The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 21, 2008

A PiRate Look At The 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament–March 22, 2008 (3rd Update)

 

A PiRate Look At The 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament

March 22, 2008 (3rd Update)

Thursday almost brought one major surprise when Duke escaped with a one-point win over Belmont.  Most of the other Thursday games were a little ho-hum.  The PiRate Criteria Rating was 15-1 on the day, losing only on the Texas A&M and BYU game, a game I said was the most competitive of the day.  Additionally, I predicted that UCLA would set a record for fewest points allowed in the modern day NCAA Tournament; they did just that by holding the weakest team in the tournament, Mississippi Valley State, to just 29 points.

Friday was the day that ruined brackets all over America.  The four lower seeds in Tampa all upset the four higher seeds.  While I didn’t do as well Friday (9-7) as I did Thursday, my big teams all advanced and are still alive.  That’s what this criteria looks to accomplish-find the teams that have what it takes to get to San Antonio.

Now, we’re down to 32 and by Sunday night, the Sweet 16 will be all that’s left.  Let’s take a look at the PiRate Criteria as it applied to the second round.  Due to time constraints, I will be using statistics that do not reflect the first round tournament games.

East Region

#1 North Carolina (33-2)

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

#9 Arkansas (23-11)

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

North Carolina has too much inside game for Steve Hill to stop and too much outside game for the Razorbacks to sag in the lane.  The Tar Heels will be on cruise control as they waltz to the Sweet 16.  Adding an extra few points for home state (cross town) advantage, you come up with another double digit win for the Tar Heels.

Prediction: North Carolina by 14

#5 Notre Dame (25-7)

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

#4 Washington State (25-8)

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

The best of the rest in the Big East meets the best of the rest in the Pac-10.  This game is obviously a tossup, as the criteria indicates.  Washington State has a slight edge in the final numbers, and they have extra impetus here to make up for what they thought was a blown chance in the second round last year.

While something in my gut says the Irish are going to win, my criteria forces me to go with Washington State in a close ball game.

Prediction: Washington State by 4

#6 Oklahoma (23-11)

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

#3 Louisville (25-8)

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

The Big 12 and the Big East have enjoyed early success in the Big Dance this year, and now representatives from both conferences face off in this game.

Oklahoma was quite impressive in their win over St. Joe’s, while Louisville had little more than a workout against Boise State.  Rick Pitino certainly knows how to prepare his team in the NCAA Tournament, and I expect his Cardinals to move on to the Sweet 16.

Prediction: Louisville by 8

#7 Butler (30-3)

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

# 2 Tennessee (30-4)

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

Butler will not be intimidated by the Vols.  The Bulldogs clobbered Tennessee last year in the semifinals of the Pre-season NIT.

Tennessee has not played its best ball in the last couple of weeks.  It could be the Vols have players hitting the wall as they prepare to play their full-court pressing, fast breaking style of play in game 35.

Butler cannot really take advantage of Tennessee’s lone weakness.  The Bulldogs don’t rebound the ball with enough authority to dominate the glass in this game, and I think second chance points could be a major factor in this game.

Prediction: Tennessee by 7

Midwest Region

#1 Kansas (32-3)

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

#8 UNLV (27-7)

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

The Jayhawks are solid at every position and in every phase of the game.  UNLV will not be able to keep the rebounding statistics close to even.  I expect KU to win the battle of the boards by five to 10.  The Runnin’ Rebels will have a hard time scoring consistently without some form of transition game, while Kansas should pick up 10-15 points thanks to their fast break and early offense.  The Big 12 is showing itself to be maybe the best conference so far, and I am selecting the Jayhawks to win with relative ease.

Prediction: Kansas by 15

#12 Villanova (21-12)

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

#13 Siena (23-10)

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

Villanova may have been the final at-large team in the field, but they proved their worth by coming back from an 18-point deficit to beat the team that took North Carolina to the wire last weekend.  Now, the Wildcats find themselves as the sole remaining team from the City of Brotherly Love.  Their win gave the Big East a 7-1 mark in the first round.

Siena did not upset Vanderbilt; they won by 21, and that’s no upset.  It’s plain to see that experts all over the nation, including Seth Davis, called this one correctly.  The Saints went marching all over the Commodores.  Now, they aim for a berth in the Sweet 16, and they match up well with Villanova.  The Wildcats extended themselves in their come-from-behind win, and they should bounce a little on Sunday.

Siena’s quickness just may be enough to advance the Saints into the third round.  I expect an even better scoring performance by Siena’s big three scorers, and I expect Coach Fran McCaffery’s cagers to steal the ball enough times to get some cheap baskets in the stretch.

Prediction: Siena by 4

#11 Kansas State (21-11)

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

#3 Wisconsin (30-4)

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

This should be an interesting game worth watching.  Kansas State didn’t have its best effort and still looked amazing against Southern Cal.  The Wildcats can play even better than that, especially when Michael Beasley doesn’t get in quick foul trouble.  I don’t expect the men from the Little Apple to commit as many fouls in this game.

Wisconsin keeps winning like they are a push-button, mechanical team.  They play at a rather consistent pace and just don’t lose because of their actions; you have to beat them with superior talent and strategy, because this team is as fundamentally sound as a team can be.

I believe Coach Ryan will devise a game plan that slows down Beasley and forces Bill Walker out of his comfort zone.  At the same time, I expect K-State’s defense to shut down Wisconsin for long stretches and make the Badgers look human.  In the end, I’ll go with the Badgers to recover and score just enough points to win.  Look for a score in the neighborhood of 60-55.  If Wisconsin goes into a long drought in the second half, then KSU will take a commanding lead and hold on for the upset.  It wouldn’t be that much of an upset, because the Wildcats should have been seeded in the upper half of the brackets.

Prediction: Wisconsin by an iffy 5

#10 Davidson (27-6)

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

#2 Georgetown (28-5)

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

The criteria shows that Davidson has a real chance in this game.  The Wildcats came from behind in a hard-fought game to knock off Gonzaga, while Georgetown played a so-so game against a team that is virtually the same as an in-state opponent.

I expect Stephen Curry’s shooting percentage to go south, while Georgetown performs up to standards.  I just don’t see the Wildcats having enough inside to win, but they had stretches this year in their games against North Carolina and UCLA where they handled themselves on the boards against even better inside teams.

I won’t totally discount Davidson, especially since the criteria says they will win.  I’ll stick with the #2-seed to get by on defense and rebounding to pull out a win in a rough game.

