The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 13, 2018

Bracketnomics 505: 2018 NCAA Tournament

Today’s PiRate Ratings for NCAA Tournament Games

Higher Seed Lower Seed Spread
Radford Long Island 5.6
UCLA St. Bonaventure 2.3

 

Welcome back to the PiRate Ratings Bracketnomics 505 course for 2018.  Please note that if you have seen past Bracketnomics posts on this forum, they are now obsolete.  Only the current 2018 version is up to date with our current philosophy and criteria for picking teams.

We are sure that the old method still has some merit, but we believe the game has evolved thanks to advanced statistical metrics changing the way the game is played and the reduction of the shot clock from 35 to 30 seconds.  Although it will not be used in the NCAA Tournament, the NIT will experiment with the clock resetting only to 20 seconds when there is an offensive rebound off a missed shot.

If you did not read our Class 1 feature from Monday, you might wish to go back and read it before you begin to look at our data.  It will make it easier to understand.

https://piratings.wordpress.com/2018/03/12/bracketnomics-505-for-2018-first-class/

Let’s start looking at raw data.

This first list shows the True Shooting % Margins, R+T Ratings, and Schedule Strength Numbers.  Keep an eye on the following:

  1. A True Shooting % Margin of +5% or better
  2. An R+T Rating of 12 or better
  3. A Strength of Schedule Rating of 55.0 or better

 

Team W-L Avg Score TS% Diff R+T SOS
Alabama 19-15 72-70 3.92 2.3 60.27
Arizona 27-7 81-71 7.16 16.9 56.62
Arizona St. 20-11 84-75 3.74 5.6 55.90
Arkansas 23-11 81-76 2.27 5.2 59.78
Auburn 25-7 83-73 3.07 13.0 57.82
Bucknell 25-9 81-73 6.39 5.2 47.73
Buffalo 26-8 85-77 4.40 9.9 49.69
Butler 20-13 79-73 1.11 9.8 60.34
Cal St. Fullerton 20-11 73-72 4.49 6.2 48.16
Charleston 26-7 75-69 3.31 5.4 47.05
Cincinnati 30-4 75-57 8.51 23.1 55.59
Clemson 23-9 73-66 5.91 7.0 59.63
Creighton 21-11 84-75 8.21 5.6 59.32
Davidson 21-11 76-68 6.95 7.5 52.99
Duke 26-7 85-70 9.63 21.8 61.10
Florida 20-12 76-69 1.68 4.6 60.47
Florida St. 20-11 82-75 4.18 10.8 58.25
Georgia St. 24-10 75-67 5.06 2.4 47.91
Gonzaga 30-4 85-67 9.69 23.1 53.33
Houston 26-7 77-65 6.55 19.0 55.10
Iona 20-13 80-76 2.89 -1.2 48.61
Kansas 27-7 82-71 8.48 5.1 61.40
Kansas St. 22-11 72-68 3.19 0.9 59.25
Kentucky 24-10 77-70 4.87 11.6 60.74
Lipscomb 23-9 83-78 1.80 10.4 46.08
Long Island 18-16 78-77 3.11 3.4 42.66
Loyola (Chi.) 28-5 72-62 10.23 7.2 50.49
Marshall 24-10 84-79 6.45 -4.8 48.72
MD-Baltimore Co. 24-10 73-71 1.21 3.3 45.34
Miami (Fla.) 22-9 74-68 3.10 6.5 58.19
Michigan 28-7 75-64 5.38 10.3 59.49
Michigan St. 29-4 81-65 14.22 19.9 58.10
Missouri 20-12 74-68 7.35 8.1 59.05
Montana 26-7 78-69 2.09 17.5 47.91
Murray St. 26-5 77-66 9.07 16.4 47.26
Nevada 27-7 83-73 6.01 7.4 54.38
New Mexico St. 28-5 76-65 4.95 23.0 49.40
North Carolina 25-10 82-73 2.96 22.2 63.33
North Carolina St. 21-11 81-75 1.70 7.5 57.47
Ohio St. 24-8 76-67 5.83 13.6 58.53
Oklahoma 18-13 85-82 3.51 0.9 61.23
Penn 24-8 76-69 5.62 7.9 47.04
Providence 21-13 74-73 -0.23 3.6 59.66
Purdue 28-6 81-66 11.75 10.0 59.43
Radford 22-12 67-64 -0.25 10.7 45.99
Rhode Island 25-7 76-68 -0.01 10.6 53.75
San Diego St. 22-10 77-68 3.83 15.2 53.54
Seton Hall 21-11 79-73 2.51 12.0 59.54
South Dakota St. 28-6 85-74 7.08 11.7 50.20
St. Bonaventure 25-7 78-71 3.52 8.9 53.05
Stephen F. Austin 28-6 78-68 3.75 16.2 44.06
Syracuse 20-13 68-65 1.28 12.6 58.16
TCU 21-11 83-76 3.55 15.6 59.86
Tennessee 25-8 74-66 4.38 8.9 61.11
Texas 19-14 72-68 1.65 4.1 61.24
Texas A&M 20-12 75-70 4.13 12.1 60.77
Texas Southern 15-19 78-80 1.11 -1.3 44.18
Texas Tech 24-9 75-65 5.27 14.6 59.83
UCLA 21-11 82-76 4.65 6.7 56.96
UNC-Central 19-15 70-71 2.65 11.1 38.53
UNC-Greensboro 27-7 74-62 3.58 17.8 46.81
Villanova 30-4 87-71 9.78 13.3 60.47
Virginia 31-2 68-53 8.42 13.4 60.45
Virginia Tech 21-11 80-72 7.27 1.6 58.44
West Virginia 24-10 80-69 0.33 16.6 60.84
Wichita St. 25-7 83-71 5.57 22.2 56.78
Wright St. 25-9 72-66 1.88 11.6 46.41
Xavier 28-5 84-75 7.04 15.5 59.66

Did you notice that there are just 10 teams that qualified in all three categories and posted three red numbers?  In case you were wondering, the purple numbers under scoring margin represent an old metric from past years that deserves some carryover into our new plans.  Almost all Final Four teams in the last 20 years (and a large majority all time) had double digit scoring margins.

Schedule Strength is very important to us, just like class is important to thoroughbred horses about to make a run for the roses in Louisville in May.  An Allowance horse with an undefeated record running crazy fractions at lesser tracks doesn’t have a chance against the top competitors in the Blue Grass Stakes, Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, and Santa Anita Derby.  Likewise the teams from the bottom 15 conferences do not have a chance to make it to the Final Four even if they outscored their opponents by 20 points per game.

