1. Which teams meet the upper range criteria in every category? That means they outscored their opponents by eight or more per game; their field goal percentage was greater than 7.5% better than their opponents; they outrebounded their opponents by five or more per game; they forced at least three more turnovers per game than they committed; and they stole the ball 7.5 or more times per game.
ANSWER—No teams this year meet all the perfect criteria described above. Six teams come close to meeting the perfect criteria, but all fall short in at least one statistic. This means there is no clear-cut favorite—only six teams that most closely resemble the great champions of the past. Of the six, three come from power conferences. These three are Kansas, Ohio State, and Syracuse.
Kansas fails to meet the turnover margin requirement, but the Jayhawks surpass all the other qualifications. Ohio State comes up a tad bit short in field goal percentage margin, rebounding margin, and steals per game, but just misses in all three. Syracuse misses in rebounding and turnover margin, but they Orangemen do not miss by much.
2. Which teams can be immediately eliminated due to a negative R+T rating? Which teams have an incredibly low R+T Rating (<2.0)?
ANSWER—Three teams can immediately be eliminated due to negative R+T Ratings. It comes as no surprise that Alabama State and Texas-San Antonio, two teams facing off in the First Round in Dayton, have negative R+T ratings. The third team is Michigan. The Wolverines were outrebounded by 1.9 boards per game, and they only had a +1.4 turnover margin with just 4.7 steals per game.
Five other teams finished with R+T ratings less than 2.0. This usually means one and done for these teams, unless they have outstanding FG% margins or cupcake opponents with worse criteria numbers. Those five teams are: Penn State, Richmond, St. Peter’s, UCLA, and UCSB.
3. Which teams are capable of winning it all?
ANSWER—We separate the contenders from the pretenders by looking at the total PiRate Criteria score and then looking to see if the high criteria scoring teams receive merit on every individual statistic.
Last year, Duke was head and heels better than the other 64 teams. The Blue Devils had the highest score overall, and they satisfactorily rated in every PiRate category.
No teams appear to be as strong this year as the Blue Devils were last year, but nine teams meet most of the minimum requirements to be considered Final Four contenders this year.
It should come as no surprise that the top two teams, Ohio State and Kansas, rank at the top in the Criteria. Kansas actually has the highest score of the 68 teams, a score of 23. The Jayhawks outscored their opposition by 17.2 points, shot 11.7% better from the field than their opponents, and outrebounded their opponents by 7.8 boards per game. These stats are worthy of a powerhouse. However, KU enjoyed just a 0.9 turnover margin and stole the ball 7.9 times per game, giving the Jayhawks an R+T Rating of 9.5. We tend to look for teams with an R+T Rating in excess of 10, so KU is not a great favorite to go all the way.
Ohio State’s total Criteria score is 21, good for second best. However, the Buckeyes enjoy an R+T Rating of 13.2, which is a number we really like in a Final Four contender. This number correlates to 13 extra scoring opportunities that their opposition does not receive. OSU outscores their opponents by 17.3 points per game, shot 6.9% better from the field than they allows, outrebounded their opponents by 4.9 per game, had a turnover margin of +4.8, and stole the ball 7.2 times per game.
San Diego State comes in third with 19 total criteria points. BYU, Pittsburgh, and Texas come in next with 18 points; the Panthers have an R+T rating above 10. The other three teams with PiRate Criteria scores showing themselves to be strong contenders for a Final Four berth are Syracuse, Purdue, and Duke.
Florida, North Carolina, and UNLV are actually almost in a statistical tie with Duke, meaning those three are dark horse candidates for the Final Four.
Overall, this is the weakest field by far in the six tournaments where we have ranked the teams according to our criteria. Looking back, this could be the weakest field since the tournament expanded to 64 teams.
North Carolina State, Kansas, and Villanova won national titles in the past with less than stellar numbers. We do not have all the statistics from those years, so we cannot really calculate criteria numbers for those three champions. Could this be a season in which one team gets hot for six games and comes from out of the pack to win it all? It could happen, but we are sticking with this mechanical system and going with its results. Kansas, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and Texas appear to be the best PiRate Criteria matches to past Final Four teams, and they are the quartet we officially pick to make it to Houston. Syracuse becomes the wildcard team that could sneak into the mix.
Here is a look at the First Four Round One games and the 32 second round games. The number in (parentheses) represents the PiRate Bracketnomics criteria number.
First Four Round
#16 Texas-San Antonio 19-13 (Elim) vs. #16 Alabama State 17-17 (Elim)
At first, we thought this was highly ironic, but upon further review, we consider it sort of a compliment. These two teams both must be eliminated based on negative R+T ratings. Of course, one of them must win this game so that they can advance to a 25-point or more loss in the next round.
Most of you filling out your brackets do not have to worry about these games in Dayton. You get to turn in your choices after these games have been played.
UTSA has better criteria numbers after you factor out both teams’ R+T numbers.
