January Month in Review

College basketball began conference play furiously with a series of unexpected upsets.  Initial favorites in major conferences struggled, but over the course of the month, most of those favorites righted the ship.  That didn’t leave statistical outliers hanging though!  In fact, we were graced with one of the oddest performances in modern college basketball history – a triple overtime game between the Siena Saints and Saint Peter’s Peacocks which saw Siena win 59-57.  At halftime, Saint Peter’s held, what looks like in hindsight, a commanding 26-16 lead.  By the end of regulation, the score was tied at 40.  5 points for each team in each of the first two overtimes saw the teams knotted at 50.  An explosion of offense saw Siena squeak by.  The details in the numbers of this game are even more revealing in how odd this game was.

Saint Peter’s was called for 29 fouls compared to Siena’s 18, a difference so large that Saint Peter’s had 3 of their players foul out. Two others players for the Peacocks had 4 fouls.  Without looking at the box score, a basketball fan can infer that there was a lot of time spent at the free throw line.  And you are correct!  Between the two teams, sixty free throws were attempted.  Saint Peter’s shot 12-21 (57%) at the charity stripe and Siena was 24-39 (62%).  The unfortunate shooting night from the free throw line bled elsewhere on the floor.  Both teams hit 5 three-pointers during the 55 minute game.

 

Slowest Games of the Month

  1. Davidson 75 – Fordham 45 (52 possessions)
  2. Dayton 65 – Davidson 64 (55 possessions)
  3. Notre Dame 51 – Syracuse 49 (55 possessions)
  4. Bradley 72 – Missouri State 52 (55 possessions)
  5. Saint Louis 66 – Massachusetts 44 (55 possessions)

 

Fastest Games of the Month

  1. Savannah State 103 – Hampton 101 (93 possessions)
  2. Ball State 111 – Akron 106 (2 Overtimes, 94 possessions)
  3. Wyoming 104 – Nevada 103 (2 Overtimes, 95 possessions)
  4. Lipscomb 110 – USC Upstate 106 (2 Overtimes, 98 possessions)
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Field of 68 – February 12, 2018

27 days from now, we will have the bracket revealed to us.  Tomorrow, however, insight into the top 16 seeds will provide a teaser of where teams lay and who has work to do in obtaining a top 4 seed.  As of now, here are the seeding lines for the body of work to this point in the season:

 

The 1’s: Virginia, Xavier, Villanova, Purdue

The 2’s: Auburn, Kansas, Clemson, Michigan State

The 3’s: Duke, Texas Tech, Cincinnati, Tennessee

The 4’s: Ohio State, North Carolina, Oklahoma, West Virginia

The 5’s: Arizona, Rhode Island, Alabama, Seton Hall

The 6’s: Miami (FL), Kentucky, Butler, Gonzaga

The 7’s: Florida, Arizona State, Nevada, TCU

The 8’s: Wichita State, Florida State, St. Mary’s (CA), Creighton

The 9’s: Michigan, Texas, Texas A&M, Louisville

The 10’s: Providence, Missouri, Washington, Arkansas

The 11’s: Houston, NC State, USC, Boise State, Virginia Tech, Kansas State

The 12’s: Loyola – Chicago, Buffalo, Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State

The 13’s: Louisiana – Lafayette, Vermont, South Dakota State, East Tennessee State

The 14’s: Northern Kentucky, Belmont, Montana, College of Charleston

The 15’s: Bucknell, Rider, UC Santa Barbara, Stephen F. Austin

The 16’s: Florida Gulf Coast, Wagner, Penn, Radford, North Carolina A&T, Arkansas Pine-Bluff

 

Next updated bracket will be on February 16, 2018

Butler Versus Xavier Preview

Tonight, the Butler Bulldogs host the Xavier Musketeers in an I-74 rivalry.  Over the past 20 years, both teams have seen sustained success in multiple conferences.  Once former members of the Midwestern City Conference, the extensive history of these two teams has seen Xavier hold a winning advantage 39 of the 59 times they have played.  The consistent meetings of the two teams ended in the mid-1990’s as teams left the MCC for other conferences.  Eventually, the MCC rebranded into the Horizon league in 2001.  Prior the rebranding, it had been renamed the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1985, keeping the same initials.  In 2012, Butler joined Xavier in the Atlantic 10 Conference before both teams were brought into the Big East.  Since joining the Big East, the Musketeers own an 8-3 record over the Bulldogs.

What can be expected in tonight’s matchup:

It’s difficult to beat the Bulldogs in Hinkle Fieldhouse.  Butler is 12-1 this season with the lone loss coming to a Seton Hall team loaded with experience.  In that game, Butler gave up an 11 point lead.  Recently, the Bulldogs have seen success on both ends of the floor, bringing both their offensive and defensive efficiency into the top 35 according to Kenpom.com.  Xavier, though efficient on offense, struggles in interior defense.  That seems odd because Kerem Kanter and Tyrique Jones rebound the ball at a high rate on both the offensive and defensive ends.  Look for the Bulldogs to drive the basketball.  If the shots begin to fall, playing the inside-out game will be a determiner in the result of this game.

Turnovers:  Xavier has committed turnovers on 16% of their possessions during Big East play, a number most coaches would like to see lower.  The Bulldogs force a turnover on 17% of the possessions that their opponent has the ball on offense.

Running the floor:  Xavier plays an uptempo game, averaging just over 15 seconds per possession.  Butler comparatively takes over 17 seconds per possession.  It may seem slight, but a few seconds here and there can change things quickly.

