Bracket Reveal and Projections

We have finally arrived at a favorite time of the year for myself and other college basketball fans.  The bracket has been revealed and now it’s time to get the ink and project the results for the field of 68!  Just as I did last year, I will walk through my predictions of who will win matchups every round.  I will also include possible matchups that would be a lot of fun to watch.  So, are there any sleepers in this field?  Who has the easiest path?  Hopefully this helps you when you sit down to fill out your bracket!  My record predicting each game last year was 40-23 where I incorrectly guessed the entire Final Four and Championship games.  Take my insight with a grain of salt, I guess, but it’s always fun to attempt to predict the unpredictable!

Before listing my decisions for each matchup, I will review some helpful tips when selecting your bracket.

Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, 19 of the 32 champions have been a 1 seed.  I’m not sure how much influence this actually has, but 7 of the last 10 have come from the top seed line.  Of course we love the upsets, it is what makes the tournament exciting and surprising, but a 1 seed has never lost against a 16 seed.  It’s rare for all four 1 seeds to reach the final four though.  It has happened once, in 2008.  On five occasions, 3 number 1 seeds have made it to the final weekend.

Take into account the more recent games (usually the last 8-10 games played).  A team can get better or worse over the course of a season (see IU).  Recency is a factor in helping predict how a team will play in the NCAA tournament.

Pay attention to how many times a coach has been to the tournament and their results.

Here’s something to consider.  Previous winners have had a Kenpom defensive efficiency at or below 90.9.  Only 7 teams possess that going into the tournament.  One of the teams, Georgia Tech, is playing in the NIT.  The other 6 teams are: Virginia, Gonzaga, Florida, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Louisville.  Historically, teams have a top 3 offensive efficiency.  None of the 6 teams listed have that.  The closest is Gonzaga, which may be inflated.

First Four

Tuesday, March 14th

Game 1: Mount St. Mary’s vs. New Orleans – Mount Saint Mary’s began their season 1-11.  New Orleans nearly cut the Division I sports program about six years ago as a latent response to Hurricane Katrina.  New Orleans has had an incredibly inspiring season, especially coming off a 20 loss season the previous year.  Both teams have a horrendous turnover percentage.  This game will most likely be ugly because of that, with little flow.  New Orleans is a slight favorite and I pick them to move on.

Game 2: Kansas State vs. Wake Forest – This is a curious matchup.  Wake Forest has one of the most efficient offenses in the nation.  Unfortunately, they have an average defense paired with it.  Kansas State has both a good offense and defense.  Unfortunately, I think Kansas State wins this down-to-the-wire game.  I want Wake to win, but Kansas State’s defense helps them win.

Wednesday, March 15th

Game 3: Providence vs. USC – In a random coincidence, we get to experience last year’s round of 64 matchup.  Last year, Providence responded to a late USC basket by scoring a game winner to move on to the round of 32.  USC looked strong earlier in the season and began to play flat during the Pac 12 conference play.  The Trojans did almost pick off UCLA in the Pac 12 tournament, though.  I think the Kyron Cartwright and Rodney Bullock are great players, but they are too heavily relied on for production.  Because of that, I have USC moving on.

Game 4: UC-Davis vs. North Carolina Central – This is a toss up, in my opinion.  It could be foolish to say this, but the experience for NC Central (this is the 2nd time they are in the tournament in the last four years) should help in defeating UC Davis.

West Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 – Gonzaga vs. South Dakota State – Gonzaga has incredible balance on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.  I expect this game to be relatively easy for the Bulldogs and I pick them to move on to the next round.

8 vs. 9 – Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt – Northwestern makes it to their first tournament.  They have all of the pieces to get their first win too.  I think Northwestern’s story continues for one more game.

5 vs. 12 – Notre Dame vs. Princeton – As much fun as it is to pick a 12 seed to beat a 5 seed, I think Princeton did not get a favorable draw.  I think Notre Dame wins this matchup.  A good portion of the Fighting Irish starters have been to the Elite Eight two years in a row.  Might this be a third trip?

