The Pi-Rate Ratings

April 4, 2009

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Final Four: Semifinal Round–April 4, 2009

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Final Four

The Semifinals

 April 4, 2009


Ford Field: Detroit


Many basketball purists believe that the NCAA Tournament Semifinal is the top ticket in all of sports.  While we would argue that any ticket to a Green Bay Packers game would top it, this is the only time the top four teams in any sport meet on the same court back-to-back.


At Detroit’s Ford Field Saturday, there’s a good chance that the teams in the home uniforms will win more games in four hours than the regular tenant of the building won all season.  We know that’s a stab at the division rival Lions, but we had to do it.


For what it’s worth, our record through the first four rounds is 45-15.


Here is a guide for the two semifinal games.  We hope you have fun.


Note: Team info courtesy of the four schools’ official athletic websites


Game 1

Connecticut Huskies (31-4) vs. Michigan State Spartans (30-6)

Tip Time: 6:07 PM EDT




Connecticut Huskies




Adrien, Jeff 6-7/243 Forward SR Brookline, Mass.


Austrie, Craig 6-3/176 Guard SR Stamford, Conn.


Bailey, Kyle 6-3/170 Guard SO Lancaster, N.H.


Beverly, Donnell 6-4/190 Guard SO Hawthorne, Calif.


Bird, Johnnie 6-0/165 Guard SR Fort Bragg, N.C.


Dyson, Jerome 6-3/180 Guard JR Rockville, Md.


Edwards, Gavin 6-9/230 Forward/Center JR Gilbert, Ariz.


Haralson, Scottie 6-4/215 Guard FR Jackson, Miss.


Hornat, Alex 6-5/205 Forward JR South Windsor, Conn.


Lindner, John 6-5/265 Forward SR Cheshire, Conn.


Mandeldove, Jonathan 6-11/220 Center JR Stone Mountain, Ga.


Okwandu, Charles 7-1/255 Center SO Lagos, Nigeria


Price, A.J. 6-2/190 Guard SR Amityville, N.Y.


Robinson, Stanley 6-9/220 Forward SO Birmingham, Ala.


Thabeet, Hasheem 7-3/265 Center JR Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania


Veronick, Jim 6-8/200 Forward SR Durham, Conn.


Walker, Kemba 6-1/172 Guard FR Bronx, N.Y.


Jim Calhoun – Head Coach
George Blaney – Assistant Coach
Andre LaFleur – Assistant Coach
Patrick Sellers – Assistant Coach
Beau Archibald – Director of Operations




Michigan State Spartans


No. Name Ht. Wt. Pos. Year Hometown/High School


Ibok, Idong 6-11 260 C RS SR Lagos, Nigeria/Montverde (Fla.) Academy


Lucas, Kalin 6-0 180 G SO Sterling Heights, Mich./Orchard Lake St. Mary’s


Morgan, Raymar 6-8 225 F JR Canton, Ohio/McKinley


Allen, Chris 6-3 205 G SO Lawrenceville, Ga./Meadowcreek


Walton, Travis 6-2 190 G SR Lima, Ohio/Lima Senior


Roe, Delvon 6-8 225 F FR Lakewood, Ohio/St. Edward


Thornton, Austin 6-5 210 G RS FR Sand Lake, Mich./Cedar Springs


Suton, Goran 6-10 245 C RS SR Lansing, Mich./Everett


Summers, Durrell 6-4 195 G SO Detroit, Mich./Redford Covenant Christian


Kebler, Mike 6-4 200 G SO Okemos, Mich./Okemos


Dahlman, Isaiah 6-6 200 G JR Braham, Minn./Braham Area


Green, Draymond 6-6 235 F FR Saginaw, Mich./Saginaw


Crandell, Jon 6-8 225 F JR Rochester, Mich./Rochester Adams


Lucious, Korie 5-11 170 G FR Milwaukee, Wis./Pius XI


Herzog, Tom 7-0 240 C RS SO Flint, Mich./Powers


Gray, Marquise 6-8 235 F RS SR Flint, Mich./Beecher


Tom Izzo – Head Coach
Mark Montgomery – Associate Head Coach
Dwayne Stephens – Assistant Coach
Mike Garland – Assistant Coach
Jordan Ott – Video Coordinator
Richard Bader – Director of Basketball Operations