In case you were wondering about some of the Cinderella Final Four teams from the recent past (George Mason, Wichita State, Butler, and VCU), all these teams were members of conferences that finished in the top 13 in overall strength and strength of schedule.  To find the last Final Four participant that came from a conference that finished in the bottom half in strength and strength of schedule, you must go back to 1979 and Penn out of the Ivy League.

You have a great starting point.  The teams with the red numbers (and purple numbers) have the basics to get them through the early rounds.  Of course, it matters who they play in the early rounds.  We cannot just stop here and fill out our brackets with this information.

There are components of the R+T Ratings, namely rebounding margin, steals, and turnover margin.  When you combine this with true shooting percentage, and schedule strength, you begin to see a clearer picture.  Two teams can have identical r+t ratings but one could dominate on the glass and not pick up steals or force turnovers, while the other could be just a tad better than average on the glass but pick teams apart with ball-hawking defense.  Which team is better?  That is not an easy question to answer.  We have to look at each game by itself.  Will one team’s ability to rebound trump another team’s ability to force turnovers?  What if a team is playing an opponent that wins by steals and turnovers (from a full-court press defense) has played six games this year against teams that play this style of defense and is now competent against it and able to exploit it for easy points?  What if a team that does not turn the ball over much hasn’t played a full-court pressing team all year, and now in the first round, as a favorite playing a double-digit seed, the underdog is a competent pressing defensive team?

You get the picture now, so there is just a little bit left to reveal.  The champion that will emerge will have won six consecutive games.  Should we expect a team that has not already won six consecutive games this year to all of a sudden do so against the top competition?  In almost every case in the last 30 years, the eventual national champion enjoyed at least one seven-games or better winning streak, or they had two separate six-game winning streak.  The rare exceptions in 30 years failed by one game.

We will keep all this in mind as we play out the brackets.  We will start with the First Four Games in Dayton, but most bracket contests allow you to place the winners in your bracket and start when it’s down to 64.

We know that we won’t pick all the winners correctly, and as we said yesterday, you have a better chance of winning the Power Ball and Mega Millions Lotteries in the same week than you have picking a perfect bracket.  In other words, it may take centuries before it is done, if ever.  Most office pools and friendly bracket contests modify the rules and let the players pick entirely new winners after each round, so we will return with picks for Saturday and Sunday, as well as new Sweet 16, Elite 8, and Final Four picks.

Here are some supplemental statistics that we will use to influence how we pick games after we have looked at the big data above.

W1 and W2 are the teams’ two longest winning streaks during the year.

L 12 is how the team fared in its final 12 games prior to the tournament.

Reb is rebounding margin.

Stl is average steals per game, and Opp Stl is average number of times per game the team had the ball stolen by the opponents.

TO is turnover margin.

Team W1 W2 L 12 Reb Stl Opp Stl TO
Alabama 5 4 5-7 0.32 6.41 6.59 -0.94
Arizona 9 7 9-3 7.62 4.94 6.15 -0.62
Arizona St. 12 3 5-7 -1.26 6.58 5.39 4.19
Arkansas 6 4 8-4 -1.06 6.24 4.76 3.00
Auburn 14 5 7-5 3.25 7.44 6.16 2.97
Bucknell 10 8 11-1 1.53 5.62 6.68 -0.03
Buffalo 9 6 10-2 2.53 6.38 5.79 1.41
Butler 5 4 6-6 1.33 6.73 5.15 2.97
Cal St. Fullerton 5 4 9-3 1.90 6.39 5.65 -1.10
Charleston 11 5 11-1 -0.73 5.18 3.94 2.21
Cincinnati 16 7 10-2 7.50 7.29 4.94 3.35
Clemson 10 4 7-5 2.09 5.69 5.88 -0.13
Creighton 5 4 6-6 1.13 5.66 6.06 0.56
Davidson 5 4 10-2 1.38 4.78 4.75 1.13
Duke 11 5 8-4 9.24 7.52 5.82 -0.61
Florida 6 5 6-6 -2.19 6.84 4.41 3.97
Florida St. 9 3 6-6 3.10 6.71 5.87 1.10
Georgia St. 10 4 8-4 -2.76 7.35 4.91 3.15
Gonzaga 14 6 14-0 9.00 6.44 5.06 0.97
Houston 7 5 10-2 6.88 6.42 5.06 1.12
Iona 5 4 7-5 -3.76 6.79 5.06 2.03
Kansas 7 5 9-3 0.06 6.62 5.62 1.32
Kansas St. 4 4 6-6 -3.09 7.76 5.61 2.85
Kentucky 7 4 7-5 4.76 5.62 5.71 -1.03
Lipscomb 8 4 9-3 3.91 6.47 7.03 0.41
Long Island 5 4 9-3 1.71 5.62 6.65 -2.15
Loyola (Chi.) 10 7 11-1 1.64 6.64 6.36 0.91
Marshall 5 4 10-2 -4.32 6.85 6.65 1.06
MD-Baltimore Co. 5 3 10-2 -1.41 7.53 6.38 2.74
Miami (Fla.) 10 4 7-5 0.65 6.55 5.68 1.65
Michigan 9 7 11-1 0.77 6.26 4.06 3.71
Michigan St. 14 13 11-1 10.55 4.09 6.03 -3.21
Missouri 5 5 7-5 4.53 5.16 6.50 -3.09
Montana 13 6 10-2 4.82 7.76 4.97 2.97
Murray St. 13 5 12-0 5.74 6.81 5.29 0.84
Nevada 8 7 9-3 -0.12 6.26 4.53 3.06
New Mexico St. 11 6 10-2 8.94 5.64 4.85 1.12
North Carolina 6 5 9-3 9.97 5.63 6.11 -0.46
N. Carolina St. 5 4 8-4 0.59 7.50 6.22 2.81
Ohio St. 8 5 8-4 4.63 6.03 5.16 0.47
Oklahoma 10 2 3-9 -0.71 6.58 6.81 -0.16
Penn 5 4 10-2 1.75 5.94 5.19 0.59
Providence 5 4 7-5 -0.06 6.85 6.62 0.91
Purdue 19 5 8-4 2.44 5.82 5.21 1.44
Radford 7 6 8-4 3.12 6.29 5.53 0.82
Rhode Island 16 2 8-4 0.63 7.50 5.56 5.16
San Diego St. 9 4 10-2 5.28 6.31 6.19 1.69
Seton Hall 5 5 6-6 4.38 6.28 5.94 0.00
South Dakota St. 11 8 11-1 3.68 4.97 4.76 0.65
St. Bonaventure 13 8 11-1 0.94 6.91 5.28 2.88
S.F. Austin 6 5 10-2 4.06 10.21 7.50 4.44
Syracuse 6 4 5-7 4.48 7.24 6.30 0.30
TCU 12 4 6-6 6.31 6.59 6.25 -0.10
Tennessee 6 6 9-3 1.79 6.30 5.64 1.76
Texas 4 3 5-7 -0.21 6.21 5.42 0.85
Texas A&M 7 4 7-5 5.97 5.63 6.38 -2.31
Texas Southern 7 3 9-3 -1.97 5.59 5.29 -0.88
Texas Tech 8 7 7-5 4.06 7.42 5.88 2.64
UCLA 4 4 8-4 2.44 5.72 5.94 -1.06
UNC-Central 6 5 7-5 4.88 5.12 5.12 -2.09
UNC-Greensboro 6 5 11-1 6.76 7.74 7.06 1.47
Villanova 13 9 9-3 2.88 6.68 4.56 2.74
Virginia 15 8 11-1 1.88 6.79 3.88 4.15
Virginia Tech 7 3 7-5 -1.50 5.75 5.34 1.09
West Virginia 15 3 8-4 3.44 8.03 5.47 5.18
Wichita St. 7 7 9-3 9.88 4.69 5.88 0.00
Wright St. 8 4 9-3 2.97 6.65 5.82 2.15
Xavier 10 9 10-2 7.12 5.85 6.61 -1.06

