Thursday, May 31, 2018

Kurly’s Preseason Top 10

Now that the transfer and NBA exploratory stage are over, here is my Top 10, the only one you need.

10. Villanova - I didn’t necessarily have an epiphany, but I now believe Jay Wright is the best coach in college basketball. Couple two national titles and player development, argue with me about that.  

9. Michigan - The second best coach resides in Ann Arbor. Forget Sparty, forget Maryland, by the end of the regular season, Michigan will be the best team in the Big 14.

8. Tennessee - They might be the best team in the SEC but we’ll get to why I have them here for the moment. They’ll be a year older and have most of their minutes back. Falling back seems highly unlikely.

7. Kansas State - They’ll be an interesting team to watch but they return so much. We have to remember they took advantage of a region that lost all its top seeds but unlike South Carolina of 2017, this team shouldn’t fall backwards.

6. Kentucky - Rumors abound Reid Travis is going to end up in Lexington as a grad transfer. If that’s the case, Kentucky is a legit title contender. Plus, we’ll all be cheering for Tyler Herro.

5. Duke - Freshman heavy again, Duke’s season will hinge on what kind of defensive team they become. It is a very intriguing mix in Durham.

4. North Carolina - Luke Maye is my early choice for POY and this Tar Heel squad added some five stars as well. I think we’re due for a Tobacco Road heavy Final 4. It’s been far too long.

3. Nevada - Nevada added a five star freshman to the Martin twins who are returning. They should roll through the Mountain West. How they get seeded will be the big question for them next March but with Eric Mussleman on the bench, it may not matter.

2. Kansas - This should be Bill Self’s best chance at a second national title since all the others. They add oodles of talent. This includes traditional transfers who had a season to acclimate. 

1. Gonzaga - They bring back two NBA caliber players and add one of Europe’s best prospects in Filip Petrusev, a skilled big. Zach Norvell should have a huge season and will be a potential All-American. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Villanova

Last nights thumping of Michigan by Villanova is a culmination of Jay Wright and the Wildcats establishing themselves as one of the new blue bloods of college basketball. If Jay Wright sticks around, it’s likely there are more Final 4’s around the corner for the new Big East flagship program.

Wright and Villanova began drawing criticism as a March flopper following their 2015 loss to NC State in the second round as a 1-seed. That followed a second round loss to eventual champ UConn as a 2-seed in the second round in 2014. Going further back, they lost as 2-seed to St. Mary’s in 2010 after surviving a scare from Robert Morris in the opening tilt. In between, Nova was searching for an identity as Wright and his staff looked to re-establish themselves.

Prior to that, from 2005-09, Nova had great success, making 4 Sweet 16’s and a Final 4 run in 2009. Like many programs before them, sometimes, you get lost in the wilderness for whatever reason. Beginning with the recruitment of Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston, Nova round Nova dudes and the culture established when he originally arrived in Philly was back for Jay Wright and Villanova.

There’s a lesson here. Wright failed to make the tournament his first three years at Villanova. He took slings and arrows as a March failure after great success in a five year period. We lack patience in sports. In college sports, patience is sometimes required. Jay Wright didn’t become a dummy in 2010. Luck and circumstance all played a part as Villanova saw success elude them in March. We’re nearing the end of the decade and along with perhaps Duke, they’ve laid claim to program of the decade. Jay Wright has something only two other current coaches have, multiple national titles. He has more than Tom Izzo or Jim Boeheim. He’s a walking hall of famer.

Whether Villanova can sustain success is yet to be seen. The NBA will be a tempting lure for Jay Wright. UConn won 4 titles in 15 years and became an afterthought almost overnight. Nova loses Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Omari Spellman probably played himself into guaranteed money this March. They still have Nova dudes coming back but success isn’t guaranteed. Whatever the case, any doubt Villanova or Jay Wright are capable of climbing the mountain again seems silly. Welcome to the land of the blue bloods.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Final 4 Thoughts and Random Observations

The biggest surprise last night wasn’t the winners, but the ease at which Villanova handled Kansas. I thought Michigan would wear down Loyola. They did. I thought Kansas had put away the bad KU we had seen during the Big XII season. They hadn’t.

Loyola had a great season. A season they’ll find increasingly difficult to repeat as time goes on. They’ll also be kicking themselves. The talk on twitter after Michigan jumped out to a 12-4 lead was they’d be kicking themselves for not building a bigger lead as both teams scuffled on offense. My thought was Loyola was getting to the rim without trouble and just missing too many bunnies. Sure enough, they closed the half on a 25-10 run executing their offense with precision and brilliance. 

Even after 8 minutes in the 2nd half, Michigan had only shaved a point off the halftime lead. Then Loyola had that stretch we’d seen against Nevada and to a lesser extent Kansas State where the offense got stuck. Marques Townes started cramping and things went sideways fast. Mo Wagner was the best player on the court last night and in a sense, willed the Wolverines to victory with some help from Charles Matthews as the Michigan guards were largely absent. It was a performance for the ages. Wagner joined Akeem Olajuwon and Larry Bird as the only players to get 20 points and 15 boards in a national semifinal. That’s nice company.