Player Matchups


Ppg=points per game, rpg=rebounds per game, bpg=blocks per game, apg=assists per game, spg=steals per game, fg%=field goal percentage, 3pt= 3-point percentage, ft%=free throw percentage, mpg=minutes per game


Point Guard

Connecticut: A.J. Price (6-2, 190 Sr.)-14.7 ppg/3.4 rpg/40.3% 3pt/71.2% ft/4.8 apg


Michigan State: Kalin Lucas (6-0, 180 So.)-14.6 ppg/2.2 rpg/38.8% 3pt/81.4% ft/4.6 apg


This position is the reason why both teams made it this far.  Both players are 4-star leaders.  Their stats are similar, but the differences are Price’s experience and the fact that he compiled these stats in addition to leading the Huskies while Lucas is more of the go-to guy.


We give a slight advantage to UConn here.


Shooting Guard

Connecticut: Craig Austrie (6-3, 176 Sr.)-7.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 80.5% ft, 2.3 apg


Michigan State: Travis Walton (6-2, 190 Sr.)-5.3 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.5 spg


While Walton is one of the top defensive guards in the nation, stopping Austrie won’t shut the Huskie offense down.  He should be able to supply extra help defense though, and that should make up for his inability to shoot from outside or at the foul line.


Austrie has had some hot nights, but that isn’t required of him for his team to make it to Monday night.


We’ll give an ever so slight advantage to MSU.


Small Forward

Connecticut: Stanley Robinson (6-9, 220 So.)-8.2 ppg/5.7 rpg/49.5% fg


Michigan State: Delvin Roe (6-8, 225 Fr.)-5.8 ppg/5.0 rpg/56.5% fg


This is a tough one to figure out.  Neither player plays consistently.  If both play a good game, it will be close to a wash.  Roe cannot hit the broad side of a barn from the foul line, but Robinson is basically an in-close shooter with no real range.


We’re going to call this one a stand-off but with high deviation.  Either player could have a big game or disappear.


Power Forward

Connecticut: Jeff Adrien (6-7, 243 Sr.)-13.7 ppg/10.0 rpg/50.5% fg/1.1 bpg


Michigan State: Raymar Morgan (6-8, 225 Jr.)-10.2 ppg/5.3 rpg/52.5% fg/1.2 apg


Morgan has not had a great game in March.  He is not a great defender nor a dominant rebounder for his position.


Adrien plays much like Wes Unseld used to play.  He stops the opponent in the hot shooting area, and he punishes any opponent who dares try to rebound the ball in his area. 


We’ll give UConn a hefty advantage here.



Connecticut: Hasheem Thabeet (7-3, 265 Jr.)-13.5 ppg/10.9 rpg/4.3 bpg/64.9% fg


Michigan State: Goran Suton (6-10, 245 Sr.)-10.4 ppg/8.4 rpg/51.6% fg/


Both players are prone to getting into foul trouble, but Thabeet is the more likely to foul out of a game.  Thabeet is a Bill Russell type player.  Unless another Wilt Chamberlain is opposing him, he is going to dominate the inside-as long as he is in the game and not sitting on the bench with foul concerns.


Suton doesn’t have the flashy numbers of his adversary, but he is a workhorse inside and won’t back down to Thabeet even though he is giving away five inches.  Suton plays strong defense.


In a surprise, we’re going to call this one a wash.