When we add all our major and supplemental criteria together, we get a raw score.  We have tested some basic data scoring that we will not attempt to explain here, as it would bore you to sleep, but here are the 14 teams that came out of the test with indications that they have the talent and class to win the national championship.  While they are in order of grade score, you cannot automatically assume that the top team is the very best; actually the top eight finished in a statistical dead heat.  Here is the list of 14 teams with national championship caliber statistics.  The top Eight are shown in Crimson.

Cincinnati
Gonzaga
Houston
Texas Tech
Duke
Villanova
Virginia
Ohio St.
Wichita St.
West Virginia
Michigan St.
Purdue
Kansas
Michigan

Here are the tip-off times and TV schedules for the First Four and Round of 64, followed by our bracket picks based on the new criteria.

The First Four Games In Dayton 

Tuesday, Mar 13, 2018
TIME Higher Seed Lower Seed City TV
6:40 PM 16 Radford 16 Long Island Dayton, OH truTV
9:10 PM 11 UCLA 11 St. Bonaventure Dayton, OH truTV
         
Wednesday, Mar 14, 2018
TIME Higher Seed Lower Seed City TV
6:40 PM 16 UNC-Central 16 Texas Southern Dayton, OH truTV
9:10 PM 11 Arizona St. 11 Syracuse Dayton, OH truTV

Round of 64

Thursday, Mar 15, 2018
TIME Higher Seed Lower Seed City TV
12:15 PM 7 Rhode Island 10 Oklahoma Pittsburgh CBS
12:40 PM 3 Tennessee 14 Wright St. Dallas truTV
1:30 PM 4 Gonzaga 13 UNC-Greensboro Boise, ID TNT
2:00 PM 1 Kansas 16 Penn Wichita, KS TBS
2:45 PM 2 Duke 15 Iona Pittsburgh CBS
3:10 PM 6 Miami (Fla.) 11 Loyola (Chi.) Dallas truTV
4:00 PM 5 Ohio St. 12 South Dakota St. Boise, ID TNT
4:30 PM 8 Seton Hall 9 North Carolina St. Wichita, KS TBS
6:50 PM 1 Villanova 16 LIU/Radford Pittsburgh TNT
7:10 PM 5 Kentucky 12 Davidson Boise, ID CBS
7:20 PM 6 Houston 11 San Diego St Wichita, KS TBS
7:27 PM 3 Texas Tech 14 Stephen F. Austin Dallas truTV
9:20 PM 8 Virginia Tech 9 Alabama Pittsburgh TNT
9:40 PM 4 Arizona 13 Buffalo Boise, ID CBS
9:50 PM 3 Michigan 14 Montana Wichita, KS TBS
9:57 PM 6 Florida 11 St. Bon./UCLA Dallas truTV
Friday, Mar 16, 2018
TIME Higher Seed Lower Seed City TV
12:15 PM 7 Texas A&M 10 Providence Charlotte CBS
12:40 PM 2 Purdue 15 Cal St. Fullerton Detroit truTV
1:30 PM 4 Wichita St. 13 Marshall San Diego TNT
2:00 PM 2 Cincinnati 15 Georgia St. Nashville TBS
2:45 PM 2 North Carolina 15 Lipscomb Charlotte CBS
3:10 PM 7 Arkansas 10 Butler Detroit truTV
4:00 PM 5 West Virginia 12 Murray St. San Diego TNT
4:30 PM 7 Nevada 10 Texas Nashville TBS
6:50 PM 8 Creighton 9 Kansas St. Charlotte TNT
7:10 PM 3 Michigan St. 14 Bucknell Detroit CBS
7:20 PM 1 Xavier 16 UNC-Central/Tx Sou. Nashville TBS
7:27 PM 4 Auburn 13 Charleston San Diego truTV
9:20 PM 1 Virginia 16 MD-Baltimore Co. Charlotte TNT
9:40 PM 6 TCU 11 Ariz. St./Syracuse Detroit CBS
9:50 PM 8 Missouri 9 Florida St. Nashville TBS
9:57 PM 5 Clemson 12 New Mexico St. San Diego truTV

 

BRACKET FILLING TIME

Play-in Round

Radford vs. Long Island

There isn’t much difference here between the two teams, as the winner will quickly exit stage right after Thursday.

Radford has a slight rebounding edge and somewhat larger turnover and steals edge with a slightly better strength of schedule.  It isn’t an overwhelming edge in any case, but it is enough to list a favorite by about 60%

Our Pick: Radford

 

UCLA vs. St. Bonaventure

Games like this are supposed to be toss-ups, and in this case, we could see where the margin stays close throughout as the two teams struggle to get spurts that will put them in control.

St. Bonaventure enters this game riding a hot hand where a long winning streak ended in a semifinal round loss to Davidson in the A-10 Tournament.  UCLA almost didn’t make it in the tournament, and an end of season win over USC most likely put the Bruins in and Trojans out.

In almost every statistical category, the advantages one team has over the other are minimal.  The only game-swinging stat that could make this outcome predictable is the turnover margin.  UCLA has a negative turnover margin, while the Bonnies have a knack for stealing the ball.  It’s just enough to go with the team from Olean by a couple points.

