The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 27, 2009

2009 Mid-American Conference Preview

2009 Mid-American Conference Preview

A PiRate Look

In the second in our series of conference previews, we look at what just may be the most exciting league with the most wide-open styles of play.  Once just a light version of the old Big Ten, the Mid-American Conference has its own unique personality.  There are no three yards and a cloud of dust teams left.  Today, the MAC more closely resembles the old American Football League of the 1960’s.

Last year, Buffalo and Ball State were expected to be middle of the pack teams in their divisions, but the Bulls and Cardinals surprised the so-called experts and met in the conference championship.  Buffalo pulled off the big upset of the then unbeaten Cardinals, and then in an even bigger surprise Bull head coach Turner Gill spurned offers to move into a BCS conference coaching position to stay in Buffalo.

Here are the preseason PiRate ratings for the league.  The ratings have been rounded to the nearest whole number even though we calculate them to two decimal places.  Thus, when you see multiple teams with the same rating, they are not actually exactly even.  To understand what the rating means, it is set so that 100 is average.  Thus, a rating of 90 means the team is 10 points weaker than the average team in the FBS.  The average of all 120 FBS teams should round to 100 if the math has been successfully calculated.

For those who have not followed the PiRate Ratings before and wonder about the home field advantage, we do not assign set in stone advantages.  These are assigned on a game-by-game basis.  For instance, if Ohio U was to get really lucky and host Ohio State, it would be expected that the Buckeye fans would find a way to get to Athens and make it a home game for the visiting team.  However, if that same Ohio U team hosted Hawaii when the Rainbows played at Idaho the week before, then the Bobcats could enjoy as much as a touchdown in home field advantage.  The PiRates think it’s ridiculous to issue a blank home field advantage for all teams or even assign a range of set home field advantages.

 

Mid-American Conference Preseason PiRatings

   

 

Prediction *

  Team

PiRate

MAC

Overall

  EAST

 

 

 

  Buffalo

95

6-2

7-5

  Temple

92

6-2

8-5

  Ohio U

90

6-2

8-4

  Akron

89

3-5

4-8

  Bowling Green

87

2-6

2-10

  Kent State

86

2-6

4-8

  Miami (O)

77

2-6

2-10

   

 

 

 

  WEST

 

 

 

  Central Michigan

100

7-1

9-4

  Eastern Michigan

93

4-4

5-7

  Western Michigan

92

5-3

6-6

  Ball State

90

4-4

7-5

  Toledo

90

4-4

4-8

  Northern Illinois

89

1-7

3-9

   

 

 

 

 

*  Predictions not based on PiRate Rating but

 

on expected changes to rating during the year

   

 

 

 

 

CMU expected to defeat Temple in the MAC

 

Championship Game

 

 

MAC East

Buffalo: The Bulls still have some offensive weapons in running back James Starks and receiver Naaman Roosevelt, but they have a glaring hole where quarterback Drew Willy has graduated.  There are holes to fill in the offensive line as well, but the Bulls should still score about 25-28 points per game.  Defensively, the secondary and linebackers return intact from last year, but the defensive line faces major rebuilding.  In a league where almost every team has an explosive offense, just one defensive weakness can be enough to lose a ball game.  Buffalo could actually improve their conference record and fail to repeat as East Champions.

Temple: The Owls were arguably the weakest team in major college football in 2005 and 2006, but Coach Al Golden has the program headed in the right direction.  Temple narrowly missed out on an eight-win season, but finished 5-7 because they lost three different games on the final play.  This should be the year where the Owls finally break through with their first winning season since 1990 and first bowl invitation since 1979.  The defense should improve its yardage allowed by 30 to 50 yards and points allowed by three to five.  In a league where all the contenders can easily score 28 or more points per game, allowing less than 20 should be enough for the Owls to be a serious contender for the division title.  TU needs to come up with more balance on offense, as the Owls have failed to average 100 rushing yards per game in the last four seasons.  This is the one contender that will need to win games 21-17 instead of 38-34.

Ohio U: Coach Frank Solich has another contender in Athens this year, as the Bobcats should top 250 passing yards per game with two competent quarterbacks and three quality receivers.  If the rebuilt offensive line develops, then Ohio could emerge as the East champion.  Their defensive liability against the run could cost them against the better running opponents, and that spells trouble when they play at Ball State and Buffalo in consecutive games.

Akron: The Zips christen a new stadium this year.  Gone are games at the Rubber Bowl, as they move to the on-campus Infocision Stadium.  Coach J.D. Brookhart finds his seat not hot yet, but quite tepid.  If Akron fails to show improvement with a new high percentage passing offense, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that there could be a coaching change.  An experienced offensive line will need to step up and provide excellent protection for quarterback Chris Jacquemain who has a tendency to throw interceptions when under pressure.  The Zip running game will take a step back after losing 1,300+ yard runner Dennis Kennedy.  Defensively, the Zips should be stronger the farther back in the formation.  Akron should be one of those MAC teams to top 30 points per game, but they should give up 35.

