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Posts Tagged ‘NCAA Tournament’

NCAA Tournament picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 17, 2011

I don’t usually do well in these things.  I’ll say that right up front, but then again no one does well in these things.  There is a reason why the secretary who doesn’t know the basketball is round usually wins.  The NCAA tournament is the most unpredictable event in sports, and that’s what makes it must see theater every year.

Before we get started, I think the committee did their worst job in years this go around.  In my opinion Clemson, Georgia (as a 10 seed!), UAB and VCU all were at best questionable inclusions and at worst horrible crimes.  I think Colorado, Virginia Tech, Alabama, Saint Mary’s and Boston College ALL had better resumes than the above mentioned four teams, in particular UAB and VCU.  UAB proved Tuesday night why they don’t belong after getting run off the floor by Clemson, and VCU finished fourth in the Colonial.  I know VCU beat USC tonight, but I am still at a loss for why they are in.  I think for Colorado to not get in with six top-50 wins is ridiculous.  To be fair their non-conference schedule was probably the reason, but even with that they are clearly a better team than UAB or VCU.  You think UAB goes 9-7 in the Big 12?  I don’t either.

Now, on to the picks, just don’t trust them.  (Click here for my full bracket)

East Region:

I’ve got pretty much chalk here, with no first round upsets in this region.  I actually think this is the deepest region, which is somewhat unfair to Ohio State, the top overall seed in the tournament.  The only real upset potential here is Marquette as an 11-seed, but I really like Xavier in that matchup.  I think Clemson has no chance against West Virginia in the 12-5 game after the quick turnaround from the Dayton trip.  I also really don’t like Villanova coming off five straight losses going against a hot George Mason team.  In the second round, I have the higher seeds winning with one exception: I have Washington upsetting North Carolina in the second round.  I just don’t like the way the Tar Heels played in the ACC tournament, falling behind big in every game.  I also think Washington has momentum after winning the Pac-10 tournament, and I think their guards, especially Isiah Thomas, can run with North Carolina.  I think they’ll trip up after that tough, as I don’t like the way they match up with a more physical Syracuse team.  In the sweet 16, I have Ohio State and Syracuse advancing, with the Buckeyes advancing to the Final Four.  Tough region or not, Ohio State is very good and they are built to not give games away.

West Region:

I have three lower seeds winning in the first round here.  First, I have Tennessee beating Michigan in the 8-9 game, which of course doesn’t qualify as much of an upset.  I also have Penn State winning as a 10 seed against Temple.  I have really liked the Nittany Lions all year and I think they’ll win one game in Tucson.  I also have Missouri winning as an 11-seed against Cincinnati.  I know the Tigers have stunk on the road this season, but I think this is a really good matchup for them.  I think Marcus Denmon will be the difference.  I also think Cincinnati should be seeded much lower than six and would be if they weren’t in the Big East.  I thought about picking Memphis to upset Arizona, but I think the Wildcats are too talented for the young Tigers.  In the second round, I have the top four seeds advancing to the sweet 16.  I think Arizona-Texas will be the best second round matchup, but I am choosing to think we’ll see the Texas from a month ago and not the one that lost at Nebraska.  In fact I like the Longhorns to upset Duke in the sweet 16 in Anaheim.  I think Duke was at the top of a very mediocre ACC this season, and while Kyrie Irving is coming back there is no way he’ll be 100 percent.  I think the Longhorns are more than talented enough to take them out.  I also have UConn beating San Diego State in a mini-upset.  The Aztecs are a very good team, but after UConn ran through the Big East tournament, they’ve shown they can beat anyone.  Besides, Kemba Walker is a game changer.  I also like the Huskies to get past Texas and make it to the Final Four because of Walker.

Southeast Region:

This is the weakest of the four regions in my opinion.  Hence why I have four upsets in round one.  I have Old Dominion winning the 8-9 game against Butler in what actually shapes up to be one of the best games in the first round.  Old Dominion is actually a deserving at large from the Colonial, hence the pick.  I also have Gonzaga beating St. John’s in the 6-11 matchup.   Steve Lavin’s club has only been good at Madison Square Garden, and this game is in Denver at altitude.  My two biggest shockers though are Kansas State losing to Utah State in the 5-12 game (I think the Aggies are the best non-BCS team in the field and the Wildcats have been too streaky) and Belmont taking out Wisconsin in the 4-13 game.  I think the Badgers play a slower style that has the potential to allow an athletic team to run on them.  Belmont is a team that no one knows about but they have some players.  I think the get Wisconsin.  In the second round, I like the trend of upsets to continue, with Gonzaga stunning BYU.  I know Jimmer Fredette is really good, but he’s one player.  I like the Bulldogs to keep going on a hunch.  I also like Utah State to get past Belmont in a 12-13 game.  After that I go chalk, with Pitt and Florida meeting in the Elite Eight.  Florida mainly gets there mainly because the other teams they will play are favorable matchups for them.  I think the Panthers have some flaws, but I think they are the best team in this region mainly because they’re battle tested from the Big East.  I think they get past the Gators and move to the Final Four.

West Region:

Only one first round upset here, but it’s a doozy.  I have Richmond beating Vanderbilt in the 5-12 game.  I think the Commodores are talented, but Richmond has some great 3-point shooters and I think they will be able to run in this game.  A hunch says the Spiders win.  I believe the upset potential with Richmond doesn’t end there.  I also think they’ll stun Louisville in the second round.  I really like Rick Pitino’s team, and I know the made the final of the Big East tournament, but they have a tendency to fall behind big in games and they have many times been able to come back.  I think that will burn them in this tournament and it could be early.  I do have the top three seeds advancing to the sweet 16, with the top two, Kansas and Notre Dame, meeting in the Elite Eight.  I think the Jayhawks are very talented and deep, especially with the Morris twins, but I think the Irish run their offense better than any team in the country, and if they are hot from three as they often are, I think they’ll get enough treys to upset KU and move to the Final Four.

Final Four:

I have three Big East teams here, and I think that makes sense since it was far and away the best conference this season.  For many Big East teams, the competition here is not as good as what they just saw in the Big East tournament.  I think a Notre Dame-Pitt national semifinal has the potential to be very physical, but again I think the Irish will get free for threes thanks to Pitt’s tendency to slack on perimeter defense.  I like Notre Dame to win that matchup.  In the other game, while UConn’s run has been amazing, I think it will come to an end against Ohio State.  I think the Buckeyes are the best team in the country, and they will play like it when it matters most.  They have the inside game with Jared Sullinger and they also have the guard play.  In the title game, I think Ohio State will be too much for any opponent that they end up seeing.  I like the Buckeyes to win the national championship because they don’t crack under pressure, and they will not panic in a tournament setting.  Besides, they are the best team, it makes sense.

Just don’t be surprised if these picks are all wrong.  They almost always are.

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Thoughts on the Sweet 16

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 26, 2009

So far I’ve actually done better in my NCAA tournament pool than normal.  I was actually in first place after round one with 28 of 32 first round games correct (I missed on Arizona, Dayton, UCLA and Wisconsin).  I didn’t fare near as well in the second round however, although I got 12 of 16 teams still remaining in the field (I had Utah, West Virginia, Florida State and Texas moving on past the second round).  Someone in our office pool at work got all 16 second round games right, which I have never seen before.  Needless to say that person is way out in front now.  I think this year’s tournament is still shaping up to be as wide open as ever, and while I stick to my original Final Four of Pitt, North Carolina, Memphis and Louisville, with Memphis winning it all, I offer some thoughts on the matchups to come this weekend.

East Region:

– Pittsburgh vs. Xavier: I have to admit that I am surprised to see the Musketeers still alive and kicking, since I had them losing to Florida State in the second round.  Thing is. the Seminoles didn’t make it that far, and Xavier gave a very impressive performance against Wisconsin in the second round.  Pitt struggled big time in round one against 16 seed East Tennessee State and also needed to hold off a charge from Oklahoma State in round two, so this could be interesting.  Pitt looks to be most vulnerable of the number one seeds heading into the regional semifinal, but I also think they lucked out in their matchup with Xavier.  Pitt has size inside especially with DeJuan Blair, and they are well used to physical play in the Big East.  Xavier has good guard play but does not have the size or depth inside to contain Blair and company.  I like Pitt, and I don’t necessarily expect this to be close.  

– Duke vs. Villanova: The Blue Devils nearly gave one away to Texas in the second round, benefiting from several Longhorn mistakes down the stretch.  Villanova got a big scare from American University in round one, needing to rally from a 14-point deficit to win, but then destroyed UCLA in round two.  I still think Duke has been too reliant on the three this season, and as hot as the Wildcats are coming in to this one, I don’t like the odds for the Blue Devils here.  This should be a great game, but I think Scottie Reynolds steps up big and wins this game for Villanova.  