4 vs. 13 – West Virginia vs. Bucknell – West Virginia plays incredible defense.  If they can get Bucknell to maintain their incredible pace in the game, West Virginia should have no problem winning this game.

6 vs. 11- Maryland vs. Xavier – This is one of my first picks for an upset.  Both teams have lost a starter.  If Xavier doesn’t cough up the ball, the Musketeers should be up

3 vs. 14 – Florida State vs. Florida Gulf Coast – Florida Gulf Coast does not have the same personnel that they did when they made their sweet sixteen run.  FSU has length and scoring ability which gives them the win.

7 vs. 10 – Saint Mary’s vs. VCU – Saint Mary’s owns just 2 top-50 wins this season and were gifted a 7 seed.  They lost to UT-Arlington at home, a team I thought would make it to the tournament by winning their conference tournament.  Are we undervaluing Saint Mary’s?  I don’t think VCU can handle Saint Mary’s consistency though in their ability to shoot the ball well.  I’m picking Saint Mary’s in this one.

2 vs. 15 – Arizona vs. North Dakota -Arizona is solid on the offense and defense.  One of my favorite players to watch this year was Lauri Markkanen, a 7-foot freshman that can post up and shoot 3-pointers well.

Round of 32

1 vs. 8 – Gonzaga vs. Northwestern – I don’t think Northwestern has an for Gonzaga’s big man, Karnowski.  Bulldogs move on.

5 vs. 4 – Notre Dame vs. West Virginia – This matchup is tough to pick an outright winner.  West Virginia has great defense and has demonstrated throughout the season that they can hang tough with their opponent.  They cause the most turnovers in the country as well.  In each of their losses, West Virginia has not been defeated by double digits.  Notre Dame leads the country in free throw percentage at nearly an 80% clip.  They also don’t turn the ball over, giving up just under 14% of their possessions to the opposing team.  The key will be turnovers and rebounding.  West Virginia crashes the glass well on offense and struggles to grab defensive rebounds.  Notre Dame is average in both of those areas.  I feel Notre Dame is the slight underdog, but I’m willing to push my luck with the Irish to make it to the Sweet 16.

11 vs. 3 – Xavier vs. Florida State – Xavier may squeak by Maryland by virtue of having experience against tougher opponents, but I think the Musketeers run ends against FSU.  Xavier closed the season going 4-6, with three of their wins against DePaul.  Missing key players will make it difficult to pick X over FSU.  Florida State moves on.

7 vs. 2 – Saint Mary’s vs. Arizona – Saint Mary’s plays beautiful basketball.  They share the ball well, but I think Arizona’s size and ability are at a higher level than Saint Mary’s.

Sweet 16

1 vs. 5 – Gonzaga vs. Notre Dame – I think Gonzaga’s first real test comes against Notre Dame, a team that will be vying for their third straight Elite Eight appearance.  It’s tough to read Gonzaga at this point because of the way their season has played out.  They did challenge themselves in the nonconference.  It’s tough to decide if their numbers are inflated because of their conference.  They are a great basketball team.  They are second in the nation in effective offense field goal percentage and first in the nation in effective defense field goal percentage.  That’s where I think their numbers may be inflated.  I think they beat Notre Dame, but it’s close.

3 vs. 2 – Florida State vs. Arizona – Arizona has been more consistent than Florida State recently and I think that, coupled with ability to play their game will ends FSU’s run. I have the Wildcats moving on.

Elite 8

1 vs. 2 – Gonzaga vs. Arizona – This is a rematch from earlier in the year.  Gonzaga won the first game by single digits and I think the outcome is the same.  Bulldogs move on.

South Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 – North Carolina vs. Texas Southern – North Carolina’s size and experience will be able to handle Texas Southern.  Tar Heels movin on.

8 vs. 9 – Arkansas vs. Seton Hall – I think Angel Delgado is just one of the major differences in this game that helps Seton Hall win this game.

5 vs. 12 – Minnesota vs. Middle Tennessee – I would have picked Minnesota to win as a 5 seed if they weren’t playing Middle Tennessee.  However, life isn’t fair and they are playing Middle Tennessee.  Blue Raiders pull off the upset and move on.

