Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March Madness Dossier 2.0 (Part I: The Precursor, Play-In Games, and Round 1)

"You ain't a beauty, but hey, you're alright."

It's still freezing, but apparently, it is March, and that means that there is a three-week window of madness that is about to enter our lives, and with that will come that three day window between Selection Sunday and the first round games when none of America gets any work done. So warm up the copy machines and get that liquid paper handy...here comes March Madness 2011!

As with everything I write in this column, I'm not here to preach about what you have to do, but rather, I want y'all to be as informed as possible before you start writing those picks down in permanent ink and handing in those brackets. Of course everyone has their own system (won/loss, upset heavy...picking by team color, etc.), so stick with how you always do them, but just like fantasy teams, brackets can be an interesting way to express both knowledge and creativity.

First, let's get some numbers out of the way. What I have for you below is every team in the tournament along with not only their season numbers, but a few other calculations that come courtesy of my #1 source for college b-ball info, Ken Pomeroy, and his website, kenpom.com. He has formulated out each team's RPI based on a whole bunch of formulas that are way beyond my comprehension, along with a team's strength of schedule, and two other factors, "tempo" and "luck." Tempo meaning how well a team can control a game, and luck referring to how well a team actually did in comparison to how the stats say they should have done.

Also, to spruce it up and make it a little more "reader friendly" (and because spreadsheets with filters is way beyond my comprehension), I have a color coded system denoting the range of each team's numbers. I decided to go with a national security level colors theme since they were just discontinued (how will we know if we are safe without color indications?!):
  • RED: 1ST-10TH
  • ORANGE: 11TH-20TH
  • BROWN: 21ST-30TH
  • BLUE: 31ST-40TH
  • GREEN: 41ST-50TH

So with that out of the way, here are some things to look out for:

The #1 With The Easiest Road To Houston: Pittsburgh

With a wildly overrated Florida team at the 2, a broken up BYU team at 3 that has been playing like the one-man band that they were not while they were in the top 10, and Wisconsin at the 4 who won a game by the score of 36-33 last week, the Panthers have nothing very intimidating coming from the higher seeds.

The #1 That Will Most Likely Break Your Heart: Pittsburgh

While Pittsburgh has the easiest road in terms of the higher echelon teams, they have a slew of landmine teams in this bracket. Quite honestly, this is the most talented 9-14 seeds (Old Dominion, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Utah State, Belmont, Wofford) in one region perhaps ever.

The #12 With The Best Chance To Win: Richmond

You have to have a 12 winning. This is the most fundamental rule in the history of filling out brackets. So, you need at least one, and if you're asking who will win purely based on odds, it has to be Richmond. They played so well in the A-10 title game, and Vandy is a team seemingly ripe for the picking. After that, they get Louisville, and I have to tell you that I think the Big East is going to go down in flames in this tournament. I have no confidence in really any of the top seeds coming out from there, so it seems like based on that theory, Louisville will have a tough time getting past Richmond in the second round. However, the Spiders will likely be up against Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen, which will be much more of a daunting task to get by.

The #12 With The Best Chance Of Getting To The Elite Eight
: Utah State

I know right. Shouldn't the team with the best chance of winning their first game have the best shot to get the furthest? Well, not quite. While Richmond draws a more favorable matchup in their first round game, the Aggies from Utah State have the best bracket layout for themselves. Starting with Kansas State in the first round, Utah State will be in the wild southeast bracket, where upsets will be likely coming from everywhere, so it's going to be one of those times when being a double-digit seed will work in their favor.

The Cinderella That I'm Slowly Kind Of Turning On: Belmont

I have been in heavy, heavy support of the Bruins because...well, they're called the Bruins...that certainly doesn't hurt in my eyes, and also, this team is really, really good. There are two hiccups in this whole situation: 1.) Everyone is loving Belmont right now, and normally, you don't hear about cinderellas before the tournament...you hear about them as the tourney unfolds (Gonzaga, Valpo, George Mason to name three). Last year, I loved Siena, but the problem was that not only did everyone love Siena, they almost all had them going to the Sweet Sixteen, and were bounced in the first round by Purdue. 2.) If Belmont gets by Wisconsin, they could potentially take on Utah State, the other team ranked 12 or under I can see making the Elite Eight. This is going to be one I struggle with, and in the end, I have Utah State winning here and in the Sweet Sixteen against either Pittsburgh, Butler, or Old Dominion.