Bench Play


Kemba Walker (6-1, 172 Fr. G)-9.0 ppg/3.5 rpg/74.6% ft/1.1 spg/2.9 apg/25 mpg


Gavin Edwards (6-9, 230 Jr. F/C)-3.9 ppg/2.9 rpg/63.3% fg/74.5% ft/12 mpg


Michigan State

Chris Allen (6-3, 205 So. G)-8.7 ppg/2.3 rpg/80.0% ft/19 mpg


Durrell Summers (6-4, 195 So. G)-8.4 ppg/3.3 rpg/21 mpg


Marquise Gray (6-8, 235 Sr. F)-3.3 ppg/2.9 rpg/58.7% fg/10 mpg


Draymond Green (6-6, 235 Fr. F)-3.1 ppg/3.2 rpg/53.3% fg/11 mpg


Connecticut basically goes just seven deep since Jerome Dyson was lost 24 games into the season.  The two bench players are better than any two bench players for the Spartans.  However, MSU has great depth.  The Spartans can wear down the best opponents and still have something in the tank at the end of games. 


Edwards may have to play serious minutes in the paint if Thabeet picks up too many early fouls.


We’ll call this a win-win comparison.  UConn has the better seven deep bench, but MSU has the better depth by far.  Overall, give a slight edge to the Spartans.


PiRate Criteria see articles from the week of March 16-18 for explanation of this statistical formula


Connecticut qualifies as one of the elite team with statistical data similar to many previous title holders.  Michigan State just barely fails to qualify with 7 total criteria points.  Of course, we must look at both strength of schedule and implied home court advantage.  MSU’s schedule was about two points per game stronger than UConn’s.  You can also add about three points home court advantage for the Spartans playing just over an hour away from campus.



We are supposed to go with the criteria in virtually every game, and it would be hard to pick against Connecticut.  We think this is going to be a whale of a ball game.  Connecticut gives up just 37.6% shooting to opponents and blocks eight shots per game.


Michigan State gives up just 63 points per game and 41.4% shooting to opponents.  The Spartans are the dominant rebounding team in the land with an advantage of almost 10 per contest.  That advantage will be neutralized because UConn is just a hair behind at +9.2 per game. 


We expect the Huskies to stake themselves to the early lead and pad it a bit to the halfway point of the final period.  Then, the fatigue factor will begin to creep in.  At this point, Michigan State will mount a rally.  Connecticut will gain a second wind at the end and hold the Spartans at bay in the crucial time of this game.  Then, it will be up to the Huskies to hit their foul shots at the end of the game.  UConn hits 68% from the charity stripe.  It’s not great, but we believe Coach Jim Calhoun’s squad will advance to their third ever national title game.


Connecticut 67 Michigan State 63



Game 2

North Carolina Tar Heels (32-4) vs. Villanova Wildcats (30-7)

Tip Time: 30 minutes following the end of the

Connecticut-Michigan State Game

Approximately 8:47 PM EDT




North Carolina Tar Heels

No. Name Ht. Wt. Pos. Yr. Hometown (High School)
1 Marcus Ginyard 6-5 220 G/F SR Alexandria, Va. (Bishop O’Connell)
2 Marc Campbell 5-11 175 G JR Wilmington, N.C. (Ravenscroft)
4 Bobby Frasor 6-3 210 G SR Blue Island, Ill. (Brother Rice)
5 Ty Lawson 5-11 195 G JR Clinton, Md. (Oak Hill Academy (Va.))
11 Larry Drew II 6-1 180 G FR Encino, Calif. (Woodland Hills Taft)
13 Will Graves 6-6 245 F/G SO Greensboro, N.C. (Dudley)
14 Danny Green 6-6 210 F/G SR North Babylon, N.Y. (St. Mary’s)
15 J.B. Tanner 6-0 185 G SR Hendersonville, N.C. (West Henderson)
21 Deon Thompson 6-8 245 F JR Torrance, Calif. (Torrance)
22 Wayne Ellington 6-4 200 G JR Wynnewood, Pa. (The Episcopal Academy)
24 Justin Watts 6-4 205 G FR Durham, N.C. (Jordan)
30 Jack Wooten 6-2 190 G SR Burlington, N.C. (Williams)
32 Ed Davis 6-10 215 F FR Richmond, Va. (Benedictine)
35 Patrick Moody 6-4 195 F SR Asheville, N.C. (T.C. Roberson)
40 Mike Copeland 6-7 235 F SR Winston-Salem, N.C. (R.J. Reynolds)
44 Tyler Zeller 7-0 220 F FR Washington, Ind. (Washington)
50 Tyler Hansbrough 6-9 250 F SR Poplar Bluff, Mo. (Poplar Bluff)