Prediction: Georgetown by 8

South Region

#1 Memphis (34-1)

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

#8 Mississippi State (23-10)

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

This game will be physical and could get ugly.  This is a backyard brawl between two schools that have rivalries in more than one sport.  Mississippi State doesn’t have the ball handlers to break Memphis’s press and score in transition.  That will allow the Tigers to gamble a little on their press and force a few more turnovers.

Mississippi State will intimidate the Tigers in the paint and force Memphis’s big men to alter their shots.  It will give the Bulldogs a fighting chance in this game.

All year, I have wondered if Memphis has been seasoned enough.  However, upon looking at their strength of schedule, those fears have been unfounded.  Look for the top seed to advance.

Prediction: Memphis by 9

#5 Michigan State (26-8)

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

#4 Pittsburgh (27-9)

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

This will be the equivalent of the Bears and Packers playing football in the 1930’s.  Both of these teams can play muscle basketball with the best of them.  The criteria calls this one a 50-50 proposition, so I have to vote to break the tie.  I’m going with Pittsburgh for two reasons.  First, they are playing their best ball of the season and are riding a nice winning streak.  Second, Michigan State has a habit of occasionally going into a funk on offense. 

The Panthers will make it hard for Drew Neitzel to get many open looks from outside, and it will take an epic performance by Raymar Morgan to counter it.  I expect Pitt’s great depth in the frontcourt will eventually wear down the Spartans inside.

Prediction: Pittsburgh by 7

#6 Marquette (25-9)

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

#3 Stanford (27-7)

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

Marquette has the better criteria here by a healthy margin.  The Golden Eagles looked a little off in their opening round game with Kentucky, but that may have been more Kentucky’s doing.  Stanford’s defense will look ordinary compared to the Wildcats. 

At the other end of the floor, Stanford’s hope is to dominate the boards and get multiple offensive rebounds and second chance points.  I think the Cardinal will lose the turnover battle by at least three or four, so a decided rebounding margin will be a must.  I’m guessing that won’t happen.

Prediction: Marquette by 6

#7 Miami (Fla.) (23-10)

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

#2 Texas (29-6)

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

The ACC only put four teams into the Dance, and three of them won in the first round.  The Big 12 saw five of its six entrants survive to the second round.  Something has to give Sunday.

Miami’s second half against St. Mary’s showed a Hurricane team that was capable of competing with any team in the tournament.  Texas blew Austin Peay off the floor before the first TV timeout, and the Longhorns will come into this game fresh and ready to give the Big 12 another victory.

Prediction: Texas by 10

West Region

#1 U C L A (32-3)

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

#9 Texas A&M (25-10)

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

UCLA’s defensive effort in the opening round was nothing short of spectacular, even against lowly Mississippi Valley.  Texas A&M played a complete game against BYU.  I expect the Aggies to be pests in this game and keep it close for most of the day.

The match-ups only slightly favor the Bruins, but the venue favors the sky blue and gold even more.  Look for Ben Howland’s squad to move on to the Sweet 16, but it won’t be another repeat of Thursday night.

Prediction: UCLA by 9

#12 Western Kentucky (28-6)

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

#13 San Diego (22-13)

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

As former New York Yankee broadcaster Mel Allen used to say, “How about that?”  The number 12 and number 13 seed advanced twice in Tampa.  According to the PiRate criteria, Western Kentucky is a hidden gem.  The Hilltoppers made it to the Final Four in 1971, only to have their appearance forfeited.  Might WKU be on a course to get there again?  I think they will come up short by at least one and possibly two games, but I think they will be one of the final 16 teams with a chance to do just that.

I don’t give San Diego much chance in this game, because I’m not sure they can come back down to Earth after knocking off Connecticut Friday.  Two years ago, George Mason was able to stay up after winning big game after big game, but that team had a double digit criteria number-just like WKU.

Prediction: Western Kentucky by 7

#6 Purdue (25-8)

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

#3 Xavier (28-6)

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

Xavier fiddled for 32 minutes Thursday before wearing down Georgia.  The Musketeers should play more consistently in this second round game, and it should be enough to send their Big 10 bully back to Indiana.

Xavier should control the boards and shoot a higher percentage from the field than the Boilermakers.  Unless they commit 18 or more turnovers, with a good eight being PU steals or they shoot below 35%, they will get too many additional chances to score to possibly lose.

Prediction: Xavier by 7

#7 West Virginia (25-10)

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

#2 Duke (28-5)

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

Here is my upset pick for Saturday.  West Virginia has the horses to exploit Duke’s weakness in the paint.  These two teams’ criteria couldn’t be much closer, and Duke’s schedule strength advantage of 2.4 isn’t going to tilt the game in their favor.

West Virginia is improving every week, whereas Duke appears to be hitting a valley.  The win over Belmont was not the result of overlooking their #15-seeded opponents.  The Blue Devils just didn’t look like they were capable of putting Belmont away at any point in the game.

Prediction: West Virginia by 6

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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

March 18, 2008

A PiRate Look At The 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament–March 18, 2008 (1st Update)

 

A PiRate Look At The 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament

March 18, 2008 (1st Update)

Yesterday, I gave you my Bracketnomics 505 crash course, where I relayed what I thought were the most pertinent statistical criteria to look at when filling out your brackets.  If you have read that story and earned your M.S. in Bracketnomics, now is the time to work on your doctorate.  Let’s apply the criteria to this year’s Field of 65, and then use tonight’s play-in game between Coppin State and Mount St. Mary’s as an example.

Here’s how I have been taking the criteria listed yesterday and applying numerical grades to it to come up with a list of contenders, dark horses, and pretenders. 

1. Scoring Margin

Award 5 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 10 or more

Award 3 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 8.0-9.9

Award 1 point for every team with a scoring margin difference of 5.0-7.9

Award 0 points for every team with a scoring margin difference of 0-4.9

Award -3 points for every team with a negative scoring margin

2. Field Goal % Margin

Award 5 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 10% or more

Award 3 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 7.5 to 9.9

Award 1 point for every team with a FG% margin difference of 5.0-7.4

Award 0 points for every team with a FG% margin difference of 0.0-4.9

Award -3 points for every team with a FG% margin difference below 0

3. Rebound Margin

Award 3 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 5 or more

Award 1 point for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 3.0-4.9

Award 0 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference of 0-2.9

Award -2 points for every team with a Rebound margin difference below 0

4. Turnover Margin

Award 3 points for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 3 or more

Award 1 point for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 1.5-2.9

Award 0 points for every team with a Turnover margin difference of 0-1.4

Award -2 points for every team with a Turnover margin below 0

3&4. R+T (add to the individual 3 and 4 above)