The Once Cinderella Turned Cinderella Again: Gonzaga

Gonzaga has a double-digit seed in a region that looks completely volatile...everything is in its right place. Like I've said before, some teams will be able to handle being a favorite, being a top seed, handling great expectations, while others seem to prosper coming from the back of the field and giant killing. Gonzaga is the poster child of this theory. True, they did almost get to a Final Four with Adam Morrison, but they have not been close since. Their first round opponent is St. John's, and all they can do is beat ranked teams, but put them against someone even just a little inferior, and they will play down to them. Plus, there is the potential of every top seed bowing out within the first two rounds. Right now, I have the 'Zags getting by Michigan State in the Sweet Sixteen, followed by a win against Utah State to net Gonzaga their first ever Final Four appearance.

The Year Of The 14 Seed:

From where I'm sitting, I could see three 14 seeds winning this year...seriously. Right now, the game I feel the most confident with is Wofford over BYU. Wofford barely lost to Wisconsin in last year's tourney as a #13 seed, and again, BYU just is not the same team anymore since Brandon Davies was dismissed from the team. The others to watch for are Indiana State and Bucknell. Indiana State probably has the better chance to pull the outright upset simply due to the fact that Syracuse's 2-3 zone could be in trouble because of the way the Sycamores are able to move the ball around. Bucknell takes on UConn in round one, and I think the Bison keep the game within reason because UConn will likely be overlooking them having just won the Big East tourney and with their eyes on much larger aspirations. So again, there are at least two, possibly three 14 seeds that could pull upsets.

The Play-In Games:


(16SE) UNC-Ashville vs. (16SE) Arkansas-Little Rock (6:40, TruTV):
The best player on either team has to be Solomon Bozeman from Little Rock. Bozeman is an incredible 46.5% shooter from three, and has a knack for getting to the line (270 free throw attempts, with the next closest player on the team having 87). Bozeman will need every attempt he can get, as Ashville brings a much more well-rounded team to the floor. Little Rock is a dynamic shooting team (2nd in the nation in 3PT%), but Ashville can defend the three, and also has the advantage in virtually every other aspect of the game. Pick: UNC-Ashville

(12E) UAB vs. (12E) Clemson (9:10, TruTV):
These are two very defensive-minded programs. Both schools allowed less than 62 points per game on the year. While it was a controversial decision to have UAB in this field, they are playing Clemson, so it's very easy to be a UAB backer right now. Pick: UAB


(16E) UT-San Antonio vs. (16E) Alabama State (6:40, TruTV): San Antonio has three guys on their team (Devin Gibson, Melvin Johnson, Jeromie Hill) that trump anything Alabama State has to bring to the table. Along with a .500 record coming out of a beyond soft conference, there is almost nothing to like about State in this game. Pick: UT-San Antonio

(11SW) Southern Cal vs. (11SW) VCU (9:10, TruTV):
Before I start diving into this pick, I want to point out that the NCAA got adding four more teams to the field right, but what they did not get is who should be playing in these play-in games. There should be four games with teams vying for the right to be the 16 seed, not the 11 and 12 seed. The reason you have to do this is because now every other 11 and 12 seed has the advantage of not having to play that first game in Dayton and going straight to where their first round game is. It's almost like you're punishing at-large teams for getting into the bubble. The 16 seeds basically have no shot of winning (although one will before I die...I'm pretty sure on that), and a tournament win to those schools would go a lot longer way than if VCU beat Southern Cal.

Anyway, that's my spiel on that. In this matchup, VCU, who along with UAB, have been by far the most scrutinized entries into the field because, well, they don't really belong here, takes on Southern Cal. As much as I hate the impostor USC, and as much as I support the CAA, VCU's numbers are just terrible. They're in the bottom of the tourney field in opposing FG%, 3PT%, and rebounds. Simply put, they totally suck defensively. Their one saving grace is that they hold onto the ball effectively, but then again, so doesn't Southern Cal, and their defense is...I dunno, less sucky? Pick: Southern Cal

Who Ya Got?

