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Sweet 16: Sorry, Kentucky—I'm predicting an upset

There's March Madness — and then there's the special kind of crazy that is Wall Street March Madness.

We traders spend WAY too much time analyzing the games. During the tournament, when you hear a trader yell, "Butler screwed me!," he is talking about Butler University missing a key free throw, not his manservant Woodhouse forgetting to get enough ice for his March Madness soiree.


Aaron Harrison of the Kentucky Wildcats
Getty Images
Aaron Harrison of the Kentucky Wildcats

When I analyze a team's chances, I treat them like a stock. Now that we've reached the Sweet 16, seeds don't matter much. You want to back a team that is playing its best right now — just like you want to buy stocks with earnings on an uptrend.

Next, you have to look at how the team did against good competition. A team's record is meaningless if all their wins were against the University of the Sisters of the Poor. That's like a fund manager up 5 percent when all of his peers are up 20 percent. Not impressive.

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OK, time to put my money where my mouth is and give you my picks. Last year, I correctly predicted underdog UConn to win it all, so pay attention.

Region: Midwest

Remaining teams: Kentucky, West Virginia, Notre Dame and Wichita State
Winner: Kentucky

The Kentucky Wildcats have incredible talent. This team could have nine potential NBA players. These players have sacrificed individual statistics for wins. Kentucky fans will say, "No group of individuals this talented have put their egos aside and sacrificed for those less fortunate, since USA for Africa got together to record, "We Are the World."

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However, Kentucky, and especially Coach John Calipari, has its naysayers. The Calipari haters allege he recruits his players with dubious tactics. Basketball purists allege his players stay for a year and then bolt for NBA riches.

There are only a handful of teams that can beat Kentucky and while West Virginia, Notre Dame and Wichita have had good seasons, they don't qualify. Take the chalk.

Region: West

Remaining teams: Wisconsin, Arizona, North Carolina, Xavier
Winner: Arizona

I think Wisconsin and Arizona are the second and third best teams in the entire tournament. They played in the regional final last year, won by the Badgers. Arizona's defense is hot. The games will be played in Los Angeles which gives Arizona an edge — its players won't be distracted by the sun and the girls in bikinis like the Wisconsin players who haven't seen sun in more than three months. In my opinion, Wisconsin, Arizona and North Carolina could actually upset Kentucky in the national semi-finals, should any of them advance.

Region: East

Remaining teams: NC State, Louisville, Oklahoma and Michigan State
Winner: Michigan State

I am tempted to go with NC State. NC State is a lot like Lindsay Lohan. Extremely talented, underachieving and their fans always expect them to blow their big shot.

Michigan State is like last call at the bar. Your choice isn't always pretty, but they get the job done. Michigan State has been overlooked but somehow is always left standing at the end.


Region: South

Remaining teams: Duke, Gonzaga, UCLA, Utah
Winner: Duke

The top two seeds Duke and Gonzaga were expected. UCLA is like Jennifer Beals in "Flashdance." Many people thought didn't deserve an invite to the Big Dance, but they have showed they belong when given the opportunity. Utah has survived two competitive games — they're as tough as a $4 steak from an interstate rest-stop diner.

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However, I think it comes down to two teams that could upset Kentucky in the finals: Duke vs. Gonzaga. This is Gonzaga's best team in school history. Duke has been a perennial powerhouse despite being so divisive. Duke is hated by so many fans but loved by sportscaster Dick Vitale, the insane fans known as the "Cameron Crazies," and the referees that prolong their rich history by giving them every questionable call. Duke also has the likely No. 1 pick in the NBA draft in Jalil Okafor. He reminds me of a young Tim Duncan complete with his ability to miss key free throws in the clutch.

By a razor-thin margin, I am going with Duke. Betting against Coach K in a close game is foolish especially when he has the NCAA and the referees on his side.

National Championship

Duke vs. Arizona
Winner: Arizona

For anyone to beat Kentucky, they are going to need to Kentucky to have an off night. Even on a bad night for Kentucky — only a handful of teams can beat them. Nate Silver gives Kentucky a 41-percent chance of taking home the title.

I think the Arizona Wildcats can match Kentucky's defense — and frustrate them. My prediction: Arizona will shock the world in the national semi-finals and ride that momentum to overwhelm Duke and the zebras in the finals.


Commentary by Raj Malhotra (Raj Mahal is his stage name), a former Wall Street trader-turned-stand-up-comedian. He has worked at Wall Street firms covering three continents, including at Bank of America, BNP Paribas and Nomura. He draws from his unique ethnic background and Wall Street career to entertain audiences nightly, highlighting the struggles of the 1 percent. He can be seen at Gotham Comedy Club, Broadway Comedy Club, NY Comedy Club, Greenwich Village Comedy Club, and the Tribeca Comedy Lounge. Follow him on Twitter @RajMahalTweets.

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