 

How Butler wins tonight:  If the Bulldogs expect to win,  they will have to continue to get back on defense, make shots in the paint early on, and find a way to allow Paul Jorgensen and Tyler Wideman to contribute.  When both of them are able to find ways to score, it’s difficult for opponents to beat Butler. I think Butler wins this in a close finish, 81-78.

Random notes:  A lot of people that cover college basketball have bumped Xavier up to the 1 seed line as a projection for Selection Sunday.  That makes two Big East teams, Villanova being the other, as 1 seeds.  Butler visit’s Villanova Saturday for a noon tip-off.

After being ranked 42nd in Kenpom just over two weeks ago, the Bulldogs are up to 19th.

Field of 68 – February 5, 2018

I thought I’d dabble in what the projected field looks like about 5 weeks away from Selection Sunday.  I don’t possess the credentials of a bracketologist, but it’s always fun to see how much a team can change over the course of 5 weeks in the lead up to the field being revealed.  I will mention that recency has a role in seeding.  Yes, good wins early in the season still have merit, but a team’s look changes over the course of three months.  So, here we go!  I intend to update this twice per week leading up to conference tournaments, with a final go before the bracket is revealed.

The 1’s: Virginia, Villanova, Purdue, Kansas

The 2’s: Duke, Xavier, Auburn, Oklahoma

The 3’s: Clemson, Michigan State, Cincinnati, Texas Tech

The 4’s: Arizona, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio State

The 5’s: Kentucky, West Virginia, Seton Hall, Wichita State

The 6’s: Rhode Island, Florida, TCU, Miami (Fl)

The 7’s: Gonzaga, Creighton, St. Mary’s(CA), Butler

The 8’s: Nevada, Louisville, Michigan, Alabama

The 9’s: Arizona State, Texas, Arkansas, Florida State

The 10’s: Texas A&M, Providence, NC State, Kansas State

The 11’s: Houston, Missouri, USC, Washington, Marquette, Virginia Tech

The 12’s: Loyola – Chicago, Buffalo, Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State

The 13’s: Louisiana – Lafayette, Vermont, South Dakota State, East Tennessee State

The 14’s: Northern Kentucky, Belmont, Montana, Northeastern

The 15’s: Bucknell, Rider, UC Santa Barbara, Stephen F. Austin

The 16’s: Florida Gulf Coast, Wagner, Penn, Radford, North Carolina A&T, Arkansas Pine-Bluff

Seton Hall Preview

As the Bulldogs prepare to play against their third consecutive Top 25 opponent today, what should Butler and their fans expect going into this game against Seton Hall?

In the 9 previous meetings, Butler owns a 7-2 record with every game being played since the conference realignment.

Seton Hall is led by a trio of seniors, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, and the team’s centerpiece, Angel Delgado. Junior Michael Nzei and Senior Ismael Sanogo tend to replace one another in the lineup. Sophomore Myles Powell will be one to watch along the three-point arc today. He is shooting 43% beyond the arc to this point in the season. With the struggles Butler has had guarding the three-point line this year, the Bulldogs will be forced to come out to the perimeter, allowing easy entry passes into Delgado. That means Tyler Wideman and Nate Fowler will have to be poised in the post and force the Pirates into making difficult passes. If there are mismatches in height down low, Seton Hall will go over the top for an easy basket.

The Pirates will be tactful in transition as they rank in the top 80 in average length of possession according to Kenpom.com. If Butler wants to force Seton Hall into uncomfortable situations, they’ll have to play sound defense and force the Pirates into third and fourth options for scoring when in half court sets.

Butler will need to be aggressive as Seton Hall struggles with fouling. As a team, the Pirates are poor from the free throw line.

For the first time in the history of the program, Butler played top 5 teams in back to back games, playing 1 Villanova and 5 Xavier. The Bulldogs look to continue a somewhat surprisingly good start to Big East play against a well coached Seton Hall team.

Admittedly, I have been wrong about the Bulldogs this season. I figured Butler would be in close games and end up losing as other teams pulled away. They looked lost early in the season with stagnant ball movement and poor shot selection. The reliance of individuals making a play off a halfhearted ball screen is never going to work longterm.

Kamar Baldwin and Kelan Martin will need to get others involved if the Bulldogs wish to win today. The current line has the Bulldogs as a two point favorite at home. Nate Fowler and Paul Jorgensen will factor into the result today. Jorgensen’s confidence has grown and it seems as if that has carried over to other players on the floor.

Prediction: I think the Bulldogs win today but are pushed until the end. I think Delgado goes for another double-double. Kelan Martin has nearly averaged a double-double against the Pirates and I do think he can get one today. Butler 85-Seton Hall 79

December Month in Review and Conference Play Preview

Another month of college basketball, another month filled with random outliers and fun statistical surprises.  Apologies for the delay in sharing this with everyone.  The holiday season brought a lot of time with friends and family.  As a consequence, my timeliness in sending this out before all conferences began their play was poor.  I’m excited to offer that I will be more diligent in sharing conference updates weekly towards the end of January!

Fastest Games of December

  1. Wyoming 96 – Drake 89 (2OT) [95 Possessions]
  2. Portland State 94 – Loyola Marymount 85 [93 Possessions]
  3. Colorado 112 – San Diego State 103 [92 Possessions]

Slowest Games of December

  1. Saint Mary’s 69 – Dayton 54 [56 possessions]
  2. Utah 66 – Oregon 56 [55 possessions]
  3. La Salle 58 – Holy Cross 54 [54 possessions]

Conference Play is Upon Us – What Should We Expect?