Prediction: Texas-San Antonio 64 Alabama State 55
#12 U A B 22-8 (2) vs. #12 Clemson 21-11 (1)
If you have been following the “experts” since the pairings were announced Sunday evening, then you know that these two teams do not belong in the tournament in their opinion. It is not our mission statement to declare which teams should and should not have been included in the Big Dance, but we will tell you that Harvard and Saint Mary’s enjoyed Criteria scores several points better than these two teams, while Colorado and Virginia Tech had equal numbers to these two.
This game should be as close as the criteria scores show. UAB has a one-point advantage in the criteria, but the Blazers just do not excel in any stage of the game. Clemson’s strong point is forcing turnovers by way of steals, and that leads to a lot of cheap baskets. Cheap baskets pay off big time in the NCAA Tournament, so we will take the Tigers in this one.
Prediction: Clemson 74 UAB 67
#11 Southern Cal 19-14 (-1) vs. #11 Virginia Commonwealth 23-11 (-1)
The winner of this game is going home two days later. Neither team merits inclusion in the Big Dance this year.
Southern Cal has no apparent weakness according to the PiRate Criteria. In fact, they have a great resume—for an NIT team.
The Trojans outscore their opponents by four points per game, and they outshoot them by 3.3%. They have a small rebounding margin of 1.2, and they have an even smaller turnover margin of 0.6. They average six steals per game and have a R+T rating of 2.1. On top of these modest numbers, their schedule was average.
VCU is much in the same boat as USC with two exceptions. They have a negative turnover margin, but they also average 8.5 steals per game.
The only other difference in these teams is their records away from home. USC won only 41% of their games, while VCU won 60%.
This one is quite tough to pick, but we will go with the Trojans due to their superior inside talent. We expect USC to win the rebounding edge by at least five.
Prediction: Southern Cal 65 V C U 60
#16 UNC-Asheville 19-13 (-5) vs. #16 Arkansas-Little Rock 19-16 (-13)
Obviously, we have two teams that would not even merit NIT bids had they lost in the championship games of their conference tournaments. UALR has one of the lowest Criteria Scores in the seven years we have been calculating this data.
UNC-Asheville actually has a couple of positive Criteria stats. Their R+T is 5.5, which had it come against a more difficult schedule, would have made them worthy of becoming a possible team to watch in the Round of 64.
We will go with UNCA here, as schedule strength is about the same for both teams.
Prediction: UNC-Asheville 69 Arkansas-Little Rock 59
#1 Ohio State 32-2 (21) vs. #16 UTSA (Elim)/Alabama State (Elim)
This game will be over quickly. There will be no scare, not even for two TV timeouts. The second highest Criteria score versus one of the teams with an R+T Rating of “Eliminate.”
The Buckeyes outscored their opponents by more than 17 points per game. Their strength of schedule was 13 points better than UTSA and 16 points better than Alabama State.
We will go under the theory that UTSA will be the opponent in this game. Using our Criteria Rating, Ohio State figures to be 30-40 points better than UTSA. Coach Thad Matta will definitely empty his bench early in this game, so the Buckeyes may “only win” by 25-30.
Prediction: Ohio State 78 Texas-San Antonio 50
#8 George Mason 26-6 (8) vs. #9 Villanova 21-11 (5)
George Mason is the higher seed in this game, so if they win, it cannot really be considered an upset.
Villanova was on course to be a four-seed when the Wildcats were 16-5 and contending for the Big East Conference regular season title. The Wildcats could not compete down low against the more physical teams in their league.
George Mason has a higher PiRate Criteria Score, but it is not an insurmountable advantage. The key stat for this game is the R+T Rating. For GMU, it is 6.8. For VU, it is 4.9. Considering that Villanova played a harder schedule, these numbers basically cancel each other out, thus making this a tossup game.
There are two variables to consider here. George Mason performed much better on the road, and Villanova is banged up a bit.
Prediction: George Mason 66 Villanova 62
#5 West Virginia 20-11 (6) vs. #12 UAB (2)/Clemson (1)
We believe the Mountaineers will be facing Clemson in this game, but the prediction will hold up if they play UAB.
West Virginia is not as good this season as last season, and the Mountaineers will not advance to the Final Four, or even the Elite Eight. They are liable to be out by the end of the weekend. However, they are strong enough to get into the Round of 32.
The Mountaineers best attribute is that they put up decent numbers against one of the toughest schedules in the country. Of the NCAA Tournament teams, only Georgetown played a tougher schedule. They will have to limit turnovers, or else this game will be close and go down to the wire. We believe Coach Bob Huggins will be able to keep the pace at a level he likes and not allow Clemson (or UAB) to force the Mountaineers into enough mistakes to turn the tide.
Prediction: West Virginia 69 Clemson 62 (Or UAB 58)
#4 Kentucky 25-8 (14) vs. #13 Princeton 25-6 (-2)
Princeton has pulled off the big upset in the past, and they came within a missed jumper at the buzzer of becoming the only #16 seed to beat a #1 seed. However, that was two decades ago. The Tigers have not been to the NCAA Tournament in seven years, and that big win over UCLA was 15 years ago.
Kentucky is not the type of team that will allow Princeton’s style of play to affect their style of play. The Wildcats should actually play better than their norm with fewer mistakes.
