The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 19, 2008

A PiRate Look At The 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament–March 19, 2008 (2nd Update)

 

A PiRate Look At The 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament

March 19, 2008 (2nd Update)

There’s a pandemic hitting this country this week.  Millions of Americans are coming down with a 48-hour illness and will have to stay home from work Thursday, March 20 and Friday, March 21.  If this applies to you, then I have some medicine that will make you more comfortable.  Consume this special PiRate juice; I call it bracketcillin.

If you have read my prior two postings, I have explained my criteria for selecting teams to advance.  Without repeating it totally, I look for teams with large scoring margins, large field goal percentage margins, a combination of rebounding and turnover margins, and strength of schedule to separate the pretenders from the contenders.  I assign numbers based on this result to find the teams with the best chances of advancing deep into the tournament.

Here is a preview of the first round games on Thursday and Friday.  Following that, I will then fill out my bracket for you.

East Region

#1 North Carolina (32-2)

Scoring Margin: 16.9

FG% Margin: 6.2

Rebound Margin: 11.6

TO Margin: 1.9

Steals: 8.5

R + T: 15.48

PiRate: 15

SOS: .5921

#16 Mount St. Mary’s (19-14)

Scoring Margin: 2.8

FG% Margin: 3.1

Rebound Margin: -1.4

TO Margin: 0.7

Steals: 7.3

R + T: -0.17

PiRate: Eliminate with -(R+T) rating

SOS: .4924

This one is a no-brainer.  Mount St. Mary’s will have no answer for the Tar Heels inside game, and they won’t be able to stop the transition game either.  UNC will quickly put this game away and be quite rested for Sunday’s second round game.  If MSM didn’t have a negative R+T rating, their PiRate score would be -2.  Carolina’s schedule gives them an extra 10 points for an advantage of 25 to -2.  You can also throw in a three points for home state advantage.  This does not equate to a 30-point spread; it correlates to a 50-point margin.  I look for Roy Williams to empty the bench early enough to prevent the score from getting that lopsided. 

Prediction: North Carolina by 28

#8 Indiana (25-7)

Scoring Margin: 10.4

FG% Margin: 5.4

Rebound Margin: 6.7

TO Margin: -0.2

Steals: 7.0

R + T: 6.36

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5549

#9 Arkansas (22-11)

Scoring Margin: 6.6

FG% Margin: 4.9

Rebound Margin: 4.5

TO Margin: -0.3

Steals: 7.0

R + T: 4.0

PiRate: 0

SOS: .5701

Before using the criteria to select a winner here, we must penalize Indiana five points for having a late season coaching change, one that greatly affected the Hoosiers’ performance.  IU was clearly not the same team with Dan Dakich as head coach as they were with Kelvin Sampson leading the team.

Arkansas gets 1.5 points benefit from having a stronger schedule.  Combine this with Indiana’s losing five points, and the difference becomes 1.5 points.  I’ll still go with Indiana to win the game, but the game should be close. 

Prediction: Indiana by 4.

#5 Notre Dame (24-7)

Scoring Margin: 10.1

FG% Margin: 4.7

Rebound Margin: 5.8

TO Margin: -0.4

Steals: 6.4

R + T: 5.19

PiRate: 7

SOS: .5414

#12 George Mason (23-10)

Scoring Margin: 7.6

FG% Margin: 5.0

Rebound Margin: 4.0

TO Margin: -0.2

Steals: 5.6

R + T: 3.73

PiRate: 1

SOS: .5166

This George Mason team does not have the same gaudy stats that their 2006 Final Four team had.  While the Patriots scoring, shooting, and rebounding margins are quite good, their turnover and R+T margins don’t approach that of two years ago.

Notre Dame possesses similar statistics to GMU, but they are just a little better and played a tougher schedule.  Go with the Irish to win a game that is still in doubt with 10 minutes to play. 

Prediction: Notre Dame by 7

#4 Washington State (24-8)

Scoring Margin: 10.0

FG% Margin: 5.6

Rebound Margin: 0.1

TO Margin: 3.0

Steals: 6.3

R + T: 4.64

PiRate: 9

SOS: .5613

#13 Winthrop (22-11)

Scoring Margin: 7.4

FG% Margin: 5.1

Rebound Margin: 3.7

TO Margin: 2.3

Steals: 8.5

R + T: 8.39

PiRate: 7

SOS: .5072

Watch out here!  Winthrop is good enough to upset the Cougars in the first round Thursday night and compete for a Sweet 16 berth Saturday evening.  Their criteria score is not as strong as some of the other mid-majors, but it’s good enough to win an opening round game.

Washington State has really good numbers as well, and the Cougars are probably the worst possible opponent for Winthrop to face.  WSU will not give away the ball and will not take a ton of ill-advised shots.  Coach Tony Bennett’s squad plays smart, albeit passive, ball on offense with tight defense.  This will work against Winthrop, but the first time the Cougars face an up-tempo team that can force turnovers, they will be going home. 