I still like Pitt to beat Villanova in the regional final in a Big East rematch.  

South Region:

– North Carolina vs. Gonzaga: The Tar Heels showed how talented they are with two easy first round wins, although LSU kept it close for awhile in the second round.  Ty Lawson is healthy now to give North Carolina an even bigger talent edge.  Gonzaga has won two tough games against fellow mid-majors, and needed a last second shot to beat Western Kentucky in round two.  I like the Tar Heels to win this one easily.  Their athleticism will just be too much for the Zags.  

– Oklahoma vs. Syracuse: This should be a terrific game.  Blake Griffin has been phenomenal for OU in their two wins so far, while Syracuse has shown no ill effects whatsoever from all their overtimes in the Big East tournament.  Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone flabbergasted Arizona State in round two, and I expect it will do the same to the Sooners.  Oklahoma needs a monster game from Griffin inside, but they’ll also need to knock down the threes against the zone, something that is not one of their strengths.  Syracuse has one of the best penetrating guards in the country in Jonny Flynn, and he won’t be afraid to attack Griffin and company on the offensive end.  I think the defense of the Orange will be the difference, and I see them squeaking out a close one against Oklahoma.

Whether they end up playing the Sooners or the Orange, I like North Carolina in the regional final.  The Tar Heels have way too much talent not to make the Final Four.  

West Region: 

– UConn vs. Purdue: The Huskies have arguably been the most impressive team in the tournament so far, especially with the way they ran a red hot Texas A&M team out of the gym in the second round.  Purdue has been quietly solid, having won a close one against a good Washington team in the second round.  Still, as good as the Boilermakers are playing right now, it won’t be near enough.  Purdue doesn’t have anyone who can guard Hashim Thabeet.  UConn wins easily.  

– Memphis vs. Missouri: This will be entertaining.  Both teams play a fast paced style and like to play pressure defense.  Memphis easily handled Maryland in round two after struggling in their first round game against 15 seed Cal State Northridge, while Missouri nearly blew a big lead to Marquette in round two and rallied to win.  Both teams rely on forcing turnovers and creating easy buckets in transition, so I think both teams will be successful in that area.  I like Memphis in this game (even though I’m a Missouri alum) because of their ability to score in the half court, and their overall defensive ability.  This will be close, but I think Memphis prevails.  As a Missouri alum, I plea to Mike Anderson to say in Columbia and not be tempted by the Alabama job.  You’ve got a good thing going Mike, let’s keep it that way. 

I think Memphis-UConn would be a fantastic game.  I think while UConn has been dominant in this tournament, I still have a hunch that Memphis’ defense will be able to help turn the game in their favor.  That is a matchup I would definitely pay money to see.  In the event that Missouri upsets Memphis, I would take UConn against the Tigers.  

Midwest Region:

– Louisville vs. Arizona: The Wildcats easily got through Utah and Cleveland State as a 12 seed.  I honestly thought they would lose to Utah, but Arizona has shown that they have talent to win if they get the right matchup.  However, Louisville is not it.  While Louisville did struggle with a good Siena team in round two, they’re still as complete as any team in the country.  A Rick Pitino team with several days to prepare is usually bad news for opponents.  I like Louisville to win, although Arizona might keep it close early.

– Michigan State vs. Kansas: These teams met in January, with the Spartans blowing out the Jayhawks in East Lansing.  This will be on a neutral court, and Kansas is much improved since that meeting.  Both teams looked solid in their winning their first two tournament games, so I expect this to be competitive.  If Kansas can get another good game inside from Cole Aldrich, this should be very interesting indeed.  In the end though, I think the Spartans are the better defensive team and that will come through in the end.  I do however have to admit that I did pick North Dakota State to beat the Jayhawks in one of my pools simply because I can’t stand Kansas, so take that with a grain of salt.  Still, I like Michigan State to win a close game here.  

I think Louisville win the regional final regardless if the opponent is Michigan State or Kansas.  The Cardinals are too athletic at both ends of the floor for either team.  

I still like my Final Four that I picked before the tournament started.  I still like Memphis to stifle Lousiville in one national semifinal, and I like North Carolina to beat Pitt in the other.  In the end, I still pick Memphis to win it all because of their defense.  Regardless, this is a round of 16 that I am looking forward to like no other in recent years.

