Wednesday, March 20, 2013

NCAA Tournament Roundtable

While most brackets have Indiana or Louisville winning it all, there are some who feel Jim Larranaga can take what he did in 2006 with George Mason one step further by winning it all in Atlanta with Miami.  (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

With the NCAA Tournament now in full swing, I wanted to get some thoughts from some friends of the website and piece them together.  Following an exchange of e-mails between Selection Sunday and tonight, coupled with the help of Norman Rose from Rumble in the Garden and past contributor to the site Gary Moore of The College Hardwood, (whom you may remember for his scouting reports on College of Charleston, South Carolina and Charlotte) we have our meeting of the minds as the field of 68 (now 65 at press time) gets narrowed down to one on the night of April 8th.  Here are some helpful hints, picks and primers from the three of us, without any further ado:

Norman Rose (Rumble in the Garden)

Midwest
So many good, experienced Final Four coaches, but I pick Louisville - they seem to be peaking at the right time. 

Players to watch: Montrezl Harrell on Louisville has become so energetic for the Cardinals. Oregon's Arsalan Kazemi is fun to watch.

Upsets: St. Mary's over Memphis is popular and I see why. I almost have St. Mary's knocking off Michigan State as well... hmm... that COULD happen... or Memphis could go to the Elite Eight. 

Matchups: Will Creighton's passive defense and hot shooting beat Cincy? Duke/ Louisville in the Elite Eight will be a thrill. SO many coaching scowls, so much foul language!

West
I'm flipping a coin between Gonzaga and New Mexico. And Pittsburgh. I carry strange coins in my pocket. I am going outside of the box (ok, or not) and going with New Mexico. I don't think of Steve Alford as a "Final Four" coach, but I do see a Gonzaga team that I'm not so sure is ready to get past Pittsburgh. 

Also - Pittsburgh/ Wichita State vs Gonzaga is going to be so physical and fundamental, it'll be a good watch. 

Players to watch: Is this the tournament where Arizona's Nick Johnson and Kevin Parrom become stars? Tony Snell of New Mexico is a baller when he's on. 

Upsets: That Ole Miss/ Wisconsin game is tantalizing, but I don't think Ole Miss is all that good. Iowa State may not be that great, but Notre Dame can lose to anyone. Belmont has the kind of creative players that could give lackluster Arizona a jolt.

Matchups: New Mexico/ Ohio State might be boring but it will be gritty and fundamental as heck. 

East
I'm big on Indiana busting through to get to the Final Four here. They have solid experience, played in the Sweet Sixteen last year, and their draw is filled with uninspiring teams until they get the regional final. 

Players to watch: Mike Muscala at Bucknell - he's big and capable. Brandon Paul of Illinois could carry the Illini; Colorado's Andre Roberson is very solid.

Upsets: I could see California pulling off the 12 over 5; I definitely see Bucknell knocking off an iffy Butler team (which means that won't happen. Brad Stevens knows when his team is picked to lose, and when its not; he is the Santa Claus of strategy). 

Matchups: I'm waiting to see when Syracuse's shooting magic wears off. Miami's run will be entertaining and if they get to match up against Indiana I'll be thrilled to watch.

South
Florida gets lots of love, as does Kansas, but I am thinking Georgetown cuts down the regional nets.

GEORGETOWN IS AWESOME. I write that only so that phrase appears on Daly Dose once.

Players to watch: Can Shabazz Muhammad pull UCLA out of the muck and help secure Ben Howland's continued employment? Florida Gulf Coast has a smart coach who schemes well and can hang with a major conference opponent. Michigan has Trey Burke vs Havoc, which should be sweet. 

Upsets: Georgetown COULD lose to FGCU... I see a lot of chalk until the Sweet Sixteen. There, I see all four teams as vulnerable.

Matchups: Michigan South Dakota State is going to be a white knuckler. So is VCU/ Michigan.