In the nightcap, Villanova set a Final 4 record with made 3-pointers in a game by halftime and largely cruised past a shellshocked Kansas team. It was vintage Villanova. They’ve been a juggernaught for 5 years. A win tomorrow cements them as one of the best runs in recent memory.

I saw criticism of Bill Self but I’m not sure what his answer was supposed to be. Even when they clamped down outside, Nova’s guards broke them down off the dribble freeing up shooters. They could have zoned all night but Nova was too good for that to be effective. Sadly for KU fans, it was one of those nights.

Brian mentioned to me it’s possible Nova shot its wad last night. It’s possible. They shot lights out against Oklahoma in 2016 and followed that up with a 77 point night against Carolina. Michigan can defend but I’m not sure their guards have seen a back court like Villanova’s all year. And while Nova had stretches of mediocre defensive play this season, they’re still 14th in defensive efficiency. I’d wager playing in an offensive minded Big East skewed their numbers. Michigan is a much better defensive team than KU and will guard the perimeter better but I’m having a hard time finding a big advantage for them. Spellman can take Mo and even if Wagner goes off again, Nova has far more options to counter than Loyola did.

Michigan has had a bit of the Gonzaga luck when it comes to the draw to get this far. They’ve beaten a 14, 6, 7, 8 and 11 to get to this point. That’s not their fault and quite frankly, Houston was better than a 6. And now that it’s a single game, I’m not sure any of that matters. They’ve won 14 in a row and that’s damn impressive. I just don’t see the advantage they have in this game. They play slower, 4 possessions slower than Nova but that won’t bother Villanova. Alabama and Texas Tech play slow, too and those were still double digit wins. Villanova is a healthy KP favorite. It’s 6-points with a 69% win probability. That sounds right to me.

Title Game Pick: Villanova 70 Michigan 64

Friday, March 30, 2018

Final 4 Picks

Loyola vs. Michigan

How long can the Loyola run last? Do they have another buzzer beater or close win in them? The numbers favor Michigan and pretty heavily for a Final 4 matchup.

Loyola isn’t the first 11-seed to ever make the Final 4 but they’re looking to be the first to win a game there. Betting against them simply because of the numbers or the matchup looks to favor Michigan seems silly after the last two weeks but Michigan is the clear favorite.

This is the bizarro Michigan as I’ve mentioned before. They’re defense first, offense second. It’s not Beilein-like. That’s not to say they don’t run solid offensive sets but they’re not as dynamic as past teams. That’s probably the road to victory for Loyola. Michigan has been pretty average on offense in 3 games of 4. If they play that way, this game should be close. If Michigan plays like they did against Texas A&M, Loyola has not shot.

Michigan has another bugaboo and that’s bad free throw shooting. Will it catch up to them at some point? They’ve dodged it thus far. 

Loyola has one big win in the tournament in margin and the rest have been close, similar to Michigan. The moment shouldn’t shake them. At some point, though, midnight strikes and it strikes tomorrow night.

The Pick: Michigan 61 Loyola 51

Villanova vs. Kansas

A month ago, I’d have said Nova would roll these guys. After Sunday, I’m not sure. That’s not a knock on Nova. Kansas has become a different team. It’s largely sprung from the brilliance of Malik Newman. Devonte’ Graham has been the the heart, Newman has become the muscle. 

If the first game is a bit of a slog, this game could be a track meet in the scoring sense. Both have great offenses and KU is 3rd in the nation in 3pt. shooting and Nova is 15th. Nova seems to have been more prone recently to shooting slumps. Part of that is playing a frenetic West Virginia and defensive minded Texas Tech team. 

Both are fairly similar defensively. Both defend the arc roughly the same. Both have about the same effective fg% defense. Neither team turns it over. Neither team puts the other at the line. My gut tells me, which team makes more of their 3’s wins. Flip a coin.

The Pick: Villanova 79 Kansas 78

Monday, March 26, 2018

Recapping the Weekend

If there’s one thing reinforced this weekend, luck matters in March. This isn’t a complaint or excuse but part of the beauty of March Madness and part of the frustration for some.

Loyola did something only true believers could have imagined possible at this school. It’s been proven possible for Valley teams to have March success. But there was no reason to believe Loyola was the school to return the Valley to a Final 4 so soon after losing Creighton and Wichita State. Quite frankly, before Porter Moser got there and even after, no one thought this possible. They were a very good team this season but out of all the recent 11-seeds to make a Final 4, Loyola was the luckiest. A buzzer beater over Miami, a late bucket over Tennessee, drawing the 7 and 9 seed in the regionals helped a lot. They won their first 3 games of the tournament by 4 points but to their credit, they kicked the door down Saturday night handling a Kansas State team who can frustrate any and all opponents. My hunch is, this is a fluky George Mason like run versus a Butler or VCU run. Butler and VCU had tasted some March success before a Final 4. Whatever the case, Loyola owes no one an apology and will not be a pushover for Michigan.

Speaking of Michigan, like Loyola, they owe their Final 4 to a stroke of luck as Jordan Poole saved their season with a buzzer beater over Houston. They also got help from Leonard Hamilton who inexplicably called off the dogs late Saturday despite Michigan being a woeful FT shooting team. Doesn’t matter, they’re in the Final 4 for the second time under John Beilein and 10th time overall. Win or lose this weekend, John Beilein has established his reputation as one of the great college coaches of all time. He adapts to fit his personnel and fixes his deficiencies. His hiring of Luke Yaklich as an assistant was the best coaching move of the past year. Brian texted me calling Michigan, “Virginiaesque”. Nah, they’re closer to Wisconsin but without the grabbing, flopping and undercutting.