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My Final Four Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 19, 2009

Clearly picking the NCAA tournament is a very inexact science, but it’s one of my favorite times of the year.  This year things are wide open, but I’m also having a hard time seeing a lot of big time upsets.  Nevertheless, we’ll give it a stab.  As always, picks are to be taken with caution.

East Region:

First Round Surprises: I only see one lower seed winning in the first round here.  I’ve got 11 seed VCU upsetting UCLA.  Virginia Commonwealth upset Duke in the first round two years ago, and they hung tough with Oklahoma in non-conference play during the regular season.  The main reason I am making this pick is I am really not sold on UCLA.  I’ve watched the Bruins play several times this season, and they are maddeningly inconsistent.  Plus, they make the cross-country trip to Philadelphia.  I don’t like those odds for the Bruins.

– Second Round: I do have a big shocker here.  I have 7 seed Texas beating 2 seed Duke to move on to the sweet 16.  I think the Longhorns are way too talented to be a 7 seed.  I know they have really underachieved, but when you’ve got the Big 12’s all-time leading three point shooter in A.J. Abrams, a talented swingman in Damion James, a beast inside in Dexter Pittman, and an array of talented guys off the bench, I think the Longhorns are prized for a surprise run.  I also think Duke is way too dependent on the three, and that’s not a good recipe for tournament success.  I also like Florida State to beat Xavier in a 5-4 second round matchup.  The Seminoles have one of the country’s best players in Toney Douglas.

– Sweet 16 and regionals: While I think Texas will take down Duke, I don’t think they have quite enough for Villanova.  The Wildcats, like many Big East teams, are going to prove their worth in this tournament.  The Big East is clearly the best conference this season and it will show.  On that note, I like top seed Pitt to easily handle Florida State, setting up an all-Big East regional final.  Pitt is a dynamite team with great guard play and a tremendous force inside in DeJuan Blair.  I like Pitt to win a close one in the regional final against Villanova and make the Final Four.

The pick: Pitt

South Region: 

– First Round Surprises: I’ve got two here.  I think Western Kentucky, a 12 seed, will beat the 5 seed Illinois.  For the life of me I can’t see how a mediocre conference like the Big Ten has seven teams in.  Western Kentucky has a nice team with good tournament success in the past, and I like them against an overrated Ilini team that will be without its best player in Chester Frazier.  Frazier says he’ll be ready for round two, but that won’t be necessary.  I also like Michigan, the 10 seed, to beat 7 seed Clemson.  I know what I just said about the Big Ten, but Clemson is such an enigma, sometimes they’re awesome and sometimes they’re beyond awful.  I think their performance will be somewhere in the middle, and I like the Wolverines to handle the Tigers.  

– Second Round: I actually have the top four seeds (North Carolina, Oklahoma, Syracuse and Gonzaga) moving on to the Sweet 16 here.  I just think they’re the best teams in this region.

– Sweet 16 and regional final: I like the top seeded Tar Heels to hold off Gonzaga.  Ty Lawson will be healthy by then, and even though the Zags are athletic, they won’t pose much trouble for the star studded Heels.  I also like Syracuse to beat Oklahoma, a mini 3 over 2 upset.  I thought Syracuse showed tremendous character in their awesome 6-OT win over UConn in the Big East tourney, and while Blake Griffin gives OU a chance to win any game, I don’t think he’ll be enough against the Orange.  Besides, Oklahoma couldn’t beat either of the top two teams in their own conference, Kansas or Missouri.  In the regional final, I think North Carolina’s athleticism will be too much for Syracuse and their zone defense.

The pick: North Carolina

Midwest Region:

– First Round Surprises: I’ve got three lower seeds winning here, including my biggest shocker of the entire tournament.  I’ve got 13-seed Cleveland State beating the 4-seed Wake Forest Demon Deacons.  I like the Vikings because they proved to be a better Horizon League team than Butler, who was ranked in the top 20 most of the year.  Cleveland State also beat Syracuse in the Carrier Dome during the non-conference portion of the year.  Wake Forest has amazing talent, but the Deacons have just been too inconsistent.  I like the upset.  I also have a couple of smaller upsets here based on seeding: USC over Boston College (10 over 7), and Siena over Ohio State (9 over 8).  After Siena made the sweet 16 last year, I’m not prepared to pick against them again.  Many pundits are picking 12 seed Arizona to beat the fifth seed Utah, but I like the Utes.  I don’t think Arizona belongs in the tournament at all after going 9-9 in conference play (in a year where the Pac 10 is down too boot), and I think Utah is better than people are giving them credit for.