Coaching Staff
Roy Williams – Head Coach
Joe Holladay – Assistant Coach
Steve Robinson – Assistant Coach
C.B. McGrath – Assistant Coach
Jerod Haase – Director of Basketball Operations
Chris Hirth – Head Athletic Trainer
Eric Hoots – Video Coordinator
Jonas Sahratian – Strength & Conditioning Coordinator



Villanova Wildcats


No. Name Pos. Cl. (EXP) Ht. Wt. Hometown High School


Antonio Pena Forward RS SO (2L) 6-8 235 Brooklyn, N.Y. St. Thomas More


Scottie Reynolds Guard JR (2L) 6-2 190 Herndon, Va. Herndon


Jason Colenda Guard JR (1L)   205 Fairfax, Va. Bishop O’Connell


Corey Fisher Guard SO (1L) 6-1 200 Bronx, N.Y. St. Patrick’s (N.J.)


Reggie Redding Guard JR (2L) 6-5 205 Philadelphia, Pa. St. Joseph’s Prep


Shane Clark Forward SR (3L) 6-7 205 Philadelphia, Pa. Hargrave Military Academy


Maurice Sutton Forward/Center FR 6-11 215 Upper Marlboro, Md. Largo


Dwayne Anderson Guard/Forward SR (3L) 6-6 215 Silver Spring, Md. St. Thomas More


Russell Wooten Forward JR 6-4 210 Chula Vista, Calif. St. Augustine


Corey Stokes Guard SO (1L) 6-5 220 Bayonne, N.J. St. Benedict’s


Taylor King Forward RS FR 6-6 230 Huntington Beach, Cal. Santa Ana Mater Dei


Dante Cunningham Forward SR (3L) 6-8 230 Silver Spring, Md. Potomac


Frank Tchuisi Forward SR (3L) 6-8 215 Douala, Cameroon St. Benedict’s



Jay Wright-Head Coach

Patrick Chambers-Associate Head Coach

Doug West-Assistant Coach

Jason Donnelly-Assistant Coach

Keith Urgo-Manager of Basketball Operations

Kyle Neptune-Administrative Intern

Jeff Pierce-Head Athletic Trainer

Lon Record-Strength Coach


Player Matchups


Point Guard

North Carolina: Ty Lawson (5-11, 195 Jr.)-16.3 ppg/2.8 rpg/54.2% fg/48.5% 3pt/81.5% ft/6.5 apg/2.0 spg


Villanova: Scottie Reynolds (6-2, 190 Jr.)-15.2 ppg/2.8 rpg/35.3% 3pt/81.7% ft/3.3 apg/1.6spg


What can’t Ty Lawson do?  He is the best outside shooter in the Final Four.  He can penetrate and either take it to the hoop or dish the rock for an easy shot.  He can play defense better than any other guard.  He can also shoot craps better than anybody on the Canadian-American border.


Reynolds is the reason VU made it this far.  It was his buzzer beater that knocked Pittsburgh out of the Dance.  He has a good offensive game, but he cannot handle Lawson.


North Carolina receives a huge advantage here.


Shooting Guard

North Carolina: Wayne Ellington (6-4, 200 Jr.)-15.6 ppg/4.8 rpg/48.0% fg/39.7% 3pt/77.8% ft/2.7 apg


Villanova: Reggie Redding (6-5, 205 Jr.)-6.9 ppg/5.0 rpg/70% ft/3.1 apg/1.2 spg


Ellington is a streaky outside shooter.  When his shot is falling, North Carolina cannot be defeated. 


Redding is VU’s defensive sparkplug who gives the Wildcats a fourth inside presence.  He had yet to meet an opponent as talented as Ellington though.


We give North Carolina the advantage here, but it is not strong.


