A toast to the Big Ten's Final Four—with the perfect Manhattan.

Yes, it’s time to analyze this year’s Big Ten tournament teams: ``The few. The proud. The brave.’’

Gould0089 headshot

But first, here’s my dead-solid lock for watching the 2018 NCAA tournament:

The Bulleit Rye Manhattan: Two ounces rye, one ounce Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth. A dash or two of Angostura bitters. One or two Luxardo maraschino cherries. Chilled martini glass. Shaken or stirred, depending on how your feel about James Bond and ice water in your drink.

Up. Not on the rocks. . . Save that for your bracket.

And because this year's Big Ten tournament was played at Madison Square Garden in New York, the Rye Manhattan really is a no-brainer. . .

In other words, this is a good year to stick with proven winners.

First, only four Big Ten teams (out of 14!) made the field of 68. Which is exactly what they deserved in this down year.

But I like at least three of them.

The big question in my mind: Will the extra week off help or hurt?

It will help. . . the three teams that have decent draws.

No. 5 Ohio State will need to be on guard for dangerous No. 12 South Dakota State. And then it will have its hands full with under-seeded No. 4 Gonzaga.

With all due respect to my TMG co-conspirator, Chris Dufresne, I like No. 2 Purdue to handle his alma mater, No. 15 Cal State-Fullerton. I also like the Boilermakers to handle instate rival Butler.

Here’s what I like about Purdue. They not only have fine perimeter players. They have an inside game that ought to be appreciated by Bob Lanier, the finest player St. Bonaventure ever produced, in my admittedly limited knowledge of Bonnies basketball.

I mention this because I expect the Boilermakers to handle the Cinderella No. 11 Bonnies in the Sweet 16. Although if you ask me in two minutes how I can pick St. Bonaventure over really tenacious Texas Tech, I’m going to reserve the right to change my bracket.

Come to think of it, the Red Raiders could handle Purdue if it comes down to that.

I’m also going to say Yes to Michigan, a No. 4 seed that will get past Montana and Houston before its big showdown against North Carolina. Yes, the Tar Heels probably have better talent. They always do. And yes, it might be a stretch to push Big Ten tournament champion Michigan’s luck. But I give the Wolverines the coaching edge. And the chip-on-the-shoulder edge.

With Moritz ``Moe’’ ``Valkyries’’ Wagner and Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman(inoff), I also give Michigan the classical-music edge.

I expect ``Hail to the Victors'’ to stop playing in the Elite Eight, where Western darlings Gonzaga, after all those years of unrequited basketball love, will add a second straight Final Four appearance.

And finally, just give me a seat in the Izzone. It’s not really a big leap, considering that Tom Izzo has been to seven Final Fours, and certainly has a talented enough team to add an eighth this year. That’s why I’m predicting a Sparty party in San Antonio.

From there, let’s just sit back and enjoy(?) Virginia’s grinding win over Villanova in the championship game.

San Antonio, by the way, is one of my three favorite Final Four venues. If they rotated among New Orleans, Indianapolis and San Antonio, it wouldn’t bother me at all.

If I were still going to Final Fours, that is. And if they were still making the media welcome with sufficient courtside seating—oh well, all of those ships have sailed.

Close observers will note that I am predicting that Michigan will beat North Carolina in the Sweet 16 a day before Michigan State beats Duke in the Sweet 16.

Enough, already, with Duke and North Carolina basketball. It’s as tedious as Alabama and New England in football.

My confidence factor in these picks, I readily admit, is less than 100 percent.

That’s where the perfect Rye Manhattan comes in.

It’s good to be `retired.’

Seashells and balloons.