Our Pick: St. Bonaventure

 

North Carolina Central vs. Texas Southern

This will be an exciting game for more than the obvious reason that it will allow the winner a chance to advance to Friday.  This game matches up the tournament champions from the two Historically Black Colleges and University conferences that play division 1 basketball.  Legendary Hall of Fame Coach John McLendon made UNC Central a small college basketball power similar to Kentucky and North Carolina in present times.  Texas Southern was an NAIA power in the 1970’s before moving to Division 1, and as a D1 school, the Tigers produced one of the most exciting and prolific combination scorers and rebounders in NCAA history.  Harry “Machine Gun” Kelly was the first player in NCAA Division 1 history to score more than 3,000 points in his career and gather more than 1,000 rebounds.

Now that we hope you are pumped up about this game, expect possibly the best game of the Dayton foursome.  UNC-Central has the better statistical resume, but TSU played a considerably harder schedule.  Neither team has a chance of knocking off the top-seed Xavier on Friday.  We are going to take UNC-Central in a close game for one reason only.  Texas Southern has a negative R+T rating, and our PiRate Rating rule is to always go against any team with a negative R+T rating as long as the opponent has a postivie R+T rating.  This means that Central will benefit from extra scoring opportunities in this game, in this case about six more.  TSU does not have a high enough true shooting percentage to make up for this probably seven-point swing.

Our Pick: UNC-Central

 

Arizona St. vs. Syracuse

Both teams must feel fortunate that they squeaked into the tournament.  According to actual selection, Arizona St. is the 66th team and Syracuse is the 68th team, but NCAA Tournament rules state that teams from the same conference cannot play against each other until the Elite 8, and Arizona St. moved up one spot as team 65, so that they would not play #67 UCLA, a conference rival.

When you talk about playing Syracuse with little time to prepare, you have to give the Orangemen a little bit of vigorish due to the difficulty preparing for their multiple 2-3 zone schemes.  Just when you think you have it figured out, they switch how they play the zone.  It is like preparing for a football game against Navy on very short notice.

Syracuse is going to control the boards in this game, so the Sun Devils will need to capitalize on hitting a high percentage of the few open shots that present themselves when ASU solves the zone and finds a hole.  The Sun Devils will need to ramp up the pressure man-to-man defense in hopes of forcing Syracuse into a couple extra turnovers.

There isn’t much to choose from when trying to separate these two teams, but the one glaring advantage in this game is schedule strength, and that is how we will select a winner in this one.

Our Pick: Syracuse 

 

Round of 64

Virginia vs. Maryland-Baltimore Co.

We could just issue the obvious pick, and you know which team that will be, but we want to include reasons in every game so you can begin to instinctively know how we do what we do.  It is our hope that by the Sweet 16 round that most of you will know before reading which teams we are going to select.

UMBC has struggled at times to get open looks against America East Conference opponents.  What do you think will happen when they go up against the best halfcourt defense in the country?  The Retrievers will see the Cavaliers retrieving all the missed shots, and then UVa will work the ball for high percentage shots.  It would not surprise us at all if the margin exceeded 30 points in this game.  Virginia has a huge R+T advantage and if the shooting percentage difference wasn’t enough, the Cavs will get about 10 extra scoring opportunities.  If the starters stay in the game long enough, the score could be doubled.  Even with the reserves seeing double digit minutes, a 75-40 score would not be surprising.

Our Pick: Virginia 

 

Creighton vs. Kansas St.

Eight-Nine games are supposed to be close, but in this case we believe it is a mismatch.  Using our criteria, the Blue Jays should dominate this game.  Let’s start with the strength of schedule for the teams–it is almost identical (less than .1 points per game).  This makes statistical analysis much easier.

Creighton enjoys considerable superiority in true shooting percentages and R+T rating, which makes this a simple open and shut case.  We expect a double-digit win.

Our Pick: Creighton

 

Kentucky vs. Davidson

Kentucky coach John Calipari is hopping mad.  His Wildcats won the SEC Tournament, and they got shipped to the Frozen potato fields of Boise.  It was obvious that their five-seed had already been bestowed upon the Blue Mist prior to the game with Tennessee on Sunday.

Davidson was the team that forced all Bracketologists to compile two final seed lists and wait until Sunday afternoon’s contest with Rhode Island concluded.  The Wildcats’ statistical metrics improved continually from early January until the present time.  If you throw out their November and December games and only include the stats from that point on, they look like a lively team capable of pulling off another one of those 12 versus 5 upsets.

This Kentucky team has not been all that consistent.  There isn’t really a point in the season where you can isolate many consecutive games where their statistical metrics say they have a chance to run the table.  Even the conference tournament showed they cannot play a 40-minute game.  This isn’t the Fiddling Five of 1958, where one big spurt leads the Wildcats to victory.  This group is more like the ADHD Five.  They hit long stretches where they don’t seem to be following Cal’s script.

It won’t matter much in this game.  Cal if angry, and his team will respond at least in this first game.  Kentucky has too much muscle inside for Davidson to put together a long string of successful possessions.  The K-Cats will block shots and limit Davidson to one shot per possession too many times for the D-Cats.  Davidson will have a difficult time stopping Kentucky’s inside game, and when they stuff the lane, Kentucky will hit enough three-pointers to force DC to extend their defense.

Our Pick: Kentucky 

 

Arizona vs. Buffalo

Buffalo might have been a trendy upset pick if the Bulls had pulled a more favorable first-round opponent.  The Wildcats have just a little too much inside power for the Bulls to stop enough times to challenge for the upset.  In our minds, Arizona was seeded a little lower than their resume shows.  They should have been at least a 3-seed if not a 2-seed.  The Pac-12 did not get much respect, and the FBI issue may have psychologically discounted the team a little in the Selection Committee room.

This is the only Pac-12 team with statistical metrics capable of moving to the Final Four.  Arizona’s stat sheet is one that shows staying power.  They meet our qualifications of a “Complete Team,” as they have favorable true shooting percentage, R+T rating, and schedule strength.

Our Pick: Arizona

 

Miami (Fla.) vs. Loyola (Chi.)

This is the first game in order of the released bracket where the decisive underdog has a legitimate chance to pull of the upset.  If Loyola’s strength of schedule was just a fraction stronger, we would make the Ramblers the definite favorite in this game.  As it is, we think it is a 50-50 toss-up, so keep that in mind when you see our pick for this game and feel free to go the other way if you have valid reasons.

Miami limped through the last month of the regular season.  The Hurricanes peaked in November and December and never could regain the consistency they had at the beginning of the season.

Loyola went the other way.  As the season continued, the Ramblers improved.  By mid-February, they had become what Wichita State once was in the Valley–the dominant team without a serious rival.