Small Forward

North Carolina: Danny Green (6-6, 210 Sr.)-13.3 ppg/4.8 rpg/47.3% fg/41.5% 3pt/85.2% ft/2.8 apg/1.3 bpg/1.8 spg


Villanova: Dwayne Anderson (6-6, 215 Sr.)-9.1 ppg/2.8 rpg/46.0% fg/83.9% ft/1.4 apg/1.6 spg


Green can do a little of everything, but he isn’t a go-to player.  Anderson is similar to Green, just not as talented.


North Carolina has a small advantage here as well.


Power Forward

North Carolina: Deon Thompson (6-8, 245 Jr.)-10.7 ppg/5.8 rpg/49.8% fg/1.1 bpg/1.0 spg


Villanova: Dante Cunningham (6-8, 230 Sr.)-16.2 ppg/7.4 rpg/52.9% fg/1.2 apg/1.3 bpg/1.2 spg


Thompson is North Carolina’s least talented starter, but that is not a slap in his face.  He’s just not the star that the other four starters are.  There have been times when Thompson has come up with big plays.


Cunningham is Villanova’s key weapon.  As he goes, so go the Wildcats.  VU’s only chance at getting to Monday night’s game is for him to have a Danny Manning/Jack Givens moment.  We doubt that will happen, but he should have a good, if not great game.


Villanova has a decided edge here.



North Carolina: Tyler Hansbrough (6-9, 250 Sr.)-20.9 ppg/8.1 rpg/52.1% fg/85.8% ft/1.2 spg


Villanova: Shane Clark (6-7, 205 Jr.)-5.6 ppg/3.8 rpg/48.0% fg


Clark is a hard-nosed defensive stopper, but he cannot stop his opponent.  The top relief pitcher in baseball couldn’t consistently keep Babe Ruth from hitting one into the seats, and that’s why it will take two or two and a half defenders to keep Hansbrough from beating Villanova.


Hansbrough is like a loyal employee who always shows up for work on time, always does his job as well as helping others, and never complains when he doesn’t get a raise.  He may not be the most naturally talented big man in Tar Heel lore (James Worthy-Sam Perkins-Tom Lagarde-Bob McAdoo, etc.)


North Carolina has a major advantage here.


Bench Play

North Carolina

Ed Davis (6-10, 215 Fr. F)-6.6 ppg/6.6 rpg/51.4% fg/1.8 bpg/19 mpg


Bobby Frasor (6-3, 210 Sr. G)-2.7 ppg/1.9 rpg/1.4 apg/17 mpg



Corey Fisher (6-1, 200 So. G)-10.7 ppg/2.2 rpg/78.8% ft/2.8 apg/1.3 spg/24 mpg


Corey Stokes (6-5, 220 So. G)-9.5 ppg/3.4 rpg/84.8% ft/1.0 apg/23 mpg


Antonio Pena (6-8, 235 So. F)-5.3 ppg/4.2 rpg/48.5% fg/18 mpg


While neither team can go 10-deep, the reserves that do play are good enough to start for most teams.  In Villanova’s case, the two Coreys are really starters and not reserves.  They enter the game after the opening tip, but they play the bulk of the minutes at their positions.


North Carolina’s Davis is a future NBA player as soon as he can add some bulk.  Frasor is the type of pesty player who can stick the dagger in the opposing team with a well-timed trey after the defense has played competently for 25-30 seconds.


We’ll call this a wash.


PiRate Criteria

North Carolina had the second best criteria score of the 65 teams in the field, so the Tar Heels were selected to make it all the way to the last game.


Villanova has teetered on the brink of qualifying as a superior team.  After the regional semifinal and final rounds, the Wildcats statistical gains have elevated their criteria score to 11, which now gives them superior status.  Still, they trail UNC by six in this category.


The strengths of schedule are nearly equal, as UNC gets one additional point here.



North Carolina is clearly the better team.  It doesn’t mean Villanova has no chance, because a really good team can defeat a great team under certain conditions.