Prediction: Washington State by 8

#6 Oklahoma (22-11)

Scoring Margin: 5.0

FG% Margin: 3.6

Rebound Margin: 3.0

TO Margin: 0.4

Steals: 6.6

R + T: 3.63

PiRate: 2

SOS: .5753

#11 St. Joseph’s (21-12)

Scoring Margin: 6.0

FG% Margin: 4.3

Rebound Margin: 0.0

TO Margin: 1.5

Steals: 7.2

R + T: 2.59

PiRate: 2

SOS: .5559

If you are looking for a double-digit seed to advance in the first round, you have to consider this game.  St. Joe’s matches up well with Oklahoma.  The Sooners rely on an inside game and don’t scare many people with their outside shooting.  St. Joe’s defense is excellent in the paint, and I expect the Hawks to neutralize the one-two punch of Blake Griffin and Longar Longar.

This game will come down to which team commits the fewer mistakes/forces more mistakes.  It’s a complete toss-up, so you will have to make a guess as to which team advances.  I’m going with St. Joe’s only because Phil Martelli’s teams have done well in the early rounds.

Prediction: St. Joe’s by 3

#3 Louisville (24-8)

Scoring Margin: 10.6

FG% Margin: 7.0

Rebound Margin: 3.0

TO Margin: 1.2

Steals: 8.1

R + T: 5.33

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5852

#14 Boise State (25-8)

Scoring Margin: 6.6

FG% Margin: 7.0

Rebound Margin: 2.3

TO Margin: -0.9

Steals: 6.4

R + T: 0.92

PiRate: 0

SOS: .4904

This smells like a blowout.  Boise State will be coming off a huge high after winning at New Mexico State in triple overtime for the WAC Tournament Championship.  Louisville will be looking to rebound after being dismissed by Pitt in overtime. 

Other than having one of the best field goal percentages, Boise State is pedestrian at-best elsewhere.  Louisville’s pressure defense may not force many turnovers, but I expect the Cards to take the Broncos out of their offense and force shots BSU wouldn’t normally take.  Also, look for Louisville’s great depth to tire the BSU regulars.  Once fatigued, the BSU shooting prowess will disappear, and so will the Broncos’ chances.

Prediction: Louisville by 14

#7 Butler (29-3)

Scoring Margin: 10.5

FG% Margin: 2.1

Rebound Margin: -1.1

TO Margin: 3.6

Steals: 6.3

R + T: 4.34

PiRate: 6

SOS: .5181

#10 South Alabama (26-6)

Scoring Margin: 10.6

FG% Margin: 5.9

Rebound Margin: 6.5

TO Margin: 0.3

Steals: 6.1

R + T: 6.94

PiRate: 10

SOS: .5178

If the mid-majors held their own tournament with 32 teams, these two squads would be expected to compete for Final Four berths.  Both of them are good enough to defeat a major conference opponent in a first round match, but one of them will be going home.  I believe both teams were seeded lower than they should have been seeded.

South Alabama actually has a little better criteria score than Butler, even though the Bulldogs have been highly ranked all season.  The strengths of schedule are basically even.  It is rare that I pick against the criteria scores, but Butler has three starters left over from last season’s Sweet 16 team, and they played better down the stretch.  I’m going against the form here, so beware.  The criteria picks USA by about five points, but I’m overriding the results and going with the more seasoned five.

Prediction: Butler by 4

# 2 Tennessee (29-4)

Scoring Margin: 12.9

FG% Margin: 2.9

Rebound Margin: 1.2

TO Margin: 5.4

Steals: 9.3

R + T: 13.25

PiRate: 13

SOS: .6063

# 15 American (21-11)

Scoring Margin: 3.2

FG% Margin: 3.4

Rebound Margin: 2.4

TO Margin: 1.5

Steals: 4.5

R + T: 4.02

PiRate: 1

SOS: .5034

American has had a couple of really good teams and really good players in the past like Kermit Washington and Russell Bowers, but this is the Eagles first time in the Big Dance.  They better start dancing as soon as the music starts because they will only get one song.  This team cannot match up with Tennessee’s exceptional quickness. 

The Volunteers are vulnerable if an opponent with an exceptional half-court defense and dominating inside game can additionally hold onto the ball.  They might face that type of team in the second round, but not the first.  Tennessee will take some really dumb shots occasionally, but on the other hand, the orange and white will never feel intense pressure late in games and be afraid to shoot when open.  It’s a wash in the early rounds, and the Vols will breeze with a big win.  The criteria score difference is a whopping 22, which equates to a major blowout.

Prediction: Tennessee by 35

Midwest Region

#1 Kansas (31-3)

Scoring Margin: 19.9

FG% Margin: 12.3

Rebound Margin: 7.9

TO Margin: 3.0

Steals: 9.0

R + T: 14.38

PiRate: 21

SOS: .5594

#16 Portland State (23-9)

Scoring Margin: 6.8

FG% Margin: 2.7

Rebound Margin: 2.4

TO Margin: 0.8

Steals: 7.0

R + T: 3.74

PiRate: 1

SOS: .4867

Portland State got shafted in this tournament.  The Vikings are better than all four #15 seeds and at least equal to the #14 seeds.  Instead, PSU must face the team with the best criteria in the entire tournament.  Scott Morrison will be in over his head in this game, and Jeremiah Dominguez will find Mario Chalmers too talented to exploit.

