Month: March 2019

Lyft’s I.P.O. Was a Huge Success, Just Not for Investors Who Bought on Friday

Lyft’s stock market debut has set up its founders, employees, early backers and even those who scored shares in the initial public offering Thursday night for quite a windfall.

But not everyone who invested in the company is reaping the spoils.

Shares of the ride-hailing company rose nearly 9 percent on Friday. At over $26 billion, Lyft’s market value is almost double what private investors valued it at less than a year ago.

But Lyft’s first-day gain is measured off the I.P.O. price (which was set on Thursday, when shares were divided up mostly among large funds). Ordinary investors who wanted in had to wait to buy the stock until it was available on public markets on Friday, and at a much higher price than the big funds paid.

And those who bought as soon as trading began are already sitting on losses of a little more than 11 percent.

It serves as an important reminder that amid all the hoopla around trading debuts, small investors wind up taking a lot of the risk. Most of the gains on the first day of trading for a stock are realized with the first trade.

Over the past decade, companies listing shares on American stock exchanges have increased 14 percent from their I.P.O. price, according to Dealogic. But nearly all of the rise has come at the opening trade.

That dynamic has played out in many of the prominent I.P.O.s in recent years. Facebook shares opened 10 percent higher on their first day of trading and then proceeded to give back almost all those gains to finish essentially unchanged for the day.

Etsy was an extreme example of this. Its stock soared 94 percent on its first day of trading, but investors who bought at the open actually lost 3 percent by the close of trading.

And it’s not just tech companies. Levi Strauss recently made its return to the public markets, selling shares to investors at $17 a piece on March 20. The stock opened the next day at $22.22, a 31 percent jump. For the rest of trading that day, though, it climbed less than 1 percent.

Of course, if Lyft keeps growing as fast as Wall Street hopes it will, or works out how to turn a profit, then even the latecomers could wind up with respectable returns. Facebook shares are up more than 300 percent since their first day of trading, and after Etsy struggled for its first three years as a public company, its shares have more than doubled since they started trading.

Still, not being able to buy at the I.P.O. price also greatly affects returns over the next year. Investors who bought shares at the offering price have averaged a 22 percent increase over the past decade. Returns for those that bought at the open? Sixty percent less.

“She Lied to My Face”: Inside the Hectic Last Days of Gymboree’s Retail Bankruptcy

Mera Chung had known for weeks that her 30-year career in retail was coming to an end. But Chung, a vice president of design for Crazy 8, a division of Gymboree Group Inc., wasn’t prepared for what CEO Shaz Kahng and human resources chief Bridget Schickedanz would tell her late on a Wednesday afternoon in mid-January.

They had called Chung in to inform her of an imminent bankruptcy filing, Gymboree’s second in two years, which would accompany the liquidation of two of the company’s three brands, including Crazy 8, which caters to lower-income parents. Chung was ready for that; the closure of Crazy 8 was announced in December, and the bankruptcy was long rumored. But then Schickedanz dropped the bomb.

“She said, ‘We had to make some other decisions and you’ve been impacted,’” Chung explains. “‘We had to terminate the severance plan.’”

The severance plan, according to Chung and two of her close friends, was a key reason why she decided to move to Gymboree from Old Navy five years earlier. The retail sector’s volatility has boiled over recently, with rapid-fire bankruptcies and store closures emptying malls across the country, much of it driven by private-equity firms busting out otherwise profitable companies. But Chung, a single parent caring for an elderly father, came to Gymboree because she knew she’d be due a year’s worth of salary if the company ever went belly-up.

Instead, on the same day as the bankruptcy filing, Gymboree’s board triggered Article VII of the severance plan, a self-destruct button that enabled the company to terminate the plan “at any time in any respect” via a majority vote from the board of directors. As a result, none of the roughly 400 staff members at Gymboree headquarters in San Francisco would receive severance, to say nothing of the nearly 10,000 clerks at 800 Gymboree and Crazy 8 locations, who would now be managing going-out-of-business sales without the promise of assistance in the aftermath.