Loyola has superior true shooting percentage margin and R+T rating, better by enough to overcome Miami’s superior schedule strength.  The Hurricanes do not help themselves in rebounding or gaining possession by turnover, and their stay in the 2018 version of March Madness will end either here or in the next round.

As we try to pick this toss-up game we go with the team with the momentum and the excitement of returning to the field after a long time with players that are hungry and confident.

Our Pick: Loyola (Chi.) 

 

Tennessee vs. Wright St.

On the few occasions where a 14 or 15 seed pulls off the big first round upset, that team has players that are quick and dangerous ball-hawkers that can fast break and get cheap baskets.  Wright State does not meet this requirement.  They are a more patient, balanced team that takes advantage of the opponent’s miscues and slowly opens up a nice but not huge lead.

Tennessee is not going to give the Raiders much of a chance to slowly open up any lead.  The Volunteers have superiority over WSU in schedule strength by a large margin, as Tennessee’s opponents overall averaged more than 15 points per game stronger than those that played the Raiders.  Tennessee’s true shooting percentage margin will be more than enough to make this game a blow out, but the Vols also have the better R+T rating when weighted against their superior schedule.  Expect to see Rick Barnes go deep into his bench in the second half.

Our Pick: Tennessee

 

Nevada vs. Texas

If you know anything about barbecue contests, you know that brisket is the most difficult part of the contest to master.  It takes a long time to perfect the method.  There isn’t much room for temperature variation, and the rub and mop have to be just right.  You don’t get much wiggle room.  College basketball at the big time is similar to barbecuing a brisket.  Chef Eric Musselman of Team Nevada created perfect briskets all season long until last week.  His most recent brisket came out of the old Pitts and Spitts inedible.  The judges couldn’t even bite into the sample piece, as a new leader of the old successful barbecue team in San Diego took home all the trophies.

What do we make of this?  Will Team Wolf Pack recover and cook a tender, juicy flavorful brisket in the big Music City BBQ contest?

The other participant in this game used to create championship briskets with his mustard based sauce that he called “Havoc.”  Chef Shaka Smart didn’t have the essential ingredients in the Lone Star State this year, and he had to change his recipe to a vinegar base sauce.  It wasn’t as tasty or tender, but the brisket still got him placement on the stage.  Chef Smart may have done his best work considering the grade of beef he had at the start, but now all that matters is the final product.

Which brisket will be better?  Let’s look at the ingredients.  The quality of the beef, aka schedule strength, favors the Longhorns, and the advantage is healthy and something to give serious consideration.  Nevada still has a slight true shooting percentage edge when schedule strength is weighted into the equation, but Texas overcomes that with an even greater R+T advantage.  Most of this advantage comes from UT’s ability to maintain control of the ball, so it will not lead to excessive extra scoring opportunities.

With this data alone, the game looks to be rather close.  However, we are going to add one intangible into the fray, and that will lead us to picking a sure winner.  Coach Musselman’s briskets have developed quite the reputation in the barbecue world.  He almost left Reno for the large BBQ joint in Berkeley, CA, last year, and at the end of the season Nevada laid an egg in their first round tournament game with Iowa St.  This year, we believe Musselman will take another job, and we believe his players feel that way too.  He has been mentioned as a finalist for the Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Georgia, and Ole Miss jobs, and chances are better than 50-50 that he takes one of these four.  Once again, the Wolf Pack may be a bit flat, if only at the start of the game before they recover.  Spot Shaka Smart a ten-point lead, and his teams usually find a way to hold onto it.

Our Pick: Texas

 

Cincinnati vs. Georgia St.

The Bearcats should have been a number one seed in our opinion, but the Selection Committee is charged with looking at the entire season rather than the most recent part.  Coach Mick Cronin has a real national championship contender this year, as Cinti has its best team since Ed Jucker roamed the sidelines.  This Bearcat team is better than any of Bob Huggins’ teams in the Queen City.

Georgia State is a better team today than they were in December.  The Panthers showed how much they improved during the season when they clobbered Louisiana-Lafayette and put up 106 points in the game.

GSU could play two complete games against Cincinnati, and the Panthers would struggle to score 106 total points.  The Bearcats are in a different class of opponent compared to the opponents in the Sun Belt Conference.

The stats are ugly for this game and portend a possible 40 to 50-point win if Cincinnati doesn’t call off the dogs early.  The Bearcats should receive 25 extra scoring opportunities in this game, as Georgia State had trouble rebounding against SBC competition, and Cincinnati would be expected to win the battle of the boards against almost every other team in the tournament except maybe Michigan St.

Cincinnati’s defense will hold Georgia State under 40% shooting from the field, while the Bearcats have a good chance to connect on 50% or better.  Don’t even consider that this game could be any different, unless you believe we just jinxed it.  On paper, we could see a score in the neighborhood of 85-45.

Our Pick: Cincinnati

 

Xavier vs. UNC-Central or Texas Southern

We find it quite interesting that the Selection Committee placed bitter rivals Xavier and Cincinnati in the same location for a tournament that will be played around St. Patrick’s Day.  What could go wrong when enemies of two schools staying in the same block of another town get sufficient alcohol in their systems?  Why not schedule a soccer game between Manchester United and Liverpool at the Titans’ Coliseum across the river at the same time?

There isn’t much to say about this game.  Xavier should have little trouble winning, but take note of this: we believe the Musketeers are the most vulnerable of the one-seeds in this tournament.  They have glaring weaknesses that can be exploited down the road, maybe even as soon as the next round.  Xavier can gave some trouble holding onto the ball, and they do not force many turnovers on defense, so a really good pressuring defense with decent shooters will be nothing but trouble for the Musketeers.

Our Pick: Xavier

Missouri vs. Florida St.

This game is a hard one to pick.  How do you factor Michael Porter, Jr. into the statistical comparison?  He played 20+ minutes in his return for the Tigers in their opening game tournament loss to Georgia.  He was quite rusty and still enough out of shape to show fatigue quickly.  Of course, he was also nervous playing in St. Louis, and he pressed a bit.  However, there were moments where you could see some Lebronish moves.

Florida State is very similar to Missouri in all respects, and without Porter playing for the Tigers, we would tend to give the slight edge to the Seminoles.  Therein lies the rub.  Without sneaking into Missouri’s practices or speaking directly with Porter and Coach Cuonzo Martin, we cannot begin to know if Porter will be able to move the needle in favor of his Tigers.

The key statistical factors here are a wash.  Schedule strength is the same.  Missouri has a slightly better true shooting percentage, while FSU has a slightly better R+T advantage.  Missouri’s negative turnover margin is enough to cause a bit of concern, but then having Porter at maybe 70% of his normal self is enough to put the advantage back on Missouri’s side, if only by a point or two. We are making this pick under the correct or incorrect belief that Porter will play 20+ minutes again in this game and be slightly more effective in this one.