Kansas possesses the statistical criteria that resembles the fingerprint of past national champions and Final Four teams.  Not many teams from a power conference have outscored opponents by 20 points per game, shot better than 12% per game from the field, had a +8 rebounding margin, a +3 turnover margin and averaged 9 steals a game all in the same season.  Duke in 1999, UNLV in 1991, UCLA in 1973, 1972, and St. Bonaventure in 1970 all pulled off the trick; all five made it to the Final Four.  Coach Bill Self has slowly molded the Jayhawks into a power team after being more of a finesse team under Roy Williams.  This KU team is better than Self’s Illinois team that made it to the finals in 2005.  I’m sticking with the Jayhawks until they are no longer in the tourney, and I expect them to be playing in April.

Prediction: Kansas by 28

#8 UNLV (26-7)

Scoring Margin: 8.0

FG% Margin: 1.6

Rebound Margin: -1.6

TO Margin: 4.3

Steals: 7.9

R + T: 6.55

PiRate: 5

SOS: .5496

#9 Kent State (28-6)

Scoring Margin: 7.6

FG% Margin: 5.8

Rebound Margin: 1.4

TO Margin: 1.6

Steals: 8.5

R + T: 4.66

PiRate: 3

SOS: .5267

Kent State may have been given a little too much credit for winning the regular season and MAC Tournament this year.  A Bracket-Buster win at St. Mary’s proved the Golden Flashes were quite good, but they look more like a #11 seed than a #9 seed.

UNLV is one of those teams nobody really wants to play.  They are pesky and don’t back down.  This Runnin’ Rebels team is in no way similar to the teams from the Tarkanian era.  Coach Lon Kruger’s teams play the same way as he played under Jack Hartman at Kansas State in the 1970’s.  Hartman was tutored by his coach, the legendary Hank Iba, so if you know your basketball history, you know what type of team UNLV is this year.

The Rebels won’t advance too far because they don’t have the inside might to compete against the likes of Kansas.  However, they will still be playing Saturday night.

Prediction: UNLV by 8

#5 Clemson (24-9)

Scoring Margin: 9.9

FG% Margin: 2.2

Rebound Margin: 2.4

TO Margin: 3.0

Steals: 9.9

R + T: 9.53

PiRate: 9

SOS: .5740

#12 Villanova (20-12)

Scoring Margin: 3.5

FG% Margin: -0.9

Rebound Margin: 2.7

TO Margin: 2.4

Steals: 8.1

R + T: 7.37

PiRate: -1

SOS: .5586

Here is definitely one game where the #12 seed is not going to upset the #5 seed.  Watch out for Clemson.  In a game where fouls will not be called as much as they are in the regular season (last night’s play-in game had several no-calls that would have been 10-yard penalties in football), Clemson’s foul shooting woes may not come into play.

The Tigers are almost as good as Tennessee; the CU press defense and inside game are better, while their outside game is much weaker. 

Villanova just barely earned their invitation and would have been left out had Illinois beaten Wisconsin Sunday.  The Wildcats will have to hit some three-pointers to win this game, and they just don’t have the accuracy to do so.  While I expect ‘Nova to stay in this game with some scoring runs, Clemson will cause enough confusion to experience one additional spurt.

Prediction: Clemson by 7

#4 Vanderbilt (26-7)

Scoring Margin: 6.2

FG% Margin: 3.1

Rebound Margin: -0.8

TO Margin: 0.5

Steals: 6.0

R + T: -0.08

PiRate: Eliminate with negative R+T rating

SOS: .5613

#13 Siena (22-10)

Scoring Margin: 5.7

FG% Margin: 0.0

Rebound Margin: -4.5

TO Margin: 6.3

Steals: 9.4

R + T: 9.71

PiRate: 5

SOS: .5218

If you watched the NCAA Selection Show Sunday night, you saw CBS’s Seth Davis immediately call for the underdog Saints to upset Vanderbilt.  It came out of his mouth so quickly, you wonder on what information he was basing this quick pick.  At first I thought it was a bias against an elite school, but on closer examination, I found out I owed Mr. Davis an apology.  I’m sorry Seth.

This has the potential to be the biggest opening round upset, although I still think the Commodores have a 55-60% chance of winning.  According to the criteria, we are supposed to eliminate any team with a negative R+T.  Vanderbilt’s R+T of -0.08 is definitely a negative number, but it really can be rounded to zero.  Using zero as their R+T gives them a criteria score of -1.  Siena’s criteria rating of 5 and Vanderbilt’s schedule strength number of 4 make this a two-point criteria advantage for the Saints.  That’s enough to make this a toss-up game.  Now, add to this the fact that Vanderbilt came within a poor no-call of advancing to the Elite 8 last year, and they have three returning starters plus a dominating post player in freshman A.J. Ogilvy, and it adds up to a very slim Commodore win.  However, that’s as far as this team is going this year.

Prediction: Vanderbilt by 2

#6 Southern California (21-11)

Scoring Margin: 5.9

FG% Margin: 9.0

Rebound Margin: 0.5

TO Margin: -1.4

Steals: 5.7

R + T: -1.42

PiRate: Eliminate with negative R+T rating

SOS: .5835

#11 Kansas State (20-11)

Scoring Margin: 9.8

FG% Margin: 2.1

Rebound Margin: 8.1

TO Margin: 1.3

Steals: 7.7

R + T: 10.5

PiRate: 11

SOS: .5697

Kansas State is a much better team than Kent State, and the committee needed to flip-flop these two teams.  The Wildcats are inconsistent, but even on an off night, they would handle the Golden Flashes.