Kahng told Chung that there just wasn’t enough cash available to pay severance. But Chung said she had information, which she would later share with the U.S. bankruptcy trustee overseeing the case, that at least a few executives would leave Gymboree with golden parachutes.

A few weeks earlier, she had learned about a confidential deal between the board and eight members of Gymboree’s executive leadership team. According to Chung, those executives received paper checks with a “retention bonus” equal in value to their severance payouts. The board, which includes representatives from hedge funds and private equity firms, told the executives to deposit the checks immediately. Bankruptcy experts often call this type of payment a “disguised severance.”

Chung heard this firsthand from one of the bonus recipients. Chung had an equivalent title to most of the members who she was told received the bonuses, but she was left out. She would later tell the bankruptcy trustee in a letter that she watched as four of those bonus recipients jetted off to the Sundance Film Festival, just days after Gymboree declared bankruptcy.

In the meeting, Chung had asked, “What about the retention bonuses the others have, including you?” referring to Schickedanz, a member of the executive leadership team. Kahng would only reply, “That is not an appropriate question and I will not comment on it.”

Chung said she had replied, “The answer is what’s not appropriate.”

Gymboree, founded in 1976, is on its way to history. Children’s Place, a rival retailer, paid $76 million for the rights to the Gymboree and Crazy 8 brands, and the Gap is purchasing Gymboree’s 139-store luxury chain, Janie and Jack. But the disguised severance maneuver Chung has alleged reveals how in corporate America, the winners at the top can win even in failure. And nobody else is safe — certainly not the line-level workers, but not even vice presidents like Mera Chung.

The Intercept has reviewed documents confirming the termination of the severance plan on the day of the bankruptcy. Chung made her allegations about the disguised severance to friends, attorneys, and bankruptcy officials in the weeks after Gymboree’s filing, according to interviews and documents. And Julie Thompson, a vice president of product integrity and compliance for Gymboree, also said in a separate interview that bonus payouts were made to the executive leadership team.

Moreover, Chung alleged to the trustee that Gymboree underreported the extent of the retention bonus payments in a filing with the bankruptcy court. In that filing, Gymboree acknowledges “discretionary bonus payments of $270,000 to two employees,” but Chung asserts that eight executives received bonuses totaling an estimated $2.1 million.

Gymboree, its executives, and board members have failed to respond to numerous requests for comment through email, phone, and LinkedIn. Calls to the company’s media relations department have gone directly to voicemail. Three calls to personal cellphones of members of Gymboree’s executive leadership team were answered, but the individuals refused to comment.

The situation at Gymboree echoes other recent retail bankruptcies in which executives got a king’s ransom while everyone else got a firm handshake. Toys “R” Us and Sears were approved for millions in executive bonuses, a fact that has enraged advocates for line-level workers. “These are the same handful of people who couldn’t run our company successfully, and they’re being rewarded while everyone’s severance is taken away?” asked Lily Wang, deputy director for Organization United for Respect’s Rise Up Retail campaign.

You can make a case for retention bonuses for top executives in some bankruptcies. They are usually justified as a way to keep the leadership from decamping to other jobs as soon as the bankruptcy is filed. “The rationale is by giving good people retention bonuses so they will stay, the company will have much greater likelihood of reorganizing and getting back on its feet,” said Brett Weiss, a bankruptcy attorney in Maryland.

But in this case, Gymboree was knowingly liquidating most of its business before the bankruptcy was ever filed, making retention bonuses less urgent. “This was a liquidation chapter 11, the executives are not going to be in these positions a year from now,” Weiss said. “Maybe they said, ‘How can we get more money out without having the trustee claw it back? What’s the greatest number of people we can do this for without raising red flags? How about the executive leadership team?’” Gymboree’s lawyers in the bankruptcy case did not respond to a request for comment.