With conferences changing up how their schedule is laid out because of when conference tournaments are played, some teams have already begun their conference play. I’m saying this because the results do adjust how I perceive the conference play will turn out.  I’ve gone ahead and ranked teams how I predict they will finish based on what I’ve seen, rankings/ratings of statisticians, and other factors like personnel injuries.  Due to the amount of time it has taken me to complete this write up, I have not ranked a few conferences or only mentioned ones that have a legitimate chance of winning the conference.

ACC – After watching Boston College through November, I thought the Golden Eagles had a fighting chance to upset a good Duke Blue Devils team. Turns out that Duke’s sustained underachieving defense and transition defense is liable to good three-point shooting teams. Boston College made their long distance shots and that turned out to be the significant difference in the game. Duke kept it close which is encouraging for the Blue Devils. How should we expect the conference expect to shake out over the course of the winter?

Big Ten – Well this seems like a down year for the Big Ten after what they’ve shown in non-conference play. Minnesota and Northwestern have been disappointing in my opinion. They are great teams that have shown long stretches of consistent play. However, there are droughts of scoring or continued mistakes on defense that have allowed opponents to walk away with victories. The biggest surprise? Ohio State was predicted to finish last in the conference this year, but after going to Wisconsin and playing at home against Michigan, the Buckeyes are sitting atop the conference at 2-0. Chris Holtmann’s first year as head coach of the Buckeyes can be considered an overachievement already in my opinion. Having eight scholarship athletes and developing a new structure of offense and defense for these players takes time. I’m not surprised at all. Holtmann demonstrates time and again a unique ability to connect with athletes he coaches far beyond the court. His understanding of strengths and playing to them is what got him to Ohio State and will keep him there for a long time. By the time the Big Ten tournament comes around, this is how I see the Big Ten shaking out during conference play:

  1. Michigan State – The Spartans have the talent to win the whole tournament this year. What’s surprising is the lack of discussion about this team since they lost to Duke back in November. They will be challenged by Purdue.
  2. Purdue – The Boilermakers have the makeup of a dark horse and have the pieces to make it to the Elite 8. They have shown signs of weakness, allowing teams to make runs at them. However, their ability to play their brand of basketball and not rush has been key to them maintaining a strong resume to this point of the season.
  3. Michigan – Coach Beilein has his Wolverines operating at a high level defensively. Their defense will carry them when they lose their shooting touch during games.
  4. Ohio State – After a pleasant start to this season, the Buckeyes look to make some noise in the Big Ten. I’m already impressed with the road win at a down Wisconsin side and a home win against the Michigan Wolverines. If they continue to surprise with results, they have the potential to be a top 4 Big Ten team!
  5. Minnesota – The Wildcats have been disappointing to this point, not winning games they should have because they bring back nearly their entire team that made it to the NCAA tournament last year. They need to figure things out if they wish to repeat their success last year.
  6. Maryland – After a good start to the season, the Terrapins have fallen off a bit. If they wish to be a lock into the tournament in March, they’ll have to do some work in the Big Ten. Right now, I have them sitting as one of the last teams in.
  7. Penn State – Always a team that has at least one surprisingly impressive win most seasons, the Nittany Lions look to fight to call themselves one of the most c
  8. Ohio State –
  9. Indiana – Archie Miller has had an up and down start to the season and looks like it will continue that way. Playing closely against Duke at home and beating Notre Dame in an overtime game in Indianapolis gives a positive outlook, yet home losses to Indiana State and Fort Wayne show how much the Hoosiers have to continue to build.
  10. Wisconsin – Stagnant scoring and injuries will unfortunately play a large role in the Badger’s season. After taking a loss to Ohio State at home, this Big Ten season does not look great for Wisco.
  11. Nebraska – Perennial bottom tier basketball team continues to wallow in the depths of this conference. They could maybe win 5 or 6 games this season.
  12. Illinois – I thought this team had a great chance at surprising people this season and I still do. Brad Underwood’s tenure at Illinois looks like it can be great after pulling in some highly touted recruits. Mr. Basketball for Illinois will play a huge role in how the Fighting Illini go this season.
  13. Iowa – Fran McCaffrey’s Hawkeyes will try their best to not fall into the basement of the Big Ten this season, but I’m expecting lackluster play from this squad. Their offense was held up by the crutch of Peter Jok last season. He’s graduated and no one seems to have filled his place.
  14. Rutgers – Rutgers is getting better, but in a conference like this, it isn’t as noticeable. Don’t be surprised if they take down one or two top tier Big Ten teams.