I'm going to be attempting to write a new column for each round, but because the tournament is all about who does the best on their overall bracket, I'm going to share mine right here. Sure, you may look back on this, asking what the you know what was I thinking, but it's a hell of a lot better than reading "expert" picks that basically amount to just picking chalk (if you're unfamiliar with that expression, "chalk" refers to the high seeds), and seriously, when does that happen? (in the history of the tournament, all four #1s reached the Final Four only once back in 2008). So, not that I'm an expert per-say, but my picks will be a hell of a lot more entertaining and thought provoking.

East Region:

First Round:
  • (1) Ohio State over (16) UT-San Antonio
  • (8) George Mason over (9) Villanova
  • (12) Clemson* over (5) West Virginia
  • (4) Kentucky over (13) Princeton
  • (6) Xavier over (11) Marquette
  • (3) Syracuse over (14) Inidiana State
  • (7) Washington over (10) Georgia
  • (2) North Carolina over (15) LIU-Brooklyn
*= changed on Wed. 3/16

Thoughts: After I just got done telling you how wildly entertaining the picks will be, I basically went all chalk in the first round here. Syracuse is by far the scariest proposition because they could easily lose the first round game and could easily get to the Final Four...that's madness. What I would watch out for is the Xavier/Marquette game as well in dealing with the 'Cuse game. If you go 'Cuse in round one, I would probably steer clear from Marquette because the odds of two teams from the same conference playing each other in the second round is extremely slim. I'm going with Clemson and basically sacrificing my perfect bracket chances. If I have Clemson winning, they lose. You're welcome West Virginia.

Second Round:
  • (1) Ohio State over (8) George Mason
  • (4) Kentucky over (12) Clemson
  • (3) Syracuse over (6) Xavier
  • (7) Washington over (2) North Carolina
Thoughts: Washington is on fire right now, and if ever UNC is going to get upset in its own backyard, it's going to be right now. Before the ACC tourney, UNC was untouchable it seemed, and were probably the hottest team in the country, and then won back-to-back nail-biters to reach the title game before getting completely exposed by Duke. That chink in the armor will probably remain there once U-Dub gets a crack at them, so I'm looking for that major upset early on.

Sweet Sixteen:
  • (4) Kentucky over (1) Ohio State
  • (7) Washington over (3) Syracuse
Thoughts: Now we're getting even more crazy. The only thing I don't like about Ohio State is that they are the unanimous #1 team in the nation, and that almost never works out in terms of translating into a national title (see: Kansas last year). Calipari has basically a completely different team than he did last year, but I have to believe that a.) he's pissed they didn't make the Final Four last year, as they were clearly the most talented team (their entire starting five basically went in the first round of last year's draft), and b.) despite beating Florida in the SEC Championship game, and having about the same record, Florida got a 2, and Kentucky got a 4...that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. So, I designated this as the team with the chip on its shoulder. Sure Kentucky had six conference losses, but they were by a combined 18 points. U-Dub is still the scariest team in this bracket to me. Syracuse does not have history on its side when playing regional games so close to home either (see: Baylor last year).

Elite Eight:
  • (4) Kentucky over (7) Washington
Thoughts: I'm feeling really good about my Sweet Sixteen picks, and I'm also thinking not a whole lot of people have this Elite Eight matchup, which hopefully will work in my favor. If Kentucky does make it back to the Elite Eight, I don't see how they're not getting into the Final Four. In remembering that game from last year against West Virginia where they got absolutely dominated, there has to be some kind of fire going on in Big Blue country to get to the promised land.