As for this game, I expect Michael Beasley to outperform O.J. Mayo in this can’t miss game.  You will see the nation’s best player, the 6-10 freshman Beasley, record a double double (about 25 points and 12 rebounds) and the nation’s most exciting freshman, 6-5 guard Mayo (expect 20 points, 5 rebounds, and a couple of steals).

As for the game itself, USC has a negative R+T rating, and this one isn’t close enough to give an exemption, especially when KSU has a dominating inside presence and takes care of the ball.  I’m looking for the purple and white to shock the Trojans, not by winning a toss-up game, but by winning with relative ease.

Prediction: Kansas State by 11

#3 Wisconsin (29-4)

Scoring Margin: 13.5

FG% Margin: 7.0

Rebound Margin: 5.7

TO Margin: 4.8

Steals: 6.3

R + T: 12.96

PiRate: 17

SOS: .5518

#14 Cal State Fullerton (24-8)

Scoring Margin: 9.9

FG% Margin: 1.1

Rebound Margin: 1.7

TO Margin: 4.0

Steals: 9.0

R + T: 10.34

PiRate: 11

SOS: .4881

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan won four national championships at the Division III level at Wisconsin-Platteville.  While his first two title teams were run and gun squads that put more than two points per minute on the scoreboard, his last two title teams used the playing style the Badgers now employ.  Ryan’s teams are tough defensively and careful offensively.  That will work almost every time when his team is more talented.  UW is talented enough to methodically handle their opponents in the first two rounds, but I cannot see the Badgers getting past the second weekend, especially if that means knocking off both Georgetown and Kansas.

Cal State Fullerton isn’t exactly chopped liver; as a #11 seed, I would have given them a 50-50 chance of upsetting USC.  The Titans are sneaky fast and exceptionally accurate from the field.  Their team resembles the Rupp’s Runts Kentucky team of 1966 and the 1964 national champion UCLA team.  Their front line goes 6-5, 6-5, and 6-4, yet they have a seasonal rebounding advantage of 1.7 per game. 

Wisconsin’s defense will curtail the Titans, holding them to 60 points or less.  The Badgers will be patient and work the ball inside to take advantage of the size difference.  UW will get enough offensive rebounds and put backs to score well more than one point per possession.  It adds up to an eventual double digit victory and a happy night on State Street in Madtown. 

Prediction: Wisconsin by 16

#7 Gonzaga (25-7)

Scoring Margin: 13.3

FG% Margin: 9.1

Rebound Margin: 5.2

TO Margin: 0.8

Steals: 7.6

R + T: 6.66

PiRate: 12

SOS: .5373

#10 Davidson (26-6)

Scoring Margin: 15.8

FG% Margin: 5.8

Rebound Margin: 4.3

TO Margin: 4.6

Steals: 8.1

R + T: 13.24

PiRate: 15

SOS: .5252

If you are of conspiratorial mind, you might be wondering how two of the top four mid-major teams ended up facing each other in the first round.  If you believe South Alabama and Butler are the other top two mid-major teams (taking into account that Drake and Xavier are not mid-major but major), and half of the mid-major elite will be eliminated in the first round, then you have a real conspiracy.  I choose to look at this as a gift.  At least two of the elite mid-majors will be guaranteed to advance to the second round where they will be formidable opponents for major powers.  In fact, I have proposed in the media in the past to separate the majors and mid-majors until the Sweet 16 or even Elite 8 by giving the top major teams byes for one or more rounds (I’ll explain that proposal next week).

As far as this game is concerned, both of these teams earn their keep with their perimeter games.  Davidson’s outside shooting is led by Stephen Curry, a poor man’s Chris Lofton.  Gonzaga is more of a shoot by committee team.  The Bulldogs have better depth but no stars.   On paper, this is a true toss-up, but there is one major intangible.  The game will take place in Raleigh, where Davidson can bus the 150 miles.  Gonzaga’s flight from Spokane to Raleigh across three time zones and 2,500 miles will negatively affect their performance.  Give the Wildcats three more criteria points for excellent home state advantage, and that will tilt the game in their favor.  Then, watch out for them Sunday afternoon, as they are the best double-digit, mid-major seed.

Prediction: Davidson by 3

#2 Georgetown (27-5)

Scoring Margin: 11.7

FG% Margin: 11.9

Rebound Margin: 2.6

TO Margin: -0.4

Steals: 7.1

R + T: 1.92

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5670

#15 Maryland-Baltimore County (24-8)

Scoring Margin: 6.6

FG% Margin: 2.2

Rebound Margin: -0.8

TO Margin: 3.2

Steals: 6.2

R + T: 3.96

PiRate: 2

SOS: .4738

There isn’t much need to devote too much space to this game, since it is a classic mismatch.  UMBC might open the game with a little run to take a short-lived lead, but after the first TV timeout, Georgetown will take control of the game and be comfortably ahead by the under eight minutes timeout in the first half.

UMBC has no answer for the Hoyas’ inside game.  I expect Georgetown to hold the Retrievers to 35-38% shooting, win the battle of the boards by more than 10, and shoot better than 50% from the field.  It adds up to a big win, but the Hoyas are going to ride into an ambush on Sunday.