Moreover, while some executives do need to be in place to wind down operations, the alleged bonuses were not uniformly given to executives who had that role. For example, the VP of marketing allegedly got a bonus, even though marketing operations effectively ceased. Meanwhile, Thompson’s job involved regulatory compliance, which any retailer still selling products (even in a going-out-of-business sale) needs to maintain. Yet she was denied a bonus and fired without severance.

The situation has left Chung devastated. “Me and this other woman were the altar sacrifices for the others to get paid,” she says. “People have to understand how vulnerable they are.”

Chung was recruited to Gymboree five years ago by her former boss at Old Navy, where she was the vice president of kids and baby clothing design. She was told that she would have the run of an entire brand, the low-price Crazy 8. “It was their only brand that was relevant,” Chung says. She took the job.

At the time, Gymboree was under the control of Bain Capital, Mitt Romney’s old private-equity firm. The private-equity business model involves engaging in buyouts with borrowed money and putting that mountain of debt on the company it purchases, all the while extracting profits from the company through management fees. Few companies, particularly in the high-risk retail sector, can deal with such a debt burden — it makes it difficult to invest in stores, personnel, or better products.

Chung says this showed in how Gymboree ran the business. “Instead of investing in creative talent, they promoted design and merchandising from within,” she says. “Merchandisers became complacent with wanting product they knew would sell from the year before. There were years upon years of awful clothes with poodles and trucks on them.” She also complains that Crazy 8 had no marketing budget, and her work to break with standard fare was practically hidden.

By 2017, Gymboree couldn’t hold out any longer and went into bankruptcy. The business was put in control of its largest creditors, who were private equity and investment firms. The seven-member board included then-CEO of Gymboree, Daniel Griesemer; Ron Beegle, CEO of investment consultant Carriage House Capital Advisers; Matt Perkal, a partner at hedge fund Brigade Capital Management; Brian Hickey from mutual fund firm OppenheimerFunds; and Eric Sondag, a partner at private-equity firm Searchlight Capital, who was made board chair. Other members of the board were not disclosed, and since Gymboree is not a public company, they have no requirement to do so. Apollo Global Management, Marblegate, Nomura Securities, and Tricadia Capital Management also had a share of the company.

Though Gymboree emerged from bankruptcy in decent financial shape, Thompson described the new board as uninterested. “There was zero involvement in what was going on day to day,” she says. “They just let the CEO do whatever he wanted.”

Griesemer decided to invest in a complete redesign of Gymboree’s clothing line. It was a high-cost gamble off the bankruptcy, and it failed; when the new clothes hit stores last summer, parents called them “complete garbage.” Says Thompson: “I started paying attention to sales, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is so bad.’ It was negative 20 to 30 percent [compared to the previous year] every single day.”

By November, Griesemer was fired, and Kahng, the new CEO, came in. She had started her career as a food scientist at Kraft and was an independent member of the board prior to being named CEO, according to her LinkedIn page.

“She thought they were going to try to rehab the brand, that this was her career-defining moment,” Chung says. She described one meeting in which Kahng pronounced that Gymboree needed to be a “disruptor” like Apple. “She said, ‘What does every parent experience?’” Chung recalls. “‘Every parent in the world feeds their child strained carrots. When my children were babies, there were carrot stains on everything. We could do something so simple, an orange bib.’ She was 100 percent serious. I barely got through the meeting.”

The disruption didn’t take. By early December, the company announced that it would shutter all Crazy 8 stores after the holidays and significantly reduce the Gymboree footprint. Chung says that in the month after the announcement, Kahng never formally addressed Crazy 8 employees, leaving them confused about their roles. If the brand was closing, there was no need to design or purchase product for the next season. “My team of 20 said, what do we do?” Chung recalls. “They said keep showing up until further notice. They didn’t want to let us go because then they would have to pay severance.”