My formula for R+T is [R + ({.2*S}*{1.2*T})]  Where R is rebounding margin, S is avg. steals per game, and T is turnover margin

Award 5 points for every team with an R+T of 10 or more

Award 3 points for every team with an R+T of 7.5-9.9

Award 1 point for every team with an R+T of 5-7.4

Award 0 points for every team with an R+T of 0-4.9

Completely eliminate from consideration all teams with a negative R+T

5. Schedule Strength

There are no point values assigned here.  Use this to compare when looking at team vs. team.  Take the difference in the Strength of Schedule as given by cbs.sportsline.com and multiple it by 100.  For example, Davidson’s SOS is .5252 and North Carolina’s is .5921.  If they face each other, give the Tar Heels an extra 7 criteria points [(.5921-.5252)*100]=6.69 rounds to 7

If you want to compile all this information yourself, the best way is to go to all 65 official athletic websites of the teams in the Big Dance.  That’s where I found my statistical information.  Some of these stats are available in other places, but I have already found many to be riddled with mistakes or not up-to-date.  All 65 school sites are accurate and timely.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, I will report on the criteria scores for the 64 remaining schools in the NCAA Tournament.  I will review the first round contests by applying the criteria.  There is one game tonight-the play-in match in Dayton between Mount St. Mary’s and Coppin State.  Let’s take a look at the game PiRate style.

Mount St. Mary’s 18-14

Point Differential: 2.6

FG% Differential: 3.1

Rebound Margin: -1.4

TO Margin:  0.7

Stls/G: 7.3

R+T: -0.17

Score: -2 & Eliminate From Consideration due to negative R+T

Schedule: .4924

Coppin State 16-20

Point Differential: -6.0

FG% Differential: -4.3

Rebound Margin: -4.4

TO Margin:  1.9

Stls/G: 7.2

R+T: -1.12

Score: -7 & Eliminate From Consideration due to negative R+T

Schedule: .4796

Schedule Points: Mount St. Mary’s +1.28

Neither of these two teams has any chance of advancing past Friday.  I don’t think either one could beat any of the #15 seeds this year.  Enjoy this game much like you would enjoy watching batting practice prior to a Major League game.  Mount St. Mary’s has a criteria score that is six points better, but both teams come under the guise of elimination based upon their negative R+T scores.  When this happens, we throw out the criteria scores.  So, we must pick our winner based on other variables. 

Coppin State was 4-19 and then went 12-1 to finish 16-20.  That 12-1 finish is eye-popping, even when it came within the MEAC.  Mount St. Mary’s won eight of their final nine, including three decisive wins in the NEC Tourney.  I’ll take The Mount to come through with a win by about nine points with a score around 71-62.

March 5, 2008

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–2nd update

 

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments

March 4, 2008, 2nd Update

It’s the beginning of the NCAA Conference Tournament season, a near fortnight of action leading up to Selection Sunday on March 16th.

The first conference tournament games began last night (Tuesday, March 4th).  Here are the results from those games:

Big South

#2 Winthrop 76  #7 Radford 45

#3 High Point 59  #6 Coastal Carolina 56

#1 UNC-Asheville 87  #8 Charleston Southern 63

#4 Liberty 103  #5 VMI 88

Semifinals

Winthrop 20-11 vs. High Point 17-13

UNC-Asheville 22-8 vs. Liberty 16-15

The two top seeds looked like NCAA Tournament teams last night.  Winthrop looks to be the best team right now, but I still favor UNCA because of their great depth.  Depth takes on added importance in conference tournaments.

Horizon League

#3 Wright State 60  #10 Detroit 37

#6 Valparaiso 75  #7 UW-Green Bay 67

#4 Illinois-Chicago 70  #9 Youngstown State 59

#8 Loyola (Chi.) 57  #5 UW-Milwaukee 51

Quarterfinals

Wright State 21-9 vs. Valparaiso 20-12  (winner faces Cleveland State)

Illinois-Chicago 17-14 vs. Loyola (Chi.) 12-18 (winner faces Butler)

#1 Butler (16-2/27-3) and #2 Cleveland State (12-6/20-11) have byes until the semifinal round.

There are still four teams left in this tournament that are capable of upsetting Butler.  Illinois-Chicago might be a tough opponent for 20 minutes, but the Flames cannot win at Butler.  They should dismiss Loyola rather easily.

The other side of the bracket couldn’t be any more exciting.  Cleveland State gets a huge advantage with two byes, while their opponent will have played two games to reach the semis.

Ohio Valley

#1 Austin Peay 76  #8 Eastern Kentucky 51

#4 UT-Martin 101  #5 Samford 94 3ot

#2 Murray State 77  #7 Tennessee Tech 74

#6 Tennessee State 68  #3 Morehead State 61

Semifinals

Austin Peay 22-10 vs. UT-Martin 17-15

Murray State 18-12 vs. Tennessee State 14-16

This is one final four where the top seed has about a 28% chance of winning and the other three teams have 24% chances of winning.  If you live down South in the Nashville area and you love basketball, you should get out to the OVC Tournament Friday Night for two great games.

A few more conferences begin tonight.  I have already previewed them in the prior story, but here they are again, so you don’t have to go back to the prior one.  Check back tomorrow for another update including previews of tournaments beginning Friday and Saturday, as well as reports of the other conferences still playing in the regular season.

Tournaments Beginning Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Atlantic Sun

This is the second tournament being played in Nashville this week.  Lipscomb will be hosting the A-Sun at Allen Arena.  The Bisons came on strong as the season concluded, and they are tough on their home floor.  Top-seed Belmont has to make all of a three-mile jaunt down Belmont Boulevard to play in this tournament, so the Bruins are still the heavy favorite to three-peat and face another Final Four contender in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

The A-Sun awards its top two seeds by giving them a day’s rest between the quarterfinal and semifinal round; of course, this assumes that they survive the first round.  The two weakest seeds also get a chance to rest if they can pull off a first round upset. 

Wednesday, March 5

#2 Jacksonville (12-4/16-12) vs. #7 Mercer (6-10/11-18)

Jacksonville narrowly edged the Bears both times they played this year.  The Dolphins blew a 17-point lead and had to hit a shot at the buzzer to win at Mercer, and then they blew a 13-point lead against Mercer in Jacksonville before getting hot and winning in overtime.  If the Dolphins get well ahead of Mercer, both teams will be thinking about the other two times.  My guess here is that Jacksonville will not get that big lead this time, and if Mercer makes a run, the Dolphins could be heading back to Florida early.  Give Mercer at least a 40-45% chance of winning this game.  The winner then gets a day off before facing the winner of the Stetson-Gardner-Webb game.