Bowling Green: This Falcons have enjoyed winning seasons in six of the past eight years with one breakeven year, but things are about to turn south.  New coach Dave Clawson faces an immediate rebuilding situation.  The defense has been decimated with graduation, and the fairly experienced offense should struggle learning a new system.  Clawson’s offense proved to be too hard for Tennessee to implement last season, and the lack of production cost Phil Fulmer his job.  Quarterback Tyler Sheehan will see defenses begging him to hand the ball off, as the Falcons will struggle to run the ball against the better defensive front sevens.  Defensively, BGU is going to be weak in the all-important cornerback positions, and that could spell big trouble.  The Falcons will be forced to play their secondary deeper than normal, and opponents will average at least a yard more per play.  Look for Bowling Green to average 21-24 points per game but yield 30-35 and struggle to win more than two times.

Kent State: It’s been 37 years since the Golden Flashes made their one and only bowl appearance, and it’s going to be 38 after this season.  Kent State should be one of the top two rushing teams in the MAC, but they probably have the league’s weakest passing attack.  Defensively, Kent State gave up 32 points per game last year, and they will probably repeat that performance.  Their key game is September 19, when Iowa State visits Dix Stadium.  The Flashes handed that game over to the Cyclones last year in Ames, and if they pull off the mild upset, it could domino into a couple of extra wins.  If they lose that game, then KSU will be lucky to escape double digit losses.

Miami of Ohio: This once proud program known as the cradle of coaches for producing numerous big-time coaches (Paul Brown, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Bill Mallory, Ara Parseghian, Weeb Eubank, Paul Dietzel, Jim Tressel, and Randy Walker among others) has become the doormat of the MAC.  After going 2-10 last year, Coach Shane Montgomery was let go.  New coach Mike Haywood inherits a team bereft of talent.  Quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh improved late in the 2008 season, but he’s got to prove that he can be more consistent and put touchdowns on the board.  A weak 2008 defense should regress even more in 2009, as the top four tacklers are gone.  The Redhawks will not compete in their out of conference part of the schedule with games against Kentucky (on a neutral field), at Boise State, at home against Cincinnati, and at Northwestern.  Home games with Bowling Green and Northern Illinois give Miami its best chance to avoid a winless season.

MAC West

Central Michigan: In a very competitive league, the Chippewas appear to be the top banana.  Quarterback Dan LeFevour should be the next big MAC passer to matriculate to the NFL.  To add to their riches, CMU has three excellent receivers in Antonio Brown, Bryan Anderson, and Kito Poblah.  The offensive line has to be rebuilt, but LeFevour gets rid of the ball quickly and can get out of the pocket and run the ball when needed.  Great running quarterbacks make it easier on a green offensive front.  Green is not a word to apply to the defense.  CMU returns 10 starters and 15 of their top 17 tacklers.  The Chippewas surrendered better than 30 points and 420 yards per game in 2008, and those numbers should improve by seven points and 40-50 yards.  CMU should easily top 30 points per game and maybe approach 40, so the Chippewas should dominate in the league in 2009.  CMU won’t be this year’s Ball State because their non-conference schedule includes games against Arizona, Michigan State, and Boston College all on the road.

Eastern Michigan: Yes, this is not a typo.  The Eagles could be a big surprise this year in the MAC.  New head coach Ron English knows a thing of two about defense, and EMU should improve just enough on the stop side to turn the close losses of last year into wins this year.  EMU’s offense will be considerably better this year, and the Eagles quietly gained almost 420 yards per game in 2008.  Quarterback Andy Schmitt has the talent to pass for 3,000 yards, and wide out Jacory Stone should top 1,000 yards in receptions.  Josh LeDuc could top all MAC tight ends in receptions and yardage, and he provides a nice target in the middle of the field.  We’re not ready to call EMU a contender in the West, but this team beat Central Michigan 56-52 in the regular season finale last year.  It wouldn’t surprise us if the Eagles post their first winning season since 1995, but they more than likely will come up just short due to a depth problem on the defensive side.

Western Michigan: A rebuilding defense that probably surrenders 425 yards and 28-35 points per game will keep WMU from seriously challenging CMU for the West title this year.  Offensively, The Broncos are not that far behind their rivals in Mt. Pleasant.  Quarterback Tim Hiller is just behind LeFevour in talent and should be on an NFL roster in 2010.  Hiller should top 4,000 yards passing if he stays healthy, and it wouldn’t surprise us if he reaches the 40 touchdown pass mark.  WMU has its best chance to upset Michigan when they kick off the season at The Big House.  If they win that one, the fans in Ann Arbor will be ready to reach out to Les Miles.  The Broncos host CMU on October 17, and if they can pull off the upset, then they have a chance to sneak away with the division title.  The trouble game for the Broncos could be the November 14 contest at Eastern Michigan, which follows a week after playing at Michigan State.