Our Pick: Missouri

 

Ohio St. vs. South Dakota St.

South Dakota State is another double-digit seed that might have pulled off a shocker in the first round had they not drawn an opponent that matches up against them perfectly.  Ohio State can be beaten by lower-seeded teams in this tournament, and we would have gone against the Buckeyes if they had drawn Murray State.

This will still be a tough one for the quintet from Columbus to win.  SDSU is slightly weaker in true shooting percenage margin and R+T rating, but not by much.  Ohio State’s advantage here on average is about six points, which can easily be overcome by the law of averages, especially when you consider that the Jackrabbits are peaking at the right time, while the Buckeyes appear to be taking on water.  Only because Coach Chris Holtman has an excellent NCAA Tournament resume do we feel good about this selection.

Our Pick: Ohio State in a squeaker

 

Gonzaga vs. UNC-Greensboro

Is it us, or has the national media forgotten which team came within 90 seconds of winning the national championship last year and then reloaded with another powerful team that got better and better each week?

Take a look at Gonzaga’s statistical data?  The Bulldogs are just as impressive this year as they were at this time last year.  Their true shooting percentage margin is 5th best in the field of 68.  Their R+T rating is tops in the field.  They enter the Dance waltzing with a 14-game winning streak, and they meet our qualifications for a complete team.

The only reason why the Zags may not make it back to the Final Four this year is their strength of schedule just misses qualifying for our magic number of five points better than average.  They just barely qualified last year, so Gonzaga could break through and crush our qualifications.

UNC-Greensboro is not chopped liver.  They are a potentially dangerous team that just happened to luck into playing Gonzaga.  The Spartans enter the tournament riding a six-game winning streak that has seen them outscore opponents by 12.3 points per game.  Their statistical data is better than the average 13-seed.  They might be expected to beat more than half of the 6 through 12 seeds in this field, but they were quite unlucky drawing the most underrated of the top 16 teams.

Our Pick: Gonzaga

 

Houston vs. San Diego St.

This should be one of the most exciting and entertaining games in this round.  These two teams know how to claw and scratch on every possession.  While the game looks to be close to a toss-up, our PiRate Criteria statistical data shows a clear favorite.

Houston has better true shooting percentage numbers, better R+T numbers, and an ever so slightly superior schedule strength.  There are no other factors strong enough to turn this game the opposite way.  Watch out for the Cougars.  They are flying under the radar and could sneak up on future opponents.

Note: CUSA rivals Cincinnati and Houston were forced to play their home games on the floors of other D1 schools this year due to renovations to their gyms.  Cincinnati played their home games across the river at Northern Kentucky, while Houston played its home games almost next door at Texas Southern.  This no real home game issue may actually help both CUSA teams.

Our Pick: Houston

Michigan vs. Montana

Michigan under John Beilein always presents us some difficulty when prognosticating games in the NCAA Tournament, and in fact it was their past recent success that led us to make the major renovations to our criteria.  They led the change in how the game is now played on the offensive end, and their old-fashioned 1960’s-style 1-3-1 trapping zone defense also presents problems.

This year, the Wolverines appear to be even stronger than last year, when they narrowly lost to Oregon in the Sweet 16.  The Maize and Blue no longer have rebounding liabilities.  Rebounding is still no major strength, but they can compete against their upstate rival without worrying about being done in on the boards.

Michigan has shored up this liability without sacrificing their typical assets.  The Wolverines can still handle the ball better than all but one or two others in this field.  They know how to get the ball inside and score within a couple feet of the basket, and they can still hit their share of three-pointers.

Montana is actually a strong team for a Big Sky member.  The Big Sky has produced some surprise teams in the past, and the Grizzlies are a formidable first round foe.  They might even lead in this game for a short period of time, but in the end, they do not have the horsed to knock off the feisty Wolverines.

Our Pick: Michigan

 

Texas A&M vs. Providence

Neither of these teams has lasting potential in the 2018 Dance.  The winner will have to face North Carolina in Charlotte in the next round, and even thogh the Tar Heels have vulnerabilities, they will make it to the Sweet 16 again.

This game looks to us to be a surprise easy victory for the superior team.  Let’s look at which team that is.  Providence is one of just two teams in the field with a negative true shooting percentage margin (oddly the other is in-state rival Rhode Island).  In order for a team that has a negative TS% margin to win, they better have an outstanding R+T rating as well as a strong strength of schedule.  The Friars’s schedule is strong enough, but their R+T rating is almost as weak as their true shooting percentage margin.

Texas A&M enjoys decent numbers in the big three stats.  Their TS% margin is healthy, as it their R+T rating, and their strength of schedule is among the top 10 in this field.

Our Pick: Texas A&M

 

North Carolina vs. Lipscomb

Welcome to your first ever Division 1 NCAA Tournament bid Bisons.  Now, your first opponent is defending national champion North Carolina, and oh, you’re going to play them in Charlotte.

What a way to get a Baptism under fire!  There is only a tiny bit of solace in Lipscomb playing the Tar Heels.  Coach Casey Alexander came from Belmont, where coach Rick Byrd took his Bruin team into Chapel Hill a few years ago and beat North Carolina.  Byrd’s Belmont team came within a point of Duke in a past NCAA Tournament, and Alexander’s style of play is a carbon copy of his mentor.

The differences in schedule strength between these two games is immense and equates to about 24 points per game difference.  North Carolina will benefit from a huge advantage on the boards, but they can also take advantage of Lipscomb’s difficulty handling pressure defense.  The Bisons almost blew a 32-point lead in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Championship, when Florida Gulf Coast pressed full court and forced Lipscomb into one turnover after another, as the lead was cut to five points in about 12 minutes.

Our Pick: North Carolina

 

Villanova vs. Long Island or Radford

Villanova will have a slightly tougher time against Radford than against Long Island, and we selected Radford in the First Four, so we will compare VU to Radford.

‘Nova enjoys a strength of schedule close to 20 points per game better than Radford’s schedule.  The adjustment to the rest of the statistics based on schedule strength rating gives Villanova a prohibitive advantage in all respects.  The Wildcats once again have Final Four worthy statistics.

Our Pick: Villanova

 

Virginia Tech vs. Alabama

What we have here is a toss-up game between two rather mediocre NCAA Tournament teams.  We do not expect the winner to make it past the next round.

Virginia Tech has a decisive advantage in true shooting percentage margin.  The Hokies have little R+T strength, just barely avoiding automatic non-consideration at 1.6.  However, Alabama’s R+T is not much better at 2.3, which usually doesn’t bode well in the round of 64.  Neither team would most likely beat any of the 12-seeds this year, but because they lucked into facing each other, one team must advance to the round of 32.