West Region:

First Round:
  • (1) Duke over (16) Hampton
  • (9) Tennessee over (8) Michigan
  • (5) Arizona over (12) Memphis
  • (13) Oakland over (4) Texas
  • (11) Missouri over (6) Cincinnati
  • (3) UConn over (14) Bucknell
  • (7) Temple over (10) Penn State
  • (2) San Diego State over (15) Northern Colorado
Thoughts: The big upset with Oakland over Texas has anything and everything to do with the fact that Oakland had that stretch where they beat Tennessee on the road and then nearly beat Michigan State in Detroit. Texas is an extremely talented team, and right now, you could make the case for them being one of the five best teams in the country. The one game that has me a little nervous is 'Zona against Memphis. I have little to no faith in Arizona, but the numbers kind of swayed me in their direction.

Second Round:
  • (1) Duke over (9) Tennessee
  • (13) Oakland over (5) Arizona
  • (11) Missouri over (3) UConn
  • (7) Temple over (2) San Diego State
Thoughts: The move to have Oakland in the Sweet Sixteen is a way to hedge against Arizona doing nothing after the first round. I figure if Texas makes it by Oakland, they will ream 'Zona in the second round, and if Oakland actually does pull the upset in round one, I don't see any reason they will be stopped by either 'Zona or Memphis. Oakland can absolutely fill up the score sheet. I can't get over the fact that I think UConn peaked too early. After watching Kemba Walker for one game in the Big East tourney, I knew they would win the whole thing...he was that dominating to the point where no player or team could stop him. Mizzou almost ended up derailing Kansas' #1 bid, losing to the Jayhawks by 4 in the Big 12 regular season finale. San Diego State is the most volatile of all the 2's, and I would honestly be shocked if they even got it to Anaheim for the Sweet Sixteen.

Sweet Sixteen:
  • (1) Duke over (13) Oakland
  • (11) Missouri over (7) Temple
Thoughts: Duke will wind up having the easiest road to the Final Four of all the #1 seeds because they are almost assured to get to at least the Elite Eight by just being Duke. If Texas and San Diego State falter early, that would clear the path even wider. Temple/Mizzou is almost a coin flip, but I have Mizzou winning because their high-powered offense should make up for their much less than high-powered defense.

Elite Eight:
  • (1) Duke over (11) Missouri
Thoughts: This is like shooting fish in a barrel. If Duke is here, there's no way they're not getting to the Final Four. I would say the only thing that could possibly stop them is if I was wrong about UConn peaking. If Connecticut plays anywhere near the level of basketball that they were playing in the Big East tournament, they potentially could sneak by Duke, but it's a reach for me at this point to believe it.

Southwest Region:

First Round:
  • (1) Kansas over (16) Boston University
  • (9) Illinois over (8) UNLV
  • (12) Richmond over (5) Vanderbilt
  • (4) Louisville over (13) Morehead State
  • (6) Georgetown over (11) Southern Cal
  • (3) Purdue over (14) Saint Peter's
  • (10) Florida State over (7) Texas A&M
  • (2) Notre Dame over (15) Akron
Thoughts: The UNLV/Illinois game will probably be the most entertaining of all the 8-9 games this year. Both teams right now are in the top 25 of the pythagorean RPI. As I said before, Richmond probably has the best chance of winning their first game as a 12.

Second Round:
  • (1) Kansas over (9) Illinois
  • (12) Richmond over (4) Louisville
  • (3) Purdue over (6) Georgetown
  • (2) Notre Dame over (10) Florida State
Thoughts: In keeping with my general dislike/distrust of Big East teams, I have a pair getting bounced here, and ND barely escaping Florida State mostly due to the fact that the games will be played in Chicago, which I think gives them that extra two-to-three points they will desperately be needing.

Sweet Sixteen:
  • (1) Kansas over (12) Richmond
  • (3) Purdue over (2) Notre Dame
Thoughts: If Kansas doesn't make it to at least the Elite Eight this year, I honestly don't know what to make of that program. They win the national title in one of the greatest games in tournament history, then they get bounced by Northern Iowa (who, in Kansas' defense, won 30 games and were very talented, but still probably not Kansas-talented). The Illinois game could potentially be a trap, but the guys who were there last year have to be aware of the low seeds sneaking up on them, and I just don't see it happening this year. A general theme when looking at the #2's would be overrated. ND is a fantastic home team, but that's where pretty much all their damage was done. They had a chance to steal the last #1 away from Duke, but lost to Louisville in the Big East tourney.