South Region

#1 Memphis (33-1)

Scoring Margin: 19.1

FG% Margin: 8.3

Rebound Margin: 6.5

TO Margin: 4.4

Steals: 8.7

R + T: 15.69

PiRate: 19

SOS: .5749

#16 Texas-Arlington (21-11)

Scoring Margin: 5.4

FG% Margin: 8.0

Rebound Margin: 3.4

TO Margin: -1.6

Steals: 6.7

R + T: 0.83

PiRate: 3

SOS: .4763

Memphis is one of the teams in this tournament with criteria statistics that match those of historical Final Four teams.  The Tigers don’t approach the statistical dominance of Kansas, but they are talented enough to go all the way.  They should advance at least to the Elite 8 once again.

UT-Arlington at best was the third best team out of the Southland Conference this season, and the best team received a whipping in the NIT last night.  The Mavericks are for sure one and done, and their one won’t be too much fun. 

Prediction: Memphis by 32

#8 Mississippi State (22-10)

Scoring Margin: 8.0

FG% Margin: 9.3

Rebound Margin: 5.1

TO Margin: -2.6

Steals: 6.0

R + T: 1.36

PiRate: 7

SOS: .5523

#9 Oregon (18-13)

Scoring Margin: 4.4

FG% Margin: 4.2

Rebound Margin: 1.9

TO Margin: -1.5

Steals: 4.6

R + T: 0.24

PiRate: -2

SOS: .5647

Both of these teams have fatal flaws that will keep them from advancing too far in the tournament.  Mississippi State does not handle the ball all that well.  The Bulldogs can punish opponents with a muscle game and block 10 shots in 40 minutes.  However, they can be taken out of their offense with pressure, and they can be beaten with the fast break.  Additionally, you have to wonder how big of an emotional hit they took when they fell to a Georgia team that was playing its second game in six hours after going to overtime in the first one.

Oregon can certainly fast break as competently as any team, but the Ducks tend to make too many mental mistakes to exploit Mississippi State’s liabilities.  Oregon must shoot the ball well in order to have any chance in this game, and I don’t think it will happen.  Normally, the green and gold hit 48.5% of their shots.  I think they will get 60 attempts, which means they should hit 29 of them.  However, throw in about five more blocked shots than normal, and figure that three of those shots would have gone in, and it reduces Oregon to 43.3%.  The Ducks won’t win with that poor shooting percentage.

Prediction: Mississippi State by 5

#5 Michigan State (25-8)

Scoring Margin: 9.3

FG% Margin: 7.9

Rebound Margin: 7.1

TO Margin: -1.2

Steals: 6.1

R + T: 5.34

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5636

#12 Temple (21-12)

Scoring Margin: 4.0

FG% Margin: 4.9

Rebound Margin: -0.8

TO Margin: 0.1

Steals: 6.3

R + T: -0.65

PiRate: Eliminated with negative R+T rating

SOS: .5593

Michigan State usually makes it to the Sweet 16 and almost always wins their first tournament game.  Of course, they are almost always a top-four seed when they make the Big Dance.

Temple has historically been a team that advances farther than expected in the tournament.  That was under John Chaney; now they are led by Fran Dunphy.  Dunphy had some classics across town at Penn, but he only ever won one NCAA game. 

This game will come down to how well Temple can shoot from outside.  The Owls have won many games with excellent foul shooting, and as I have said all week, foul shooting becomes less important overall in the NCAA Tournament.  Look for the Spartans to force Temple into enough bad shots and to control the boards.

Michigan State by 9

#4 Pittsburgh (26-9)

Scoring Margin: 8.9

FG% Margin: 3.8

Rebound Margin: 4.4

TO Margin: 1.9

Steals: 6.8

R + T: 7.50

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5723

#13 Oral Roberts (24-8)

Scoring Margin: 7.9

FG% Margin: 4.7

Rebound Margin: 2.5

TO Margin: 0.8

Steals: 6.3

R + T: 3.71

PiRate: 1

SOS: .5114

Pittsburgh is a hot team coming into this tournament.  The Panthers withstood some injuries that depleted the roster until late in the season, and Coach Jamie Dixon told the press before the Big East Tournament that his squad was playing its best basketball of the year.  Pitt dispensed of Oklahoma State earlier this season, and ORU is a junior version of the Cowboys.

Oral Roberts is a sound team that doesn’t beat itself.  That works against teams in the Summit League, but it won’t feed the bulldog against Big East powers.  The Golden Eagles don’t have a defensive answer for Pitt’s power game.

Prediction: Pittsburgh by 13

#6 Marquette (24-9)

Scoring Margin:  11.5

FG% Margin: 3.5

Rebound Margin: 2.4

TO Margin: 3.8

Steals: 9.6

R + T: 11.16

PiRate: 13

SOS: .5753

#11 Kentucky (18-12)

Scoring Margin: 3.3 

FG% Margin: 7.5

Rebound Margin: 1.8

TO Margin: -2.6

Steals: 6.7

R + T: -2.38

PiRate: Eliminated with negative R+T rating

SOS: .5732

While there is no Dwayne Wade on this roster, the 2008 Marquette team compares quite favorably with the 2003 Marquette team that made it to the Final Four.  The 2008 team is better at forcing turnovers via the steal, and that’s what gives the men from Milwaukee an excellent shot at making it to a second week in the tournament.