Of all the Final 4 participants, Villanova was the one where some luck wasn’t needed. Oh, there was some involved. They drew West Virginia and Texas Tech, teams that love to foul and Villanova will eat your dead at the line. Jay Wright now has 3 Final 4’s under his belt and makes Tom Oates look like an idiot. As great as Rollie was, Jay Wright has established himself as the best coach in Nova history.

Finally, Kansas rode the brilliance of  Malik Newman (pats self on back) past Duke. Duke avoided heading west where UNC got trounced by Texas A&M but looking back, they would have had an easier path to a Final 4. Instead, they ended up in the Midwest and basically played a road game in a regional final. As they say, them’s the breaks. It won’t make Brian feel any better, but that was a fantastic game where no one deserved to lose. Bill Self takes a lot of criticism but I thought he had a great game plan yesterday. He threw double teams at Duke’s bigs forcing the guards to beat them and Trevon Duval was almost up to the task. On offense, KU was patient and got a lot of good look 3’s and enough lobs to force Duke to defend the rim. Players have to execute and KU did. That’s a credit to Self and his staff. Duke played a great game and lost. It happens. It sucks, but I saw a group of kids that left it all on the court and despite idiotic proclamations about the folly of one-and-dones, the kids that have gone through Duke have always given effort and looked like great teammates. The criticism of Coach K is petty jealousy. If you think that team was bad for college basketball, you’re an idiot.

Finally, a lot of Badger fans took satisfaction in Grayson Allen’s career ending. That’s fine. He has a national title at the expense of the best team in Badgers history. Enjoy that big win yesterday. 


Sunday, March 25, 2018

The Midwest

Duke vs. Kansas 

This is the 6th time these teams have played each other in the NCAA Tournament, with Duke winning 3 of the 5. The last time they played one another in the tournament was 2003 when Kansas beat Duke in a regional final.

Kansas played 30 great minutes against Clemson and then held on. Duke won the type of game that many teams may not have won against Syracuse. Somehow, Duke is a top ten defense while Kansas is 46th. If Duke can make some 3’s today and manage the glass against a weak rebounding Kansas team, they should win.

The Pick: Duke 71 Kansas 68

The East

Villanova vs. Texas Tech

Villanova is a pretty solid favorite. They’re up to 14th in defensive efficiency after hovering near 30 for most of the season. Texas Tech has been one of the top defensive teams in the nation for most of the season. Villanova has a distinct advantage on the offensive side of the ball.

Nova has won its last 7 games by double digits. Tech has gotten healthy and playing like the team they were early in the season. Tech is in unchartered territory but I don’t think they’ll be overwhelmed by the moment. I do think they’ll be overwhelmed at some point by Villanova, though.  

The Pick: Villanova 73 Texas Tech 68

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The West

Michigan vs. Florida State

Michigan enters this game on a 12-game winning streak and are up to 7 in KenPom. Both teams had arguably the best performances of the Sweet 16. Michigan fans are VERY confident they’re going to San Antonio. Most pessimistic football fans in the world but when it comes to hoops...

When I previewed FSU-Gonzaga, I mentioned there wasn’t any great area where FSU stood out. They are a very long team but Michigan just boatraced a team with a size and length advantage. The FSU win over the Zags was one of those games where I ignored what I thought all year, that the Zags were good but not a great team despite what the numbers said. 

What does that mean? I think Michigan is as good as their numbers say. They scuffled last weekend but they’re still playing with incredible swagger. FSU is playing with house money. Give me the team with swagger.

The Pick: Michigan 70 Florida State 63

The South

Loyola vs. Kansas State 

Is this the weakest regional final ever? Well, probably but that would require some research that I’m not doing today. It is the first time a 9 has ever played an 11 so that tells us just about all we need to know.

Kansas State sure has that South Carolina vibe about them. It’s not a great analogy, KSU is better on offense but they’ve been defensively suffocating. While this is the case, Loyola already managed a real good defensive squad in Tennessee. Kansas State won’t intimidate them. 

This game is pretty much a toss up. Loyola is 34th in KenPom and Kansas State is 36th. Bruce Weber is a Milwaukee guy. Porter Moser is a Majerus guy. Illinois fired Weber and won’t play Loyola. Flip a coin.

The Pick: Loyola 58 Kansas State 57

Friday, March 23, 2018

Brian's Totally Garbage Picks for Friday

As predicted my picks were terrible.  1-3 for the day.  I'll just pick the opposites....

