-10 conference schedule has only made her tougher.
I dare you to find somebody else like Katy. Nobody else has the personality to pull off a full-on assault of flirtation from Day One and keep it up for years, but she is like that: when she loves you, she loves you with everything she’s got. More people should be like her.
Notable superpowers: Avoiding harassment claims, Nimble on her feet
Katie Rutledge: 8 Missouri, 9 Alabama
Big Eight Conference
2016 Best Friend
Once a champion, always a champion (unless you’re Curtis, who then just kind of disappears forever — cool). This fighter still has some licks to leave on social media and games to steal on the court. Life sometimes comes at you hard, but she’s shown she can come back at it harder.
Katie is a special person. She loved me through one of the more intense periods of my life, and I hope to one day do the same for her.
Notable superpowers: Translucent skin, Puppers
Brian Henry: 1 Villanova, 16 Maryland-Baltimore County
Big Eight Conference
The highest prize has eluded him for years now, always within reach but always slipping away. It’d be easy to say nobody wants to win this thing more than he does this season, and commanding a doable path to the title game should help.
It’s no secret Brian is my (not tournament-approved) best friend ever. We’ve always been there to help each other through the shit in this world, and we’ll always be there to make sure we don’t let each other do stupid things… alone.
Notable superpowers: Falling asleep anywhere, Shots
Chris Silberstein: 2 Purdue, 15 Georgia State
Watch out: Big Bear is coming for the East. He’s lean, he’s mean, he’s been hitting the court hard preparing for this moment. He’s never down for the count.
Thank god all the dumb stuff from before is past us because few are truer friends than Chris. He loves almost uncontrollably and never shies away from calling you out when you’re being a clown, a rare trait these days. Some of my best memories are at HQ, and I don’t see the creation of new ones slowing down any time soon.
Notable superpowers: Joy, Led Zeppelin-themed holiday parties
Keifer Truett: 3 Texas Tech, 14 Montana
Don’t call it a comeback. After cruising to an easy NIT victory last season following a tournament snub, he’s stronger than ever. Solid wins during the regular season have him positioned to do what he did best all year: topple giants.
I am really stoked Keifer’s back for Round 2 at the ol’ PNAK. He’s matured as a person and manager so much from when we first met, and I unfortunately missed most of his initial stint at the restaurant due to an unforeseen incident that left me absent for 90 days or so. Let’s make up for lost time, shall we?
Notable superpowers: Closing, Eerily similar work shirts
Jackson & Tarryn Anderson: 4 Wichita State, 13 UNC-Greensboro
Two is better than one, and this pair proves it. In their first year sharing the helm, they want to make this one count.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of them without a smile on their face — at least not for long, anyway. They make adulting look so damn easy, and they’re probably the cutest dog parents ever. I’m always happy to have seen them and should probably do better at making those occasions more frequent.
Notable superpowers: Star stuff, Home arsenals
Annelise Russell: 5 West Virginia, 12 Davidson
The Daily Conference
Defense wins championships. Cinderellas can go back to the ball any time they’re ready. With a one-two punch of lockdown D and hope, she’s going to be formidable.
Still one of my favorite memories is when Annelise, in no uncertain terms — as is her way — basically told me she didn’t think I mattered when I first joined her writing staff, a fair assessment considering I had a lot of proving to do then. But she changed her mind about me (I think). She’s quirky and intelligent and one of the best people I’ve worked with in journalism. She taught me a lot of great granny words, too.
Notable superpowers: Apples, The West Wing
Craig Marose: 6 Florida, 11 Loyola-Chicago
Sports cliche, sports cliche, sports cliche.
Craig (more coloquially, “Creg”) is a goober. He’s always cracking jokes and pulling pranks, keeping the atmosphere light even when I’m already completely tired of working. He’s one of the most knowledgeable servers I’ve worked with, even nabbing a “best in the city” nom from a prominent patron. If you need a laugh, Creg’s your guy.
Notable superpowers: Group chat nicknames, Scavenger hunts
Kenny Hilburn: 7 Arkansas, 10 Texas
He’s the final new addition to the Pack-10 Conference, and he’s made his presence known. He’s here to shake things up and take no prisoners.
I knew Kenny long ago in what feels like a previous life, but it’s been awesome getting to know the man he is now. We’ve both changed a lot from those days, but we’re both better off for it.
Notable superpowers: Karate, Tattoos
Luke McConnell: 8 Virginia Tech, 9 NC State
The Daily Conference
His greatest strength isn’t his top seed but his second seed. It wouldn’t be March if Luke wasn’t in the tournament, and I feel he might care just a little bit more this year with his favorite team.