We believe this game will remain close throughout the first half, and Villanova could go to the locker room with a small lead.  The Tar Heels have too many quality options for the entire roster to have an off game.  Coach Roy Williams will figure out how to get his hot players the ball in the second half, and UNC will go on a run and put this game away by taking a double digit lead in the final 12 minutes. 


North Carolina 78 Villanova 66


Tune in here Sunday Night for a preview of the Championship Game.

March 27, 2009

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Tournament: The Elite 8–March 28-29, 2009

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Tournament

The Elite 8

 March 28-29, 2009


We’ve decided to combine the Saturday and Sunday games into one blog since this is being compiled late Friday night after the games have ended.


It’s not quite the Big East Tournament part two, but it looks like there will be two and as many as three Big East teams headed to Detroit.


Our Sweet 16 picking brought an end to our chances of hitting the national champion for a fourth consecutive season.  We missed that pick, although we did mention that we thought Missouri should be the true favorite in that game and that they could easily run out to a quick double-digit lead in the game.  We also must admit that our mentor and originator of this blog told us to watch Missouri knock Memphis out, and we didn’t listen as much as we should have.


So, which teams left in the tournament still possess all the PiRate Criteria necessary to win it all?  In the East, Pitt easily qualifies.  Villanova now qualifies if you factor in their win over Duke, since their points per game margin reached 10.0 following the easy win.  In the Southeast, North Carolina qualifies, but Oklahoma just misses.  In the Midwest, Louisville qualifies but not Michigan State.  In the West, Connecticut and Missouri both qualify.  Seven of the eight remaining teams qualify, and the one that misses does so by a mere one point. 


Of the original 11 teams we listed as super teams possessing the statistical criteria similar to past champions, five have made it to the Elite 8 round. 


Our record for the Sweet 16 was just 5-3, bringing the three round total to 43-13.



(numbers in parentheses are PiRate Criteria scores)

[number in brackets is Strength of Schedule advantage]


East Region @ Boston


Pittsburgh (14) vs. Villanova (9) [Pittsburgh 2]

Game Time: Saturday, 7:00 PM EDT

These teams played just once during the regular season with Villanova winning by 10 at home.  In that game, Pitt’s Dejuan Blair sat on the bench with foul trouble for much of the night.


With Blair staying out of foul trouble this time, we think the Panthers will advance to their first Final Four.


Prediction: Pittsburgh 72 Villanova 64


South Region @ Memphis


North Carolina (17) vs. Oklahoma (9) [Even Strength]

Game Time: Sunday, 5:00 PM EDT

What a great match between two dominant big men we have here!  Tyler Hansbrough and Blake Griffin are two of the top five college players in the game. 


Griffin may end up with the better numbers in this game, but Hansbrough has a much better supporting cast.  The Tar Heels will advance yet again to another Final Four.


Prediction: North Carolina 85 Oklahoma 73


Midwest Region @ Indianapolis


Louisville (10) vs. Michigan State (7) [Mich. State 1]

Game Time: Sunday, 2:20 PM EDT

The Two games on this side of the bracket provide us with great studies in contrast.  A quick, full-court team will take on an inside banger team that has some decent outside shooting.


Four of Louisville’s five losses came to teams that can bang the ball inside and get plenty of offensive rebounds.  Connecticut, Notre Dame, Minnesota, and UNLV all play a game similar to Michigan State.  The Spartans are capable of holding the Cardinals under 45% shooting and take 55% of the rebounds.  Capable yes, but we don’t think it will happen.  Rick Pitino will guide UL back to the Final Four.


Prediction: Louisville 70 Michigan State 63


West Region @ Glendale, AZ


Connecticut (14) vs. Missouri (12) [Connecticut 1]

Game Time: Saturday, 4:30 PM EDT

We think this will be the best game of the four in this round.  Missouri looked every bit as good as the 1994 Arkansas team that won the NCAA Championship, a team with current Tiger coach Mike Anderson on the bench as an assistant.


On the other hand, UConn looks every bit as good if not better than the two Husky teams that won national titles.