We believe that Princeton will actually crumble under relentless man-to-man pressure and turn the ball over enough times in the opening minutes of the game to allow the Wildcats to open a quick double-digit lead. This group of Cats tends to fiddle around a little once they get a quick double-digit lead and then play uninspired ball until the opponent makes a run. Then, they go on the attack at the right time and put the game away.
Adolph Rupp had a team just like this in 1958. They were called “The Fiddlin’ Five.” They were also called National Champions. We won’t go so far as to put UK into this category, but we will advance the Wildcats into the next round and then into the Sweet 16.
Prediction: Kentucky 72 Princeton 59
#6 Xavier 24-7 (8) vs. #11 Marquette 20-14 (3)
If you are looking for a tough, hard-fought game with two Midwestern teams, then tune into this game Friday evening.
If the Musketeers were a little more competent at forcing turnovers, they could be a dark horse candidate to advance to the Elite Eight. XU shoots the ball well and plays well on defense when it comes to preventing a lot of easy shots. They do well on the boards, and against a team that cannot exploit their ball-handling and ball-hawking deficiencies, they will hold their own inside. The only other possible problem for the Musketeers is a lack of depth, but in the NCAA Tournaments, TV timeouts are longer. It is hard to wear a team down with such long breaks every four or so minutes.
Marquette does not have enough depth to take advantage of Xavier’s lack of depth, so this factor will become a non-factor. The Golden Eagles got to this tournament due to their ability to put the ball into the basket. Marquette needs to shoot better than 46% to win, while Xavier is adept at holding teams under 45% as a rule.
Prediction: Xavier 71 Marquette 65
#3 Syracuse 26-7 (17) vs. #14 Indiana State 20-13 (-4)
Syracuse has been getting very little national exposure since their 18-0 start ended with an 8-7 finish. The Orangemen are a team to watch in this tournament. If not for a pedestrian 71% winning percentage away from the Carrier Dome, we would have them as one of the top four teams in this tournament.
Coach Jim Boeheim’s team outscores their opposition by 10.3 points per game; they outshoot them by 7.6%, and they outrebound them by 3.6 boards per game. Their turnover margin is +1.9, and they averaged almost nine steals per game. Their R+T Rating is 7.6, and their Strength of Schedule is somewhere between above-average and very good. This is the Criteria Score of a team that will advance to the Sweet 16 and compete for an Elite Eight and Final Four berth.
Indiana State needs the return of Larry Bird to win this game. They are too perimeter-oriented. The Sycamores do not have the beef down low to contend in the paint, and even though Syracuse plays a 2-3 zone, teams rarely beat the Orangemen by firing up 25 long-range bombs.
This one smells like a blowout.
Prediction: Syracuse 81 Indiana State 62
#7 Washington 23-10 (13) vs. #10 Georgia 21-11 (2)
Washington is one of those teams that can play with anybody in this tournament—when they are playing up to their potential. The Huskies could also exit in the first round if they play like they did the weekend they went to Oregon and Oregon State.
Georgia is much more consistent, but their best effort will not defeat the Huskies’ best effort.
Washington lacked the seasoned experience this season, and it showed when they ventured away from Seattle. The Huskies lost to weaker opponents because they lacked the composure to win on foreign courts. That changed when they arrived in Los Angeles for the Pac-10 Tournament. Isaiah Thomas took over command of the team and led them to the tournament title. This makes UW a scary and dangerous team capable of returning to the Sweet 16.
Georgia must really dominate the glass in this game, because we believe they will turn the ball over too many times against UW’s pressure man-to-man defense. It is our opinion that the Bulldogs will play a little timidly at the start of this game and find themselves in a hole.
The Bulldogs had trouble against Alabama’s defense, and Washington is similar but with a much better offense.
Prediction: Washington 78 Georgia 70
#2 North Carolina 26-7 (15) vs. #15 Long Island 27-5 (-1)
Long Island is just the type of team that can forget that their opponent is a dynasty program that chews up and spits out little programs like this.
Teams from Brooklyn don’t intimidate easily, especially when they are led by a trio of Texans. So, LIU will not be intimidated, but will they be talented enough to make a game of this contest?
That’s the rub. They lack the defensive ability to slow down the Tar Heels, while Coach Roy Williams’ team will be able to hold the Blackbirds under their scoring average. The big problem for LIU will be holding onto the ball, and we could see North Carolina forcing 20 turnovers in this game. When the Tar Heels force more turnovers than they commit, they are almost unbeatable. This game could be interesting for a short time, but it will eventually get out of hand.
Prediction: North Carolina 88 Long Island 70
#1 Duke 30-4 (15) vs. #16 Hampton 24-8 (-8)
Duke has nothing to worry about here. This will be like one of their November/December home games where they quickly put the cupcake away with a barrage of power and speed. You know the type: a 37-point win over Princeton; a 34-point win over Miami of Ohio; a 52-point win over Colgate.
Hampton got to the Dance using an aggressive defense and three-point shooting barrage on offense. Duke will not be affected by the defensive pressure, and they will cut off the open shots from the outside. It will be a mercy killing, and it will be quick. Look for the Blue Devils to be up by more than 15 points before the halfway point of the first half. By the time Coach K empties the bench, the Blue Devils should be up by 25-30 points.