EAST

The best game of the day should be a boat race.  So, I'm going with a low scoring upset.
West Virginia 67, Villanova 64

Purdue is going to be without Haas and Texas Tech is peaking.  I've thought this is an easy pick for Tech therefore....
Purdue 69, Texas Tech 65

MIDWEST

Clemson was a surprise all year long and most people picked them to lose by now.  Kansas is looking strong.
Clemson 71, Kansas 70

Duke turned their season around when they went to zone.  Syracuse always plays zone.  Last time they played it was a 60-44 clunked.  Should be a slow under game
Duke 91, Syracuse 80

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Thursday Sweet 16

South

I so want to pick Kansas State to upset Kentucky after all the complaining Coach Cal did about his side of the bracket but K-State plays some ugly basketball and Kentucky is peaking.  Perhaps Kentucky's freshman get rattled but I don't see it.  A win and a cover for the Wildcats :)
Kentucky 68, Kansas State 57

Whoever comes out of this side I'm cheering for to win the Elite Eight game.  I got not beef with either team but I don't need to see Eric Musselman with his shirt off.  A game of mismatching paces but Nevada has shown they can win slow.  I'm calling for the slight upset.
Loyola 67, Nevada 65

West

In a flip flop from 10 years ago, Power 5 team Florida State is the underdog higher seed while the best team on the West Coast continues to be dominate.  I'm calling for the blowout here as Gonzaga has all the efficiency numbers to continue their march back to the Championship game.
Gonzaga 77, Florida State 63

Michigan has won ugly both games and if they don't get their offense in order it might be the end of the road.  Texas A&M was supposed to be this good so are we really that surprised at this point?  Is it a mirage or are they finally living up to the preseason expectation?  I'm going with the later.
Texas A&M 66, Michigan 61

If I were you, I'd rush to Vegas and bet the opposite of all of these....


Sweet 16 East

Villanova vs. West Virginia

West Virginia throttled Marshall on Sunday night while Villanova messer around with Alabama before blitzing them in the second half. 

West Virginia thrives on pressure and turnovers. Villanova has the 11th best offensive turnover %. West Virginia fouls a ton while Nova rarely goes to the line. If Nova gets to the line a bunch and if West Virginia plays like it always does, it will, they’re the 14th best FT shooting team. 

The area where West Virginia will have an advantage will be on the glass. They will get second chances and they will outrebound Villanova. They should have success in the paint. They also protect the ball. Nova will have to break the press to get easy buckets. 

This could be the best Sweet 16 matchup. Nova is 1 in KenPom and WVU is 11th. I think I trust Nova more but this game can go either way.

Villanova 92 West Virginia 88

Purdue vs. Texas Tech 

The return of Keenan Evans has rejuvenated the Red Raiders. The loss of Isaac Haas hasn’t hurt Purdue yet but it is an interesting dichotomy. If Nova-WVU is the best Sweet 16 matchup, this is probably the 2nd best.

Purdue has the 2nd most efficient offense in the nation, Tech has the 4th best defense. Purdue is 29th in defense, Tech is 48th in offense. Both had battles in the round of 32. 

Purdue is a much better 3-pt shooting team, 2nd in the nation. Tech isn’t bad but they’re nowhere near that. Tech’s 3-point defense is good, 39th best in fg%. Can they guard the perimeter? If they do, they can win. 

Both teams were sketchy to end the season. I think Keenan Evans is the difference.

Texas Tech 72 Purdue 71

Sweet 16 Midwest

Kansas vs. Clemson

I pegged Kansas as a second round loser based on an inconsistent season. Some people truly believed they’d lose to Penn in the 16-1 matchup. This usually means a team like this makes the Final 4. 

The Jayhawks are 5th in offensive efficiency and 45th in defense. Clemson is 43rd and 7th, so we have two opposites matching up. Did you know Kansas is 9th in the nation in 3-point shooting? Clemson is average at defending the 3. Kansas is a poor rebounding team on the defensive side but Clemson is one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the nation.

KenPom basically has this as a toss up but there’s a lot to like about KU in this game.

Kansas 71 Clemson 67

Syracuse vs. Duke 

Duke handled Syracuse in their only meeting this year, 60-44. As we know Syracuse length in their zone has baffled both TCU and Michigan State. If Duke hadn’t faced them earlier in the year, I’d be a bit concerned.

Michigan State annihilated Syracuse on the offensive glass. Duke is the best offensive rebounding team in the nation. Duke is a much better shooting team than either TCU or Michigan State. On paper, this is a mismatch.

Thebgane isn’t played on paper. Syracuse can be maddening to play but given the variety weapons at Duke’s disposal, a much improved defense, up to 9th in KenPom, I only see Syracuse having a chance if Duke simply can’t score. They have too many polished weapons for that to happen.

Duke 66 Syracuse 56

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Sweet 16 Heads West

Michigan vs. Texas A&M

Michigan’s buzzer beater on Saturday was pretty awesome but sort of hides what have been two ugly games for the Wolverines. They beat a game Montana team in a terrible game and then survived a very good Houston team. They shot 36% and 8-30 from 3. That’s not a John Beilein team. This team is like some of those Wisconsin teams pre-Dekker.

As for the Aggies, a team I pegged as a Final 4 contender before the season, they had a great opening weekend. They handled Providence and then throttled UNC. UNC was discombobulated from the start. It probably isn’t realistic to expect such an offensive performance from A&M again. 

Michigan is 3rd in defensive efficiency and A&M is 9th. Offensively both are 36th and 65th respectively. 

If the first weekend results hold, A&M wins this game easy. If both teams regress/progress to the mean, Michigan is the favorite. The numbers can be misleading. A&M really was hampered by injuries this year and are finally mostly healthy. They’ll also have a big size advantage. A bad shooting night again from Michigan coupled with their poor FT shooting would spell doom. Everything screams A&M in this game to me.