4 vs. 13 – Butler vs. Winthrop – The Bulldogs don’t possess such extremes as Jekyll and Hyde characteristics, but they do have some bad losses and some of the best wins in the nation this year.  This team can lose in the first round or make it to the Final Four.  I really hope it’s the second option.

6 vs. 11 -Cincinnati vs. Kansas State – Cincinnati can actually score this year with Mick Cronin’s team still playing great defense. I think the Bearcats move on.

3 vs. 14 – UCLA vs. Kent State – As much as UCLA can shoot well, their defense is abysmal.  They seem to be daring other teams to shoot the ball as well as them.  It will hurt them eventually, but not against Kent State.

7 vs. 10 – Dayton vs. Wichita State – Wichita State, for the second year in a row, was underseeded big time.  Wichita State is a 6 point favorite (at the moment) to beat the Flyers.  I’m picking the Shockers.

2 vs. 15 – Kentucky vs. Northern Kentucky – Kentucky recruits future NBA players.  Northern Kentucky does not.  I hope Kentucky loses, but I have them winning.

Round of 32

1 vs. 9 – North Carolina vs. Seton Hall – Not much to really say here. I think the Tar Heels trounce over Seton Hall.

12 vs. 4 – Middle Tennessee vs. Butler – Butler should be able to handle Middle Tennessee on a short schedule.  Chris Holtmann has proved to possess fantastic coaching ability.  I’m curious to see how the transfers and freshman, Kamar Baldwin, handle a tournament atmosphere.  The key for the Bulldogs in this game will be closing the game out, something they struggled to do at the end of the season.

11 vs. 3 – Cincinnati vs. UCLA – I think Cincinnati plays fantastic defense, but UCLA has too many options to run up the score on the Bearcats.  UCLA moves on.

10 vs. 2 – Wichita State vs. Kentucky – I take a huge risk in this game.  The Shockers are good this year.  They are really good.  They have slowly cracked the top 10 in Kenpom’s ratings.  I have Wichita State winning in this surprising round of 32 matchup.

Sweet 16

1 vs. 4 – North Carolina vs. Butler – This is where Butler needs two consecutive, solid halves of basketball.  If the Bulldogs can do that, they have a great chance of taking down UNC.  I won’t believe it until I see it and I have North Carolina moving on.  The encouraging thing in this game is knowing that UNC lost to Georgia Tech.

3 vs. 10 – UCLA vs. Wichita State – Going out on a whim and deciding this is where UCLA runs into trouble with a fantastic defense.  Wichita State guards the 3 point arc well and even better inside the arc.  That’s why I take the Shockers.

Elite 8

1 vs. 10 – North Carolina vs. Wichita State – UNC wins and moves onto the Final Four.  Wichita State keeps it close until the end, but I think UNC wins.

East Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 -Villanova vs. NC Central – Villanova is too consistent in doing everything well to falter against NC Central.  Count how many shot fakes the Wildcats take – that may be the most interesting stat in the game.

8 vs. 9 – Wisconsin vs. Virginia Tech – I think the Badgers take this matchup.  Virginia Tech has a great 3 point shooting team, and that will keep them in this game, but the Badgers have a trustworthy defense that should be able to handle the Hokies.  The concerning number for the Badgers is that they are 4-4 in their last 8 games.  That could spell trouble later on.

5 vs. 12 -Virginia vs. UNC-Wilmington – According to Kenpom, Virginia has the best defense in the land.  However, the Seahawks of UNC-Wilmington have one of the most efficient offenses in the nation coupled with a low turnover percentage.  That bodes well for them to pull off this upset.  I don’t see the upset happening, though, moving the Cavaliers onto the round of 32.

4 vs. 13 – Florida vs. East Tennessee State – East Tennessee State probably has the best player on the court in this game in Tj Cromer.  The one thing keeping me from picking this upset is that ETSU turns the ball over on nearly 20% of their possessions.  If they take care of the ball, don’t be surprised if ETSU keeps dancing their way to the round of 32.