Kentucky just barely qualified as an at-large team, and they are missing their key cog in center Patrick Patterson.  Without the talented big man, the Cats have no chance to make it past the first weekend, and I think they will be one and done this year.

Look for Marquette to play aggressively, wearing down the depth-poor blue mist.  Kentucky will keep it close for a half, but they will tire in the final 20 minutes, and that will allow the Golden Eagles to cruise to victory.

Prediction: Marquette by 8

#3 Stanford (26-7)

Scoring Margin:  10.1

FG% Margin: 5.5

Rebound Margin: 8.0

TO Margin: -0.5

Steals: 4.4

R + T: 7.47

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5547

#14 Cornell (22-5)

Scoring Margin: 9.0 

FG% Margin: 7.0

Rebound Margin: 1.2

TO Margin: 0.7

Steals: 6.0

R + T: 2.21

PiRate: 4

SOS: .4704

Stanford has the talent and criteria statistics to advance to the Elite 8, but as of late, the Cardinal have weaknesses that can be exploited by certain teams.  Stanford can go in long shooting slumps against teams that pack their defense inside to stop Brook Lopez. 

Cornell became only the third Ivy League school to go 14-0 in league play (Penn and Princeton have done it before).  The Big Red enter the Dance waltzing on a 16-game winning streak.  Unfortunately, their stay in the cotillion will last one afternoon.  Cornell is one of those teams that rely on winning by dominating the free throw shooting stat.  As mentioned ad nauseum already, free throw shooting prowess will not carry a team in the Big Dance, unless it is to protect the lead in the final 90 seconds.  I don’t see Cornell leading the game with a minute and half to go, and off they’ll go back to Cayuga’s waters.

Prediction: Stanford by 13

#7 Miami (Fla.) (22-10)

Scoring Margin: 7.0 

FG% Margin: 3.1

Rebound Margin: 2.1

TO Margin: 1.2

Steals: 6.1

R + T: 3.86

PiRate: 1

SOS: .5599

#10 St. Mary’s (25-6)

Scoring Margin: 12.8 

FG% Margin: 5.7

Rebound Margin: 3.7

TO Margin: 1.3

Steals: 7.4

R + T: 6.01

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5130

As most #7-10 matches tend to be, this will be a close game that should go down to the wire.  Miami hasn’t danced in six years.  The Hurricanes have a talented backcourt, led by Jack McClinton. 

St. Mary’s was 23-3 before losing three of their final five games.  The Gaels have the talent to get to the 2nd round, but it will depend on how well they can defend the perimeter.

The criteria clearly shows St. Mary’s to be the superior team, even when the strength of schedule is factored in.  So, I’m going with the mild upset here.

Prediction: St. Mary’s by 3

#2 Texas (28-6)

Scoring Margin: 11.1 

FG% Margin: 6.3

Rebound Margin: 2.5

TO Margin: 2.9

Steals: 6.2

R + T: 6.82

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5950

#15 Austin Peay (24-10)

Scoring Margin: 3.9  

FG% Margin: -1.5

Rebound Margin: -2.4

TO Margin: 4.1

Steals: 9.7

R + T: 7.14

PiRate: -1

SOS: .4965

Texas has to be included in your Elite 8 bracket.  The Longhorns are loaded with talent and have good criteria representation.  D.J. Augustin runs the offense as well as any play-maker in the nation.  Damion James and Connor Atchley combine to give the burnt orange the best rebounding duo in the Big 12 after Michael Beasley and any Kansas State student.

Austin Peay does one thing quite well-play aggressive defense.  I just don’t see them having much success in taking the ball away from the Longhorns.  It should be a long afternoon for them in Little Rock Friday.  In what will continue to be a bad month for governors in this country, look for the round ball Govs to fall by less than 4,300 dollars points. 

Prediction: Texas by 23

West Region

U C L A (31-3)

Scoring Margin: 15.0 

FG% Margin: 4.8

Rebound Margin: 8.4

TO Margin: 2.5

Steals: 7.4

R + T: 12.84

PiRate: 14

SOS: .5771

#16 Mississippi Valley State (17-15)

Scoring Margin: -3.1  

FG% Margin: -3.6

Rebound Margin: -1.7

TO Margin: 1.1

Steals: 6.2

R + T: -0.06

PiRate: Eliminated with negative R+T rating

SOS: .4571

What is the lowest score any team has scored in the NCAA Tournament since the advent of the 3-point shot and 35-second clock?  In 2001, Michigan State defeated Alabama State 69-35 in the first round.  If UCLA comes out with the same intensity they have the previous two seasons when they held their opening round opponents to 44 and 42 points, the Bruins could hold the Delta Devils to less than a point per minute.

Mississippi Valley should have been in the play-in game because they are the weakest team in the NCAA Tournament.  They will be lucky to hit one third of their shots in this game; they won’t get more than three or four offensive rebounds if that much.  They will turn the ball over five or more times than the Bruins, and they will give up more than 1.2 points per possession in this game.