Prediction: Duke 81 Hampton 61
#8 Michigan 20-13 (Elim) vs. #9 Tennessee 19-14 (10)
Michigan is the highest-rated team that fails to meet our R+T Rating requirement, so the Wolverines are automatically tabbed as a first-round loser.
Coach Jim Beilein has been in a similar position before. He guided a West Virginia team with not-so-flashy Criteria numbers to the Elite Eight, where they forced Louisville to come from 20 points down to rally for the victory. That WVU team had one of the worst negative rebounding numbers of any team in Elite Eight history, but that team made few mistakes and had a nice turnover margin.
This Michigan team was only outrebounded by two a game, but they do not create enough extra possessions with their miniscule turnover margin of 1.4 and their average of just 4.7 steals per game.
Tennessee has been up and down, and the Volunteers are not going to make a repeat run to the Elite Eight this year. However, Coach Bruce Pearl’s troops will control the boards in this game and maybe force more turnovers than they commit. We figure that Tennessee will have 10 more opportunities to score in this game, and that is too many for the Wolverines to make up with their three-point shooting.
Prediction: Tennessee 74 Michigan 69
#5 Arizona 27-7 (3) vs. #12 Memphis 25-9 (-1)
Memphis was not going to earn an at-large bid this season had they failed to win the Conference USA Tournament. They received an ideal first round opponent, and the Tigers actually have a fighting chance to pull off yet another classic #12-seed over #5-seed upset.
Arizona needs to pound the ball inside and rely on numerous offensive rebounds to win this game. Other teams might be able to exploit Memphis’s poor ball-handling skills, but the Wildcats do not have the defensive acumen to take advantage here.
Memphis will try to make this an up-tempo game where they can neutralize Arizona’s height advantage inside. It has a chance of working, but Arizona probably has too much power inside and just enough quickness to stop the Tigers’ transition game.
Prediction: Arizona 76 Memphis 69
#4 Texas 27-7 (18) vs. #13 Oakland 25-9 (3)
This has become a popular upset pick in the media. Oakland has generated a lot of positive press, and many “experts” are calling for the upset in this game. We are not one of them. Not only do we believe the Longhorns will take care of Oakland with relative ease in this game, we believe Texas is a force to be reckoned with in the next two or three rounds.
Let’s look at Texas’ Criteria Rating. At 18, the ‘Horns rate as our sixth best team in the tournament. They have a 13.5 point scoring margin, a 7.1% field goal margin, a 6.6 rebounding margin, and a 1.2 turnover margin. Their only Achilles Heel is a low amount of steals resulting in a R+T Rating of 8.3. Had that number been above 10, we would be selecting Coach Rick Barnes’ team for the Final Four.
Oakland won this year with strong rebounding and an excellent ability to force their opponents into bad shots. Center Keith Benson is a future NBA player, but he is not enough to propel the Golden Grizzlies into the next round.
Prediction: Texas 77 Oakland 65
#6 Cincinnati 25-8 (9) vs. #11 Missouri 23-9 (10)
On paper, this looks like the best game of this round between a team with contrasting styles.
Cincinnati is one of the top defensive teams in the tournament. The Bearcats are tough inside, and they have quality depth to continue playing hard in the paint.
Missouri uses the “40 minutes of Hell” approach that Coach Mike Anderson learned under his mentor Nolan Richardson. The Tigers press full court and run the fast break as often as they get the chance. They are perimeter-oriented and can score a lot of points in a hurry.
When we try to decide tossup games, we look to the all-important defense and rebounding stats, since that is what wins close games in the Big Dance.
Missouri is vulnerable in both of these crucial areas. They have given up a lot of cheap baskets this year when teams solved their press. The Tigers were outrebounded by 1.7 boards per game.
Cincinnati owns a +2.7 rebounding margin, and the Bearcats held onto the ball quite competently. We believe Coach Mick Cronin’s crew will advance.
Prediction: Cincinnati 68 Missouri 65
#3 Connecticut 26-9 (9) vs. #14 Bucknell 25-8 (-4)
Ask Kansas Coach Bill Self if it is wise to underestimate Bucknell. The Bison know how to hold onto the ball and work for intelligent shots. Give them an opening, and they can bury you with a high field goal percentage.
Connecticut did the unthinkable by winning five games in five days. Their defense does not get the merit it deserves, because Kemba Walker gets more attention for his offensive antics. The Huskies actually held teams under 40% from the field.
Coach Jim Calhoun knows how to prepare a team for tournament action. He will have UConn ready for this game, and the Huskies will not overlook the Bison.
Prediction: Connecticut 73 Bucknell 58
#7 Temple 25-7 (5) vs. #10 Penn State 19-14 (-1)
Temple’s score must be tempered by the fact that they are a wounded team coming into this tournament. Two starters suffered injuries late in the season, and one is out for the remainder of the year, while the other may or may not be ready to play. We must throw out Temple’s score of “5” in the PiRate Criteria, because 40% of the key players that produced that number will either not play or be greatly less effective.
