Monday, March 10, 2008

Too much, never enough -- early NCAA tips

The Monk has been logging serious hours at work, therefore not logging time on the blog.

Wongdoer has made up for my absence by earning every penny I pay him.

Meanwhile, The Monk is likely quitting his NCAA pool (50+ entrants each year) that he had been in for the past 4 years with this record of success:

2004 = 3rd place
2005 = co-champion
2006 = we don't talk about 2006
2007 = picked whole Final Four, would have won if OSU beat Florida

The pool is going to a seed-point format wherein you get 1/3/5/10/25/50 points for picking each round correctly AND the number of points for the seed -- thus correctly picking a 12-seed winning in the first round is worth 13 points but picking a second-seed to make the Final Four is worth 12. That's stupid -- it's a lot harder to pick round-by-round progress than to throw a dart at the bracket and pick an upset. Picking four wins by the 2-seed would be worth 27 points, picking one upset would be worth 13. That's screwy. The Monk can understand double values in the first round for correctly picking a 10-16 seed winning, but just adding the points is nutty.

Worse yet, The Monk will be on vacation from Monday-Wednesday of next week, so I'll even miss the bracket announcement. For that reason, I'm offering these Tourney Tidbits even before the brackets come out.

First, The Monk predicts that the #1 seeds will be Tennessee, Memphis, UNC and UCLA. The overall #1 will be UNC if it wins the ACC. A loss by UNC or UCLA in their upcoming conference Tournaments could enable KU or Duke to slip into a #1 seed, but a 30-win Memphis and seven-wins-against-RPI-top-25 Tennessee should be safe.

Next, curious factoids: (i) only five NCAA Tournaments since 1985 have not had an ACC team in the Final Four, until 2006 each time Syracuse had won its regional (1987, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2007); (ii) in 2007, Duke failed to reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1997; if Duke survives the first weekend, remember that it has lost six times in the Sweet 16 under Coach K but only once in the Regional Finals and each team that beat Duke in the Sweet 16 went on to the Final Four; (iii) three #1 seeds have reached the Final Four only three times since the seeding system started in 1979 (1993, 1997, 1999), by contrast three (or more) non-#1 seeds have reached the Final Four in four of the past eight years (2000, 2003, 2004, 2006) and seven times since the first 3-#1 Final Four in 1993 (1994, 1995, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2006), by far the most common occurrence is a pair of #1 seeds making the Final Four, like 2005 and 2007, and the rarest is zero #1 seeds -- that has happened only in 1980 and 2006; (iv) only four No. 15 seeds have ever beaten a #2, no #1 seed has ever lost a first round game and only Arizona and South Carolina have lost first round games as a #2 and #3 seed in consecutive years; (v) the last Ivy League team to win a first-round game was Princeton in 1998 but it was a #5 seed, the last lower-seeded Ivy to win a first-round game was Princeton in 1996 -- it then lost badly in the second round; this year's Ivy winner is Cornell; (vi) no team has ever lost in the quarterfinals of its conference tournament and won the NCAA -- Texas was a rarity by reaching the Final Four in 2003.

Second, when all else fails pick the team with the best player on the floor to win. Look at the recent past champions: 2005 UNC had May, 2004 UConn had Okafor, 2003 Syracuse had Anthony, 2002 Maryland had Dixon, 2000 Mich. State had MoPete. Duke's 2001 champ doesn't count because it had 3 players better than most other team's best player (Battier, Dunleavy, J. Williams) but nearly all the other squads that won in the '00s all had one player who was so far above any of the competitors that they had no answer for him. Last year is an exception to this rule because Florida had too much size (6-0, 6-6, 6-9, 6-11, 6-10) for the non-Oden midgets on Ohio State (6-1, 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 and Oden at 7-0).

And finally, one other tip. If you have two teams that seem even, go with the bangers over the jumpers. The game has changed since 1986, when a high-flying Louisville could just outjump a stronger UNC team. Instead, interior power is a key ingredient. It kept Kansas in the 2003 title game; it helped UConn win in '04, it was THE difference in UNC's win in '05 and a major factor last year when Florida rolled through the Final Four, and it made the difference in Maryland's Final Four win over Kansas in 2002 (which effectively was the national title game). Sure, the human pogo sticks can do some work, but the increased athletic talents of players now means that a 215 pound jumping jack will be going up against a 275 pound jumping jack and I know who's likely to win that battle. This is why Duke lost to LSU in '06, Michigan St. in '05 and UConn in '04 -- not enough beef inside.

And no, Duke's not going to win this year, either.

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