UCLA can name the score in what is a virtual home game in Anaheim.  I expect Ben Howland to give every Bruin on the roster significant playing time in this game, so don’t expect a 60-point win.  The Bruins have their faults, but they won’t be damaging until at least the end of next week.

Prediction: UCLA by 34

#8 B Y U (27-7)

Scoring Margin: 11.0 

FG% Margin: 7.4

Rebound Margin: 4.8

TO Margin: -0.6

Steals: 5.9

R + T: 3.95

PiRate: 5

SOS: .5306

#9 Texas A&M (24-10)

Scoring Margin: 9.6  

FG% Margin: 7.3

Rebound Margin: 7.1

TO Margin: -1.5

Steals: 4.5

R + T: 5.48

PiRate: 6

SOS: .5561

This is the most competitive of the ultra-competitive #8-9 contests.  It is truly a 50-50 match.  Both teams are talented enough to give UCLA fits Saturday night, but the Thursday winner may have to extend themselves to get to that game.

Both teams are strong on the boards.  BYU is better offensively by a wide margin, while A&M is better defensively.  I think the game will be decided at the guard positions, and the Cougars have the better duo.

Prediction: B Y U by 6

#5 Drake (28-4)

Scoring Margin: 12.3 

FG% Margin: 1.9

Rebound Margin: 3.1

TO Margin: 4.0

Steals: 7.6

R + T: 10.40

PiRate: 14

SOS: .5436

#12 Western Kentucky (27-6)

Scoring Margin: 11.6  

FG% Margin: 5.1

Rebound Margin: 3.3

TO Margin: 3.8

Steals: 7.8

R + T: 10.41

PiRate: 15

SOS: .5123

If these two teams were playing two Big 10 opponents in the first round, someone like Purdue or Indiana, I might pick both of them to pull off upsets.  These two squads are both strong enough to make it to the Sweet 16.

Drake is not considered a mid-major since the Missouri Valley Conference is among the top eight leagues.  The Bulldogs hit a valley after they had already clinched the MVC regular season championship, but they recovered to whip their three conference tournament opponents by an average of 20 points per game.  Keno Davis is my choice for National Coach of the Year.  His team has been one of the best outside shooting squads in the NCAA this year, as the Bulldogs average more than nine made three-pointers per game.

Western Kentucky has a team similar in playing style to Tennessee.  They press and run the fast break.  For most of the season, it was the outstanding guard play of Courtney Lee, Tyrone Brazelton, and Ty Rogers that carried the load for the Hilltoppers.  However, in the Sunbelt Conference Tournament, the emergence of forward Jeremy Evans gave Coach Darrin Horn a new weapon.

The criteria shows both of these teams to be worthy of going all the way to San Antonio.  Western’s schedule strength is a little suspect, while Drake’s is stronger by only three points.  That will eventually prove to be the Bulldog’s downfall.

Prediction: Drake by 3

#4 Connecticut (24-8)

Scoring Margin: 9.1 

FG% Margin: 7.9

Rebound Margin: 6.2

TO Margin: -1.4

Steals: 5.8

R + T: 4.25

PiRate: 7

SOS: .5681

#13 San Diego (21-13)

Scoring Margin: 2.2 

FG% Margin: 1.0

Rebound Margin: 1.8

TO Margin: 0.3

Steals: 6.8

R + T: 2.29

PiRate: 0

SOS: .5283

This Connecticut team is missing one key proponent that will keep the Huskies from advancing to the Elite 8 this year.  Other than A.J. Price, they cannot pick up cheap baskets via the steal.  It leads to a negative turnover margin.  The Huskies will be okay due to exceptional rebounding until they run into a team that can hold their own on the boards.  Then, the three or four fewer possessions they would normally add thanks to having those steals will cause them to lose.  It could happen against Drake in round two, or it could happen against UCLA, Texas A&M, or BYU in the Sweet 16. 

San Diego is just happy to be here.  The Toreros enjoyed a big weekend last week with wins over St. Mary’s and Gonzaga.  That made their season.  They won’t compete with UConn for very long.  USD will not be able to take advantage of UConn’s deficiencies.

Prediction: Connecticut by 14

#6 Purdue (24-8)

Scoring Margin: 7.5 

FG% Margin: -1.1

Rebound Margin: -0.1

TO Margin: 4.8

Steals: 8.5

R + T: 9.69

PiRate: 2

SOS: .5204

#11 Baylor (21-10)

Scoring Margin: 7.0  

FG% Margin: 2.7

Rebound Margin: 0.1

TO Margin: 1.7

Steals: 7.4

R + T: 3.12

PiRate: 2

SOS: .5569

This is a real toss-up game.  The two teams are not mirror images, but there isn’t much difference in them either.  Both teams live by the jump shot and die by the jump shot, but Purdue’s guards are better defensively than Baylor’s guards.  Neither team is particularly proficient inside the paint, and the winner will be going home Sunday because of it.

I’m going with the Boilermakers for two reasons.  First, they have an incredible +4.8 turnover margin, and I expect turnovers to play a huge part in this game.  Second, even though the Boilermakers ended the season on a stale note, the Bears were even worse down the stretch.  They lost to Colorado in the first round of the Big 12 Tournament to finish the season 5-8 in their final 13 games.  Purdue split their last six games after winning 11 in a row, including a sweep of Wisconsin.