– Second Round: I’ve got an upset here, as i like West Virginia (the 6 seed) to take out the three seed and defending national champ Kansas.  I almost picked the Jayhawks to lose in the first round to North Dakota State, but I thought my status as a Mizzou alum may have been clouding my judgement, so I have them losing in round two instead.  In all seriousness, I really like West Virginia, and I think the Jayhawks don’t match up well with the Mountaineers.  West Virginia’s rigorous Big East schedule will pay off and they will not be afraid of Kansas.  I also like top seed Louisville to move on, as well as Utah, who I like to squeeze by Cleveland State.

– Sweet 16 and regional final: I think Louisville will be able to handle Utah pretty easily, and I also like the 2 seed Michigan State to beat West Virginia.  The Spartans are a lot better now than they were early in the season, and Tom Izzo’s teams have proved over the years that they’re never an easy out.  That being said, I don’t think they have quite enough to topple Louisville, who just happened to win the rugged Big East Tournament.  Rick Pitino’s crew was under the radar most of the year, but there is a reason why they are the top overall seed in the tournament.

The pick: Louisville

West Region:

– First Round Surprises: I’ve got three of them here, including 11-seed Utah State surprising Marquette, the 6 seed.  Utah State has proven to be a tough out in the past, and while Marquette comes from the Big East, they just haven’t been the same team since Dominic James was shelved for the year to injury.  The Golden Eagles are just 1-5 without him in the lineup.  Plus, this will be a de facto home game for the Aggies in Boise.  I also like Maryland to beat Cal in a 10-7 matchup, while I like Texas A&M to beat BYU and get the mini-upset in the 9-8 matchup.  The Aggies were as hot as anyone before stumbling in the Big 12 tourney, and I think they’ll rebound here.  A&M beat BYU in a 9-8 matchup last year as well.

– Second Round: The only lower seed I have moving on here is Purdue, who I like to beat Washington in a potential 5-4 matchup.  Both teams have struggled against elite competition, so this is more of a hunch than anything else. I like the top three seeds, UConn, Memphis and Missouri to move on.  Mizzou could have a tough second round matchup against Marquette (who is only seeded as low as they are because of James’ injury), but since I have them playing Utah State, the resurgent Tigers move on without too much trouble.

– Sweet 16 and regional final: I think UConn will handle their opponent easily whether it’s Washington or Purdue.  I also like Memphis to squeak one out against Missouri.  It is interesting to note the the last loss for Memphis came to UAB when Mike Anderson was the coach.  Anderson of course now coaches Missouri, but I think Memphis has to guard play to answer Missouri’s pressure defense.  I also like the 2-seed Memphis to beat UConn in what would be a great regional final.  I believe Memphis should have gotten a number one seed because of their tremendous defense (the Tigers give up three points less per 100 possessions than anyone in the country).  UConn may have Hashim Thabeet inside, but Memphis will be able to be physical enough to defend him.  I like the Tigers in this region.

The Pick: Memphis

Final Four:

I think if these four teams make it we’re in for some great basketball.  I do like North Carolina to beat Pitt because I think the Tar Heels are more athletic and they have a coach with championship experience in Roy Williams.  I also like Memphis to surprise Louisville, again because of the Tigers’ defense.  A Memphis-North Carolina title game would definitely be interesting.  Memphis lost the title game to Kansas last year, while the Heels are trying to get titles for Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson.  In the end the Tar Heels may have more athletes, but I believe defense wins this event.

That’s why I like Memphis to win the national title.  Take it for what you will.   Enjoy the hoops!

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How’s your bracket?

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 25, 2008

Have I mentioned how much I love the NCAA Tournament?  Have I also mentioned how it can be maddening, frustrating, and annoying while simultaneously entertaining and exhilarating?  That about sums up the first weekend of the tournament for me.  Of the 16 teams remaining in the tournament, I had only nine advancing to this point in the tournament.  How could I have thought that Clemson would make a run into the Elite Eight?  Turns out the ACC was more mediocre this year than I thought, with only North Carolina remaining in the field.  I clearly also overestimated the strength of the Big East, getting burned by Marquette, Pitt AND Georgetown, who I had going to the Final Four.  At least my championship matchup, North Carolina vs. Texas, is still intact. 