Penn State is a lot like Southern Cal in this tournament. The Nittany Lions have the look of a strong NIT team. Aside from a so-so record against a strong schedule, they really have little to offer outside of one star player.
We believe this Keystone State rivalry game will be close, and it could come down to the last shot. Because the Owls are limping, we will go with the Big Ten representative.
Prediction: Penn State 59 Temple 56
#2 San Diego State 32-2 (19) vs. #15 Northern Colorado 21-10 (-6)
Most of you reading this probably cannot remember Texas Western University, but you may have scene the movie where the Miners were too quick for Kentucky and pulled off the big upset to win the 1966 National Championship. Maybe some of you remember the Long Beach State 49ers ascension into the top 10 under Jerry Tarkanian and then Lute Olson. Still more can remember when Tark the Shark moved to UNLV and turned the Runnin’ Rebels into a national power.
San Diego State is the next Western team to fit this bill. The Aztecs are legitimate contenders to advance deep into this tournament. They have few exploitable weaknesses, and they are the best team West of the Rockies. Coach Steve Fisher knows how to get teams ready for tournament play, as he has three Final Fours on his resume and one National Championship.
SDSU’s PiRate Criteria numbers are flashy. Their scoring margin is 13.3 points per game. Their FG% margin is 7.1%. They outrebound their opposition by almost seven per game, and they force 1.6 more turnovers than they commit. Their one weak spot is a pedestrian 6.2 steals average. If they run up against a more powerful team inside, they could have trouble getting enough extra scoring opportunities.
Northern Colorado will not be one of those teams that can cause trouble for the Aztecs. The Bears are a good rebounding team, but their rebounding prowess came against a schedule that rates 10 points weaker than San Diego State’s schedule.
Prediction: San Diego State 73 Northern Colorado 51
#1 Kansas 32-2 (23) vs. #16 Boston U 21-13 (-11)
Kansas is a team on a mission. The Jayhawks will not allow a repeat of what happened last year, and that extra incentive should be enough to send KU to Houston.
Kansas has the top PiRate Criteria Score this year. They meet the basic requirements that most prior National Champions have met—scoring margin: 17.2; FG% margin: 11.7; Rebounding margin: 7.8; Turnover Margin: 0.9; Steals per game: 7.9; R+T Ratings: 9.5.
How do you beat this year’s KU team? Kansas State and Texas pulled it off by matching up well inside and going head-to-head with them in the paint.
Boston U has the second lowest PiRate Criteria score of the 65 teams that have positive R+T Ratings. The Terriers are way overmatched in this game, and they will have to be glad they just made it here.
Prediction: Kansas 90 Boston U 62
#8 U N L V 24-8 (15) vs. #9 Illinois 19-13 (1)
If our ratings are worth their salt, then this game should not be all that close. UNLV may be just the third best team in the Mountain West, but the MWC was better overall this year than the Pac-10. Third best in the MWC makes the Runnin’ Rebels one of the dozen or so teams capable of making a two weekend run.
Coach Lon Kruger has taken two different teams to the Elite Eight (Kansas State and Florida). His teams play intelligently without being flashy.
UNLV went 24-3 against teams not named Brigham Young or San Diego State. They are not particularly strong on the boards, and this will eventually be their downfall. The Rebels shoot the ball brilliantly, and they alter enough opponent shots to force a lower field goal percentage. They also take care of the ball and do not make a lot of floor mistakes.
Illinois is an inconsistent, underachieving team. This can be dangerous for the prognosticator, because it is difficult if not impossible to predict which schizophrenic state will appear for each game.
The Illini are not particularly strong on the glass or at taking care of the ball, and that is a recipe for disaster when the opponent is as good as UNLV. Even if Illinois comes out playing their best basketball, it may not be enough to beat UNLV playing their typical game.
Prediction: U N L V 72 Illinois 64
#5 Vanderbilt 23-10 (5) vs. #12 Richmond 26-7 (2)
Here is another game getting a lot of attention due to its upset potential. Historically, the #12 seed produces the a lot of great upsets.
This game could go either way. Both teams have exploitable weaknesses, and it just so happens that both teams’ have the assets capable of exploiting the other’s weaknesses.
Let’s start with Vanderbilt. The Commodores are not particularly strong on the defensive perimeter. Worthy opponents have been able to beat them off the drive and get a lot of open inside shots. This weak perimeter defense has also led to frontcourt players having to help, thus leaving open holes near the basket.
Richmond’s offense is a modified version of the Princeton Offense. The Spiders have the talent to get open shots inside and in the five to ten-foot range.
Richmond cannot rebound against more physical teams. The Spiders make up for their rebounding liabilities by seldom throwing the ball away.
Vanderbilt has an excellent physical presence inside with three beefy players that can rebound the ball on offense and defense.
So, which team gets the edge in our PiRate Ratings? We always look to defense in rebounding in tossup games. Vanderbilt holds the rebounding edge, while Richmond holds the defensive edge. It is basically a wash, so we have to look elsewhere. While Richmond has been much better away from home, Vanderbilt’s schedule is seven points more difficult. We’ll go with the power conference team, but not by much
Prediction: Vanderbilt 70 Richmond 67
#4 Louisville 25-9 (12) vs. #13 Morehead State 24-9 (3)
This should be an interesting game, but in the end the big brothers are going to defeat their little brothers in this battle of two Bluegrass State teams.