#1 Belmont (14-2/22-8) vs. #8 Campbell (5-11/10-19)

The eighth-seeded Fighting Camels were one of two teams to peg a loss on Belmont in the A-Sun.  Belmont exacted their revenge by slaughtering Campbell to clinch the regular season championship.  The Bruins enter the tournament riding a 10-game winning streak, and Coach Rick Byrd won’t allow his troops to overlook Campbell.  Look for a big Bruin win, by at least a dozen points.  Then, with a day off, they will have the upper hand in the semifinal game, even if the opponent is Lipscomb.  This Belmont team won at Cincinnati and at Alabama earlier this season, so they won’t be in awe of their first round opponent in the Big Dance if they win their third A-Sun title in a row.  This team has the capability of becoming the next Winthrop or Davidson.

Thursday, March 6

#3 Stetson (11-5/16-15) vs. #6 Gardner-Webb (9-7/15-15)

The number six seed in the Atlantic Sun Tournament won by 16 points at the probable number three seed in the Southeastern Conference.  Yes, Gardner-Webb destroyed Kentucky at Rupp Arena back in November.  The season went south from there, as the Bulldogs finished in the middle of the pack in the league.  Stetson lost at GW in their only meeting this season.  Stetson couldn’t throw it in the ocean in that game, and I don’t expect the Hatters to hit 34.5% of their shots this time around.  Look for a hard-fought close game that could come down to the last possession.  I expect the margin of victory to be less than five points.  Unfortunately for the winner, they will have to turn around and play the following day against a rested Jacksonville or Mercer. 

#4 East Tennessee (11-5/18-12) at #5 Lipscomb (9-7/15-15)

The host Bisons were 2-5 in the league and 8-13 overall in late January, but then they turned things around with a 7-2 finish down the stretch.  One of the two losses came at the hands of East Tennessee in Johnson City by three points.  The Buccaneers also won at Lipscomb in another close game, and they are now faced with the task of beating a hot team three times in one season and twice on their home floor.  ETSU Coach Murray Bartow has a tough assignment, and if he get his charges to pull off the hat trick, their reward will be facing a rested Belmont on short notice.  I doubt ETSU can get to the finals, but Lipscomb is capable of beating ETSU and Belmont back-to-back.  I think the Bisons will prevail, setting up a third “Battle of the Boulevard” Friday night.

Patriot League

The Patriot League Tournament is nothing more than playoffs, inasmuch as every game is played on the home floor of the higher seed rather than in one location.  In what was one of the better conference races, American emerged as the top seed.  This year, there is so much parity in this conference that the number eight seed Holy Cross Crusaders could easily win the tournament, even though they would have to win three games on the road.

#8 Holy Cross (5-9/15-13) at #1 American (10-4/18-11)

Last place HCU actually won at American earlier this season.  American will definitely not overlook the Crusaders.  HCU will try to shorten the game and have a minimum number of possessions, hoping that center Tim Clifford can use his inside prowess and pull off a repeat performance that led the Crusaders to the win over American.  In that game, Clifford connected on nine of 11 shots and finished with 24 points.  It may take an effort similar to that game, but it isn’t impossible.  Still, you have to favor the Eagles to win with a probability of 80-85%.

#5 Army (6-8/13-15) at #4 Lehigh (7-7/14-14)

This will be a game in the 50’s or low 60’s, and it should go down to the wire.  Lehigh won both regular season games by five points.  They blew a 16-point lead at home and saw Army cut 13 points off that lead in a matter of minutes.  At Army, the Cadets blew a 15-point lead.  I think Lehigh will win again, and it could easily be by five points yet again.

#7 Bucknell (6-8/11-18) at #2 Navy (9-5/16-13)

Navy had a chance to win the regular season title and couldn’t win at Colgate.  Now, the Midshipmen face a school they have had a tough time defeating in recent years.  When they edged Bucknell in Annapolis three weeks ago, it marked their only win over the Bison in four years.  This game will be close the entire way, and it will take a big effort by Navy’s big three of Greg Spink, Chris Harris, and Kaleo Kina.  The trio combined for 68 points in the win at Alumni Hall.

#6 Lafayette (6-8/15-14) at #3 Colgate (7-7/16-13)

Colgate finished the season as the Patriot League’s hottest team, and I believe the Raiders are the true team to beat in the conference tournament.  Lafayette was the coldest team down the stretch.  After starting Patriot League play 4-0, the Leopards lost eight of 10.  I can see no reason why these trends will change over the course of a couple days.  Look for Colgate to win by five to 10 points.

Sunbelt

This is a league where two teams could obtain NCAA bids, especially if someone can topple top-seed and host team South Alabama.  Western Kentucky is the one team that can do it, and USA beat them both times they played this year.  It will be hard to beat the Hilltoppers three times in a row, even in Mobile.  Western’s RPI is in the high 40’s, so it isn’t totally impossible for WKU to get an at-large bid.

The top three teams get first round byes, while teams 4-13 play on the campus of the better seed.  While WKU had the second best record, the West Division champion Arkansas-Little Rock gets the number two seed, while the Hilltoppers drop to number three.

#13 UL-Monroe (4-14/10-20) at #4 Middle Tennessee (11-7/14-14)

Middle Tennessee closed the season winning seven of their last 10 games including knocking off regular season champion South Alabama.  The Blue Raiders should advance to the quarterfinals with a win over ULM, but it won’t be easy.  The Warhawks thumped MTSU in Monroe, leading by double digits most of the game.  ULM lost their final four regular season games by an average margin of 14.5 points.  Look for the Blue Raiders to get revenge and advance to the quarterfinals where they will meet winner of Troy and UL-Lafayette.

#12 Troy (4-14/11-18) at #5 UL-Lafayette (11-7/15-14)

ULL finished the season as hot as anybody in the league.  The Ragin’ Cagins won five of their final six and played great defense, yielding just 60.7 points per game in that stretch.  Additionally, ULL possessed an excellent inside game while they were moving up in the standings.  You have to consider them a dark horse candidate for winning the tournament.  Troy hasn’t much of a chance in this game.  They don’t match up well against ULL and will be dominated inside the paint.  A ULL-MTSU quarterfinal match would be a great battle.

#11 Arkansas State (5-13/10-19) at #6 North Texas (10-8/19-10)

Arkansas State will bow out quickly in this game.  The Indians are already looking ahead to the future and the possibility that Nolan Richardson could become their next coach.  Meanwhile, North Texas won five of six to close the season on a run.  The Mean Green pegged a loss on South Alabama, and out of conference, UNT defeated Oklahoma State and New Mexico State.  This team can not only win the conference tournament, they can win in the Big Dance.  Look for a big North Texas win and a date against Western Kentucky in the next round.