The Gymboree management severance plan was not a package negotiated individually. It was an employee benefits plan, established under the auspices of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. This has become popular, particularly with large companies, says Jim Keenley, an ERISA attorney in Berkeley, California. The statute provides protections to workers if they aren’t given what’s promised in the severance plan. It offers no protection, however, if the plan is terminated.

“It’s an illusory contract,” says Keenley. “It’s very common for severance plans to have language in them that say, here’s your severance but we can take it away at any time for any reason.” No advance warning is needed for termination, under current law. While retirement benefits under ERISA are better protected, severance plans are considered a welfare benefit, and the funds do not vest.

So employees have no recourse if a termination occurs. And most of them don’t read the fine print allowing companies like Gymboree to pull that trigger. “I didn’t have anyone look at it,” says Thompson. “I was naïve.”

Both Thompson and Chung were told after the 2017 bankruptcy that the severance plan remained active. And both sought further assurances after it was clear that Gymboree would slide into bankruptcy again. Chung says she had asked three colleagues — the general counsel, the VP of human resources, and the general manager of her brand, Crazy 8 — whether her severance would be honored. None gave a straight answer. But Thompson said that when she approached the general counsel, Kimberly MacMillan, in early January, MacMillan reassured her, “Don’t worry, we will file it as a first-day motion.”

In bankruptcy-speak, MacMillan was saying that the severance plan would be one of the payouts that Gymboree would seek to get approved when it filed. Pending court approval, all employees eligible for the severance plan would be compensated. The severance plan was approved in the 2017 bankruptcy, so Thompson trusted MacMillan that the same would happen the second time around. “I had good working relationship with [MacMillan],” Thompson says. “She fucking lied to my face.”

MacMillan, in a short phone call with The Intercept, said that “we [Gymboree employees] follow a strict no-comment policy” with the media, and hung up.

Around the same time, Chris Lu, general manager of Crazy 8, was commuting home with Chung. “She would always disclose things to me, she would blab them to me,” Chung says. In her letter to the trustee, Chung writes that Lu told her that members of the executive leadership team were “paid their severance,” after demanding assurances from the board of directors. The board arranged for a “retention bonus contract” in the amount of the severance pay. “She said I couldn’t tell anyone about it,” Chung recalls. “I said, ‘Why did you tell me that if I cannot say anything?’”

In a brief phone conversation with The Intercept, Lu would only say, “I can’t talk to you. … I’m going to hang up now.”

According to Chung’s trustee letter, members of the executive leadership team who may have received retention bonuses included Lu, MacMillan, Schickedanz, Chief Financial Officer Jon Kimmons, VP of Information Technology David Sondergeld, VP of Logistics Dana Todorovic, VP of Sourcing Patricia Lesser, and VP of Marketing Parnell Eagle. Those in the “next level down” like Chung were left out, even though she had the same VP title as several of the recipients. Chung and Thompson were not formally part of the executive leadership team.

Thompson had also heard about the not-so-secret retention bonuses. “Nobody officially told me, but I heard rumors,” she says. She talked it over with Chung just before the bankruptcy. But when Thompson asked MacMillan about the executive leadership team meeting with the board, MacMillan told her that she couldn’t comment on it.

Both Thompson and Chung were told about the severance termination on the same evening. That day, everyone in the office figured out who was being let go, because human resources had cleared out the layoff victims’ time-off balance from the payroll processing system. “Everyone compared notes, mine’s not cleared out, mine is,” Thompson says. “Everyone zeroed out is going to get let go. Mine was zeroed out at end of Wednesday.”

Thompson was told by phone that she would be terminated without severance. Kahng, who as CEO was also a member of the board, told her that “it wasn’t our decision. Goldman Sachs is running the show now, we couldn’t do anything about it.”

Goldman Sachs was the lead creditor on Gymboree’s remaining loans, which it used for cash flow. The investment bank was the first in line to get paid from the bankruptcy. “It’s like when you get on an airplane — Goldman was group 1,” says Chung.