40 years ago this week, another little brother upset a big brother on their way to a surprise appearance in the Final Four (later vacated). In 1971, Western Kentucky did not just upset Kentucky, the Hilltoppers ran the Wildcats off the floor. Can there be a repeat two score later? No!
Coach Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are vulnerable on the boards, and Morehead State has the nation’s best rebounder in the nation in Kenneth Faried. However, the Eagles do not have enough talent or depth to keep up with Louisville. They may emerge with a slight rebounding edge in this game, but it will not be enough to make up for all the open shots the Cardinals will get.
Louisville is going to run into trouble when they meet up with a team that can rebound and play credible defense. That would be Kansas in the Sweet 16. Until then, they have a relatively easy route to the Sweet 16.
Prediction: Louisville 78 Morehead State 62
#6 Georgetown 21-10 (8) vs. #11 Southern Cal (-1)/Va. Commonwealth (-1)
Last year, we discussed Georgetown’s vulnerabilities and the probability that they would fail to make it past the first weekend. We expected the Hoyas to fall as a favorite in their second game, but they were a one and done team.
This year’s team is not much better than last year’s Hoya team, but they received a much more favorable draw.
Coach John Thompson III’s Hoyas once again have a rather low R+T Rating thanks to a turnover margin of -1.9 and a low amount of steals per game. They will exit from the tournament in the next round unless there is a monumental upset in their pairing.
Neither USC nor VCU has the talent to take advantage of Georgetown’s deficiencies. The three teams combined have a R+T rating below Purdue’s.
One additional note: The Hoyas will be a tad bit better than their Criteria Score in the tournament. Chris Wright suffered a hand fracture in the middle of the schedule, and he is expected to be near 100% for the tournament. You have to add maybe one point to their Criteria Score, but that is not enough to put them over the top in their second game.
Prediction: Georgetown 69 Southern Cal 61 (or VCU 60)
#3 Purdue 25-7 (16) vs. #14 St. Peter’s 20-13 (-7)
If only… Purdue fans will never know just how good their team might have been with Robbie Hummel joining JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore playing together. This would have been the best Boilermaker team since Rick Mount led Purdue to the Championship Game against UCLA in 1969.
The Boilermakers no longer have that one glaring weakness that Gene Keady’s teams had and thus prevented Purdue from getting past the second round. This team does well on the boards like most of those past Purdue teams, but they are particularly strong when it comes to forcing turnovers and taking advantage by converting steals into points. It is the way many teams go on runs that put opponents out of commission.
St. Peter’s just barely avoided being immediately eliminated with a negative R+T Rating. They squeaked by at 0.1. It might as well be a negative number, as the Peacocks were outrebounded by 0.4 per game and had a turnover margin of -0.9 against a schedule that was four points below average and seven points weaker than the schedule Purdue faced.
Prediction: Purdue 73 St. Peter’s 56
#7 Texas A&M 24-8 (8) vs. #10 Florida State 21-10 (2)
The Big 12’s third best team has enough talent to challenge for a Sweet 16 berth. We’ll leave the next round for another time and talk about this game.
The Aggies have no glaring weakness, and they have a few strengths, namely rebounding and defense (which wins games in the NCAA Tournament). They are much like Kansas Lite. A&M was not a team of surprises during the regular season. They beat the teams they were supposed to beat and failed to upset the teams better than they were. We expect the trend to continue. They are better than the Seminoles.
Florida State does not take good care of the ball, and that costs them in confrontations against good opponents. The Seminoles do not play particularly well away from Tallahassee, and they should be making a quick exit from the Dance.
Prediction: Texas A&M 73 Florida State 65
#2 Notre Dame 26-6 (11) vs. #15 Akron 23-12 (-9)
This is the best Irish team since Digger Phelps led Notre Dame in the late 1980’s. Throw in the fact that this team has a chip on its shoulders following a first round exit last year, and the Irish have to be considered the Sweet 16 favorite in their four-team pairing this weekend.
The Irish finished the regular season with a scoring margin of 10.4 points per game. Down the stretch, they went 7-2 against teams in this tournament. The Selection Committee placed Notre Dame in a bracket that should provide a very memorable Sweet 16 contest against one of their most bitter arch-rivals.
Akron has a big seven-foot center, but the Zips do not rebound the ball all that well. Zeke Marshall, the aforementioned big man, concentrates his efforts on blocking shots, and he frequently is not in position to rebound the ball. So, the blocked shot frequently turns into a made basket off an offensive rebound. The Zips did not fare well on the road this year, and with a considerably weaker schedule than average, this does not bode well.
Prediction: Notre Dame 81 Akron 57
#1 Pittsburgh 27-5 (18) vs. #16 UNC-Asheville (-5)/U A L R (-13)
One of us here at the PiRate Ratings might be dating himself, but he sees a lot of the 1962 Cincinnati Bearcats in this year’s Pitt team. The Panthers have a dominating inside power game that will pulverize any finesse team that cannot hit 10 three-pointers. Neither UNCA nor UALR has a remote chance to make this game a close contest.
