Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Bracket Breakdown, Monk-style

Because Wongdoer needs so much help, The Monk sets out his annual what will happen in the NCAA Tournament post today. To understand just how lucky you are, consider The Monk's record:

2008 - picked three of the Final Four.
2007 - picked whole Final Four, would've won Wongdoer's ginormous pool if OSU had topped Florida.
2005 - picked three of Final Four, co-champ of Wongdoer's ginormous pool
2004 - picked three of Final Four, third place in Wongdoer's ginormous pool

We don't discuss 2006. Freak-a** year.

And picking far into the future of the bracket is key. Your buddy's 5-year old daughter may have shocked the world by nailing all five of the first round shockers in the tournament, but if you hit all Final Four, you're in good shape because the point values are higher.

So here are some keys to consider.

(1) More than one team from the same conference will make the Final Four. This is a 70% bet -- 17 times since the field expanded to 64 teams (24 years), there have been two (or more) teams from the same conference in the Final Four. Only five times in those 17 years have two teams from the same conference played in the national semifinals: 1985, 1987, 1989, 2000, 2001. On four of those occasions, the better seeded team won (Georgetown > St. John's, SU > Providence, Mich. St. > Wisco, Duke > Maryland; 1989 is the outlier because Michigan beat Illinois; and yeah, I know GTown and St. John's were #1 seeds, but St. John's was shipped west, GTown stayed in the East). Double entries for a conference in the Final Four occurred every year from 1999-2006. In the 12 years that the two teams from the same conference made the Final Four and didn't play in the national semis, only ONCE has there been an intra-conference national title game -- 1988, when Danny and the Miracles upset Oklahoma. By contrast, on five occasions, the national champion had to beat the double entries: 1990, UNLV beat Ga. Tech and Duke; 1992, Duke beat IU and Michigan; 2003, Syracuse beat Texas and Kansas; 2003, UConn beat Duke and Ga. Tech; 2005, UNC beat Mich. State and Illinois.

So who will have two Final Four teams this year? Either the Big East or the ACC, and it all depends on the Villanova/Duke game in the Sweet 16. You heard it here first.

(2) Don't be stupid. Only three teams seeded lower than a 2 have won the Tournament since 1990 - Arizona ('97), Syracuse ('03) and Florida ('06). And I had SU winning its regional that year (in my head, not on paper because I never do that -- SU's 1-seed scored 12 points in the second half of the Big 12 title game, and its 2-seed sucked). So go with the major trends -- top schools win NCAA titles. The selection committee may screw up seedings in the middle, but rarely does so at the top (*cough*2006 Kansas*cough*).

(3) Don't ignore efficiency statistics -- teams in the top 25 in offensive and defensive efficiency (basically, points per possession) win the tournament. This is a stat mathematically tracked by Ken Pomeroy and it is a good predictor of possible Final Four teams.

And now, on with the show.

The Midwest is the Louisville Invitational. The Cards play the usual #16 stiff before they dump either a young Ohio State team or feisty Siena. Thereafter, they play in Indianapolis, which is 115 miles up I-65 from Louisville. The dingdongs who think Wake (no defense, surprisingly inefficient offense) or Michigan State (lost by 35 to UNC in Detroit) have a chance are just wrong. The best challenge for Louisville would be Kansas, the defending champ, which has the guards to pull an upset. But KU faces West Virginia in the second round, and that's no fun for the Jhawks. If Louisville does the expected, it will be only the fourth Big East school to reach the Final Four since 1990 (SU, 1996, 2003; UConn, 1999, 2004; Georgetown, 2007) and only the sixth Final Four appearance for the conference in 20 tournaments.

Monk's Sweet 16: Louisville, Utah, West Virginia, Michigan State.

No shock if this upset happens: Cleveland State beats Wake (it beat SU on a freak shot in the dome earlier this year).

Regional disappointment: Boston College to bow out in the first round.

Burn the bracket if . . . Dayton makes a run -- injury problems should forestall that.

The West will be a Memphis-UConn showdown. The others are just playing bit roles. UConn should win the region. It's easily the best team even injured. And the Huskies certainly had enough rest after the 6 OT game against Syracuse. But The Monk did not like Calhoun's reaction to that loss and wonders if the team's psyche is where it should be. I think not, just as the Huskies were just a wee bit off in 2006 when they bonked in OT to George Mason. They can be had.

Memphis is the top defensive team in the country, but its offense is weak. This region has three of the top eight defensive teams in the country (Memphis, UConn, Mizzou). And Memphis' defense is really an order of magnitude better than anyone else's. Yes, basketball is an offensive game, but considering the issues UConn is having, Memphis should win the regional if it gets past Mizzou.

Sweet 16 entrants: UConn, Memphis, Mizzou, Mississippi State

Shock and awesome: Mississippi State to biff both Washington and Purdue.

Stiff of the region: Washington to lose in the Pacific Northwest

Burn the bracket if . . . Cornell wins its opener.

The East is usually a tough region and this year is no different. Pitt is a Big T(elev)en team that plays in the Big East, Duke is the ACC champion again and Villanova is probably the best #3 seed. In overall balance, Duke is the best of the bunch -- #4 in offense, #17 in defense. And Pitt is surprisingly low in the defensive stats (#34). Duke and Villanova are similar: drive, draw, dish, pop the three, etc. I'd trust Coach K with extra planning time for Villanova. If Duke can get any rebounds against Pitt, it can reach the Final Four. I especially don't like Pitt's collapse against West Virginia in the Big East tourney. And number of 1-4 seeds that Pitt has ever beaten in the NCAA Tournament: zero.

Sweet 16: the top four seeds

Shock and awesome: I have the region following form until the Sweet 16, with Xavier to top Pitt.

Bonk of the bracket: either VCU to fail in its bid to upset UCLA (a favorite pundit pick) or the thrashing Wisconsin gets from FSU that begs the question why the h--l did the Big T(elev)en get seven bids?

Burn the bracket if . . . the two Big T(elev)en stiffs make the Sweet 16. Then again, one is coached by Tubby Smith (Minnesota), so a half-burn is possible.

Finally, the South should be the Carolina Invitational but for Ty Lawson's injury. Two years ago, I said the East would be the Carolina Invitational but for Hansborough's broken beak and predicted Georgetown to win. I was right. This year . . . Carolina will win. Here's why: (a) #2 seed has been off its game for weeks since Blake Griffin's concussion; (b) #3 seed (SU) is defensively porous due to severe rebounding deficiencies; (c) #4 seed is Gonzaga, the perennially overhyped; (d) Lawson's injury should be vastly improved by the second weekend of the Tourney; (e) Um, talent -- it helps teams win and UNC has tons of it.

Oh yeah, the last time UNC bonked in the ACC semis was 2005. The 2005 NCAA champion was . . . UNC.

Sweet 16: UNC, Oklahoma, Syracuse (dang well better be), Western Kentucky (you heard it here first)

Surprise, surprise, surprise: W. Ky to beat Illinois and Gonzaga.

Bonk du draw: the Illins. Another Big T(elev)en stiff that can't score (lost one game 38-33!)

Burn the bracket if . . . Michigan makes a run. John Beilein has made chicken salad out of his chickencrap talent level, but if this team gets past both Clemson and Oklahoma, then one of Beilein's counterparts needs to be fired.

There you have it: Louisville, Memphis, Duke, UNC. With UNC over Louisville in the Final.

Man, I'd love to see Duke-UNC 3 in the Final Four. I just keep thinking . . . it won't happen.

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