The next day, staff was packed into a tiny conference room. Chung decided to wear a vintage Sex Pistols T-shirt to the meeting with the words “No Future” scrawled on the front. Schickedanz, the human resources chief, read a prepared statement through tears. Everyone had to turn in their ID badges, laptops, and corporate credit cards, and vacate the building by the end of the day. Employees would get their last paycheck and paid time off, and that was it.

Schickedanz, in a phone call with The Intercept, said, “Oh, I thought you were someone else calling. … I’m going to jump off [the phone],” and hung up.

One employee, Katherine Pocrass, filed a class-action lawsuit against Gymboree, alleging that the company did not provide 60 days’ advance notice of the mass firing, as required under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. Attorneys for that case did not respond to a request for comment.

The WARN Act case is ongoing, and Chung would be eligible to be a member in the class-action, which could yield up to 60 days of back pay. But her severance was for a year.

Chung says she met with 17 different attorneys seeking legal recourse for her full severance. Each of them said that while Gymboree’s actions were unconscionable, they were technically legal; the severance plan entitled the company to terminate at any time. Eugene Pak, a business litigator in the Bay Area, said that the situation struck him as “unethical.” Added Keenley, the ERISA attorney: “I think Mera felt that it was unfair. … I’ve been looking for ways to find that it was not lawful, but I have not found them.”

Ron Tyler, a friend of Chung’s and a law professor at Stanford, provided her with several legal contacts. “I think her devastation comes from the fact that she, after very carefully and persistently creating this extremely successful career, to have it end so dramatically and intentionally by her company,” Tyler says. “And she saw the writing on the wall. Had it not been for that [severance] agreement, she would have left before.” Shortly after the bankruptcy, Chung felt an even deeper sting. One of the lawyers she consulted asked how many employees worked at Gymboree headquarters, and so Chung put the question to Lu. “She was laughing and said, ‘I’ll call you when I land, I’m going to Sundance,’” Chung says. Chung wrote to the trustee that Lu and three other members of the executive leadership team — Tricia Lesser, Shelly Walsh, and Parnell Eagle — had decamped to the Sundance Film Festival, weeks after being given a retention bonus to stay on at Gymboree. Thompson corroborated that Gymboree executives were at Sundance, though she didn’t name names. READ MORE: https://theintercept.com/2019/03/25/gymboree-bankruptcy-severance-scam/

San Francisco To Pay $13.1 Million To Man Framed By Police For Murder

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to approve a $13.1 million settlement for a man framed by police for murder.

Jamal Trulove spent more than six years in prison for a 2007 murder before being acquitted in a 2015 retrial. 

“And trust me I’m not done with them by a long shot!!” a profile appearing to be Trulove wrote on Twitter. “After what these cowards of the law did to me, I will lit my freedom ring through every platform I get to show what injustice really looks like. Me!”

He sued in January 2016. In April of last year, a jury in Oakland found that two police officers on the case, Maureen D’Amico and Michael Johnson, deliberately fabricated evidence and failed to disclose exculpatory material.

Alex Reisman, one of the lawyers for Trulove, told the Associated Press that Trulove “endured a lot,” spending years in maximum security prisons in Southern California, hundreds of miles away from his family.

Police arrested Trulove for the 2007 murder of his friend Seu Kuka, who was shot in a public housing project in San Francisco. Trulove was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

But a California appeals court overturned that conviction in 2014 and ordered a new trial. He was acquitted in a retrial in 2015.

Trulove’s attorneys said police manipulated a witness into misidentifying Trulove as the shooter.

The police officers named in the lawsuit have retired, and none were disciplined for their actions in the case, Reisman told the AP.

Trulove was pursuing a career in acting and hip-hop at the time of his arrest. He appeared in the reality TV show I Love New York 2. This year he appears in the movie The Last Black Man in San Francisco, which is scheduled for release in June.