Our Pick: Virginia Tech (but not with much confidence)

Note: A player like Alabama’s Colin Sexton can put a team on his back and produce a win over a team like Virginia Tech, so if you believe Sexton will shine, you might want to go against us here.

 

West Virginia vs. Murray St.

Wow!  This is going to be a game to watch for sure.  Usually, when Press Virginia plays its first game against an opponent that has not played the Mountaineers in the current era, Huggy Bear’s troops have a huge advantage.  Murray State is not one of those teams.  The Racers not only should handle the press much better than the average team, they will exploit it for points.

The problem is that the full-court press defense isn’t WVU’s only weapon.  The Mountaineers know how to crash the boards, and they know how to get the ball inside for high-percentage shots when the defense is not big time tough.

Murray State will challenge in this game until the Racers show signs of fatigue.  Eventually, the Mountaineers will go on a run with their “spurtability” and win by double digits, but it will still be a fun game to watch.

Our Pick: West Virginia

 

Wichita St. vs. Marshall

This game is an excellent study in contrast between old-school toughness and the new wave of basketball sabermetrics.

Marshall coach Dan D’Antoni is all about the new way of playing the game based on the way the currently accepted best operating metrics say the game should be played.  Marshall doesn’t try to get the ball into the low post where a pivot player then tries to make a move and take a high percentage shot.  The Thundering Herd force you to guard the perimeter sometimes placing all five offensive players behind the arc.  Then, if you drop your guard, they will drive to the basket trying to stuff the ball or getting a layup.

Defensively, if you want to play old school and set up a low post player in the pivot, the Herd will invite you to try to beat them with that strategy, because their data says they have the advantage.  Marshall tries to run the fast break at any opportunity where they have the number’s advantage, and they will pull up and take the three with a number’s advantage.  It is not out of the ordinary if they take 35 three-point shots in a game.  They will hit a baker’s dozen of them, so if your strategy is to take high-percentage shots inside with a dominant post player, you have to hit 20 of 35 to beat the 13 of 35 three-pointers.

Coach Gregg Marshall is somewhat of a non-believer.  Sure, his Wichita State team will take three-point shots and run the fast break trying to get easy baskets, but the Shockers believe in getting the ball inside and preventing the opponent from doing the same.

There is something entirely different from this synopsis that makes this an easy game to pick.  Marshall has a negative R+T rating, and any negative R+T rating means we always pick the other team if the other team has a positive R+T rating.  Wichita’s R+T is not just positive; it is one of the highest in the field.  The Shockers should get an incredible 24 more scoring opportunities in this game.  Marshall would have to hit something like 20 of 35 from behind the arc to win this game.

Our Pick:  Wichita St.

 

Florida vs. St. Bonaventure or UCLA

No matter which team wins the First Four game in Dayton, Florida is a strong upset victim in this game.  The Gators have so many vulnerabilities this year that just making the tournament should be considered a successful season.  This does not mean that the Gators have no chance in this game.  It means that the play-in winner has a better than 50-50 chance of getting a second win.

Florida’s barely positive true shooting percentage margin would require a strong R+T rating to advance into the second week of the tournament.  The Gators’ R+T is just 4.6, which places UF in the bottom quarter of the field and eighth weakest among power conference participants.

Our Pick: St. Bonaventure (or UCLA if they are the opponent)

 

Texas Tech vs. Stephen F. Austin

We don’t usually get in-state rivals playing each other in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament at a venue in their home state.  Texas Tech received the benefit of being kept close to home, but then all that benefit eroded when their opponent received an equal amount of home state help.

Texas Tech has to be treated a bit differently compare to most of the other teams in this field.  They have a key player that missed a large part of the regular season, and the Red Raiders were never the same after the injury.

Prior to beefy forward Zach Smith missing five weeks of the season, Tech was 14-1 and ranked in the top 10.  With Smith out, the Raiders went just 8-6, but then when he came back, Tech only won two of their last four.

Both of those two losses were at the hands of West Virginia, and even when Tech beat the Mountaineers in Lubbock, they struggled throughout the game.  It wasn’t the full-court press that hurt Tech as much as it was that WVU had better athletes.

Stephen F. Austin is similar to WVU but without the great athletes.  Texas Tech should win this game but not look flashy.  They will play more like a well-oiled machine and continually increase their control of the game.

Our Pick: Texas Tech

 

Arkansas vs. Butler

Just looking at this matchup, one might think that Arkansas has a major advantage in this game, but we’re here to tell you that is not the case.  Because the strength of schedules between the two are basically equal, comparing the other stats becomes much easier.

True Shooting % margin: Advantage Arkansas by a minute amount

R+T Rating: Advantage Butler by a bit more amount than Arkansas’s advantage above.

Arkansas is a weaker rebounding team than Butler is a weaker defensive team, so we go against the grain here and pick the Bulldogs over the flashy Razorbacks.  It doesn’t hurt that Butler finished just behind two, number one seeds in the Dance.

Our Pick: Butler

 

Purdue vs. Cal St. Fullerton

In past years, Purdue entered NCAA Tournament play as favorites to advance far only to suffer an upset loss to a team that most basketball fans believed the Boilermakers should have easily defeated.  We here on the PiRate ship understood why Purdue lost.  We called it the Keady Effect.  Teams with head coaches from the Gene Keady tree, and Keady as well, played a style of ball that worked during the regular season when PU could romp over most of their non-conference opponents and defend their home court with great success, but it did not work in neutral court tournament situations.

Matt Painter seems to have seen the light in recent years.  His teams no longer employ Keady Ball at Purdue.  They play more like prior coach Lee Rose, and because of that the Boilermakers are dangerous, maybe coming in a little under the radar.

Purdue has the second best overall true shooting percentage margin in this tournament, and their former bugaboo, the R+T rating is now a slight asset.  It is still not outstanding, but it is now strong enough to believe Purdue could make it to the second weekend of the Dance.

Cal State Fullerton lacks the quickness and the muscle to compete in this game.  Purdue will win by 15-25 points.

Our Pick: Purdue

 

Kansas vs. Penn

If there is any chance at all that one of the 1 versus 16 games will be close and still in doubt past halftime, this will be that game.  Kansas is due for a bounce after playing three tough Big 12 Tournament games, while Penn only had to hold serve on their home floor two times.

Although we think Xavier is the likely first 1-seed to lose this year, Kansas should be the second one, because we do not see this Jayhawk team making it to the Final Four, and they may not make it to the Elite 8.