Texas A&M 63 Michigan 60

Gonzaga vs. Florida State

For the entire season, the Zags have resided inside the KenPom top 10. I sort of dismissed them because I just didn’t think the results they had this year warranted them being a true top 10 team but here we are, another Sweet 16 for the school from Spokane. They’ve won 16 straight and 22 of 23. They held off a good Greensboro team and showed brilliance and toughness against Ohio State. 

As for FSU, they looked brilliant against Missouri. They got some help from Xavier on Sunday night in advancing but there’s no shame in that. They still had to execute. That said, I still believe X was one of the weakest 1-seeds in years.

The Zags are pretty solid favorites and have a top 20 offense and defense. FSU is 32nd in offense and 55th in defense. If we get into four factors and other numbers, it’s hard to find an area where FSU has an advantage. I like the Zags to reach their 3rd Elite 8 in 4 years. That’s damn impressive if they do.

Gonzaga 83 Florida State 70

Sweet 16 South Picks

Loyola vs. Nevada

If anything, this ought to be a close game. Loyola has a buzzer beater under its belt this tournament and Nevada has lead less than 5 minutes of real game time through 85 minutes of play.

Nevada has the 6th best offense and Loyola is 27th on defense. Nevada plays mediocre defense while Loyola is ok on offense. In two games, Loyola has played 58 and 62 possession games. That’s well below their season average. Nevada likes to play faster than that. Nevada played a slower game against Cincinnati and found a way to win. It’s not a sound strategy for them.

Both of these teams prove how important luck is in March. That’s not a criticism. I had Nevada in the Elite 8 even before the bracket broke this way. Both are very good teams but even good teams need some luck in a single-elimination format. I’m picking this on pure hunch and I think it goes this way:

Nevada 74 Loyola 66

Kentucky vs. Kansas State

The NCAA and Atlanta ought to rub a hunchback getting Kentucky to this regional. No offense to Buffalo or even Arizona but without Kentucky, attendance might have been pretty bleak.

As for the game, Kentucky is the favorite. UK is now 20th and 23rd in offense and defense in KenPom. Kansas State is 76th and 20th. Kansas State has been very impressive on defense through two games. They handled a good offensive squad in Creighton with ease. They brought UMBC back to earth in a rock fight. They’ll want to do the same to UK.

There’s little question Kentucky will have more talent on the court. One advantage Kentucky should have is on the boards and if the game is a rock fight, that should be the difference. Also, Kansas State fouls a lot and Kentucky lives at the line. 

Kentucky 65 Kansas State 56

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Sweet 16

Here are the remaining 16 teams as they sit in KenPom. Numbers are KenPom overall ranking and then the teams offensive and defensive rankings. Italics indicate teams I believe can win it all.

1. Villanova (1, 1, 19)
2. Duke (3, 3, 8)
3. Purdue (4, 2, 32)
4. Gonzaga (7, 12, 14)
5. Kansas (9, 5, 46)
6. Michigan (10, 36, 3)
7. West Virginia (11, 11, 39)
8. Texas Tech (13, 47, 4)
9. Clemson (14, 42, 7)
10. Kentucky (16, 20, 24)
11. Nevada (23, 6, 110)
12. Texas A&M (25, 65, 10)
13. Florida State (30, 32, 55)
14. Loyola (36, 63, 27)
15. Kansas State (39, 74, 20)
16. Syracuse (44, 139, 5)

Is this the worst Sweet 16 ever? Probably not but it is pretty weak. There are 10 teams from KenPom top 16. Part of the issue is, we had a historically weak 1-seed in Xavier and the Virginia loss. Michigan State, Cincinnati and UNC bowing out early hurt as well. Cincinnati’s loss was especially bad given how the bracket had broken for them. It’s possible Mick Cronin can replicate what Bob Huggins did and keep Cincinnati in the upper echelon of college hoops. If he can’t, they might be kicking themselves. Ask Marquette fans about having these opportunities to get back to a Final 4 in ‘12 and ‘13. Chances as good as the one Cincinnati had do not come around that often.

From a fan’s standpoint, it’ll be an enjoyable Sweet 16. Other than Syracuse, I don’t have a particular grudge against any squad nor huge rooting interest. Nova, Zags, Duke and Michigan probably would be the teams I’ll pull for. Could be a wild weekend 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

It’s Happening

That’s what I texted Brian when it was 21-21 at halftime last night of the Virginia-UMBC game. I didn’t really believe it but everything I had said about why Virginia is so vulnerable in March was exposed in that putrid half of basketball.

I started believing when UMBC went up 27-21. I assumed UVA would come out and start the half on something like a 15-5 run and UMBC would get rattled and we’d move on to Sunday and hoping Kansas State could somehow beat them. The Retrievers were having none of it.

Earlier this week on The Athletic, Nicole Auerbach wrote about how “true” basketball fans should embrace and love Virginia. Local Wisconsin sports jackals told Badger fans to adopt Tony Bennett, beloved son of Wisconsin and Virginia because among other things, it’s a beautiful style of basketball and they do it the right way. When you have to tell someone to love a style of play or team and that the haters are wrong, you’ve already lost the argument.