 

Big East – Well, Villanova has found a way to continue to play an unrelenting consistent style of basketball. They are currently sitting ranked 1st in the polls. The nonconference season saw a few oddities judging from the predictions of how Big East teams were expected to fair this year. Providence struggled mightily at times, even needing a buzzer beater to win at home against Belmont. Creighton has been a pleasant surprise and the consistent play of St. John’s and Seton Hall elevates the conference. Transfer Max Strus from DePaul has been electric for the Demon Deacons, putting up as many as 30 points in a game. With the cushy schedule Georgetown played, I was surprised how close they were to beating Syracuse. Here’s how I foresee the Big East teams shaking out at the end of conference play:

 

  1. Villanova – The Wildcats have won 4 straight conference titles outright. With surprises by Butler in the past few years, it looks like Xavier is the closest challenger to Villanova this year.
  2. Xavier – With a strong nonconference showing, the Musketeers look to grab a high seed after earning an 11 seed last year yet making noise on their way to the Elite 8. A surprise loss to Arizona State which looks like a good loss now and struggling at home against East Tennessee State are of concern, but this team comes to play every night out.
  3. Seton Hall – A team led by reliable seniors is always fun to watch. It’s made even more fun when you have a double-double machine in Angel Delgado. This team has reliable scoring all over the place. If they stay healthy, they are a dark horse to steal the conference from the two teams listed ahead of them.
  4. Creighton – Kind of a surprise, and this is where things really get shuffled in the Big East. From fourth down to eighth is a tossup in my opinion. Creighton can run as usual, but can their shots fall? They’ve lacked the consistency they had the past few years.
  5. John’s – Chris Mullins has built what once was an eclectic, international team into a dangerous and lethal shooting team full of athleticism. The Red Storm have transitioned away from the international scene and kept it in-house, bringing in players from the New York boroughs.
  6. Butler – This finish is based on the inconsistent play that’s shown itself based on how this team executes against certain matchups. Most of the time, Butler will be the smaller team, so sharing the ball is important. The last two games, the Bulldogs have assisted on 21 and 23 baskets. They will have to be in the vicinity of those numbers if they wish to hand around the top 4 spots. I foresee close games and blowout losses for Butler this season. But it is Butler and they somehow always seem to find a way to win…
  7. Providence – The Friars have had a curious start to their season. As strong as they looked to be preseason, the numbers on paper aren’t translating to the court. I’m wary of putting the Friars higher than 6, but I think they end up at .500 in conference play.
  8. Georgetown – Thanks to the cushy nonconference schedule, playing the easiest one in the land according to Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, the Hoyas may struggle early in conference play, but don’t be surprised if they have a nice stretch of wins too.
  9. DePaul – The Demon Deacons have the firepower to put up points. They key will be defense. I think if DePaul can put things together, they can end up as high as Providence or Butler. I would love to see them get out of the cellar and feel success.
  10. Marquette – The Golden Eagles are curious. They can shoot the ball really well, but they rely on the three so much that they will struggle with the top half of the conference. I really think any of the teams 6 through 10 could finish in any one of these spots. Guess that’s how predictions go though. We’ll see how well these projections were as the season progresses.

 

Big 12 – Can Kansas make adjustments to continue their unbelievable string of consecutive regular season championships? They’ll be hard pressed by a quiet Texas Tech team and a not so quiet West Virginia squad. Oh, and Oklahoma has arguably the best point guard at the moment running the Sooners offense. Someone posed the question recently on the website reddit.com wondering if an entire conference could make it into the NCAA tournament. It’s never been done, and it likely never will, but could it happen? This year’s Big 12 Conference has every one of their teams in the top 74 in Ken Pomeroy’s ranking system. That is wild! If you take out Iowa State, the team that is ranked 74th, every team is in the top 49…As exciting as that is, I’m glad I don’t have to coach against these squads during conference play. I expect the top 6 teams to be jumbled by the end and the bottom 4 teams to be jumbled as well. Who knows what will happen this year in the Big 12. All I know is, I’m excited to see how this all plays out. TCU continues to make huge strides, a welcomed change of pace from the once bottom dweller of the conference.

  1. Kansas – Somehow, Bill Self will pull his team together and maintain control, but I think that Kansas ends up tying for a share of the conference title.
  2. Texas Tech – After a strong showing in the non-conference, this is my choice to upend Kansas. Their single loss to a good Seton Hall team isn’t of concern. Chris Beard, the former coach of the beloved Little Rock team that took down Purdue in the tournament, has a balanced team. Let’s see how high their ceiling is!
  3. West Virginia – We know the offensive prowess of a Bob Huggins team. Their lone loss in their opener to Texas A&M is excusable. Their win against Virginia was impressive. This should be a top 3 Big 12 team.
  4. Oklahoma – Freshman Trae Young is scorching the statsheet with impressive numbers. The young man is talented enough to raise his team to another level and give his teammates the confidence necessary to go into any game and believe they can win.
  5. TCU – Jamie Dixon did not waste any time in developing TCU into a dangerous team to play. With such a strong conference, I expect TCU to do some damage in the NCAA tournament this year.
  6. Texas – For as good as this team can play, they can similarly look lost and disorganized. Mo Bamba, in my opinion, has a lot of room to develop, especially in his choices of shot selection and aggression. When I saw him play in the PK80 tournament in Portland, Oregon, most of his points came off of open looks/dunks.
  7. Baylor – Baylor could finish as high as 3 and as low as 8. It all depends on the type of team that shows up for them night in and night out.
  8. Oklahoma State – They’ll give each opponent a tough go when they take the floor, but I think OK State falls short of the tournament this year.
  9. Kansas State – Bruce Weber hopes to have a winning season out in Manhattan this year. Will the Wildcats surprise some people and move up in the final conference standings? Their loss to Tulsa is considered their only blemish, but it’s not something that will keep them out of the selection process if they can win 10 games in the Big 12 this year.
  10. Iowa State – Unfortunately for Iowa State, they are in what’s been described as the third strongest conference in history dating back to the 1990 season. If

 

Pac 12

  1. Arizona – They went from number 2 in the country to falling out of the Top 25 altogether. This team is loaded with talent. They’re on the upswing and have a much more disciplined defense than who I have finishing second and third in the Pac 12.
  2. USC – Bennie Boatwright continues to guide this team to success, but there were some questionable losses during the noncon portion of the season. The Trojans lost to Princeton and Washington, both I’d consider bad losses. They’ll have to turn it around and finish in the top 3 in conference to make the tournament.
  3. Arizona State – Not sure where the Sun Devils came from and I love the surprise! It’s fun to see a team shuffle up the top 5. I think they can win the conference but they will have to beat Arizona to do so!