Pitt outscored their opposition by 13.1 points per game. This stat looks even better when you factor in that they compiled this gaudy stat playing in a league that produced 11 NCAA Tournament teams. The Panthers outshot their opponents by 7.6%, and they totally dominated the glass with a 10.4 rebounding advantage. If you are thinking the way to beat them is to play a packed in zone, think again. Ashton Gibbs can bury you from outside with his near 50% three-point accuracy, and Brad Wannamaker can still get the ball inside to one of the bruisers waiting to punish you with a thunder dunk.
Only a negative turnover margin prevents the Panthers from being there with Kansas as a co-favorite for winning all the marbles.
Pitt’s cupcake opponent will have to be happy with winning their First Four game, because they will be humiliated in this game.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 78 UNC-Asheville 54 (or UALR 48)
#8 Butler 23-9 (7) vs. #9 Old Dominion 27-6 (10)
This is the second best matchup in this round, and the winner will put a scare into Pittsburgh in the next round and even have a decent shot at the upset.
Butler is now the hunted rather than the hunter. The Bulldogs will not sneak up on anybody this year. More importantly, they are not as talented as they were last year. The Bulldogs fared much better on the road last year than this season. However, down the stretch, Butler started to look like a team proficient enough to get past the first weekend once again.
Old Dominion has the talent to advance past the first weekend as well. The Monarchs are a miniature version of Pittsburgh, the team they would face in the next round should they win this game.
ODU is the nation’s number one rebounding team with a +12.2 margin. The Monarchs’ schedule was not outstanding, but it was on par with several teams from the so-called power conferences, and they finished 6-4 against teams in this tournament. This is a better ODU team than the one that upset Notre Dame in the first round last year, and this game should be one you do not want to miss.
Prediction: Old Dominion 72 Butler 70 in overtime
#5 Kansas State 22-10 (9) vs. #12 Utah State 30-3 (14)
This is the one game where a number 12 seed winning would not really be all that much of an upset. Utah State should have been a top eight seed in this tournament. If we were conspiracy buffs, we would say that the Selection Committee searched for a team that the Aggies do not match up with all that well and placed them in this spot to verify their actions.
Kansas State does not take care of the ball well enough to advance very deep into this tournament, but their first game opponent cannot take advantage of that weakness.
Utah State has dominated their opponents by forcing them to play a patient half-court game with very little scoring in transition. They prefer to work the ball patiently for a good shot and then force opponents to take a low-percentage shot. Thus, the Aggies outrebound their opponents, but they do so by forcing more bad shots than by out-leaping their opponents.
Kansas State has the talent to force Utah State to play at a quicker tempo and force them to defend one-on-one. Jacob Pullen is a poor man’s (and smaller) Derrick Rose. He can break down most opponents off the dribble, and he should be able to force USU to resort to some type of combination defense to keep him from going wild.
What scares us most about Utah State is that they had two opportunities to show they are deserving of their lofty ranking. They lost to BYU and to Georgetown, and they never really threatened to pull of the upset in either game.
This is one game where we are going to go against our own chalk. Kansas State’s schedule was seven points tougher, and the Wildcats can exploit the Aggies’ weaknesses.
Prediction: Kansas State 70 Utah State 63
#4 Wisconsin 23-8 (7) vs. #13 Belmont 30-4 (9)
This game has become the most-picked upset special around the nation. Belmont is being compared with Butler of last year. The Bruins are lofty of all this attention-gathering admiration, but Wisconsin is not the Washington Generals.
Belmont has the highest scoring margin in the nation at 18.4 points per game. The Bruins outshot their opposition by 5.7% per game, and they took a lot of three-point attempts. They outrebounded their opponents by 3.9, and they had an eye-popping 5.3 turnover margin. They share the top steals per game average in this tournament with Missouri at 9.7, and their R+T Rating is the best in the tournament at 16.2 (three better than number two Ohio State).
Of course, these statistics were compiled against inferior competition. Belmont’s schedule strength is nine points below the national average and a dozen below their first round opponent. Against the opponents that made it to this tournament, they were 1-3. They beat Alabama State by 13. The three losses were on the road to in-state rivals Tennessee (twice) and Vanderbilt, but they led in the second half of those games.
The last time Belmont was in the Big Dance, the Bruins came within a missed last shot of sending Duke home.
Wisconsin was not expected to be this good in 2011. This was supposed to be a minor rebuilding season for the Badgers. The Badgers usually run Coach Bo Ryan’s Swing Offense with great efficiency, rarely turning the ball over. They outscored their opponents by 9.9 points per game, and they outshot they outrebounded them by 3.8 boards per game.
The Badgers have been a hot and cold team this year. When they have been hot, they have been nearly unbeatable, because Ryan’s teams always limit possessions. When they have been cold, they have been easily beatable, because Ryan’s teams always limit possessions. They finished the season as cold as ice, so the Badgers must be considered a slight underdog in this game.