6 vs. 11 – SMU vs. USC – SMU hasn’t lost since January 12th in a 2 point loss to Cincinnati.  Before that, they hadn’t lost since dropping a game to Boise State.  These two teams met earlier this season, but SMU seems to be the team that improved and figured out their identity best.  The concerning thing to note about the Mustangs is that they typically use a 6-man rotation.  Pony up, Mustangs are moving on.

3 vs. 14 – Baylor vs. New Mexico State – Last year, Baylor had to explain how they were outrebounded by Yale (who was the best rebounding team in the nation).  This year, Baylor has actually become even worse in corralling missed opponents’ shots.  This could be another upset, more surprising though than Yale.  I think Baylor holds on and gets to flaunt their neon jersey for another game.

7 vs. 10 – South Carolina vs. Marquette – I think Marquette can do some damage against South Carolina.  They are a dangerous 3 point shooting team.  Their freshman point guard, Markus Howard, leads a dangerous Golden Eagles Squad that is underseeded.  Marquette moves on.

2 vs. 15 – Duke vs. Troy – Hmm…Duke.

Round of 32

1 vs. 8 – Villanova vs. Wisconsin – Villanova begins to run into some issues in this matchup.  Villanova is incredibly efficient on offense as well as defense.  I think Wisconsin puts up a great fight, but ultimately falls to Nova.

5 vs. 13 – Virginia vs. ETSU – I think Virginia has the talent and coaching to get them past ETSU.  I wish had I more to write about for this matchup, but I don’t.

6 vs. 3 – SMU vs. Baylor – Baylor’s struggles rebounding are a large hindrance to them.  I think SMU’s personnel can take on and beat Baylor.  Ponies moving on.

10 vs. 2 – Marquette vs. Duke – This game could be a problem for Duke, mainly because of the high firepower of Marquette from beyond the 3 point line.  Duke has such incredible talent though.  I think the Blue Devils enter into a shooting contest and come out on top.

Sweet 16

1 vs. 5 -Villanova vs. Virginia – This is a rematch from a great game that was played on January 29th where Villanova eeked out a close victory.

6 vs. 2 – SMU vs. Duke – If SMU had more than a 6 man rotation, I would think they would have a strong chance at beating Duke.  Unfortunately, they don’t and I have Duke moving on.

Elite 8

1 vs. 2 – Villanova vs. Duke – What’s better than having the top two teams playing at Madison Square Garden?  I think Duke’s struggles on defense are the end to their run and Villanova moves on.  Keep watching Brunson’s shot fakes!

Midwest Region

Round of 64

1 vs. 16 – Kansas vs. UC Davis – Kansas won their 13th regular season championship in a row this year and earned itself a 1 seed for the 6th time during Bill Self’s tenure.  Kansas has made it to the final four just once when being a 1 seed.  They don’t struggle against UC Davis thought.

8 vs. 9 – Miami vs. Michigan State – Michigan State played their way into the tournament, not barely, but not in a convincing way.  The Spartans are young and I think they can make a deep run…in a couple years.  I believe Miami will win this game.

5 vs. 12 – Iowa State vs. Nevada – This is another close game on paper.  Nevada has an outstanding backcourt.  Unfortunately, so does Iowa State.  I believe that the Cyclones move on.

4 vs. 13 – Purdue vs. Vermont – Vermont has some great shooters and play makers.  No one on the roster is taller than 6’8″.  Had the Catamounts had a different draw, I may have been higher on them to win a game, but they drew a team that can make the sweet sixteen.  Boilermakers role and Swanigan has himself a game!

6 vs. 11 – Creighton vs. Rhode Island – This is a complex matchup.  Creighton lost their star point guard.  However, that hasn’t stopped the Bluejays from shooting the ball early in the shot clock.  It’s no secret that Creighton likes to run.  Their rebounding is average to abysmal however.  Rhode Island has found itself producing at a high level in the last few weeks.  They play sound defense and they are beginning to look like the team I thought they would all season.  I think the Rams have a great chance to win this matchup.  I’m taking Rhode Island.