 

SEC – The SEC is fun again because Kentucky can’t run away with the conference this year! Texas A&M looks to take the conference title this year but will be hard pressed to do so against Tennessee and difficult games ahead against good Auburn and Alabama teams.

 

Mid Major Teams to Watch

Loyola Chicago – The Ramblers went down to Florida and beat the Gators. They came home and lost to former conference foe Milwaukee – Wisconsin. Now in the Missouri Valley Conference, the Ramblers have a great opportunity to take the conference now that Wichita State exited for the American Conference.

 

Middle Tennessee – This team is so much fun to watch and they have a legitimate chance to win each game they play. With 4 losses on the season by a combined 20 points, the Blue Raiders are setting themselves up to be a dangerous opponent in the NCAA tournament again. Oh, and they have Giddy Potts – I love that name.

 

Nevada – The Wolf Pack boast a great win over Rhode Island, yet a questionable loss to San Francisco. To be fair, that was in a holiday tournament in Hawaii. Their three losses are by a combined 12 points (6 point overtime loss at Texas Tech, 4 point loss to TCU on a neutral court, and a 2 point loss to San Francisco). The Wolf Pack could run the table in conference play. Their toughest games standing between them and a perfect conference record are at Boise State on Valentines Day, at UNLV to close out February, and at San Diego State in early March.

 

Saint Mary’s – I’m hesitant to list the Gaels on here because they don’t have a signature win on the season yet. They’re going to have to be nearly perfect, taking a game from Gonzaga during the regular season and likely winning their conference tournament. I don’t feel good about them winning…

 

Rhode Island – The veteran Rhode Island team that was oh so close to making it to the second weekend in last year’s tournament brings nearly the entire squad back. With great wins against Seton Hall and Providence during nonconference play, the Rams will look to take hold of the conference and break down the wall to get further in this year’s tournament. With close losses to Nevada and Alabama, this team should be able to do some damage come tournament time.

 

St. Bonaventure – The Bonnies have been a lot of fun to watch this year, going on the road and snagging some great signature wins already! In a down year for the Atlantic 10 Conference, they’ll challenge the veteran Rhode Island team for both the regular season and tournament conference championships.

 

BYU – Playing in the same conference as Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s has to be difficult. BYU has a great win against Utah and no bad losses. They were in close games with UT Arlington and Alabama until the end of both games. The Cougars will most likely have to win the West Coast Conference to get into the tournament.

 

Boise St. – With a win over Oregon and playing a good Iowa State team close on a neutral court (that’s relative because they’re projected to finish last in the Big 12), the Broncos will have a time getting to the NCAA tournament. If they play UNLV and Nevada close, the Broncos could be upsetting a few teams come March. The key for this team is to not try and run with their opponent. They may have learned a touch lesson from an efficient SMU squad.

 

Ball State – Ball State had a rough start to their season. 4 of their first 5 games were away at Dayton, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Bucknell. All four of those teams have strong home atmospheres, making it difficult for visiting teams to win.

 

UT Arlington – The Mavericks will need to win their conference tournament, but playing Alabama, Creighton, and Northern Iowa close should be encouraging for Scott Cross’s team. With a heavily senior laden team, their experience ranks first in the nation on Ken Pomeroy’s website. I’d love to see this team make noise in March.

Butler Preview Against Youngstown State

On Saturday, December 9th, the Youngstown State Penguins visit the Butler Bulldogs in a throwback match-up from the Horizon League.  The Bulldogs own a 21-3 advantage in the series and have a perfect record at home.  Youngstown State’s last win came 2011, a 62-60 decision.  That was Butler’s last loss until they were defeated by Connecticut in the National Championship.

Youngstown State is seeking it’s first win on the road this season under first year head coach, Jerrod Calhoun.  The Penguins have struggled this year with only two wins, both over teams that are not affiliated with Division I basketball.  In fact, according to kenpom.com, the Penguins aren’t favored to win a game until the play Detroit on February 16th of next year, a 51% chance of winning that game.

Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Youngstown does not strut a lot of height on the floor, an advantage that Joey Brunk, Nate Fowler, and Tyler Wideman need to capitalize on.

A few players to watch from Youngstown include Senior Cameron Morse.  He has scored over 1500 points.  Sophomore Braun Hartfield has the ability to score in bunches, putting up 33 points in an earlier game this season.

With Butler, winner of their past four games, finding a rhythm on offense to go with their somewhat disciplined defense, will we see continued growth with ball movement?  In their last two games, the Bulldogs have 26 assists on 56 made field goals.  In their two losses and their poor outing against Ohio State that still resulted in a win, the Bulldogs had 25 assists on 67 made field goals.  Butler appears to be evolving in it’s understanding of where their strengths and weaknesses lay depending on the personnel on the floor.

Senior Kelan Martin passed Bobby Plump for 15th all-time on for career points scored at Butler.  Joey Brunk was granted a red-shirt and reclassified to freshman status for eligibility.  Sean McDermott is expected to miss 4-5 more weeks due to an ankle sprain he sustained while playing out in Portland in the PK80 tournament.