We don’t think Mizzou will be able to force all that many turnovers in this game, and if they only pick up 8-10 steals, it will not be enough.  They need 12-15 steals to have a chance to win this game.


Connecticut’s inside game will be too strong for MU, and we think it will force the Tigers into foul trouble. 


Prediction: Connecticut 86 Missouri 74

March 25, 2009

A PiRate Look At The 2009 NCAA Tournament: The Sweet 16

A PiRate Look At The NCAA Tournament

The Sweet 16

 March 26-27, 2009


As the Sweet 16 prepares to begin play tomorrow night, our PiRate Formula for picking teams that display the necessary statistics similar to the historical Final Four participants and National Champions are once again proving to be quite accurate.  We consider it the SABRmetrics of college basketball.


We originally told you about our list of the 12 Super Teams in this tournament.  We apologize for our not being able to count.  We only listed 11 teams.  Of those 11 teams, eight advanced to the Sweet 16.  One of the three teams, UCLA, lost to Villanova.  Villanova just barely missed out on qualifying for the Super Team list, and they basically got to host their first two games at the Spectrum.  Only Wake Forest and West Virginia’s losses can really be listed as misses.


On Sunday, our picks ran the table, going 8-0.  Combined with Saturday’s games, our second round success rate was 14-2.  For the tournament to date, we are now 38-10.


Without further adieu, here are the eight games for the third round.  The criteria scores and Strengths of Schedule have been updated to reflect the two games in the tournament.


(numbers in parentheses are PiRate Criteria scores)

[number in brackets is Strength of Schedule advantage]


East Region @ Boston


Pittsburgh (14) vs. Xavier (10) [Pitt 3]

Game Time: Thursday, 7:27 PM EDT

This is an interesting match if only because Xavier coach Sean Miller was once a starter on a great Pitt team. 


The way to beat Pitt is to force them to commit turnovers and play transition defense.  The Musketeers are more like Pitt than like the type of team needed to beat the Panthers.  Xavier cannot match up inside with the more muscular Pitt inside, and the Panthers will advance to the Elite 8.  Xavier’s only chance is to take 30 three-point shots and hit 40%.


Prediction: Pittsburgh 74 Xavier 64


Villanova (9) vs. Duke (14) [Duke 4]

Game Time: Thursday, approximately 9:42 PM EDT

Villanova missed out on being rated at 13 by just a hair.  This game is being touted as one in which the 3-seed Wildcats should be favored over the 2-seed Blue Devils. 


This game provides an excellent study in contrast.  VU has a great deal of talent inside with a surprising outside presence.  Duke has a great deal of talent on the perimeter with a surprising inside presence.


This should be a close game throughout the first half and a good deal of the second half.  Then, we believe the Duke defense will begin to force Villanova into mistakes and take advantage of those errors.  It should lead to a nice Blue Devil run in the last 10 minutes to move Coach K to the Elite 8.


Prediction: Duke 77 Villanova 70


South Region @ Memphis


Syracuse (4) vs. Oklahoma (9) [Syracuse 2]

Game Time: Friday, 7:27 PM EDT

This is the only Sweet 16 game in which neither team owns a double digit criteria score.  What it means to us is that the winner of this game will lose in the Elite 8 game Sunday.


This one should be a tight contest.  Syracuse’s zone defense should reduce the number of looks for Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin.  The Sooners have an ample trio of outside shooters, and they will have to step it up a notch to beat the Orangemen.  If Tony Crocker, Willie Warren, and Austin Johnson are hot, the Sooners will continue to play on Sunday.


Syracuse will have to pack in their zone to keep Griffin from killing them inside.  They will score points on offense, but they may give up points just even quicker if they cannot cover the perimeter when the ball is kicked out from the posts.


Prediction: Oklahoma 82 Syracuse 75



North Carolina (17) vs. Gonzaga (17) [N. Carolina 5]

Game Time: Friday, approximately 9:42 PM EDT

Gonzaga shares the second best PiRate criteria score with their opponent, but the Bulldogs compiled their stats against an inferior schedule.  Even though they played some big time teams, including Memphis and Connecticut, they played too many teams well beneath the average. 