Trulove wrote on Instagram in March that he has been dealing with PTSD from the experience. 

“Theres nothing I could do to make up for that time I missed,” he wrote. “No amount of money could ever reverse the time I missed with my kids and the affect that it’s had on there up bringing and our relationship.”

Americans Are Divided by Their Views on Race, Not Race Itself

It’s a crucial difference — and grounds for optimism. 

Amid the uproar over the Ralph Northam blackface photograph, a Washington Post poll asked Virginians if he should remain governor. The results were striking: Only 48 percent of whites felt that he should stay in office. That percentage was exceeded by the nearly 60 percent of black Virginians who thought Mr. Northam should remain.

In another survey, part of my own research, I asked Americans whether President Trump’s wall is racist. White Democrats overwhelmingly said it was, virtually no Republicans did — and minorities placed in the middle.

We find this pattern across numerous issues. And taken as a whole, it reveals something about the United States in the Trump era: The country is not divided by racial conflict, but by conflict over racial ideology. This is a crucial difference — and it is also grounds for optimism.

Race pertains to communities defined by ancestry and physical appearance. Racial ideology turns instead on race as a political idea. Questions like “Should Northam resign?” or “Is the wall racist?” divide voters today by ideology far more than race. “White” is a description of a person’s race, whereas feelings about whether whites are privileged or whether diversity makes the country stronger are part of a person’s racial ideology.

Liberal whites — not minorities — are setting the tone on these issues.

Since 2012, white liberals have moved considerably left on questions related to race, reflecting both a campus- and online-driven cultural awakening that has accelerated in response to Mr. Trump. On the American National Election Study’s scale measuring how respondents feel about a group — white liberals are warmer toward minorities than their own racial group.

The share of white liberals who say racial prejudice is the main reason blacks cannot get ahead has jumped substantially since 2014.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/18/opinion/race-america-trump.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share


Facebook Won’t Let Employers, Landlords or Lenders Discriminate in Ads Anymore

The sweeping changes come two years after ProPublica’s reporting, which sparked lawsuits and widespread outrage.

Facebook advertisers can no longer target users by age, gender and ZIP code for housing, employment and credit offers, the company announced Tuesday as part of a major settlement with civil rights organizations.

The wide-ranging agreement follows reporting by ProPublica since 2016 that found Facebook let advertisers exclude users by race and other categories that are protected by federal law. It is illegal for housing, job and credit advertisers to discriminate against protected groups.

ProPublica had been able to buy housing-related ads on Facebook that excluded groups such as African Americansand Jews, and it previously found job ads excluding users by age and gender placed by companies that are household names, like Uber and Verizon Wireless.

“This settlement is a shot across the bow to all tech companies and platforms,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, a lawyer with Outten & Golden in Washington who represented the plaintiffs along with the ACLU. “They need to understand that civil rights apply to the internet, and it’s not a civil rights-free zone.”

The changes apply to advertisers who offer housing, employment and credit offers to U.S.-based users of Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. Facebook said it hopes to implement the requirements by the end of the year.

The agreement also will create a separate online portal for housing, credit and employment offers. Those advertisers will not be able to target users in a geographic area smaller than a 15-mile radius, which advocates say tamps down on “digital” neighborhood redlining.

Housing, job and credit advertisers will also now only be able to choose from a few hundred interest categories to target consumers, down from several thousand. Critics have said such a swath of finely tuned categories, like people interested in wheelchair ramps, are essentially proxies to find and exclude certain groups. Facebook said it will keep more generic interests like “real estate,” “apartment” and “job interview.”

Facebook also said it will create a page where users can see all current housing ads whether or not the users were among those targeted. The agreement says Facebook will also study how algorithms can be biased.

“There is a long history of discrimination in the areas of housing, employment and credit, and this harmful behavior should not happen through Facebook ads,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote in a statement Tuesday.