For the Bulldogs to win, they will have to use their size to their advantage, continue to move the ball, and not become complacent on either end of the ball.  If their shooting goes cold, Bulldog fans could be in for a long day.

Winner:  Butler

Butler Preview Against Utah

This evening’s late tip-off for the Butler Bulldogs will give insight as to how the team has grown since the beginning of the regular season.  Over the course of the first eight games, the Bulldogs have shown flashes of great basketball IQ and, unfortunately, more than frequent looks of stagnant ball movement, and looks of confusion.  In their most recent outing against the St. Louis Billikens, Butler looked like a different team.  Their passes were crisp, there was an intensity that had yet to be seen for a full forty minute game.  They had some help though.  The Billikens were without four of their players which drastically changes the identity of a team.  Last Saturday’s result has to help build confidence for the Bulldogs though, which faces a tough Utah team tonight.

Last year, the Bulldogs visited Utah in late November and came away with a win over the Utes, 68-59.  There is a new identity to both teams after they’ve seen players transition away from both programs.  So why is this game so important?  When you have the opportunity to play against an opponent from a power conference, it has rippling effects.  Although Utah is unranked at the moment, they have multiple opportunities to play great teams in their conference.  If they are able to win games against those strong teams (hopefully Oregon and Arizona step up, but definitely include Arizona State), there is a tangential effect that will help build Butler’s resume.

Utah comes to Hinkle having earned a 6-1 record to this point in the season.  Their lone loss was a 27 point drubbing to UNLV.  We can expect the Utes to play as deep as 9 players, with 6 players averaging between 8 to 14.9 points per game.  Utah possesses a staunch perimeter defense, allowing opponents less than 25% of makes on 3’s taken.  However, the Utes are only averaging just over 6 steals a game, a number that implies Butler may be able to move the ball around.  Expect Utah to run a mostly man defense this evening.  Utah and Butler resemble each other in their play this year in a number of ways.

Both teams struggle to shoot consistently from behind the three point line.  I think this game comes down to rebounds and second chance points.  With both teams shooting poorly beyond the three point line, clearing out and boxing out will be a large influence in the final score.

Where does Butler find an advantage elsewhere though?  Look for the Bulldogs to attempt to continue their success sharing the ball.  With Utah’s low rate of creating turnovers (about 10% of the time when they are on defense), Butler will need to play selflessly to create space for easy baskets.  Because Utah plays great defense around the arc, there should be cutting lanes that develop later in the shot clock.  Patience will be a factor for Butler as they run their offense.

With the preseason conversation focused on the pace of how the Bulldogs intended to play, we’ve only seem brief moments of an uptempo team.  According the kenpom.com, Butler ranks 279th out of 351 Division I teams averaging 68 possessions per game.  That implies the Bulldogs hold onto the ball much longer than most teams, which is true.  They average a shot between 17-18 seconds into the 30 second shot-clock countdown.  From the games I’ve watched this season, Butler has looked lost or stagnant on offense.  Usually, if the pass isn’t available to the big down on the block or in the lane when they initially start their offense, the big will come to set a screen for the ball handler.  The big rolls to the basket and the ball handler ends up dribbling on the wing for 3-5 seconds while everyone else is standing, watching on the wings.  Eventually, after a few passes, and little net movement of the ball, someone ends up with the responsibility of needing to make a play, usually Kelan Martin, Kamar Baldwin, or Aaron Thompson.  In the last game, Butler shared the ball well, earning 15 assists on 26 made shots.  If they want to see continued success, they will need to be decisive with their passes and confident in their shot selection.

Things to watch:

Utah’s height-  David Collette is an effective 6-10 senior that will play about 20-25 minutes today.  He’s a transfer from Utah State that has played well early this season.  Butler will have to play strong against him and force him into awkward shots or passing to have a chance to win.  Jayce Johnson is a 7-0 sophomore that plays in place when Collette is on the bench.  Butler’s deficiency in playing against height is still a work-in-progress.  I’m curious to see what coach LaVall Jordan draws up for match-ups.  The fun thing about basketball games is that they are always changing.  Fouls adjust the personnel on the floor.  If someone is having a game where their shot isn’t falling, they can play a role as a ball distributor.

Possible deep threat – The only real deep threat from beyond the three-point line is 6-6 senior Gabe Bealer.  On the season, he’s shot 16-28 from beyond the arc.  Other players from Utah that have the ability to shoot from three are seniors Tyler Rawson and Justin Bibbins.  Both men have made 11 three points apiece to this point in the season.  If Paul Jorgenson shoots well tonight, he’ll help fill the loss of Sean McDermott’s shooting.  Paul is capable of hitting a few consecutive three-points that can sway the game in a major way.

Win Streak- Last year, Butler ended Utah’s then 32 consecutive non-league home wins.  Entering tonight’s game, Butler sits 3rd in the nation with 39 consecutive non-league home wins.

I believe this will be a close game throughout regulation.  The home court advantage with the crowd will help Butler.  If Kelan Martin and Kamar Baldwin are on, it will be tough to beat the Bulldogs.  I have liked seeing Joey Brunk and Nate Fowler being utilized more frequently in games.  One thing that still gets me is the lack of ability for Butler to score on plays where they are inbounding the ball.  Brad Stevens and Chris Holtmann have it figured out.  You always need to have a play that can get you two points off of an inbound.