North Carolina will not be able to just walk all over the Zags.  We expect GU to stay within striking distance for at least 30-32 minutes, and we wouldn’t be shocked if they led at any point of that time.


The Tar Heels will supposedly have Ty Lawson near 100% ready for this game.  Their bench is much more potent than Gonzaga’s, and we think they will eventually wear down the Bulldogs.


Prediction: North Carolina 85 Gonzaga 74


Midwest Region @ Indianapolis


Louisville (10) vs. Arizona (-2) [Louisville 2]

Game Time: Friday, 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona is the one team in the Sweet 16 that we feel doesn’t have the talent of the other 15 teams.  We didn’t think the Wildcats would make it this far, and we honestly felt that Penn State deserved to be here in their place.


The players heard for days that they didn’t deserve to be in the Dance, and that motivated them to play great ball last weekend.  We think this weekend will be different.


Louisville has not played like a number one seed of the entire tournament.  They got a virtual bye in the first round against Morehead State, and they could have easily lost to Siena in round two.  The Cardinals might stumble through for a third time and win only because their opponent is the weakest of the Sweet 16 teams.  It may be UL’s last win of the season if they don’t play more consistently.


Prediction: Louisville 69 Arizona 64


Kansas (10) vs. Michigan State (7) [Mich. St. 1]

Game Time: Approximately 9:22 PM EDT

This game should be a rugged, jaw-to-jaw contest of teams that like to bang it.  Both teams control the boards in their games, and it will be interesting to see if either can dominate the other.  We’ll call it a standoff in this stat.


Both teams’ weakness is their ability to take advantage of turnover margin.  If either team were playing somebody like Missouri this week, we would feel inclined to pick them to lose.  Since neither team will be able to force a bunch of mistakes and capitalize with a great fast break, we will call this a standoff as well.


We think the game will be decided by KU’s defense.  The Jayhawks will force MSU to shoot a lower percentage of shots and not receive their usual amount of offensive rebounds to hold the Spartans well below their points per game average.  We’re not sure MSU can do the same to the Jayhawks, so we’re picking the defending champions to return to the Elite 8.


Prediction: Kansas 72 Michigan State 67


West Region @ Glendale, AZ


Connecticut (14) vs. Purdue (6) [Even Strength]

Game Time: Thursday, 7:07 PM EDT

This looks like a potential mismatch, but some late developments may have the UConn players not ready mentally for this game.  A report by Yahoo Sports that the Huskies broke several NCAA rules when it recruited a former player may make it difficult for the players to properly prepare for this game.


Purdue doesn’t have the tools needed to beat Connecticut.  It takes a team with solid strength in the paint, and the Boilermakers don’t have the inside firepower.  Only a poorly played game by the top seed would make this one close.


We think the Huskies will start out a little bit off their game, but after a couple of TV timeouts, they should settle down and start playing well.  As long as Hasheem Thabeet stays out of foul trouble and plays about 25 minutes in this game, UConn should win by double digits.


Prediction: Connecticut 73 Purdue 60


Missouri (12) vs. Memphis (19) [Even Strength]

Game Time: Thursday, Approximately 9:22 PM EDT

This is the can’t miss game of the Sweet 16.  Both teams are strong in every aspect of the game.  Nary of foot of the court will be free parking for either team.  It will be a fast-paced game with the players on both teams trying to show up their opponents.


Yes, we picked Memphis to make it to the Championship Game and win it all, but we are not so sure they are the true favorite in this game.  Missouri won’t be intimidated, and if the Memphians come out flat like they did in the first round, Mizzou’s fast break game will quickly run out to a double-digit game.


All in all, we think Memphis will be pumped to play the Big 12 Tournament Champions.  This is a border war game, and neither team should be flat.  We’re going with Memphis only because we picked them to win the title.  In reality, we think this is a 50-50 contest.


Prediction: Memphis 77 Missouri 75


Come back Friday for a look at Saturday’s games and Saturday for a look at Sunday’s games.

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