The changes are part of Facebook’s settlement in five discrimination lawsuits. Plaintiffs included the Communications Workers of America and several fair-housing organizations, as well as individual consumers and job seekers. The settlement includes a payout of about $5 million to plaintiffs, mostly to defray legal costs.

The company agreed last year to limit advertisers’ ability to target by some demographic categories, following a complaint by Washington state.

Facebook has previously said that it was being held to an unreasonably high standard, and that ads excluding users by age and gender were not discriminatory. “We completely reject the allegation that these advertisements are discriminatory,” Vice President of Ads Rob Goldman wrote in a December 2017 post. “Used responsibly, age-based targeting for employment purposes is an accepted industry practice and for good reason: it helps employers recruit and people of all ages find work.” The post was titled: “This Time, ProPublica, We Disagree.”

Facebook said Tuesday it had “not seen the kind of explicit discriminatory behavior that civil rights groups are concerned about.” But ProPublica used a crowdsourcing project to find dozens examples of job ads that excluded workers over 40women and other protected groups.

Facebook has made another move recently that resulted in less transparency around ads. This year, it moved to block a ProPublica project that allowed the public to see how political ads are being targeted on Facebook.

The company said it was simply enforcing its terms of service.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco | Official Trailer

Directed by Joe Talbot and starring Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, and Danny Glover. Winner of the Sundance Best Director and Special Jury Awards. The Last Black Man in San Francisco — Summer 2019 SUBSCRIBE: http://bit.ly/A24subscribe From writer/director Joe Talbot and starring Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, and Danny Glover. The Last Man in San Francisco – In Theaters Summer 2019. RELEASE DATE: Summer 2019 DIRECTOR: Joe Talbot CAST: Jimmie Fails, Jonathan Majors, Rob Morgan, Tichina Arnold, and Danny Glover Like The Last Black Man in San Francisco on FACEBOOK: http://bit.ly/facebook_LastBlackManSF Follow The Last Black Man in San Francisco on Twitter: http://bit.ly/twitter_LastBlackManSF Follow The Last Black Man in San Francisco on Instagram: http://bit.ly/instagram_LastBlackManSF

NCAA Bracket Predictions 2019: Final Four & Championship Picks

March Madness has arrived, and we are here to help you make the best bracket picks. The following is a breakdown of my Final Four picks heading into the NCAA tournament.

One of the first things you notice is that my picks are absent of surprises. March Madness is often pegged as complete craziness, but the truth is the Final Four (even the Elite Eight) is typically full of favorites. Teams like Loyola-Chicago do sneak in from year to year but trying to predict this year’s Cinderella team that will make a deep run is likely to ruin your bracket.

Many people spend agonizing hours stressing over picking the correct No. 12 over No. 5 seed, but whether you win your bracket pool will depend largely on your Final Four predictions. Most major bracket pools give you more points for correct picks as the rounds progress. This means nailing the correct first round picks is a lot less important than picking your champion.

One of the first things you notice is that my picks are absent of surprises. March Madness is often pegged as complete craziness, but the truth is the Final Four (even the Elite Eight) is typically full of favorites. Teams like Loyola-Chicago do sneak in from year to year but trying to predict this year’s Cinderella team that will make a deep run is likely to ruin your bracket.

Many people spend agonizing hours stressing over picking the correct No. 12 over No. 5 seed, but whether you win your bracket pool will depend largely on your Final Four predictions. Most major bracket pools give you more points for correct picks as the rounds progress. This means nailing the correct first round picks is a lot less important than picking your champion.

What are we looking for when picking our Final Four teams? Veteran teams with tournament experience tend to perform well. Teams that shoot the ball well from the free-throw line and long-range is another sign of a potential contender. Jump shots do not always fall in March, so a team with a stout defense give themselves a chance to string together wins even if their offense is not firing on all cylinders.