Prediction: Purdue by 6

#3 Xavier (27-6)

Scoring Margin: 13.0 

FG% Margin: 7.4

Rebound Margin: 6.2

TO Margin: -0.2

Steals: 5.6

R + T: 5.93

PiRate: 8

SOS: .5720

#14 Georgia (17-16)

Scoring Margin: 1.1 

FG% Margin: 0.1

Rebound Margin: 4.1

TO Margin: -1.8

Steals: 6.8

R + T: 1.16

PiRate: -1

SOS: .5658

Can Georgia continue to shock the basketball world?  How can a team beat two NCAA-bound teams in the same day, and then turn around 16 hours later and beat a third NCAA-bound team?  Maybe North Carolina might be able to do it, but this is a team that won four conference games all year and then won four in a weekend.

The Bulldogs only have eight players, and their best player isn’t 100% healthy.  Now, they must face a top 10 team that has beaten the likes of Indiana and Kansas State and took Tennessee to the buzzer.  Xavier has the look of a Sweet 16 team; the Musketeers have no weakness.  Their TO margin is basically 0, and they don’t get many steals, but they make up for it with exceptional rebounding and the ability to make opponents miss. 

It would be a great story if the Cinderella Bulldogs could win a game in this tournament, but I don’t see it happening.  Still, 17-17 is a fantastic finish for a team that experienced more obstacles than the Donner Family.

Prediction: Xavier by 11

#7 West Virginia (24-10)

Scoring Margin: 11.9 

FG% Margin: 3.5

Rebound Margin: 2.0

TO Margin: 4.8

Steals: 7.2

R + T: 10.29

PiRate: 13

SOS: .5616

#10 Arizona (19-14)

Scoring Margin: 5.4  

FG% Margin: 3.9

Rebound Margin: -1.5

TO Margin: 0.6

Steals: 5.6

R + T: -0.69

PiRate: Eliminated with negative R+T rating

SOS: .6006

Arizona has the second best strength of schedule in the Big Dance, but that isn’t enough to justify the Wildcats winning a game in the West Regional.  Arizona doesn’t rebound and doesn’t force turnovers, and their half court defense isn’t particularly strong.  It means a quick exit in the tournament and the end of the Kevin O’Neill era in Tucson.

West Virginia is a sleeper team in this tournament.  Unlike when John Beilein coached the Mountaineers and they were a perimeter-oriented team that lived and died by the three-pointer, this team coached by Bob Huggins can hold their own on the boards, prevent power teams from hurting them inside, and play both a power and finesse game.  I think WVU will win this one rather easily and then give Duke a great game on Saturday.

Prediction: West Virginia by 12

#2 Duke (27-5)

Scoring Margin: 14.8 

FG% Margin: 3.1

Rebound Margin: 0.5

TO Margin: 5.0

Steals: 8.7

R + T: 10.94

PiRate: 13

SOS: .5857

#15 Belmont (25-8)

Scoring Margin: 6.6 

FG% Margin: -0.5

Rebound Margin: 1.8

TO Margin: 1.8

Steals: 8.6

R + T: 5.52

PiRate: 0

SOS: .4816

In the past, Duke would win an opening round game like this by 30-40 points.  They still may do so Thursday night, but there is a chance they will only win this game by 20-25.  This Duke squad is more of a turnover-forcing fast break team and less of a pound it inside team.  Eventually, and possibly as early as Saturday, this will be their downfall.

Belmont is making their third consecutive trip to the Big Dance.  The first two times, they looked great…at least until the first TV timeout.  In 2006, they led eventual NCAA runner-up UCLA four minutes into the game.  Last year, they led eventual Final Four participant Georgetown almost to the second TV timeout.  Maybe this year, they will keep the game close halfway into the first half.

Prediction: Duke by 26

Filling Out The Bracket

Okay, so you can see from the previews which teams I am picking to advance to the round of 32.  How do the ratings apply from there, and can you use them to fill the bracket out to the end?  Sure you can.  I’ve been doing it for several years, and once or twice I picked the entire Final Four (they got there differently than how I picked, but they did get there).

In the second round, Here’s how I see the games (Look for complete previews of Round 2 Saturday morning).

North Carolina over Indiana

Notre Dame over Washington St. in a fantastic game

Louisville over St. Joe’s

Tennessee over Butler but harder than expected

Kansas over UNLV

Clemson over Vanderbilt

Wisconsin over Kansas State in a great battle

Georgetown over Davidson but it should be close and could be the big upset

Memphis over Mississippi State in a hard-fought game

Pittsburgh over Michigan State in a physical game

Marquette over Stanford in a mild surprise

Texas over St. Mary’s

UCLA over BYU

Connecticut over Drake in a close nail-biter

Xavier over Purdue

Duke over West Virginia in the game of the day

Sweet 16

North Carolina over Notre Dame

Tennessee over Louisville in an exciting game

Kansas over Clemson

Georgetown over Wisconsin in a 55-50-type game

Pittsburgh over Memphis in the surprise of this round

Texas over Marquette

UCLA over Connecticut

Duke over Xavier

Elite 8

North Carolina over Tennessee

Kansas over Georgetown

Texas over Pittsburgh

UCLA over Duke

Final 4

Kansas over North Carolina

UCLA over Texas

Championship

Kansas over UCLA

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