Elite Eight:
  • (1) Kansas over (3) Purdue
Thoughts: For Purdue to make it this far is a story in itself. Once star forward Robbie Hummel went down for the season with an ACL tear, no one though the Boilermakers would amount to anything, so if they got all the way to the Elite Eight, that would be amazing. However, much like Kentucky, I feel like Kansas will be playing with a chip on their shoulder for the entire tournament, and will be able to dodge low seeds and head to Houston.

Southeast Region:

First Round:
  • (1) Pittsburgh over (16) UNC-Ashville/Arkansas Little Rock
  • (9) Old Dominion over (8) Butler
  • (12) Utah State over (5) Kansas State
  • (13) Belmont over (4) Wisconsin
  • (11) Gonzaga over (6) St. John's
  • (14) Wofford over (3) BYU
  • (10) Michigan State over (7) UCLA
  • (2) Florida over (15) UC-Santa Barbara
Thoughts: And I'm just getting the insanity warmed up in the Southeast. I considered switching my Belmont pick just because everyone in the world is on their bandwagon right now, but with good reason. They are currently 18th on the pRPI and they're a #13 seed! I did want to take things up even more notches with Santa Barbara, but I figured I had already infused enough madness here.

Second Round:
  • (1) Pittsburgh over (9) Old Dominion
  • (12) Utah State over (13) Belmont
  • (11) Gonzaga over (14) Wofford
  • (10) Michigan State over (2) Florida
Thoughts: The Pittsburgh/ODU game I'm torn over. The Panthers' saving grace is that they do a good job of protecting the ball. ODU's defense is intense, so don't be surprised if Pitt gets the boot here. Anytime Michigan State is in the tournament, they are a threat no matter how low they are ranked.

Sweet Sixteen:
  • (12) Utah State over (1) Pittsburgh
  • (11) Gonzaga over (10) Michigan State
Thoughts: Utah State is arguably the best team not named Pittsburgh in this region. They are going to have loads of momentum heading into a matchup with Pitt down in New Orleans. Gonzaga/Michigan State will be a blood-bath, with Gonzaga trying to shake the tourney blues away, and Kalin Lucas for Sparty seemingly hell-bent on returning to the Final Four.

Elite Eight:
  • (11) Gonzaga over (12) Utah State
Thoughts: Last year, I thought it was Butler's time, but I didn't have the balls to pick them, and I've been thinking about that for an entire year now. This year, I think it's Gonzaga's time. That program has been starved for a deep tourney run, and even more, a spot in the Final Four. Utah State will probably be maxing out after beating a #1 seed and making it this far.

The Final Four:
  • (1W) Duke over (4E) Kentucky
  • (1SW) Kansas over (11SE) Gonzaga
Thoughts: I totally wrestled with the fact that I even had two #1's make it this far. I had Purdue initially, but again, Kansas has got to be playing inspired now, so it's tough for me to pick against them. Gonzaga has a chance, but this is one of those things where they would have had to peak if they made it this far. After watching Duke dismantle UNC, clearly they have everything it takes to win.

National Championship Game:
  • (1W) Duke over (1SW) Kansas
Thoughts: At first, I thought a Duke/Kansas matchup was too good to be true, but then I remembered that this is in Houston, and if we've learned anything, Texas likes to do it up big. If any team can repeat, it's Duke. Imagine what this team would have been like had Kyrie Irving, who is thought to be the #1 prospect heading into next year's draft, been healthy this season. They could have possibly put together a perfect season. What changed everything for Duke was when Seth Curry began to be effective...that put them over the top for me. Imagine if Stephen Curry played on Duke instead of Davidson? Davidson got to the Elite Eight one year too! Now Duke has his brother, and while Seth may not be as good as Steph was at this point, the fact remains that he is a deadly perimeter shooter, and with Nolan Smith, possibly the best player in the country, Singler doing his inside-outside thing, and the Plumlee boys manning the middle, I think it's just too much to contain. Kansas does have a lot that it brings to the table with the Morris brothers in the paint, and Josh Selby being one of the highest-rated recruits to come to Kansas in its school's history. Tough, tough...oh so tough to pick against Duke right now though as painful as that is.