Winner tonight: Butler

2017 – 2018 Season Preview and November Update

It’s a few weeks overdue, but the season is still young.  I won’t edit the 2000 words I had written up.  Unfortunately, I got busy and had to delay the publishing of this write up.  Everything you read below was written before the first game tipped off this season.

It’s so exciting to be previewing college basketball this season!  After a long break from covering the sport, it’s nice to be writing about my favorite sport.  A few events ushered college basketball fans to change the preview of the season because of what has been revealed about a few high-level programs.  I won’t go into much detail in this post, but will refer to those events and the influence it has on a few programs in a later post.

I will continue to share the fastest and slowest games of the week or month, oddities of the game, and trends that are revealed over the course of the season by way of statistical evaluation.  That will be shown through examples of college basketball as a whole, or in smaller sample sizes.

Favorites to Cut Down the Nets

It seems like the usual suspects make this list.

Michigan State – Tom Izzo did not know his forward, Miles Bridges, was returning for a sophomore campaign.  Loading talent with a roster returning from a tournament team last season, Sparty has the make of a team that can make a deep run.  Here’s the catch.  Last season was the first time I can remember where the Spartans were in jeopardy of making it to the NCAA tournament.  They finished surprisingly at 20-15.

Duke – Surprise? HA! Well, actually, yes.  This may come as a surprise because they will not be so star-studded this season.  Of course, with Coach K at the helm, and his first legitimate point guard, Trevon Duval, in three years, excitement is brewing to see how far this team can traverse during the month of March.

Kansas – Set for another run at the top of the Big 12, the Jayhawks look primed for a deep run into the tournament.  If recent history is any tell though, they may have a difficult time making it to the second weekend.

Dark Horses to Challenge Contenders

Minnesota – One of the nice surprises last season was the resurgence of the Golden Gophers.  After a solid non-conference last season (albeit a cakewalk for most of it), Minnesota began the Big 10 conference with a 3-1 record, the only blemish coming to Michigan State in a 1 point overtime loss.  They seemed to fall apart with five straight losses and, halfway through the conference season, were 3-6.  Things seemed to click and they ended the season on a 8-1 record and won their first game against Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament.  I think Minnesota is a top 4 Big 10 team this year and can make some noise in the NCAA tournament.

Wichita State – The Shockers bring back everyone that made it to the NCAA tournament last season.  The heavily under-seeded Shockers lost in a Round of 32 match-up against Kentucky.  The transition to the American Athletic Conference already sees the Shockers as the favorite to win the regular season.  If seeded appropriately, this team has potential to be a 2 or 3 seed.

Notre Dame – The Fighting Irish has senior leadership and talent on their roster.  They possess qualities that resemble a team that has the opportunity to make a deep run.  They will have a possible meeting with Wichita State in an early season tournament before the Thanksgiving holiday.  They will also duel with Michigan State in the Big 10/ACC challenge.

Cinderellas

Saint Bonaventure – Picked second to finish behind heavily favored Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 Conference, the Bonnies bring back a core group that lose to Rhode Island in the A-10 Conference last season.  A team that won 20 games will be tough to handle, especially with VCU and Dayton falling off a bit. Remember the name Jaylen Adams.  The Bonnies go as he goes.

Northwestern – The Wildcats bring back a majority of the group that made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history.  Aaron Falzon is a nice addition to help with the perimeter shooting.  Northwestern was close to beating Gonzaga.  If they get a favorable draw, they could easily find themselves in the second weekend.

Seton Hall – This team is dangerous.  Their core three, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, and Khadeen Carrington, will contribute each game with points and invaluable leadership.  Not to mention senior forward, Ismael Sanogo, and sophomore guard, Eron Gordon, this team has the look of one that can surprise people and make a deep run if things are clicking come tournament time.

Players to Watch

Michael Porter Jr. – Most may have not heard his name because this is his freshman season.  He is already projected as the #1 pick in the 2018 draft by numerous analysts.  So what’s the excitement about?  His 6-foot-10 build is something amazing considering how well he can handle the ball.

Bennie Boatwright – Averaged just over 15 points per game during the regular season.  His ability to step out and shoot from 3 point range is just one of tools he possesses as a 6-foot-10 Forward to stretch any opponent defense.

Mike Daum – I wrote about him last year as he looked to help lead South Dakota State back to the tournament.  He averaged just over 25 points per game last season and looks to continue to own a large portion of scoring responsibility this season.  In fact, Daum scored 51 points against the Fort Wayne Mastadons last season, the highest output by an individual last season.  He 25.1 points per game ranked 2nd, behind Marcus Keene’s 30 points per game.  Daum will be fun to watch this year.  Oh, did I mention he’s on pace to finish in the top 5 of the all time NCAA career scoring?  He’s currently ahead of Doug McDermott when comparing where Doug was and Daum is now.

Angel Delgado – Many analysts and fans are comparing Delgado to Caleb Swanigan, a comparison that I think is deserving heading into the season.  Delgado is joined by high-level players Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodreiguez.  With the style this team plays, they will score in bunches and Delgado has a legitimate opportunity each game to produce a double-double.