It’s not that Penn is going to make a run in this tournament.  The Quakers will not make it past this game, but they will show the rest of the field that the Big 12 champions are beatable.

Our Pick: Kansas

 

Seton Hall vs. North Carolina St.

Give Kevin Keatts two more years, and he will have a Final Four contender in Raleigh.  When you combine talent evaluation, recruiting acumen, teaching, and game-time adjustments, Keatts rates as an A+ perfect 10 coach.  We expect a championship ring in his future.

Unfortunately for Wolf Pack fans, that ring will not come in 2018.  This State team was not expected to make it to the NCAA Tournament, as the NIT was the expectation.

Seton Hall is much like Butler.  The Pirates finished tied for third in a league where the top two teams claimed number one seeds.  The Big East is a tough league, and it is hard for a team to develop what looks like on paper as dominant statistics.

There isn’t much of an advantage in this game, but Seton Hall has that advantage, and it comes from being a hair better in all the key stats.

Our Pick: Seton Hall

 

Clemson vs. New Mexico St.

Could an upper division ACC team lose in the opening round of the tournament to a WAC team?  It most certainly is possible, because New Mexico State has the talent to pull off the upset.  Clemson has a nominal true shooting percentage margin advantage, while the Aggies enjoy an equally tiny R+T Rating advantage when weighted against schedule strength.  If New Mexico State can control the boards and out-rebound CU by four or more, they can win this game.  It’s a close call, but we have to go with the chalk in this one, but you can easily play it the other way.

Our Pick: Clemson

Auburn vs. Charleston

Be forewarned:  Auburn will not advance very far in this tournament, and they are weaker than your typical number four seed.  Because the Tigers saw their lone quality big man, Anfernee McLemore, go down to injury in late February, they are more like a double-digit seed now.  Their size liability is too much to overcome, and the Tigers will actually struggle to put College of Charleston away.

Only because Charleston is weak on the boards, do we have any faith in Auburn getting to the Round of 32.  It most likely will be an ugly win with a lower than expected final score.

Our Pick: Auburn

 

TCU vs. Arizona St. or Syracuse

If Syracuse wins the play-in game like we expect they will, then the Orangemen will be our favorite to advance to the Round of 32, because TCU will not match up well with Syracuse.  If Arizona State beats Syracuse, then TCU becomes our favorite to win this game.  So, wait until the ASU-Syracuse game finishes before making this pick.

Our Pick: Syracuse over TCU or

TCU over Arizona St.

 

Michigan St. vs. Bucknell

Coach Tom Izzo must have made a sigh of relief when he saw that his Spartans drew a finesse team in the first round rather than another sparkplug team like Middle Tennessee State.

The Spartans have nothing to worry about in this game.  Bucknell is a fundamentally-sound team that doesn’t have the roster to compete with the green behemoth.  MSU will play paddy-cake on the backboards getting more offensive rebounds than Bucknell will get defensive rebounds.

You beat Michigan State by forcing the Spartans into making more turnovers than normal, and Bucknell will force considerably less, which means Izzo and company cruise to the next round with a huge pointspread, maybe 25 or more.

Our Pick: Michigan St.

 

Rhode Island vs. Oklahoma

Woe is Oklahoma.  In the first half of the season, they deserved a high seed in this tournament.  But, a team must play both halves of its season, and in the second half, the Sooners did not deserve to earn an NIT bid.  Oklahoma is the weakest Power Conference team in the field at the present time.

Rhode Island has certain big-time assets, but the Rams also have one large liability, which means their stay in this field will be short-lived, either one or two games.

We basically must go with the team that is less mediocre than the opponent, and it is hard to choose here, since both teams wear tournament mediocrity well.

Rhode Island has a negative true shooting percentage margin.  We believe that it takes a positive shooting percentage margin to have a chance to advance in this field.  However, Oklahoma just barely has a positive R+T rating.  It is so low, that we would always pick against a team with an R+T rating of 0.9 with negative rebounding and turnover margins.

Rhode Island should capitalize more on Oklahoma’s R+T weakness than Oklahoma will capitalize on URI’s true shooting percentage margin, but Oklahoma has a superior strength of schedule.  They also have the superstar player that has been known to carry a team from one or two games in tournament play, but seldom any farther.

That takes us back to where we started–this game is a push.  We here on the PiRate ship could not come to a conclusion with a 3-3 vote.  The Captain had to break the tie, and we had to wait for his text saying to go with Oklahoma, because the Sooners have played nothing but tough opponents for two months in the Big 12, while URI has faltered against Power conference teams like Alabama and Nevada.

Our Pick: Oklahoma

 

Duke vs. Iona

This isn’t your father’s Duke team.  Heck, it isn’t even Coach K’s Duke team.  The man that came from the Bob Knight coaching tree where the word “Zone” is the worst four letter word, while the other expletive is a common adjective has been forced to employ that curse word defense in Durham.

Hey, it’s working, and this is why Duke is a serious contender to go all the way to the title!  Coach K has had to carefully find the proper pieces to make the puzzle complete, and Duke could be expected to begin tournament play a bit off.

The Selection Committee gave the Blue Devils a true gift.  Iona should have been a 16-seed, but the bottom of this field is really weak this year.  Somebody had to be a 15-seed, and the Gaels lucked out into avoiding the cursed 16-seed.

It won’t matter much.  The Boys from Durham will be able to work the kinks out while experimenting with new strategies in what amounts to almost a practice game.  Duke has one of the top five R+T ratings in the field, while Iona has a negative R+T rating.  We’d go with most of the 16-seeds over Iona if they played in this round.

Our Pick: Duke

 

There you have our first round picks.  Now, here is how we filled out the rest of our brackets.  Remember, we will preview the games anew in each round.

Round of 32

Virginia over Creighton

Arizona over Kentucky

Tennessee over Loyola (Chi.)

Cincinnati over Texas

Xavier over Missouri

Gonzaga over Ohio St.

Michigan over Houston

North Carolina over Texas A&M

Villanova over Virginia Tech

West Virginia over Wichita St.

Texas Tech over St. Bonaventure

Purdue over Butler

Kansas over Seton Hall

Clemson over Auburn

Michigan St. over Syracuse

Duke over Oklahoma

 

Sweet 16

Virginia over Arizona

Cincinnati over Tennessee

Gonzaga over Xavier

North Carolina over Michigan

Villanova over West Virginia

Purdue over Texas Tech

Kansas over Clemson

Duke over Michigan St.

 

Elite 8

Cincinnati over Virginia

North Carolina over Gonzaga

Villanova over Purdue

Duke over Kansas

 

Final Four

Cincinnati over North Carolina

Duke over Villanova

 

Championship

Duke over Cincinnati

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