Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Befuddled by the Bracket

On Sunday night the bracket for the NCAA “March Madness” Tournament was released. Last year I posted a number of my predictions for the tournament on my blog. I made my picks arrogantly. I oozed self-confidence. I embodied cool self-assurance. I paid for my impudence. Pride goeth before the fall.

Last year I predicted a big tournament from the Big East. Of the 8 teams that conference sent to the tournament, half suffered major upsets in the opening round, and only two were still playing on the tournament’s second weekend. Only West Virginia, which made the Final Four, outperformed their seeding. My bracket was busted.

This year I fill out my bracket without any hint of confidence. I’m second guessing myself on all my predictions. I may not have the power to predict the future, but that won’t stop me from trying.

Here are ten things I think will happen in the NCAA tournament. Let the prognosticating begin:

1) Wisconsin beats Belmont handily
At first glance, it hardly seems a stretch to predict that a 4-seed will beat a 13-seed. However, this is one of the most commonly predicted first round upsets. Belmont finished the season with a 30-4 record and was the class of the less-than-competitive Atlantic Sun conference. Wisconsin finished the season with an embarrassment of a game in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament. They scored an anemic 33 points against a hungry Penn State team fighting for its life. What’s lost in this story is that they played good defense, holding the Nittany Lions to only 36 points. Wisconsin will play to restore their reputation. They’ll be Belmont by over 20 points.
Result: Correct. While Wisconsin didn't win by 20, they did lead by double-digits for the last ten minutes of the game, including being up 19 with a minute and a half remaining before easing up.
Score: 1 for 1

2) Villanova beats George Mason
Of the 11 teams that the Big East is sending to this year’s NCAA tournament, no team is playing like they want to be there less than Villanova. They ended the season on a 5 game losing streak with the last loss coming against the University of South Florida in the first round of the Big East tournament. However, the first four losses all came against top-25 teams. George Mason was the Cinderella story back in 2006 when they made an unlikely Final Four run. They’ll have to look back on those days fondly. They are making a first round exit this year.
Result: Incorrect. Villanova followed up on a disappointing regular season and a disappointing Big East tournament with a first round exit in the tournament.
Score: 1 for 2

3) All the fives survive
It is a popular theory among bracket pickers that you have to have a 12-seed knocking off a 5-seed in the first round. Not this year. I like Vanderbilt, West Virginia, Kansas State, and Arizona in their first round matchups. They will all win in the opening round of the tourney.
Result: Incorrect. Three of the four 5-seeds did win. However, Richmond did knock off Vanderbilt in the opening round.
Score: 1 for 3

4) BYU does not make it past the first weekend
I won’t go as far as to predict that Wofford is going to beat BYU in the opening round in Denver. (I don’t even know where Wofford is?) However, BYU will lose to either St. John’s or Gonzaga in the second round.
Result: Incorrect. BYU won their first two games and went on to play in the Sweet 16 on the second weekend of the tournament.
Score: 1 for 4

5) Michigan State reaches the Sweet 16
Michigan State is one of the toughest stories in basketball this year. They started out the season ranked as the number 2 team in the country. Playing one of the nation’s toughest schedules, with 19 games against teams that made it to the NCAA tournament, Michigan State scuffled. I’m betting on redemption. They one of only two double-digit seeds that I think will make it out of the first weekend.
Result: Incorrect. Michigan State lost in the first round.
Score: 1 for 5

6) And so does Florida State
The other team is Florida State. I’m betting on Florida State handling an underwhelming Texas A&M team in the opening round and then defeating Notre Dame in the second round.
Result: Correct. Florida State defeated Texas A&M and Notre Dame, but then lost to an upstart VCU squad in the Sweet 16
Score: 2 for 6

7) No “Cinderellas” in the big dance
I define a “Cinderella” as a team that isn’t from a BCS conference (Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac 10, and SEC) that wins 2 or more games against better-seeded teams. This year there will be no Davidson, no George Mason, and no Cornell.
Result: Incorrect. With an 8-seed and a 11-seed in the Final Four, 2011 was the year of the Cinderella. In fact, Virginia Commonwealth defeated a team from the Pac-10 in a play-in game before reeling off upset victories against teams from the Big East, Big 10, ACC, and Big 12.
Score: 2 for 7

8) Connecticut keeps its streak alive
How exactly does one predict Connecticut’s performance in the tournament? No team enters March Madness hotter, or more exhausted. Last week they won five games in five days, prevailing in the Big East tournament and defeating formidable foes such as Georgetown, Pitt, Syracuse, and Louisville. Some have said that this streak means they are over-seeded. Some have said that they are going to run out of steam. I say they will ride Kemba Walker’s hot hand to at least 3 more victories.
Result: Correct. No team ended the season hotter than Connecticut. They followed up on a five game winning streak in the Big East tournament by winning all six games in the NCAA tournament and a National Championship.
Score: 3 for 8

9) Kansas wins it all…
That’s my pick. Write it down.
Result: Incorrect. Kansas made it to the Elite 8 but lost to VCU.
Score: 3 for 9

10) …or do they?
But, let’s just assume for a second that Kansas slips up. Let’s assume that they fall somewhere along the way. (It’s been known to happen.) If Kansas trips up, it will be in a loss to Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals. If KU doesn’t make it to the championship game, Louisville will.
Result: Very incorrect. Louisville had the worst showing of any team in the tournament, losing in the opening round to Morehead State.
Score: 3 for 10