Despite my bitterness about my bracket, which is about as useful as kindling these days, it is impossible not enjoy a team like Davidson.  It is the Davidson Wildcats that are responsible for me losing a Final Four team (Georgetown).  I had heard through the grapevine that Davidson had a nice team, that they had played North Carolina and Duke close during the season, and that they were a team to watch.  I had them winning one game, which they did against fellow mid-major Gonzaga, but I didn’t think they would have a chance against the mighty Hoyas, arguably the best team from the Big East.  Perhaps my thinking might have been different had I gotten a chance to see Stephen Curry play this season.  For all the talk about sensational players around the country like Michael Beasley and Tyler Hansbrough , Curry should rank right up there the way he played in Davidson’s two tournament games.  He lit Gonzaga up for 40 points, 30 in the second half, and then scored another 30 in the upset of the Hoyas.  An acquaintance of mine who happens to be a KU fan actually uttered, “I’d much rather play Wisconsin than Davidson if we happen to beat Villanova.  I don’t think we can stop Stephen Curry.”  Never mind that Davidson is a 10 seed from the mighty Southern Conference that has a loss to Western Michigan on its resume, although granted that was early in the season.  It’s a team like Davidson that makes the tournament a special event.

We also saw something we’ve never seen in the tournament before: A pair of 12 vs. 13 matchups in the second round.  This after Western Kentucky blew a 16 point lead against Drake, than rallied to win on a 38 foot buzzer beater that will no doubt go down in tournament annals.  Meanwhile, San Diego stunned 4-seed UConn in overtime, while 4-seed Vanderbilt got run out of the gym by Siena – SIENA!  Honestly, how many of you out there had Western Kentucky, San Diego and Siena all advancing past the first round?  I actually did pick a 13-4 upset, just turns out I picked the wrong one.  I thought I had something when Winthrop was tied at the half against Washington State, but than the Eagles scored a grand total of five points in the first 15 minutes of the second half and got blown out.  Oh, and then we almost saw another 15-2 upset, and had it not been for an errant inbounds pass, Belmont would have upset powerhouse Duke. 

This year I was fortunate in that I got to see some of the tournament in person this year, attending first and second round action at the Pepsi Center in Denver.  It was just my luck though that I didn’t see any buzzer beaters or fantastic finishes or crazy upsets.  No, I sat through five blowouts and one semi-competitive game that Drew Neitzel took over as Michigan State pulled away against Pitt.  The most excitement in the day of first round action on Thursday was about 20 of us huddled around a two inch cell phone screen trying to watch the end of the Belmont-Duke game.    That being said, it is still an amazing experience to be there.  The atmosphere of an NCAA Tournament is a unique, one of a kind sports experience.  In one fell swoop, you can feel exhilaration and frustration.  It is possible to enjoy the excitement of the games while at the same time bemoaning how worthless your bracket has become.  It doesn’t matter which teams are on the court, or even who ends up winning.  The NCAA Tournament is sports at its best because of the atmosphere surrounding the event and the intensity of the competition.  I can only hope that someday soon my Missouri Tigers will once again make an appearance in this event.  Five years is a long time without your favorite team being good enough to participate.  Oh well, there is always next year. 

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It’s Tourney Time!

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 18, 2008

One of my favorite times of the year is almost here, the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.  Will this finally be the year a 16 seed upsets a 1? (Personally I’m rooting for Portland State against Kansas – that would more than make up for Missouri’s mediocrity this season.).  I am sane enough to realize that the odds of that happening are about the equivalent of me winning the Powerball jackpot.  Oh wait, I never have.  The odds should be better that all four number one seeds will make the Final Four, especially with this year’s talented quartet of North Carolina, UCLA, Memphis, and aforementioned Kansas.  Thing is, that’s not very likely either that all four teams will go through the bracket unscathed.  See, there has never been a year where all four number one seeds have reached the Final Four, not one.  That’s what makes this event a truly unique one on the sports calendar.  You never know who is going to get hot.  We’ve seen four 15 seeds win games against 2 seeds since 1990.  We’ve seen upsets over the years the likes of Weber State over North Carolina, Bradley over Kansas, Vermont over Syracuse, Virginia Commonwealth over Duke and Bucknell over Kansas (can you tell who I like to see go down?).  My Missouri Tigers made the Elite Eight in 2002 as a 12 seed.   George Mason of course made their spectacular run two years ago to reach the Final Four as an 11 seed.  Villanova won the national title as an 8 seed in 1985, I could go on and on.  The point is, between all the buzzer beaters, fantastic finishes and upsets, it makes it virtually impossible to predict how the tournament will go.  This makes winning a bracket challenge or office pool extremely difficult.  Chances are, the winner won’t have seen a single hoops game all year or will win because they confused George Mason with George Washington.  Perhaps their alma matter happened to get hot out of nowhere.  It just becomes harder and harder every year to win that office pool.