#10 Florida Int’l (6-12/9-19) at #7 Florida Atlantic (8-10/14-17)

FAU was 1-7 in Sunbelt play before finishing 7-3 in the final five weeks, averaging 82.5 points per game.  Two of those three losses came to the big two, WKU and USA.  The other loss, though, came at the hands of their arch-rival and opening round opponent, FIU.  In fact, the Golden Panthers defeated the Owls both times this year.  Look for FAU to get some revenge and win the one that really counts.  The winner of this game will play Arkansas-Little Rock in the next round.  FAU has the talent to win that game and advance to the semifinals, but they have to get past their nemesis first.

#9 Denver (7-11/11-18) at #8 New Orleans (8-10/18-12)

UNO was 14-5 at one point this year with wins over North Carolina State, Tulane, and Lamar.  Then, they swooned.  The Privateers lost seven of their last 11 games.  One of those wins was a six-point defeat of Denver in Denver.  The Pioneers lost their final six games after being in contention in the West Division halfway through the conference schedule.  In a battle of teams headed nowhere, look for UNO to win unimpressively and then flop in their next game against top seed South Alabama.

Tournaments Beginning Thursday, March 6, 2008

Missouri Valley

The Valley had the eighth best RPI among the conferences this year, so you have to figure that more than one member will find a spot in the Field of 65.  Drake is a lock, while Illinois State is squarely on the bubble.   Southern Illinois and Creighton are long shots for at-large consideration, but they are talented enough to win this year’s Arch Madness.

# 8 Indiana St. (8-10/14-15)  vs. # 9 Wichita St. (4-14/11-19) 

These are two teams headed in the same direction, but unfortunately, its’ the wrong direction.  Neither team looked impressive down the stretch.  They hooked up in Terre Haute two weeks ago, and Wichita State led by 20 with less than 15 minutes to play.  ISU went on a 23-3 run in the next six minutes to tie the game and went on to win by 10 in overtime.  Look for Wichita State to keep this game close all the way and have a chance to get a bit of revenge with an upset over the Sycamores.  The winner gets top-seed Drake, a team that has not been playing their best ball at the end of the season.

# 7 Missouri State (8-10/16-15)  vs. # 10 Evansville (3-15/9-20)

Can a team that not only was blown out by another team, they had the score doubled against them, turn around and beat that same team 19 days later?  Missouri State beat Evansville 76-38 on February 19, and the Bears beat the Purple Aces by 19 earlier in the season.  Sure, it can be hard to beat a team three times in a row, but then again North Carolina could play New Jersey Institute of Technology 30 times a year and win all 30.  Look for the Bears to win by double digits for the third time and advance to face Illinois State in the next round, where they will be sent packing.

# 4 Creighton (10-8/20-9) vs. # 5 Bradley (9-9/17-14) will play Friday in the second round with the winner facing the winner of Drake and either Indiana State or Wichita State.

# 3 Southern Illinois (11-7/17-13) vs. # 6 UNI (9-9/17-13) will play Friday in the second round with the winner facing the winner of the Illinois State and either Missouri State or Evansville.

I look for the champion of this conference to come from the #2-3-7-10 bracket.  I expect Illinois State and Southern Illinois to face off in the semifinals with the winner cutting down the nets the following night.

Northeast Conference

This conference had an exciting regular season with multiple teams looking like they were top dog at some point in the season.  Robert Morris stayed hotter longer, so they earned the top seed.  Even with the higher-seeded team hosting every game, you can virtually place the top six teams’ names in a hat and draw to pick the winner.  If I had to choose one team, I wouldn’t choose.

#8 Monmouth (4-14/7-23) at #1 Robert Morris (16-2/25-6)

Can a team with 23 losses have the respect of a team with a 25-6 record in a game played on the home floor of the 25-win team?  You bet they can.  Monmouth almost beat Robert Morris January 31st, losing 61-60.  RMU will not be looking ahead, and the Colonials will be ready to play.  RMU will advance with a 15-point win.

#5 Quinnipiac (11-7/15-14) at #4 Mount St. Mary’s (11-7/15-14)

A quick glance at their records prove this game should be close.  Mt. St. Mary’s has no more than one point home court advantage if any, but the two teams did win the home and home on their home floors.  Quinnipiac forward DeMario Anderson leads the Bobcats in scoring, rebounding, assists, and steals, and he owns a 50-foot buzzer beater this year.  That’s the type of player who can carry a team on his back for a couple of days and get his team into the finals. 

Mt. St. Mary’s is one of the current hot teams in the NEC, having won five of six to close the season.  If they can neutralize or lessen the dominance of the Bobcats’ inside game, the Mountaineers should keep this game close and have a chance to win at the end.

#7 Long Island (7-11/15-14) at #2 Wagner (15-3/22-7)

LIU finished the season 5-4 after going 2-7 in the first half of the conference schedule.  Wagner was even hotter down the stretch, finishing 7-1.  The Seahawks had a rather tough time with The Blackbirds this season.  Wagner only beat LIU by three at home and lost by 20 at LIU.  Expect this game to be hard-fought and see multiple lead changes.  In the end, the Wagner bench will outperform the LIU bench and help the Seahawks advance.

#6 Central Connecticut State (10-8/14-15) at #3 Sacred Heart (13-5/16-13)

Sacred Heart has a huge advantage here in this game.  CCSU won at Sacred Heart 100-87 just three days ago, and now the Blue Devils have to win at the William Pitt Center for the second time in four days.  CCSU will not hit 66.7% of their shots this time, and I believe the Pioneers will get their revenge.  A second round match with Wagner would be a can’t miss game.

March 3, 2008

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 3, 2008

 

A PiRate Look at the NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments

1st Update

It’s the beginning of the NCAA Conference Tournament season, a near fortnight of action leading up to Selection Sunday on March 16th.

The first conference tournament games begin tomorrow (Tuesday, March 4th) evening.  So let’s take a look at these early tournaments.

Before we start, as I predicted Friday morning, Cornell’s weekend sweep has clinched their first Ivy League title since 1988.  The Big Red is the first automatic qualifiers for the 2008 NCAA Tournament.  This Ivy League champion is unlike most in recent years; Cornell can run and shoot from both inside and outside.  They can score 80 points against a major conference opponent.  If they come out in their opening game and hit the trey, they could be primed for upsetting a better seed and advancing to the round of 32.