Gary Moore (The College Hardwood)

1) Pick Seven to Eight Double Digit Seeds to win in Round of 64 - Since 2006, with the exception of 2007 when only two double digit seeds made it past the Round 64,  double digit seeds on average have won seven games in the Round of 64 (2012 - 9, 2011-6, 2010-8, 2009-8, 2008-6, 2006-8).

To go even further, since 2006, #12 seeds have won eleven Round of 64 games.  #11 seeds have won thirteen Round of 64 games. #10 seeds have won twelve Round of 64 games. Since 2006, with the exception of 2007, A #13 seed has won at least one Round of 64 game. 

Based on the odds, figure at least two #10 seeds, two #11 seeds, two #12 seeds and one #13 seed are going to win their Round of 64 games.

2) Don't Pick Double Digit Seeds in the Second Round - Since 2006, no more than three double digit seeds have advanced to the Sweet 16 (2012 -3, 2011-3, 2010-3,2009-1,2008-3,2007-none, 2006-2).   So even if you think any team can win this year, temper your enthusiasm when it comes to double digit seeds in the second round.  Pick maybe one or two exceptions and go with chalk.  See #4 for more details.

3) #2 Seeds Often Die Before the Elite Eight - I saw a CBS statistic last night that only 42.5% of #2 seeds make it to the Elite Eight.  That's less than half folks.  If you are picking more than two #2 seeds to make it to the Elite Eight, check again.  If you want to do well in your office pool, pick two #2 seeds to either  lose in the Round of 32 or certainly in the Sweet Sixteen.

4) Know Where Certain Teams Are Playing - The Committee is often very generous in giving teams basically home games in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament.  This year is no exception - Michigan, Michigan State, California, Louisville and Ohio State are playing in their home state for the first two rounds.  Kansas and Kansas State are playing in the familiar territory of Kansas City, Missouri, which hosted the Big 12 Tournament last week.  

If you think for example VCU has a great chance of upsetting Michigan on what's basically a home court, you may want to rethink.  Likewise, temper your enthusiasm for Iowa State/Notre Dame vs. Ohio State.

However, from #2, if you think a double digit seed is going to make it to the Sweet 16, look for a double digit seed playing on a neutral site.  Minnesota, my #11 pick to go to the Sweet 16 is playing in Austin, Texas.  Florida has no home court advantage there.  Throw in some good guards and I think the Gophers make the Sweet 16.

5) When Picking Teams in a Certain Round, Check To See if Strengths Are Neutralized...Or Not -  It pays to know your teams.  If you are a Ken Pomeroy insider, you might know that Middle Tennessee is 30th in the country in three point percentage offense and St Mary's is #300th in three point field goal percentage defense.  Likewise, Belmont is #33 in the country in three point field goal percentage offense and Arizona is #276 in the country in three point field goal percentage defense.  Needless to say, I like Middle Tennessee and Belmont in those matchups.

Even more stats for you.  VCU is #1 in the country in turnover percentage defnse at 28.7 percent.  But Michigan is #1 in the country in turnover percentage on offense at only 14.3 percent. The Wolverines are #11 in the country in 2 pt field goal percentage offense.  That doesn't bode well for the Rams who are 258th in the country in 2 pt field goal percentage defense.   

I heard Jay Bilas basically say that the committee gave VCU a golden opportunity of getting the Rams to the Elite Eight.  I disagree. By putting VCU in a potential second round matchup in Auburn Hills against a Michigan team that doesn't turn the ball over, I say the committee didn't do the Rams any favors at all.

Further down the road, many experts have picked Louisville to win it all.  And as many people know, Louisville's strength is their press, as they are second to VCU in the country in turnover defensive percentage at 27.6 percent.  However, they may likely face St Louis in the Sweet Sixteen.  As the Rams have twice found out, the Billikens are strong with the ball.  St Louis is #46 in the country in turnover percentage offense at 17.6 percent and #23 in the country in turnover percentage defense.  I like the Billikens to knock off the Cardinals.   