Prediction: Belmont 74 Wisconsin 70
#6 St. John’s 21-11 (9) vs. #11 Gonzaga 24-9 (13)
Here is a game where we believe the seedings should be switched. Gonzaga has been here enough times to be considered a regular in the NCAA Tournament, like Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, and Connecticut. This makes a baker’s dozen consecutive appearances in the Big Dance for the Bulldogs.
In past years, Gonzaga had a big scorer that could take over games. Adam Morrison comes to mind. This year, the Zags are more difficult to prepare for, because they are more team-oriented. There is not a big star on the roster, but all five starters are capable of taking the team on his shoulders with a hot night.
In their nine-game winning streak to close the season, Gonzaga eliminated Saint Mary’s from the Dance party with two victories. The Bulldogs scoring margin in those nine games was 76-58. This is a good team playing its best ball of the year, and we expect Coach Mark Few to win yet another NCAA Tournament game.
St. John’s comes into the tournament minus one of its stars. Starting forward D. J. Kennedy went down for the season with a knee injury in the Big East Tournament, and the Red Storm is now suspect in the paint. Their Criteria Score of nine should be discounted by two to three points. It is enough to take this contest from tossup status to near-comfortable status for Gonzaga.
Prediction: Gonzaga 74 St. John’s 66
#3 Brigham Young 30-4 (18) vs. #14 Wofford 21-12 (-1)
So, you didn’t get a chance to see Pete Maravich play at LSU in 1968, 1969, or 1970, eh? We must admit that nobody will ever be the collegiate equal for Maravich, but Jimmer Fredette may be the closest thing to him.
Throw out the floppy socks and floppy Beatles haircut and throw out some of the most unbelievable passes in the history of the game (so unbelievable that Maravich’s teammates frequently could not see them coming), and Fredette is not that far behind Maravich.
The sports nation will be turning its eyes to this game just to see if Fredette can make a run at a single game scoring mark. If we remember correctly, Notre Dame’s Austin Carr set the mark back in 1970 with 61 points against Ohio U in a regional qualifier game.
BYU may have been a strong Final Four contender had Brandon Davies not loved his girlfriend so much. The Cougars averaged 8.7 fewer points per game once Davies was suspended.
Wofford will not be able to take much advantage of Davies’ absence. The Terriers fared well in all PiRate Criteria categories, but they did not meet even the minimum “numbers to look for” in any category, and their schedule strength was five points below the norm.
Prediction: Brigham Young 75 Wofford 63
#7 U C L A 22-10 (-3) vs. #10 Michigan State 19-14 (1)
If only this were a few years ago. Neither of these historically dominating teams is going to make waves in this year’s tournament, and the winner will be around for just one more game.
UCLA would be a national title contender if Kevin Love had stuck around for four years. Imagine Love as a senior on this team. Can you say Bill Walton-like numbers? Alas, the Bruins must get by with a couple of well above-average forwards instead of the best three-man tandem in the nation.
The Bruins have the worst turnover margin of any team in this tournament. At -3.4, UCLA would need to dominate on the boards, and while they usually win that battle, it is anything but dominating.
Michigan State’s one asset year in and year out under Coach Tom Izzo has been their rebounding acumen. For most teams, a +4.3 edge on the boards would be considered outstanding, but in East Lansing, this is considered a down year.
Neither team has done all that well away from their home court this season, and there really is only one stat where one team stands out ahead of the other. MSU’s schedule was four points tougher than UCLA’s schedule. That’s our spread for this game.
Prediction: Michigan State 64 UCLA 60
#2 Florida 26-7 (15) vs. #15 UC-Santa Barbara 18-13 (-10)
The Gators looked like a potential Final Four team in the last month, at least when they were not playing Kentucky. UCSB is not Kentucky.
Florida tends to commit too many floor mistakes to win four games in this year’s tournament. They have enough talent to get through the first weekend, but we do not see the Gators extending their stay after that.
UCSB upset Long Beach State to get here, and the Gauchos are one of the weakest teams in the tournament according to our Criteria Score. With negative rebounding and turnover margins, they just barely escape automatic elimination with a R+T rating of 0.3.
Prediction: Florida 76 U C S B 54
You have seen the 32 teams that we believe will win the second round games. Here is how we fill out the rest of our bracket.
Third Round Winners
Ohio State over George Mason
Kentucky over West Virginia
Syracuse over Xavier
North Carolina over Washington
Duke over Tennessee
Texas over Arizona
Connecticut over Cincinnati
San Diego State over Penn State
Kansas over UNLV
Louisville over Vanderbilt
Purdue over Georgetown
Notre Dame over Texas A&M
Pittsburgh over Old Dominion
Kansas State over Belmont
Gonzaga over Brigham Young
Florida over Michigan State
Sweet 16 Winners
Ohio State over Kentucky
Syracuse over North Carolina
Texas over Duke
San Diego State over Connecticut
Kansas over Louisville
Purdue over Notre Dame
Pittsburgh over Kansas State
Florida over Gonzaga
Elite 8 Winners
Ohio State over Syracuse
Texas over San Diego State
Kansas over Purdue
Pittsburgh over Florida
Ohio State over Texas
Kansas over Pittsburgh
Kansas over Ohio State