Tournaments Beginning Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Big South

1st Round games will be held at the higher seeds.  The semifinals will be held on the campus of UNC-Asheville, while the championship game will take place at the home of the higher remaining seed.

#7 Radford (5-9/10-19) at #2 Winthrop (10-4/19-11)

Winthrop swept Radford in the regular season winning 77-59 at Radford in January and 74-59 at Winthrop a little over two weeks ago.  Winthrop saw its chance of winning the regular season title go down the tubes when the Eagles fell at home to UNC-Asheville Saturday.  The Eagles lost four of their final nine games, so they may be ripe for an upset.  I just don’t think it will happen against Radford because the Highlanders are weak defensively, and a good pattern offense like Winthrop’s will repeatedly find the holes and exploit that weakness.  Look for Winthrop to advance to the semifinals.

#6 Coastal Carolina (6-8/13-14) at #3 High Point (8-6/16-13)

The underdog actually swept the host team this season.  Can CCU make it three out of three?  They sure can, but I favor High Point to win by about a 65% probability.  The Panthers only lost at home that one game against CCU, and you have to figure they will be primed to avenge this loss.  CCU won at High Point by hitting 12, 3-pointers (eight by star guard Jack Leasure).  The Panthers have a decided advantage inside, especially with senior forward Arizona Reid who routinely records double doubles.  Look for High Point to win and then upset Winthrop in the semifinals to advance to the Big South Championship Game on March 8.

#8 Charleston Southern (4-10/10-19) at #1 UNC-Asheville (10-4/21-8)

I expect the top-seeded Bulldogs to breeze to a 15-20 point win in this opening round game.  After a late season swoon that saw UNCA drop four straight games, the Bulldogs recovered to win their final three including a season finale win at Winthrop to complete the sweep and take the conference championship.  I expect UNCA to advance to the championship game, especially if their second round opponent is Liberty.  If they have to play VMI in the semifinals, it could be a bit tricky.  A game against High Point, with the lone NCAA bid on the line, would be a can’t miss contest.

#5 VMI (6-8/14-14) at #4 Liberty (7-7/15-15)

This will be the most interesting first round game, as most #4-5 matches are.  VMI is the nation’s top scoring team at 92 points per game, but the Keydets also give up the 87 points per game.  Liberty is a patient, slow-down team that does not want to get in a running game.  In conference tournament action, I like to favor the team that is more likely to come out loose and not play like their arm muscles are contracting as they shoot.  Therefore, I am going with the visiting Keydets to win this game and advance to the semifinals, where they will scare the daylights out of UNC-Asheville.  Remember, VMI made it to the championship game of this tournament last year with a little weaker team than this one.  If the Keydets can get 10 steals tomorrow, they will still be playing on Thursday.

Horizon League

Butler ran away with the regular season title and with an RPI rating around #20, the Bulldogs are safe as an at-large team if they fail to win the conference tournament.  They host the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, and if they are in the finals, they will host that as well.

The Horizon League format is a little different than the normal 10-team bracket.  Seeds 3-10 play in the opening two rounds, while seeds 1-2 get byes to the semifinals. 

#10 Detroit (3-15/7-22) at #3 Wright State (12-6/20-9)

Wright State had a tough time with Detroit when the Titans came to Dayton two weeks ago.  In fact, it took a last second shot for the Raiders to win.  After that game, which was the Raiders 11th straight win, Wright State dropped their final three games to be forced into playing in the opening round.  I don’t think the Raiders will come into this game ready to play, and it might allow Detroit to keep it close once again.  While I think the Raiders will eventually win, look for the Titans to be within striking distance in the final minutes.  Wright State will advance, but the Raiders might be returning home after the quarterfinals.

#7 UW-Green Bay (9-9/15-14) at #6 Valparaiso (9-9/19-12)

These teams have played each other twice with one game going to overtime.  In the 85 minutes of action, Valpo had two big runs, but UWGB controlled the action the rest of the time.  That’s how this game will be decided.  If Valpo goes on a quick run, outscoring The Phoenix by 10 points in three minutes or less, the Crusaders are going to win the game.  If UWGB can control the tempo, they will win.  It’s a dead tossup even with Valpo’s home court advantage.  The winner has an excellent shot at upsetting Wright State in the quarterfinal round, but little chance of unseating Cleveland State in the semis.

#9 Youngstown State (5-13/9-20) at #4 Illinois-Chicago (9-9/16-14)

Youngstown State mailed it in down the stretch, losing 11 of their last 13 games after being halfway decent up to then.  Illinois-Chicago showed a bit of improvement in February, and unless they just come out flat, the Flames should torch the Penguins.  Once they get past this game, they will be facing a quarterfinal opponent that is weaker than they are.  If they make it to the semifinal round, they will be facing Butler at Butler.  ‘Nuf Ced!

#8 Loyola (Chi.) (6-12/11-18) at #5 UW-Milwaukee (9-9/14-15)

UWM lost seven of their final nine games, but one of the two Panther wins came at home against Loyola.  The Ramblers lost six close games in the second half of the schedule, and they are capable of winning this game.  UWM probably has a 70% chance of winning, but I don’t see them going any farther in the tournament.

#1 Butler (16-2/27-3) and #2 Cleveland State (12-6/20-11) have byes until the semifinal round.

Ohio Valley

Opening round games are on the campuses of the higher-seeded teams.  The semifinals and finals will be held in Nashville, at the old Municipal Auditorium.  This is not on any member’s campus, although Tennessee State, UT-Martin, and Austin Peay will benefit from the close proximity to the Music City for their fans.

#8 Eastern Kentucky (10-10/14-15) at #1 Austin Peay (16-4/21-10)

After beating SE Missouri on February 9th, EKU had won seven of eight games to move to 10-5 in the league.  Then, the Colonels’ season fell apart.  They lost five of their final six games, with the one win coming out of conference.  With a shot at a number three seed in their grasps entering the final weekend, they fell at home to Austin Peay and Tennessee State.  Meanwhile, Austin Peay finished the regular season on a hot streak, winning eight of their final nine.  The Governors won all 10 league home games, but only by an average margin of 9.4 points per game.  I believe EKU will give APSU a good game but fall about six points short.  Look for the Governors to advance to Nashville as the odds-on favorite to win the championship.