3 vs. 14 – Oregon vs. Iona – The Gaels of Iona like to run and that is not a good formula when playing Oregon.  There will be many highlights in this game, but highlights don’t equate to winning.  The Ducks move on.

7 vs. 10 – Michigan vs. Oklahoma State – This game is a coin flip.  Michigan has been on a tear as of recent and that’s the encouragement I needed to have the Wolverines move on.

2 vs. 15 – Louisville vs. Jacksonville State – A Jacksonville State team that is prone to a large amount of turnovers is exactly what Louisville needs to demonstrate superiority in this game.  Louisville moves on.

Round of 32

1 vs. 8 – Kansas vs. Miami – Kansas has struggled in the tournament and I really wish I could understand why.  I think Miami has the ability to hang with Kansas and win.

5 vs. 4 – Iowa State vs. Purdue – Iowa State likes to push.  Purdue kind of likes to push.  I think this matchup is a slight edge to the Boilermakers.  Purdue moves on.

11 vs. 3 – Rhode Island vs. Oregon – Oregon lost a key piece in their rotation that really hurts them.  Their best nonconference win was Valparaiso.  I think Rhode Island is playing like a top 25 team at the right time.  I have Rhode Island moving on.

7 vs. 2 – Michigan vs. Louisville – It’s so hard to pick against Michigan right now, but I think Louisville’s defense is too tough to overcome.  Cardinals are moving on.

Sweet 16

8 vs. 4 – Miami vs. Purdue – I think this is a very close game, but the Boilermakers size and shot making wins it for them.

11 vs. 2 – Rhode Island vs. Louisville – Rhode Island runs into a brick wall and loses to a very disciplined Louisville team.

Elite 8

4 vs. 2 – Purdue vs. Louisville – Purdue won’t be able to handle Louisville’s defense and the Cardinals move on.

Final Four

1 vs. 1 – Villanova vs. Gonzaga – I think both teams play great basketball on both defense and offense.  Gonzaga’s size gives them an advantage and they knock out the reigning national champs.

1 vs. 2 – UNC vs. Louisville – These two teams played only once during the season and UNC won by 9 at home.  I think Louisville outplays UNC and moves on to the National Championship.

Championship

1 vs. 2 Gonzaga vs. Louisville – Gonzaga may actually be for real and their offensive efficiency helps them outscore Louisville!

After looking at this post briefly, I have no idea how I ended up with three 1 seeds in the Final Four.  I don’t like that at all.  Truthfully, I don’t think that will happen, but crazier things have happened!  Happy bracketing and enjoy the NCAA Tournament!

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End of the Season – Conference Tournaments and Butler Updates

As we greet this Monday morning, each Division I men’s basketball team has wrapped up their regular season.  With each team seeded in their conference tournament, upsets will surely ensue.  This past week, North Carolina Central, the favorite to win their conference tournament, concluded their season with a loss to North Carolina A&T, a team that had not beaten a division I opponent all season.  As I’ve mentioned before, conference tournaments are more exciting than the NCAA tournament due to the unforeseen upsets.  The upset can remove a top seed that was destined to make the NCAA tournament and go toe-to-toe with a more recognized brand name in the college basketball world.  It’s an exciting month for college basketball, and it’s just getting started.  A few teams have even punched their ticket into the NCAA tournament already!

At this point, Jacksonville State, Florida Gulf Coast, Wichita State, and Winthrop have all won the auto-bid to the NCAA tournament.  Today, we will see who joins the aforementioned teams from the Colonial, MAAC, and Southern conferences.  In the Colonial matchup, the top seed UNC-Wilmington plays against the 2-seed College of Charleston.

In the MAAC, Monmouth suffered an eerily, disappointing result similar to last year.  As the top seed, they lost to Siena, the host site for their tournament, in the semifinals.  Siena will play Iona for a chance to represent the MAAC in the NCAA tournament this year.