Luke is by far the most talented writer I’ve had as an editor. His continued success makes me so proud to have gotten to work with him, and I can take no credit for it because he was this good before I got to him.
Notable superpowers: Art Garfunkel impersonations, Thunder hot takes
Jared Lovelady: 1 Kansas, 16 Radford
New potential dynasties are being built all the time, and this is no exception. Few have worked as hard during the regular season to get to this point, and he can take pride in nabbing a top seed as his reward. On to the Friendly Four now.
The man I call Jed is a truly loyal friend, an insightful giver of advice and a partner in crime. He’s there for all the highs and lows despite being one of the busiest people I know, and there are few people I’d rather sit with on a curb to dish out encouragement and empathy. He even pulled off the impossible: getting me to cheer for Kansas. Here’s hoping the Jayhawks are half as awesome as he is.
Notable superpowers: Dashing good looks, Collison fandom
Greg Horton: 2 Duke, 15 Lipscomb
Dedication to academics is admirable. It’s more admirable when it accompanies an ability to compete on an elite level. Hate if you want; he doesn’t care.
The last two years have been some of the best of my life, and Greg can take a lot of credit for that. I’d know half what I do about wine without his tutelage — fewer words, too. He’s invited me to be a part of the crazy life he lives of events, free booze and great people. Someday I’ll write a short story or two about him. I wonder what jokes will come out of his secondary team’s name.
Notable superpowers: Snapchat, Knowing everyone
Mason Maidt: 3 Michigan State, 14 Stephen F. Austin
It’s been a wild ride for this guy after returning to the Heartland. This is his strongest team ever, as evidenced by his regular-season record.
I’ve had a few consistent bar partners in my time, and Mason is no exception. He’s thrown down with the best of us and lived to tell the tales. He’s moving on up in the world, and I’m so proud he’s happy doing it. I hope our greatest adventures are still ahead of us.
Notable superpowers: Toasts, Sloth-like radiance
Adam Kelley: 4 Auburn, 13 Buffalo
Another new face with a similar story: a desire to win. He sets the bar high for himself, and the court is no different.
Adam is the third member of our Sunday night trio of Solving the World’s Problems While Drinking. Though he’s convinced I’m a libertarian like he is (I’m definitely not), he’s lent a much-needed perspective to the typically binary conversation between the left and the right. He has a high expectation of quality for his and others’ work, and his drive to better himself and learn more every day is infectious.
Notable superpowers: Hulking out, Limited government
Rocky Thomas: 5 Clemson, 12 South Dakota St.
Sometimes the middle friends are underestimated; don’t make that mistake with him. He wants to win as much as the next person, and his first appearance in the tournament is a good time to start.
We’ve bonded over the novels we’re writing and our shared love for the transcendent music of Jimmy Eat World, but Rocky’s a lot more than that. He’s jovial and supportive, even when we’re constantly about to get in a fight over the computer. He’s driven and hardworking, and we really need to grab a drink outside of work soon.
Notable superpowers: Primo liquor facts, Blazers
Emily Brake: 6 Texas Christian, 11 San Diego St.
I’m getting really tired of writing the same thing over and over. I don’t think anyone really cares about the opening paragraph of these anyway.
If you don’t know Lil E, you are missing out. Hard. She is kind, inquisitive and loyal. She gives you all of herself all of the time, and nobody flips the switch from fun to crazy fun quite like Lil E. I’m really gonna miss her when she switches jobs, but I’ve never been more confident a friend is going to stick around for good.
Notable superpowers: Telescope skills, Mind-melting philosophical questions
Daniel Ruffin: 7 Rhode Island, 10 Providence
He probably won’t win.
Daniel is a turd.
Notable superpowers: None
Megan Crawford: 8 Seton Hall, 9 Kansas State
She’s back. She knows the position you start from doesn’t matter nearly as much as the position you end at, and she’s gunning for the top. Watch out for her Wildcats.
Megan is just fun. She stepped out of her Sunflower Castle and laid her Sunflower Crown aside to live a simple life amongst us simple folk in the Land of Wheat and Quakenadoes. I’m glad she did, too, because I want her with me when I’m getting into shenanigans and trying to get out of them again.
Notable superpowers: Moscow Mules, Being from Kansas but still being an OK person
Jeez, that was long. I’m tired. Are you tired? I wonder if anyone but me will ever read every word. Oh well, this isn’t about me — it’s about all of you who make my life better every single day. Let’s have a great tournament, y’all.
May the Best Friend win.