#5 Samford (10-10/14-15) at #4 UT-Martin (11-9/16-15)

Here’s one time where I believe a #4-#5 contest will not be close.  Samford has the type of offense that gets easier to defend the more times you face it.  The Bulldogs only average 58.6 points per game, and they didn’t reach 50 either time they faced UTM this season (two losses).  UT-Martin has a player who can score as many points as Samford in this game.  Lester Hudson is a 6-3 guard who can score 35 points, pull down 10 rebounds, dish out 10 assists, and steal the ball 10 times in a game.  In fact, he’s the only player in NCAA Division I history to officially record a quadruple double in a game (I believe Oscar Robertson did this a couple of times when he played at Cincinnati 50 years ago, but assists and steals were not kept as official stats then).  Look for UT-Martin to win this game by a score of something like 70-55.  Then, the Skyhawks are going to prove to be trouble for Austin Peay in Nashville Friday night.

#7 Tennessee Tech (10-10/13-18) at #2 Murray State (13-7/17-12)

Tennessee Tech finished their regular season by defeating Murray State in Cookeville.  Murray will be ready to get their revenge.  In the past, when a team has beaten a team and then has to play them the very next game, the other team usually wins.  The only team that regularly defeated a team twice in a row had the name “UCLA” on their uniform and had John Wooden coaching back in the days when the Pac-8 schedule frequently had the Bruins playing the same opponent in successive games.  I look for the Racers to get their revenge in a big way and advance to Nashville.  Once their, Murray State may be primed for an upset loss.  I just don’t think this Murray team has it all together.

#6 Tennessee State (10-10/13-16) at #3 Morehead State (12-8/15-14)

Morehead State finished the conference season losing four of their final seven games after being 9-4 and having a chance to win the league at one point.  The Eagles just beat Tennessee State in Morehead last week, and this time, the Tigers may be ready to pull off the upset.  TSU led Morehead by more than 20 points in the second half, before the Eagles came back with a late run to win.  I think the Tigers are going to remember that when they face off tomorrow night, and I expect the underdog to pull off the upset.  TSU finished the season winning three of their last four including a win over Austin Peay.  The Tigers are capable of cutting down the nets Saturday night.

Tournaments Beginning Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Atlantic Sun

This is the second tournament being played in Nashville this week.  Lipscomb will be hosting the A-Sun at Allen Arena.  The Bisons came on strong as the season concluded, and they are tough on their home floor.  Top-seed Belmont has to make all of a three-mile jaunt down Belmont Boulevard to play in this tournament, so the Bruins are still the heavy favorite to three-peat and face another Final Four contender in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

The A-Sun awards its top two seeds by giving them a day’s rest between the quarterfinal and semifinal round; of course, this assumes that they survive the first round.  The two weakest seeds also get a chance to rest if they can pull off a first round upset. 

Wednesday, March 5

#2 Jacksonville (12-4/16-12) vs. #7 Mercer (6-10/11-18)

Jacksonville narrowly edged the Bears both times they played this year.  The Dolphins blew a 17-point lead and had to hit a shot at the buzzer to win at Mercer, and then they blew a 13-point lead against Mercer in Jacksonville before getting hot and winning in overtime.  If the Dolphins get well ahead of Mercer, both teams will be thinking about the other two times.  My guess here is that Jacksonville will not get that big lead this time, and if Mercer makes a run, the Dolphins could be heading back to Florida early.  Give Mercer at least a 40-45% chance of winning this game.  The winner then gets a day off before facing the winner of the Stetson-Gardner-Webb game.

#1 Belmont (14-2/22-8) vs. #8 Campbell (5-11/10-19)

The eighth-seeded Fighting Camels were one of two teams to peg a loss on Belmont in the A-Sun.  Belmont exacted their revenge by slaughtering Campbell to clinch the regular season championship.  The Bruins enter the tournament riding a 10-game winning streak, and Coach Rick Byrd won’t allow his troops to overlook Campbell.  Look for a big Bruin win, by at least a dozen points.  Then, with a day off, they will have the upper hand in the semifinal game, even if the opponent is Lipscomb.  This Belmont team won at Cincinnati and at Alabama earlier this season, so they won’t be in awe of their first round opponent in the Big Dance if they win their third A-Sun title in a row.  This team has the capability of becoming the next Winthrop or Davidson.

Thursday, March 6

#3 Stetson (11-5/16-15) vs. #6 Gardner-Webb (9-7/15-15)

The number six seed in the Atlantic Sun Tournament won by 16 points at the probable number three seed in the Southeastern Conference.  Yes, Gardner-Webb destroyed Kentucky at Rupp Arena back in November.  The season went south from there, as the Bulldogs finished in the middle of the pack in the league.  Stetson lost at GW in their only meeting this season.  Stetson couldn’t throw it in the ocean in that game, and I don’t expect the Hatters to hit 34.5% of their shots this time around.  Look for a hard-fought close game that could come down to the last possession.  I expect the margin of victory to be less than five points.  Unfortunately for the winner, they will have to turn around and play the following day against a rested Jacksonville or Mercer. 

#4 East Tennessee (11-5/18-12) at #5 Lipscomb (9-7/15-15)

The host Bisons were 2-5 in the league and 8-13 overall in late January, but then they turned things around with a 7-2 finish down the stretch.  One of the two losses came at the hands of East Tennessee in Johnson City by three points.  The Buccaneers also won at Lipscomb in another close game, and they are now faced with the task of beating a hot team three times in one season and twice on their home floor.  ETSU Coach Murray Bartow has a tough assignment, and if he get his charges to pull off the hat trick, their reward will be facing a rested Belmont on short notice.  I doubt ETSU can get to the finals, but Lipscomb is capable of beating ETSU and Belmont back-to-back.  I think the Bisons will prevail, setting up a third “Battle of the Boulevard” Friday night.

Patriot League

The Patriot League Tournament is nothing more than playoffs, inasmuch as every game is played on the home floor of the higher seed rather than in one location.  In what was one of the better conference races, American emerged as the top seed.  This year, there is so much parity in this conference that the number eight seed Holy Cross Crusaders could easily win the tournament, even though they would have to win three games on the road.

#8 Holy Cross (5-9/15-13) at #1 American (10-4/18-11)

Last place HCU actually won at American earlier this season.  American will definitely not overlook the Crusaders.  HCU will try to shorten the game and have a minimum number of possessions, hoping that center Tim Clifford can use his inside prowess and pull off a repeat performance that led the Crusaders to the win over American.  In that game, Clifford connected on nine of 11 shots and finished with 24 points.  It may take an effort similar to that game, but it isn’t impossible.  Still, you have to favor the Eagles to win with a probability of 80-85%.