Some will have success with the mascot theory, picking games based on who’s mascot would be more likely to win an actual fight.  This worked well for those that rode the Florida Gators the past two seasons.  Some people try crazy ideas like inverse graduation rate, famous alumni, coin flip or some other such crazy exercise.  While there is no theory that will guarantee success, there are some simple actual basketball points that can at least prevent you from finishing last in your pool or getting embarrassed.

– Remember a 16 seed has never defeated a 1 seed, so Mississippi Valley State is not bumping off UCLA, let alone advancing to the sweet 16

– As mentioned above, all four number one seeds have never made the Final Four.  Fill out your bracket accordingly.

– Keep an eye out for teams that will be enjoying home cooking, playing close to home and in front of partisan crowds.  Last year UCLA defeated top seed Kansas in the regional final in large part because they were playing in California.  Syracuse took advantage of regional games in Albany when they won the national title in 2003 as a three seed.  North Carolina will be helped immensely this year by playing their first two games in Raleigh (less than 30 minutes from their home court, the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill) and two potential regional games in Charlotte, where they just won the ACC Tournament.  Sure, they have a bracket with tough foes in Tennessee, Louisville and Notre Dame, but the hometown feeling is a huge advantage.  UCLA will play its first two games in nearby Anaheim before potentially heading to Phoenix, which isn’t that far from LA.   Texas, should they get through their first two rounds in Little Rock, will get regional games in Houston, giving them a huge edge against the South’s top seed, Memphis.  How about South Alabama, a 10 seed getting to play in Birmingham against 7 seed Butler?  To a lesser degree, Kansas and Kansas State will benefit from playing first and second round games in Omaha, just a short drive from Kansas City.  Also, 10 seed Davidson will be much more comfortable in Raleigh than their first round opponent Gonzaga, which must travel cross country.

– Don’t get sucked into picking too many upsets.  Not all of the top seeds are going to go down.  Pick your upsets in spots, but remember that by and large the better teams will be advancing deep into the tournament.  It is especially important to remember that the odds of the national champ being anything other than a top three seed is highly unlikely.

– If your alma matter or favorite team is in the tournament, try to pick with your brain instead of your heart.  That being said, feel free to pick them a round farther than you normally would if they weren’t your favorite team.  It sure worked for George Mason alums two years ago.

– Don’t get swayed by tradition rich programs with poor seeds, such as Arizona (10) and Kentucky (11) in this year’s bracket.   If a traditional power is seeded double digits, they probably didn’t have a good year by their standards and may not be your best choice for an upset pick.

– Pay attention to how teams finished the season.  Pitt, a 4 seed, won the Big East Tournament after being seeded seventh in that bracket.  Clemson, a five seed, beat Duke in the ACC semis and played North Carolina tough in all three meetings this year.   Memphis earned its top seed in part by breezing through the Conference USA tournament.  You can argue all you want about their league not being strong, but their strong run at the end of league play gives indication they’ll be up for the challenge in the NCAA Tournament.

Just remember, there is no perfect formula for picking these games.  Something will happen that is completely unexpected, it is just not possible to tell what it will be.  Above all, this tournament is fun.  If Portland State does beat Kansas, I will be on cloud nine, even if I have Kansas picked to go deep in the tournament.  If your bracket goes down in flames, don’t worry, chances are everyone else in your office is experiencing the same thing.  If they’re not, the tournament is still fun to watch for its unpredictability and excitement.  For the record, my Final Four picks are North Carolina, Georgetown, Texas and UCLA, with the Tar Heels winning their second title under Roy Williams.  You know what this means, for heaven’s sake stay away from those four teams!

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