I stopped doing brackets years ago because it's more fun to watch the games play out.  That being said, on request, I am contributing to a friend's site this year with some picks.  Here's who I like;

At Large Play In Games - As I noted, I like Middle Tennessee to beat St Mary's.  Middle Tennessee played a good non conference schedule, better than people think. Plus one of their strengths, shooting the three is a major weakness for the Gaels. 

Boise State-LaSalle is a toss up to me.  So I will pick the Broncos to win a close one.  I think either team is capable of beating Kansas State.  So I have Boise as a double digit seed winner in Round of 64

Round of 64 Upsets - Middle Tennessee continues their run knocking off a Memphis team whose best non conference win was Tennessee.  Blue Raiders prove they're the second best team in Tennessee (Belmont is first).

Belmont's three point shooting prowess knocks off Arizona.    Oregon is playing really well.  I don't like Oklahoma State's non conference.  Like the Ducks to win a #5-#12 game. 

This is a slight upset with a #9 over a #8.  Wichita State likes physical play and had a strong non conference schedule .  They will beat Pittsburgh.  

I have #9 Nova beating #8 North Carolina as well another #9, Missouri beating #8 Colorado State,  So why not make it a canasta and say Temple, another #9, beats mercurial #8 NC State. 

As I noted, Boise takes out Kansas State for the sixth straight season a #13 beats a #4. 

Fred Hoiberg's #10 Iowa State beats #7 Notre Dame in a shootout.

#11 Minnesota beats a depleted #6 UCLA team without Jordan Adams. 

Everyone thinks #11 Bucknell can beat #6 Butler in Lexington.  But that's not going to be the upset in that bracket.  I like #14 Davidson, a veteran team that's terrific on offense to beat #3 Marquette. Something tells me that the Golden Eagles will be looking ahead at a potential return match up with Butler.  The Wildcats will stun them.  

Finally #10 Colorado will mercifully end #7 Illinois' wacky season. 

Everything else is chalk. Sorry my Iona friends. The Gaels will give the Buckeyes a good run. But in the end, Iona doesn't have enough defense to beat Ohio State.

Round of 32 -  Based on tournament history, two #2 seeds will be gone before the Elite Eight.  So why not get rid of one of them in the Round of 32.  Creighton, who is more than just Doug McDermott, knocks off Duke. 

I love VCU.  And if they weren't playing Michigan, let alone playing Michigan in Auburn Hills, I could see them beating most other teams left in the Round of 32.  But the Wolverines are a bad match up for the Rams, especially on what amounts to a home court. Michigan advances.

As I noted, love Minnesota's guards.  They handle the Florida press and we at least have one double digit seed go to the Sweet 16.  

A slight upset will be #5 UNLV over #4 Syracuse.  Love Moser and Bennett on the Rebels.

Believe it or not I have chalk with all the other teams - Louisville, who pounds undisciplined Missouri again, St Louis, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Ohio State (only because they are playing in Dayton), Kansas, Georgetown, Indiana, Butler and Miami.

Sweet 16 -  I really believe St Louis knocks off Louisville.  Love their guard play with Jett and Mitchell.  Michigan State and the Fighting Izzos knock off Creighton.

Wisconsin has been playing really well.  I think they take out Gonzaga.  New Mexico is such a terrific defensive team and they have played such a strong schedule overall.  Snell is the difference in beating Ohio State.

Michigan is a much better match up than VCU for Kansas.  McElmore, Withey, Johnson etc beat the Wolverines.  Meanwhile Georgetown's Otto Porter guns down Minnesota.

Indiana outlasts UNLV in a shootout.  Miami's length, especially at guard with Larkin and Scott will be too much for Clarke and Butler.

Elite Eight - Something tells me Michigan State beats St Louis.  I never bet against Izzo with a Final Four on the line. 

New Mexico knocks off another Big Ten team in Wisconsin. Defense wins the day here.

I say there has to be one #1 seed in the Final Four.  Kansas makes Jaden Daly happy and ends Georgetown's run. 

Hate to say it for all those Larranaga haters out there, but he's got a really good team.  Again Scott and Durand are too much for Indiana.  