So there are all my picks. Finally, here is the TV schedule for the first round games including the time, location, channel, and announcers who will be calling the games (info courtesy of SB Nation):

Note: I have the games Gus Johnson is calling in bold just because he encompasses March Madness in both the way he calls games and his knack for being in the middle of the madness itself in terms of upsets...and he's calling the 'Cuse/Indiana State game...yikes!


12:15, CBS, Tampa -- West Virginia vs. UAB/Clemson (Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel)

12:40, truTV, Wash. D.C. -- Butler vs. Old Dominion (Tim Brando/Mike Gminski)

1:40, TBS, Denver-- Louisville vs. Morehead St. (Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery)

2:10, TNT, Tucson -- Temple vs. Penn St. (Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner)

2:45, CBS, Tampa -- Kentucky vs. Princeton (Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel)

3:10, truTV, Wash. D.C. -- Pittsburgh vs. Asheville/Ark-LR (Tim Brando/Mike Gminski)

4:10, TBS, Denver -- Vanderbilt vs. Richmond (Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery)

4:40, TNT, Tucson -- San Diego St. vs. Northern Colorado (Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner)

6:50, TBS, Tampa -- Florida vs. UC Santa Barbara (Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel)

7:15, CBS, Denver -- BYU vs. Wofford (Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery)

7:20, TNT, Wash D.C. -- Connecticut vs. Bucknell (Tim Brando/Mike Gminski)

7:27, truTV, Tucson -- Wisconsin vs. Belmont (Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner)

9:20, TBS, Tampa -- UCLA vs. Michigan St. (Ian Eagle/Jim Spanarkel)

9:45, CBS, Denver -- St. John’s vs. Gonzaga (Verne Lundquist/Bill Raftery)

9:45, TNT, Wash. D.C. -- Cincinnati vs. Missouri (Tim Brando/Mike Gminski)

9:57, truTV, Tucson -- Kansas St. vs. Utah St. (Kevin Harlan/Reggie Miller/Dan Bonner)


12:15, CBS, Tulsa -- Texas vs. Oakland (Marv Albert/Steve Kerr)

12:40, truTV, Charlotte -- Michigan vs. Tennessee (Nantz/Kellogg)

1:40, TBS, Chicago -- Notre Dame vs. Akron (Spero Dedes/Bob Wenzel)

2:10, TNT, Cleveland -- George Mason vs. Villanova (Gus Johnson/Len Elmore)

2:45, CBS, Tulsa -- Arizona vs. Memphis (Albert/Kerr)

3:10, truTV, Charlotte -- Duke vs. Hampton (Nantz/Kellogg)

4:10, TBS, Chicago -- Texas A&M vs. Florida St. (Dedes/Wenzel)

4:40, TNT, Cleveland -- Ohio St. vs. UTSA/Alabama St. (Johnson/Elmore)

6:50, TBS, Tulsa -- Kansas vs. Boston U. (Marv Albert/Steve Kerr)

7:15, CBS, Charlotte -- North Carolina vs. Long Island (Jim Nantz/Clark Kellogg)

7:20, TNT, Chicago -- Purdue vs. St. Peter’s (Spero Dedes/Bob Wenzel)

7:27, truTV, Cleveland -- Xavier vs. Marquette (Gus Johnson/Len Elmore)

9:20, TBS, Tulsa -- UNLV vs. Illinois (Marv Albert/Steve Kerr)

9:45, CBS, Charlotte -- Washington vs. Georgia (Jim Nantz/Clark Kellogg)

9:50, TNT, Chicago -- Georgetown vs. Southern California/VCU (Spero Dedes/Bob Wenzel)

9:57, truTV, Cleveland -- Syracuse vs. Indiana St. (Gus Johnson/Len Elmore)

So there is my first installment. My hope is that I can get a second one up right before the second round kicks off on Saturday afternoon. Good luck filling your brackets out, and I hope this was at the very least somewhat educational. Have a good week guys. Peace.


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