Tony Bennett’s system works. You don’t have the success Virginia has had in the ACC and say it doesn’t. It’s also incredibly tedious to watch and prone to offensive basketball that can’t handle aggressive and confident basketball teams. That’s what makes them walk the razor’s edge in March. 

Someday, they will breakthrough to a Final 4. Everyone will tell you “I told you, so” but you know what? We were right, too. And in March, we’ve been right a lot more often than we’ve been wrong about his basketball system.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The South Part 1.5

This bracket isn't finished yet.  I cant decide between Texas and Nevada and that's big cause I'm picking them to beat Cincinnati and Tennessee before losing to Arizona...

The West Part 2

Upset:  Houston to the Sweet 16

Pick I want to make but won't: Providence over North Carolina or Missouri/FSU over Xavier

Actual pick to make the Final Four: Gonzaga over North Carolina

The Midwest Part 2

Upset:  New Mexico State to the Sweet 16

Pick I want to make but won't: Bucknell over Michigan State

Actual pick to make the Final Four: Duke over Kansas

The East Part 2

Upset:  St. Bonavanture to the Sweet 16

Pick I want to make but won't: Butler over Purdue in the Round of 32

Actual pick to make the Final Four: Villanova over Purdue

Monday, March 12, 2018

The South

1. Virginia (1)
2. Cincinnati (4)
3. Tennessee (11)
4. Kentucky (18)
5. Arizona (21)
6. Nevada (24)
7. Creighton (27)
8. Miami (FLA) (36)
9. Texas (39)
10. Loyola (41)
11. Davidson (43)
12. Kansas State (44)

Criminally Underseeded: This bracket is fairly spot-on. 

Criminally Overseeded: Kansas State- Miami is a choice here, too. Miami is basically 3 spots too high but two spots in this bracket while KState is 3 spots too high for the region. I think both lose in the opening round.

Random Observations: This is the weirdest of the regions. I bet Virginia is chosen in something like 95% of the brackets filled out and will undoubtedly be the choice of the “experts”. And rightfully so. If they don’t make it to the Final 4 from this region, I question whether they ever do. This is also a great opportunity for Cincinnati to make their first Final 4 since 1992. I’ll still be picking against them. The big ol’ question for me is, do Arizona or Kentucky make a run. Kentucky has steadily improved but I’m still leery. Same with Arizona. Either way, I’d love to see Arizona go deep and beat Virginia along the way just too see the uproar over the do-it-the-right-wayers (which is basically every journo in Wisconsin telling us we have to adopt Tony Bennett’s team). Gross. FWIW, Peyton Aldridge will be the best player on the floor when Davidson plays Kentucky, just not the most talented. Ok, Kevin Knox is probably better but I expect Aldridge to have a huge game

The Winner: Arizona over Nevada

The Midwest

1. Duke (3)
2. Michigan State (6)
3. Kansas (9)
4. Auburn (16)
5. Clemson (19)
6. TCU (22)
7. Seton Hall (26)
8. NC State (42)
9. Arizona State (45)
10. Oklahoma (47)
11. Rhode Island (49)
11. Syracuse (54)
12. New Mexico State (55)

Criminally Underseeded: None, everyone is a seed line within where they should be except ASU and I’m not arguing against them as an 11.

Criminally Overseeded: Rhode Island- I wrote two weeks ago I thought Rhode Island was probably not as good as where they’d get seeded. They got a 7-seed when the profile is a 13. They got an incredibly even matchup against a weak Oklahoma team. I just don’t see anyway Duke doesn’t handle them should they get past the Sooners.

Random Observations: Michigan State has a breeze to the Sweet 16 and gets to do it in Detroit. Pretty sweet gig for them. Kansas has historically had issues in Kansas during the tournament. Could Seton Hall or NC State knock them off? Yeah, I think it could happen. Penn is a wild 16. Everyone else is saying it so I may as well, too. Also, Syracuse can get bent. There’s a path to the round of 32 for them. If Auburn and Clemson survive their opening round matchups, that’ll be a fun round of 32 matchup. I like whoever wins that game to beat Kansas.

The Winner: Duke over Auburn

The West

1. North Carolina (7)
2. Gonzaga (8)
3. Michigan (10)
4. Xavier (14)
5. Ohio State (15)
6. Houston (17)
7. Texas A&M (30)
8.  Florida State (35)
9. Missouri (38)
10. San Diego State (50)
11. Providence (63)
12. South Dakota State (75)

Criminally Underseeded: Gonzaga- The Zags should be a 2-seed and got the 4. But I think any road for them to the second weekend is fairly simple.

Criminally Overseeded: Xavier- I haven’t looked but I’d guess they’re one of the most overseeded 1-seeds in awhile. Missouri can give them fits in round two and they’d be an underdog to Gonzaga and a pick ‘em against OSU. This team may go further but the Xavier team from 2016 that got beat by Wisconsin was better in my view.

Random Observations: A potential Sweet 16 matchup between Xavier and Ohio State would be a big opportunity for Xavier to get a pound of flesh from a team that rarely plays them. Or how about Michigan-Ohio State in a regional final? South Dakota State is going to beat Ohio State, though so don’t think about it. Providence is not a good 10-seed, either. They catch a break with an inconsistent A&M team. Michigan-Houston would be a fascinating round two game. That’s Sweet 16 stuff.