Final Four - Michigan State ends New Mexico's run.  Meanwhile, Miami beats Kansas in a dandy.  

Final - I have been impressed with Miami all season.  Scott and Larkin take home the title and beat Michigan State. 


A tribute to Jim Larranaga during his tenure at George Mason.  (Photo courtesy of Mike Greiner)

Jaden Daly (A Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Midwest
Player to Watch: Dwayne Evans of Saint Louis.  A first-team all-Atlantic 10 selection that easily could have been the conference player of the year, Evans took his game to another level during last weekend's A-10 Tournament in Brooklyn, averaging over 20 points per game over three days as the Billikens won their first A-10 championship and continued their emotional run through a season marked by the tragic passing of former head coach Rick Majerus.

Coach to Watch: Evans' mentor, Jim Crews.  No coach has had to deal with the circumstances that Crews has dealt with at Saint Louis this season, taking a program that hit an emotional low with Majerus' death in December and turning it into a championship winner in both the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament.

Local Angle: Take your pick.  Louisville coach Rick Pitino was born in Brooklyn and grew up on Long Island, his star guard Russ Smith is a Molloy product and Queens native, Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick is a White Plains native, and Albany comes into their matchup with Duke off an America East championship that saw the Great Danes knock off regular season conference champion Stony Brook to get to the title game.

Upset Special: (12) Oregon over (5) Oklahoma State.  The Ducks may be the most criminally underseeded team this year, and get a favorable matchup with Travis Ford's Cowboys in a battle of the freshman guards, as Dominic Artis goes up against Marcus Smart.

Best Potential Matchup: (4) Saint Louis vs. (1) Louisville.  If all goes well, you'll see two suffocating defenses in the Midwest semifinals, with Crews and the Billikens taking on Rick Pitino's pressing Cardinals on the same night that Michigan State may very well take on Duke.

Survivor: Michigan State.  I'm firmly convinced that Saint Louis will pull off the upset against Louisville, while Tom Izzo is near impossible to bet against on this stage.  The Spartans once again edge out Saint Louis this year, this time with greater stakes on the line.

West
Player to Watch: A bit of a stretch, but I'm going with Kevin Pangos of Gonzaga.  The sophomore point guard is arguably among the most underrated players in the nation, and can change any game if he gets on a hot streak from beyond the arc.  Don't count out his teammate Kelly Olynyk, or New Mexico's Tony Snell for that matter.

Coach to Watch: Gregg Marshall of Wichita State.  Among the best coaches in the country even if he's at a mid-major, Marshall knows how to win in March, especially against big-name programs, and should have the Shockers ready for their opening round matchup with Pittsburgh.

Local Angle: Aside from the obvious one with Tim Cluess and Iona, Iowa State assistant coach Matt Abdelmassih actually took a class with me once upon a time at St. John's.  (Stadium and arena management back in the fall of 2005, when I was a sophomore)

Upset Special: (10) Iowa State over (7) Notre Dame.  The Fighting Irish aren't historically long for the NCAA Tournament, and Fred Hoiberg's Cyclones have one of the more exciting backcourts in the Big 12 in Tyrus McGee and Korie Lucious, who knows the March terrain from his prior experience at Michigan State.

Best Potential Matchup: (1) Gonzaga vs. (9) Wichita State.  The Shockers would have to defeat Pittsburgh to get to the Zags, but it could be one of the better games of the year as Olynyk and Elias Harris will no doubt have their hands full against the Wichita State front line of Carl Hall and Cleanthony Early.

Survivor: New Mexico.  If Gonzaga does have to go through Wichita State, they may have to endure a battle against Wisconsin in the Sweet 16.  Steve Alford's Lobos get a rather favorable draw, potentially facing Arizona in the round of 32 before squaring off against possibly Ohio State.  New Mexico's Mountain West Tournament performance places them on the precipice of a breakthrough, and with all five starters coming back next year, the run to success gets started early.