Kamar Baldwin – It is inevitable that a Butler player shows up on this list (because I watch each game).  Baldwin was impressive in his freshman season for the Bulldogs.  His role changes a bit after the departure of Coach Holtmann and the roster changes from departing seniors.  Just a flavor of what Baldwin is capable of, see the important play he made at the end of the game to seal the win for the Bulldogs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hicCp4CUNIQ

Coaching Changes of Note

Chris Holtmann – Holtmann departed Butler in June earlier this year.  He has a rebuilding project in front of him at Ohio State, taking over the head coaching responsibilities from another former Butler coach, Thad Matta.  I wonder if Butler has been thanked by these other schools…

LaVall Jordan – Jordan departs Wisconsin-Milwaukee after one season.  He inherits a unique situation in that he played and coached at Butler.  This is a team that lost a lot of senior leadership, yet still has great talent with the youth that was recruited.  I’m curious to see how the system he wants to implement applies with the players on the roster.  Change is difficult and it will be telling early on how this team will fare this season.

Archie Miller – Out goes Tom Crean (probably 3 or 4 years too late) and in steps Miller with a fine track record to boast.  Indiana looks like it is going to experience a down year, which is relative because in these years, IU seems to play really well with high caliber teams, and then lose a couple cakewalk games.  Miller will have the Hoosiers in a rhythm eventually though.

Patrick Ewing – John Thompson III’s time at Georgetown is over and in to take over is Ewing.  It’s no question the guy could play, but how well will he be able to coach the Hoyas?  I think going into the season with low expectations will allow for pleasant surprises this season.

Brad Underwood – In a surprising move, Underwood left Oklahoma State after only one year to take over at Illinois, a job in which John Groce had recruited a top-15 class.  Underwood had an odd time in the Big 12 conference, but ended up having a nice season come together.  It will be interesting to see how his season pans out in the Big 10.

Brian Gregory – 13 years as a head coach at Dayton and Georgia Tech helped Gregory land a coaching job at South Florida.  After being fired in 2016, he spent one year being a special assistant to Tom Izzo.

Pat Kelsey – You don’t hear about this too often.  After being lured away to become the coach at Massachusetts, Kelsey went back to Winthrop.  So odd.

Early Season Tournaments and Other Things to Look Forward to

It’s been discussed more frequently in the past few years that for teams in the power conferences to fill a slate of home games, they need to bring in teams that typically have no chance at winning the game once they agree to visit the host school.  That’s why we see match-ups like West Virginia vs. Morgan State, Duke vs. Southern, or Baylor vs. Alcorn State.  The argument from most college basketball fans is that this is not good for the game.  I agree with that argument because those games lack excitement barring the crowd-wowing alley-oop.  As much as we may not like when our team is in a battle throughout the entirety of a game, it makes it that much more memorable.  As far as potentially great games early in the season, we can look no further than the early season tournaments.

Notre Dame vs. Wichita State (Maui Invitational) – I don’t think the Shockers possess as much of the consistency as we are led to believe.  Mike Brey tends to be successful in these scenarios so I’ll go with Notre Dame in this one.

Michigan State vs. North Carolina (PK80) – Well, when you turn 80 years old, you go watch a lot of college basketball as a gift, yeah?  We have the possible match-up of Sparty vs. the TarHeels.  Both teams are equitable on offense, but Sparty has a better defense coming into this season.  I’m going with Michigan State here.

Duke vs. Florida (PK80) – The Florida offense loves to move the ball quickly.  Their high point totals are a product of such movement.  Duke’s challenge will be defense.  If they get in a tough bind or dig too large of deficit for themselves, Florida can pick them off and snag a resume building win.  I’m going with the Gators.

Arizona vs. Villanova – Nova is going to Nova.  Jay Wright has found a groove for what type of player works in his system.  It’s evidence by his domination of the Big East since the conference was realigned.  Oh, and he won a National Championship a couple years ago.  Arizona has all the hype heading into the season, but I feel the negative attention from the FBI probe may be a significant distraction.  I’m going with Villanova in this matchup.

There’s another match-up that I don’t anticipate the teams playing for the tournament championship, but does pose an interesting story line.  As fate would have it, Butler and Ohio State are in the same bracket in the PK80 tournament in Portland, Oregon.  Chris Holtmann is the current coach at Ohio State and formerly the head coach at Butler.  When he left Butler, he brought along the supporting coaching staff.  That crew would be pitted against the players they coached and recruited to Butler.  It’d be an interesting game because the veterans know the system that Holtmann runs and Holtmann knows the tendencies of his former players.  I doubt either side shares ill will toward the other.

Here is my perspective on what happened now that some time has passed:

It’s a difficult decision to make and one that warrants grace and understanding once a choice has been made.  Of course it’s difficult to swallow when a successful coach departs a school’s team that you have an affinity for.  Criticizing a person’s choice from the sidelines is easy because we aren’t part of the process.  As far as human nature goes, it’s easy to judge another based on their choice.  We can’t control people though, and in a way, that’s a beautiful relief from us.  I’m hopeful both programs are successful with their new changes.  Of course it makes it difficult to root for Ohio State because I’ve never enjoyed watching them play, but knowing Holtmann is on the sideline with the rest of the former Butler coaches makes it ever-so-slightly easier to watch a game of theirs every once in a while.

Top 25 and 5

1.Michigan State

2. Duke

3. Arizona

4. Kansas

5. Duke

6. Wichita State

7. Kentucky

8. Villanova

9. Florida

10. Virginia

11. West Virginia

12. USC

13. North Carolina

14. Cincinnati

15. Northwestern

16. Miami

17. Minnesota

18. UCLA

19. Seton Hall

20. Purdue

21. Louisville

22. Notre Dame

23. Saint Mary’s

24. Gonzaga

25. Alabama

26. Rhode Island

27. Texas A&M

28. Missouri

29. TCU

30. Texas

 

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!