The Winner: Michigan over North Carolina

The East

Let’s reseed these bad boys starting out East, parenthesis will be KenPom current rankings.

1.  Villanova (2)
2. Purdue (5)
3. Texas Tech (12)
4. West Virginia (13)
5. Wichita State (20)
6. Florida (23)
7. Butler (25)
8. Virginia Tech (32)
9. Arkansas (37)
10. UCLA (48)
11. Alabama (51)/Murray State (59)
12. St. Bonaventure (69)

Criminally Underseeded: Butler- The Bulldogs were a top 25 KenPom team all season. They’re not a ten-seed by any stretch. They were dropped a seed line by the committee. A potential matchup against fellow Indiana school Purdue would be a very good round of 32 matchup.

Criminally Overseeded: Arkansas- Butler’s opponent Arkansas was 37. They should be the 10-seed. 

Random Observations: Murray State is a tough opponent for West Virginia. Saw some thoughts the Mountaineers should have been seeded higher and maybe they should have been seeded as a 4. I can’t see them getting past the opening weekend. Villanova’s potential 2nd round opponent, the Bama/VaTech winner will give them a fight. I think Purdue gets to the Elight 8 if they beat Butler. Can’t see Texas Tech or Florida beating them in the Sweet 16 or one of the 11-seeds.

Winner: Villanova over Purdue 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Final Bracket

1 seed vs 16 seed
Virginia (ACC) vs NCCU (MEAC)/Long Island (NEC)
Xavier vs UMBC (Aeast)/Radford (BSouth)
Kansas (B12) vs T. Southern (SWAC)
Xavier vs Penn (Ivy)
2 seed vs 15 seed
Duke vs UC-Fullerton (Bwest)
Cincinnati (AAC) vs Lipscomb (Asun)
Purdue vs Iona (MAAC)
North Carolina vs S.F. A (Sland)
3 seed vs 14 seed
Michigan State vs Wright State (Hor)
Tennessee vs Georgia St (Sbelt)
Michigan (B1G) vs Montana (Bsky)
Texas Tech vs Bucknell (Pat)
4 seed vs 13 seed
Arizona (Pac12) vs Charleston (Col)
Auburn vs UNC-Green(soCon)
Gonzaga (WCC) vs Marshall (Cusa)
West Virginia vs Murray St (OVC)
5 seed vs 12 seed
Kentucky (SEC) vs Buffalo (MAC)
Clemson vs S.Dakota St (Summit)
Ohio State vs San Diego St (Mwest)
Houston vs Davidson (A10)
6 seed vs 11 seed
Florida vs New Mexico St (WAC)
Wichita State vs Loyola (Mvalley)
Texas A&M vs St. Bonaventure/St. Mary's
Miami vs Oklahoma/USC
7 seed vs 10 seed
Arkansas vs UCLA
Nevada vs Texas
TCU vs Florida State
Seton Hall vs Alabama
8 seed vs 9 seed
Rhode Island vs Providence
Creighton vs Missouri
Kansas State vs NC State
Butler vs Virginia Tech

Bracket

1 seed vs 16 seed
Virginia (ACC) vs NCCU (MEAC)/Long Island (NEC)
Xavier vs UMBC (Aeast)/Radford (BSouth)
Kansas (B12) vs T. Southern (SWAC)
Xavier vs Penn (Ivy)
2 seed vs 15 seed
Duke vs UC-Fullerton (Bwest)
Cincinnati (AAC) vs Lipscomb (Asun)
Purdue vs Iona (MAAC)
North Carolina vs S.F. A (Sland)
3 seed vs 14 seed
Michigan State vs Wright State (Hor)
Tennessee (SEC) vs Georgia St (Sbelt)
Michigan (B1G) vs Montana (Bsky)
Texas Tech vs Bucknell (Pat)
4 seed vs 13 seed
Arizona (Pac12) vs Charleston (Col)
Auburn vs UNC-Green(soCon)
Gonzaga (WCC) vs Marshall (Cusa)
West Virginia vs Murray St (OVC)
5 seed vs 12 seed
Kentucky vs Buffalo (MAC)
Clemson vs S.Dakota St (Summit)
Ohio State vs San Diego St (Mwest)
Houston vs N. Mexico St(WAC)
6 seed vs 11 seed
Florida vs Loyola (Mvalley)
Wichita State vs Louisville/USC
Texas A&M vs Oklahoma/St. Mary's
Miami vs St. Bonaventure
7 seed vs 10 seed
Arkansas vs UCLA
Nevada vs Texas
TCU vs Florida State
Seton Hall vs Alabama
8 seed vs 9 seed
Rhode Island (A10) vs Providence
Creighton vs Missouri
Kansas State vs NC State
Butler vs Virginia Tech

Any Movement?

I could possibly see myself moving USC or Louisville out.  I am higher on Baylor this morning after seeing their 5-12 Q1 record.  RPI is in the mid 60's though so it's hard to pull the trigger.  10 hours to ponder.