Feel free to reach out on Twitter @JonDAdams with any March Madness bracket questions you have or with your Final Four predictions. Here are my Final Four picks based on the latest bracket projections.


Gonzaga

Your bracket mates may be fading the Zags after their surprising loss to St. Mary’s in the WAC title game, but don’t follow the crowd. Unless the committee pulls a surprise, Gonzaga is likely going to be in the West region. No path to the Final Four is easy, but Gonzaga is likely to have the path of least resistance. Geography does play somewhat of a role in the regions, and the Zags could benefit from a weaker Pac-12 this season.

Pathway aside, Gonzaga has consistently been one of the best teams in the country. Gonzaga was the lone team to defeat a full-strength Duke team during the regular season. The Zags only three losses came to NCAA tournament teams: Tennessee, North Carolina and St. Mary’s. Gonzaga has wins over Washington, Creighton, Texas A&M, Illinois, Arizona and St. Mary’s.

Gonzaga is a veteran team with their top players having made multiple March Madness appearances. Rui Hachimura is a legit star who is likely heading to the NBA after the season. Hachimura is a shooter with length that is a matchup nightmare for defenses. Gonzaga also has Brandon Clarke, Zach Norvell Jr. and Josh Perkins to lead a balanced scoring attack. Not to mentioned Gonzaga’s defense can also shut down opponents’ offenses.

Florida State and Syracuse are two teams to watch as potential pitfalls in the west. Overall, I like Gonzaga chances to bounce back from their recent loss and make the Final Four.


North Carolina

Despite beating the Blue Devils in two of their three matchups, Duke has received the majority of the attention. North Carolina does not have the star power of its rival, but the team has the makeup for a deep run in March. The Tar Heels enter the NCAA tournament-tested by an ACC schedule, arguably the best conference in college basketball. UNC has wins over Gonzaga, Duke (twice), Virginia Tech, Florida State and NC State.

The Tar Heels have plenty of March Madness experience led by Cameron Johnson and Luke Maye. Coby White is playing his best basketball of the season heading into the NCAA tournament. Nassir Little could be an X-factor for North Carolina thanks to his defensive ability. The Tar Heels can bring him in to guard the other team’s best playmaker for spurts. Whatever he adds on offense will be a bonus.

Duke

Duke is not invincible like we may have thought when they dominated Michigan State to start the season, but they are still more than capable of cutting down the nets. Duke is the most talented team in the country, but the question is whether that talent works together in a cohesive unit in March.

Zion Williamson shows no ill-effects from his knee injury. The play of Tre Jones and Cam Reddish could determine how far Duke goes in the tournament. Williamson and R.J. Barrett are going to provide the best one-two punch in the tournament. The challenge for Duke is they go through cold spells, then appear to flip a switch like the Golden State Warriors. We have seen talented teams play with fire and get burned in the tournament.


Tennessee

Despite being one of the higher seeds, Tennessee is likely going to be absent from a lot of your competitors’ bracket picks. The Vols don’t have the kind of recent tournament success of some of the other teams on our list. Tennessee still comes in tested thanks to a solid SEC schedule.

Tennessee has wins over Gonzaga, Louisville, Mississippi State among others. Senior guard Admiral Schofield is the engine that keeps the Vols train moving. Schofield does a little bit of everything including shooting 41 percent from the three-point line. Tennessee is far from a one-man show with five players averaging double-digit points.


National Championship Pick: Duke Over Gonzaga

Our Final Four picks feature North Carolina and Duke squaring off in the Final Four. It would be the fourth time the two teams have met this season, but only the second time with Williamson. It could be the game of the season, but Duke has the talent needed to win for the second straight time. The national championship matchup of Gonzaga and Duke is a rematch of an early season matchup. The Zags were victorious in the first meeting, but I like the Blue Devils to get revenge this time around. Experience often trumps talent in the NCAA tournament, but when Duke is playing at its best the Blue Devils look like they have been doing this for years.