East
Player to Watch: This is another oddball choice, but it's Anthony Marshall of UNLV for me. The Rebels' senior point guard has seen his scoring take a slight hit, but his outside shooting and assist numbers have improved one year after another to the point where the Las Vegas product comes in shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc and averaging six assists per game, numbers that will help UNLV if they get past California and wind up in a round of 32 matchup against Syracuse.

Coach to Watch: Buzz Williams of Marquette.  Wrongfully and tragically robbed of the Big East Coach of the Year award, Buzz gets his players ready like no other coach in the nation, and will have his Golden Eagles team in excellent shape heading into their tournament opener against Davidson.

Local Angle: Miami head coach Jim Larranaga is of course a one-time player at Molloy under the late Jack Curran, Davidson's Bob McKillop is a Hofstra alum who coached both Long Island Lutheran and Holy Trinity to perennial success on Long Island, and James Madison head man Matt Brady led Marist to a regular season MAAC championship in 2007.

Upset Special: (10) Colorado over (7) Illinois.  As much as the Butler/Bucknell and Marquette/Davidson matchups have upset potential, the Buffs have the most realistic chance, especially in a battle of the scorers between their own Andre Roberson and Illinois guard Brandon Paul.

Best Potential Matchup: (5) UNLV vs. (4) Syracuse.  Butler and Marquette would be an intriguing rematch from the Rotnei Clarke buzzer-beater in the Maui Invitational, but the Rebels' offense against Syracuse's world-famous 2-3 zone will be appointment viewing for the college hoops fanatic.  It will also introduce people to just how good the Mountain West can be on any given night.

Survivor: Indiana.  The top-seeded Hoosiers are the most complete team going into the regional, and will forge their way to Atlanta after hard-fought battles against UNLV and Miami.

South
Player to Watch: Give me VCU's Briante Weber.  The sophomore point guard comes in off the bench and immediately changes games with his high energy level and suffocating defense, and if the Rams get past Akron in the first round, he will have the task of forcing Michigan's Trey Burke, a Wooden Award contender with a steady hand, into an off night.  If anyone can handle that, the Virginia product is one of the few.

Coach to Watch: The man that Weber and VCU may have to go up against at some point, Michigan's John Beilein.  Beilein's teams always get better the longer he is there, and this year's Wolverines squad is no exception.  The biggest issue with Michigan, though, is that they need to find a third scorer behind Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., especially against VCU's patented "Havoc" defense should that matchup become a reality.

Local Angle: Florida's Mike Rosario played at St. Anthony's in Jersey City, and oh yeah, he was a Rutgers transfer.  (My apologies to friend of the site Dave White, who covers the Scarlet Knights for On The Banks) In addition, UCLA's Kyle Anderson is also a St. Anthony's product, while Villanova forward JayVaughn Pinkston played his high school ball at Bishop Loughlin in Brooklyn.

Upset Special: (9) Villanova over (8) North Carolina.  Once those who know me well get past the shock of me filling out a bracket that does not feature my beloved Tar Heels advancing at all, (this is the first time ever, by the way) you can see that the Wildcats have a decided edge in the frontcourt that will make the biggest difference in the game, as Pinkston and Mouphtaou Yarou will prove to be too much for an undersized James Michael McAdoo.

Best Potential Matchup: (5) VCU vs. (3) Florida.  It wouldn't happen unless both teams got to the Elite Eight, but it has the potential to be an epic duel in the Lone Star State.  Weber and Darius Theus defending the backcourt of Rosario and Kenny Boynton will provide more juice than the battle between Shaka Smart and his former mentor Billy Donovan.

Survivor: Florida.  As good as VCU is, and as much as Ram Nation impacts games, the Gators have more than enough weapons to outlast the Rams, but it won't come easy.  Donovan's experience and two national titles also give Florida a psychological edge, no disrespect to Shaka.

Final Four: Michigan State, New Mexico, Indiana, Florida
National Championship: Indiana wins an all-Big Ten title game, narrowly escaping Michigan State by the final of 85-81, with Cody Zeller earning Most Outstanding Player honors.

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