Early Morning Bracketology

1 seed vs 16 seed
Virginia (ACC) vs NCCU (MEAC)/Long Island (NEC)
Xavier vs UMBC (Aeast)/Radford (BSouth)
Kansas (B12) vs T. Southern (SWAC)
Xavier vs Harvard (Ivy)
2 seed vs 15 seed
Duke vs UC-Fullerton (Bwest)
Cincinnati (AAC) vs Lipscomb (Asun)
Purdue vs Iona (MAAC)
North Carolina vs S.F. A (Sland)
3 seed vs 14 seed
Michigan State vs Wright State (Hor)
Tennessee (SEC) vs Georgia St (Sbelt)
Michigan (B1G) vs Montana (Bsky)
Texas Tech vs Bucknell (Pat)
4 seed vs 13 seed
Arizona (Pac12) vs Charleston (Col)
Auburn vs UNC-Green(soCon)
Gonzaga (WCC) vs Marshall (Cusa)
West Virginia vs Murray St (OVC)
5 seed vs 12 seed
Kentucky vs Buffalo (MAC)
Clemson vs S.Dakota St (Summit)
Ohio State vs San Diego St (Mwest)
Houston vs N. Mexico St(WAC)
6 seed vs 11 seed
Florida vs Loyola (Mvalley)
Wichita State vs Louisville/USC
Texas A&M vs Oklahoma/St. Mary's
Miami vs St. Bonaventure
7 seed vs 10 seed
Arkansas vs UCLA
Nevada vs Texas
TCU vs Florida State
Seton Hall vs Alabama
8 seed vs 9 seed
Rhode Island (A10) vs Providence
Creighton vs Missouri
Kansas State vs NC State
Butler vs Virginia Tech
First Four Out
Notre Dame
Baylor
Arizona State
Marquette
Next Four Out
Middle Tennessee St
Syracuse
Utah
Oklahoma State
Also Considered
Davidson

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Bubble Notes

By my calculations there are still 5 spots that are "open" for consideration.  In order of safety from my point of view are the following:

Alabama - 5 game losing streak hurt but got huge win over Auburn in SEC tournament
St. Mary's - floated between 6-8 all year and suddenly they are an 11?
Oklahoma - I want to drop them out since they haven't won outside of home since 2017
USC - can secure an auto bid with win over Arizona
Louisville - 14 Q1 games and only 3 wins

These are the teams I am still considering for a spot. 

Notre Dame - damn you Bonzie Colson!  If he's healthy 3 more games they are a 10 seed
Middle Tennessee St - 3-3 in Q1 games (Louisville was 3-11).  NCSOS of 8 shows they tried
Arizona State - Have no wins against anybody currently considered an at-large
Marquette - 4-8 in Q1 games but all metrics are in the mid 50's
Syracuse - 3-8 in Q1 games; did some but probably not enough.

As a side note with all this talk about Quadrant wins here are the records of these teams against Q1 teams:
Alabama - 7-6
St. Mary's - 2-1
Oklahoma - 6-9
USC - 4-5
Louisville - 3-11
Notre Dame - 2-9
Middle Tennessee St - 3-3
Arizona State - 3-4
Marquette - 4-8
Syracuse - 3-8

By that metric Alabama and Oklahoma seem safe.  The next comes to preference.  Would you rather have a team play 12 times and win 4 or play 6 and win 3?  If Middle Tennessee had 14 chances like Louisville instead of 6 could they have won 4, 5, or 6?  If so they aren't even on the bubble; they are a 10.

Time to crunch some more numbers.

Saturday Bracket - Early

1 seed vs 16 seed
Virginia (ACC) vs Ark-PB(SWAC)/Long Island(NEC)
Xavier vs Hampton(MEAC)/SE Louis(Sland)
Kansas (B12) vs Radford (Bsouth)
Xavier vs UMBC (Aeast)
2 seed vs 15 seed
Michigan State vs Harvard (Ivy)
Duke vs Lipscomb (Asun)
Cincinnati (AAC) vs Iona (MAAC)
North Carolina vs UC-Irvine (Bwest)
3 seed vs 14 seed
Purdue vs Wright State (Hor)
Tennessee (SEC) vs Montana (Bsky)
Michigan (B1G) vs Bucknell (Pat)
Wichita State vs New Mexico (Mwest)
4 seed vs 13 seed
Texas Tech vs Charleston (Col)
Arizona (Pac12) vs UNC-Greensboro (SoCon)
Auburn vs Murray St (OVC)
Gonzaga (WCC) vs Buffalo (MAC)
5 seed vs 12 seed
West Virginia vs South Dakota St (Summit)
Clemson vs Western Kentucky (Cusa)
Ohio State vs Louisiana (Sbelt)
Kentucky vs New Mexico St (WAC)
6 seed vs 11 seed
Miami vs Loyola (Mvalley)
Nevada vs Louisvillle/USC
Houston vs St.Mary's/Oklahoma
Texas A&M vs Alabama
7 seed vs 10 seed
TCU vs UCLA
Arkansas vs Texas
Seton Hall vs Florida State
Florida vs St. Bonaventure
8 seed vs 9 seed
Rhode Island (A10) vs Providence
Creighton vs Missouri
Kansas State vs NC State
Butler vs Virginia Tech
First Four Out
Notre Dame
Middle Tennessee St
Arizona State
Marquette
Next Four Out
Syracuse
Utah
Oklahoma State
Baylor