Some random thoughts about the NCAA tournament while looking over my bracket that will of course win Warren Buffett’s $1 billion. Maybe some that will help you, too.
Stop the outrage over Louisville’s 4 seed: Yes, the Cards won 12 of their last 13. Yes, they won their conference tournament and yes, they’re the defending NCAA champs. But last year’s results mean nothing when seeding this year’s tournament; the AAC conference wasn’t very good overall; how you finish is only a small component in the committee’s formula; and most important to anything is the real data on Louisville: They had ZERO wins against the current top-20 RPI. They were 5-5 against the top-50 RPI! Their best wins were Cincinnati and UConn (three times). That’s it. They lost to Memphis twice, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Cincy. “Rankings” mean nothing when it comes to the tourney and seeds. Resumes mean everything. And Louisville’s resume simply wasn’t that impressive overall. They could win this whole thing, but they deserve the four seed they received.
Buffalo got a great lineup of teams and games: Syracuse, Ohio State, Villanova, UConn. All four “big-name” basketball schools. Throw in Dayton and St. Joe’s from a very good A10, and Western Michigan, the champion from UB’s MAC conference, and Western New York has a chance to see some terrific names and games. Especially if form holds and we get a ‘Cuse/OSU and ‘Nova/UConn Saturday. Go check what cities like Spokane and San Antonio are getting and be thankful for what we’ll be able to see in our own backyard.
About that Buffalo Saturday, though: Obviously, with the way Syracuse has played, they can lose to anyone right now, especially a team like WMU who has junior and senior experience and scores over 72 points per game. Ohio State is playing an in-state “rival” with nothing to lose. That’s always dangerous. And Dayton played well in one of the better conferences in the country this year, the A10. They finished the season 10-2, including wins over tourney teams UMass, George Washington, and St. Louis. While it may be an upset and disappointing, it wouldn’t be completely shocking at all to see either the Orange or the Buckeyes not get to Saturday. Or neither.
Five of the six ACC teams could be upset early: See above about Syracuse; Duke gets a tougher matchup than most realize. Mercer scores almost 80 points a game and Duke isn’t a great team on defense, especially on the interior; Pitt is never a stranger to early exits and has a very tough 8/9 matchup with a Colorado team that beat Kansas and Oregon; North Carolina can play like one of the best teams in the country and can also look like a poor mid-major at times (lost to UAB and Belmont this year). They get a very confident Providence team that won the Big East Tournament. And if the Heels get past that game, they get an Iowa State team that won the Big-12 Tournament, a conference most consider the best in the nation this year; NC State is in the play-in game, so they have to win three games just to get out of the weekend, including against St. Louis and Louisville; Virginia is the only ACC team I feel really comfortable with in the first two rounds.
Wichita State CAN win this whole thing: I don’t think the Shockers will, but let’s not forget, this is a team that went to the Final Four last year, had a double-digit lead on Louisville in the 2nd half of the semifinal game, and returned most of their key components. THEY’RE BETTER THIS YEAR! A lot has been made about playing Kentucky in the round of 32. UK is athletic and extremely talented. But 1) the Shockers are also very athletic AND play better defense; 2) I wouldn’t be shocked if Kentucky lost to Kansas State and didn’t even get to that game. Whoever it is, that Sunday game will be Must-See TV.
I’m not on the Sparty bandwagon like so many others: I understand Michigan State has been injured most of the season and are finally healthy. And what they did healthy in the Big Ten Tournament was very impressive. The guys who had to play extra minutes due to injuries will be better for it, but having so many lineup combinations will also test the chemistry of the starting five now when it matters most. There’s no time to adjust in a win-or-else situation. Tom Izzo is terrific in March, but even if MSU gets out of this weekend they’ll have their hands full against a Virginia team that will due whatever it can to dictate the tempo and slow them down.
Where will the upsets come from?: Throw a dart at the bracket and you’ll probably hit a few. But if you’re looking for a 1-5 seed that might fall in their first game, I’d put Syracuse, Duke, Creighton, UCLA, San Diego State, VCU, Cincinnati, and St. Louis on upset alert. If you’re looking for an 8/9 winner to beat a 1-seed or a 7/10 to beat a 2 in the round of 32, Oklahoma State, the Kentucky/Kansas State winner, and the UConn/St. Joe’s winner are all possibilities. Also, the New Mexico/Stanford winner could upset Kansas since the Jayhawks will be without their center Joel Embiid, one of the top players in the country.
Who cuts down the nets: Florida has all the ingredients it takes to win this thing. They have a ton of experience and senior leadership, a coach with two national titles, a senior point guard who controls the tempo, and they’re playing their best basketball of the season right now. They aren’t a very good shooting team and that may make them vulnerable to an inferior opponent, but every team has warts. The Gators just have fewer.
Look for Brian Koziol's preview and staff picks later this week for more of my thoughts on this year's bracket.