The Southern Conference will see top seed UNC-Greensboro take on 3-seed East Tenneessee State.  This game will be competitive!  UNC-Greensboro owns bragging rights for sweeping ETSU during the regular season, however, the Spartans won those matchups by 4 and 6 points.

Butler Update

The Bulldogs finished their season with a loss at home to Seton Hall.  The Pirates look to be in the mix for making the tournament this year, potentially being part of seven teams from the Big East to be invited to the NCAA tournament.  It’s unusual for Butler to lose games where they go on scoring runs of 15-0 and 10-0, yet Seton Hall kept the game close and eventually Desi Rodriquez took over, making difficult shots to put the Pirates in a position to pull off a great upset.

butler-vs-seton-hall
Butler and Seton Hall players shake hands prior to their afternoon tip-off on Saturday, March 4th.  Seton Hall beat Butler 70-64. (Photo Credit: me)
For Butler going forward, quick starts to games will be their friend.  If the Bulldogs can find good, efficient shots early in a game, it will force the opponent to adjust their defense.  The ever-evolving adjustments during a game requires the mental capacity to identify and communicate, something people take for granted.

Before the season, Butler was picked to finish sixth in the Big East.  The Bulldogs, used to embodying the role of underdog, played their way to second place at the conclusion of the regular season.  A lot of the success the team saw during the season came from transfers and current players meshing well and humbling themselves, placing the importance of the team before the individual self.  The result was arguably one of the best seasons a Butler basketball team has put together.  It’s always difficult to watch seniors talk to the crowd on Senior Day because they voice how special it’s been to play at Butler.

butler-senior-day-jpg-exporting
Butler seniors are joined by their families and significant others as they address the crowd on Senior Day. (Photo credit: me)
I enjoy watching each player because they possess a unique skill set that meshes well.  Beyond their ability to play collegiate basketball at a high level, each of the seniors seem like great guys.  They are well spoken, reflective, and driven.

Moving forward, the Bulldogs will play the winner of the 7/10 matchup between 7-seed Xavier and 10-seed DePaul.  Xavier is reeling as of late and are at risk of losing an invitation to the NCAA tournament.  I think Xavier beats DePaul in a game closer than they would like.  That would pit them against Butler on Thursday, March 9th at 7pm.  Butler is still looking for their first win in the Big East tournament since joining the conference in 2013.

For me, it will be reassuring to see the Bulldogs make it to the Big East final, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.  It’s important to focus on the next game.  Good luck to all Big East teams competing at Madison Square Garden!

Selection Sunday Team Seeding Predictions

As we sit just a week and a half away from teams picked to participate in the NCAA tournament, I wanted to share where I thought teams currently sit in their seeding.  That means, if the season ended today, this is where I think teams would be seeded.  Naturally, as teams complete the regular season and participate in their respective conference tournaments, seeding will change.  Expect another update this Sunday at the earliest.

Seed update as of 3/2/17:

The 1’s: Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina, Gonzaga

The 2’s: Oregon, Louisville, Baylor, Kentucky

The 3’s: Florida, Butler, Arizona, UCLA

The 4’s: Florida State, Purdue, Duke, West Virginia

The 5’s: Virginia, Notre Dame, SMU, Cincinnati

The 6’s: St. Mary’s, Minnesota, Creighton, Wisconsin

The 7’s: Iowa State, Dayton, South Carolina, Oklahoma State

The 8’s: Miami (FL), Michigan, Maryland, Virginia Tech

The 9’s: VCU, Northwestern, Arkansas, Michigan State

The 10’s: USC, Wichita State, Xavier,  Seton Hall

The 11’s: Providence, Marquette, Middle Tennessee, Syracuse, California, Illinois State

The 12’s: Nevada, Vanderbilt, NC-Wilmington, Vermont

The 13’s: Valparaiso, Princeton, UT-Arlington, Monmouth

The 14’s: Akron, Belmont, East Tennessee State, Bucknell

The 15’s: Winthrop, Florida Gulf Coast, CSU Bakersfield, South Dakota

The 16’s: North Carolina, Central, North Dakota, Texas Southern, New Orleans, Mount St. Mary’s, UC Irvine