#5 Army (6-8/13-15) at #4 Lehigh (7-7/14-14)

This will be a game in the 50’s or low 60’s, and it should go down to the wire.  Lehigh won both regular season games by five points.  They blew a 16-point lead at home and saw Army cut 13 points off that lead in a matter of minutes.  At Army, the Cadets blew a 15-point lead.  I think Lehigh will win again, and it could easily be by five points yet again.

#7 Bucknell (6-8/11-18) at #2 Navy (9-5/16-13)

Navy had a chance to win the regular season title and couldn’t win at Colgate.  Now, the Midshipmen face a school they have had a tough time defeating in recent years.  When they edged Bucknell in Annapolis three weeks ago, it marked their only win over the Bison in four years.  This game will be close the entire way, and it will take a big effort by Navy’s big three of Greg Spink, Chris Harris, and Kaleo Kina.  The trio combined for 68 points in the win at Alumni Hall.

#6 Lafayette (6-8/15-14) at #3 Colgate (7-7/16-13)

Colgate finished the season as the Patriot League’s hottest team, and I believe the Raiders are the true team to beat in the conference tournament.  Lafayette was the coldest team down the stretch.  After starting Patriot League play 4-0, the Leopards lost eight of 10.  I can see no reason why these trends will change over the course of a couple days.  Look for Colgate to win by five to 10 points.

Sunbelt

This is a league where two teams could obtain NCAA bids, especially if someone can topple top-seed and host team South Alabama.  Western Kentucky is the one team that can do it, and USA beat them both times they played this year.  It will be hard to beat the Hilltoppers three times in a row, even in Mobile.  Western’s RPI is in the high 40’s, so it isn’t totally impossible for WKU to get an at-large bid.

The top three teams get first round byes, while teams 4-13 play on the campus of the better seed.  While WKU had the second best record, the West Division champion Arkansas-Little Rock gets the number two seed, while the Hilltoppers drop to number three.

#13 UL-Monroe (4-14/10-20) at #4 Middle Tennessee (11-7/14-14)

Middle Tennessee closed the season winning seven of their last 10 games including knocking off regular season champion South Alabama.  The Blue Raiders should advance to the quarterfinals with a win over ULM, but it won’t be easy.  The Warhawks thumped MTSU in Monroe, leading by double digits most of the game.  ULM lost their final four regular season games by an average margin of 14.5 points.  Look for the Blue Raiders to get revenge and advance to the quarterfinals where they will meet winner of Troy and UL-Lafayette.

#12 Troy (4-14/11-18) at #5 UL-Lafayette (11-7/15-14)

ULL finished the season as hot as anybody in the league.  The Ragin’ Cagins won five of their final six and played great defense, yielding just 60.7 points per game in that stretch.  Additionally, ULL possessed an excellent inside game while they were moving up in the standings.  You have to consider them a dark horse candidate for winning the tournament.  Troy hasn’t much of a chance in this game.  They don’t match up well against ULL and will be dominated inside the paint.  A ULL-MTSU quarterfinal match would be a great battle.

#11 Arkansas State (5-13/10-19) at #6 North Texas (10-8/19-10)

Arkansas State will bow out quickly in this game.  The Indians are already looking ahead to the future and the possibility that Nolan Richardson could become their next coach.  Meanwhile, North Texas won five of six to close the season on a run.  The Mean Green pegged a loss on South Alabama, and out of conference, UNT defeated Oklahoma State and New Mexico State.  This team can not only win the conference tournament, they can win in the Big Dance.  Look for a big North Texas win and a date against Western Kentucky in the next round.

#10 Florida Int’l (6-12/9-19) at #7 Florida Atlantic (8-10/14-17)

FAU was 1-7 in Sunbelt play before finishing 7-3 in the final five weeks, averaging 82.5 points per game.  Two of those three losses came to the big two, WKU and USA.  The other loss, though, came at the hands of their arch-rival and opening round opponent, FIU.  In fact, the Golden Panthers defeated the Owls both times this year.  Look for FAU to get some revenge and win the one that really counts.  The winner of this game will play Arkansas-Little Rock in the next round.  FAU has the talent to win that game and advance to the semifinals, but they have to get past their nemesis first.

#9 Denver (7-11/11-18) at #8 New Orleans (8-10/18-12)

UNO was 14-5 at one point this year with wins over North Carolina State, Tulane, and Lamar.  Then, they swooned.  The Privateers lost seven of their last 11 games.  One of those wins was a six-point defeat of Denver in Denver.  The Pioneers lost their final six games after being in contention in the West Division halfway through the conference schedule.  In a battle of teams headed nowhere, look for UNO to win unimpressively and then flop in their next game against top seed South Alabama.

Tournaments Beginning Thursday, March 6, 2008

Missouri Valley

The Valley had the eighth best RPI among the conferences this year, so you have to figure that more than one member will find a spot in the Field of 65.  Drake is a lock, while Illinois State is squarely on the bubble.   Southern Illinois and Creighton are long shots for at-large consideration, but they are talented enough to win this year’s Arch Madness.

# 8 Indiana St. (8-10/14-15)  vs. # 9 Wichita St. (4-14/11-19) 

These are two teams headed in the same direction, but unfortunately, its’ the wrong direction.  Neither team looked impressive down the stretch.  They hooked up in Terre Haute two weeks ago, and Wichita State led by 20 with less than 15 minutes to play.  ISU went on a 23-3 run in the next six minutes to tie the game and went on to win by 10 in overtime.  Look for Wichita State to keep this game close all the way and have a chance to get a bit of revenge with an upset over the Sycamores.  The winner gets top-seed Drake, a team that has not been playing their best ball at the end of the season.

# 7 Missouri State (8-10/16-15)  vs. # 10 Evansville (3-15/9-20)

Can a team that not only was blown out by another team, they had the score doubled against them, turn around and beat that same team 19 days later?  Missouri State beat Evansville 76-38 on February 19, and the Bears beat the Purple Aces by 19 earlier in the season.  Sure, it can be hard to beat a team three times in a row, but then again North Carolina could play New Jersey Institute of Technology 30 times a year and win all 30.  Look for the Bears to win by double digits for the third time and advance to face Illinois State in the next round, where they will be sent packing.

# 4 Creighton (10-8/20-9) vs. # 5 Bradley (9-9/17-14) will play Friday in the second round with the winner facing the winner of Drake and either Indiana State or Wichita State.

# 3 Southern Illinois (11-7/17-13) vs. # 6 UNI (9-9/17-13) will play Friday in the second round with the winner facing the winner of the Illinois State and either Missouri State or Evansville.

I look for the champion of this conference to come from the #2-3-7-10 bracket.  I expect Illinois State and Southern Illinois to face off in the semifinals with the winner cutting down the nets the following night.

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