Ball State: The Cardinals enter the 2009 on a two-game losing streak and without the head coach who won led BSU from two to four to five to six to 12 wins.  New coach Stan Parrish owns one of the worst career coaching records on the FBS level, having gone 2-31-1 (2-9, 0-10-1, and 0-11) at Kansas State 20-plus years ago.  It won’t be his fault when the Cardinals regress to the lower half of the West standings.  Quarterback Nate Davis is gone after putting up even better numbers than LeFevour, and his replacement will be someone with zero experience.  Kelly Page will be seeing the wrong colored jersey in his face too many times, as the offensive line was shredded by graduation.  Star running back Miquale Lewis returns after rushing for 1,736 yards and 22 touchdowns last year, but we expect his yards per carry to drop from 5.4 to 4.5 or less.  Ball State should still post a winning record, but they will do so because they have the easiest non-conference schedule in the league.

Toledo: The Rockets break in a new coach in Tim Beckman.  Beckman inherits an experienced offensive line but the other side of the line needs some rebuilding.  Quarterback Aaron Opelt is the only reason why we don’t have the Rockets rated high enough to compete in the division.  TU should be able to consistently run the ball, but teams may frequently put eight defenders in the box to force the Rockets to beat them through the air.  After losing nine times in 2008, we expect Toledo to improve, but by no more than one game.  Their non-conference schedule does them no favors, as they open with Purdue on the road, host Colorado, face Ohio State in Cincinnati, and venture to Florida International, where they will render in the Florida steam.

Northern Illinois: This is a program that is about to head downhill in the short term.  First year coach Jerry Kill guided the Huskies to six wins and a bowl bid, but NIU lost too much on defense and just enough on offense to prevent improvement this year.  It all adds up to a possible overall last place finish in the MAC.  Cheer up Huskie fans; your team is really young with enough talent to be really good in two years.  For now, hope NIU takes care of business against Western Illinois and Idaho and finds a way to pull off a conference win at home.

Next up: A quick look at the Independents.  Can Charlie Weis keep the fans happy at Notre Dame?  Will Army finally beat Navy?

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June 6, 2008

A PiRate Look At The Belmont Stakes

A PiRate Extra

Belmont Stakes 140

7-June-2008

Belmont Park—Elmont, NY

Approximately 6:25 PM EDT

Television: ABC

Radio: ESPN Radio

Forecast Weather at Post-Time: Sunny and mid-80’s

 

That great purveyor of prose Yogi Berra once supposedly said, “It’s Déjà vu all over again.”  That’s the scary thought that has been going through my head about the Belmont Stakes.  Let’s look back at three famous winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown that failed to win the Belmont as prohibitive favorites—two of them were post 1978, the last year a horse won the Triple Crown.

 

In 1979, Spectacular Bid was even more of a heavy favorite than Big Brown is in 2008.  He went to post at 1-10 odds and was already considered to be better than any of the three Triple Crown winner in the 1970’s and maybe the best of all time.  Trainer Bud Delp was confident if not downright cocky enjoying his 15 minutes of fame.  For 20 days after the Preakness, Delp could be seen, heard, and read throughout the nation’s sports pages, television newscasts, and radio broadcasts.  The Bid had won a dozen consecutive races and most of them were not close, so there was no possibility of him losing the Belmont.  Until, that is, he stepped on a safety pin (or as some pundits believe trainer Ronnie Franklin rode the worst race in the history of the Belmont).  One way or the other, a long shot named Coastal pulled off the biggest upset since a horse name Upset pinned the lone loss on Man O’ War.  Coastal was the son of the great Majestic Prince.

 

Majestic Prince was and will always be my favorite horse.  I loved and idolized him the way kids idolize Michael Jordan, A-Rod, or Lebron James; he is the reason the sport of kings is my favorite sport.  Majestic Prince entered the 1969 Kentucky Derby having won all seven of his previous races.  In a year many believe to have been the strongest ever for thoroughbreds with Top Knight, Arts & Letters, and Dike competing against him, and the great Ack Ack waiting in the wings later in the summer, there was no way Majestic Prince or any of these other greats could possibly win the Triple Crown. 

 

The Prince won the Derby by coming from behind to edge Arts & Letters.  He repeated the feat at Pimlico two weeks later, but in the Preakness, he injured a tendon on his right front leg.  Trainer Johnny Longden, one of the best jockeys ever and rider of Triple Crown winner Count Fleet, was ready to pull Majestic Prince from the Belmont, as the horse weight and training time and was obviously not ready to run.  Because it had been 21 years since Citation had been the last Triple Crown winner, there was intense pressure from all sources for Majestic Prince to run.  That pressure plus Triple Crown Fever led owner Frank McMahon to overrule Longden and enter the Prince in the Belmont.

 

Majestic Prince trailed far behind for one mile of the Belmont as jockey Bill Hartack didn’t want to force the great, but ailing horse to stalk from just off the lead (the normal strategy for the horse).  In the final two furlongs, Majestic Prince made a move and passed three horses but couldn’t overtake Arts & Letters, losing by five lengths.  It was the Prince’s last race.

 

Let us fast forward to the year 1981.  A horse named Pleasant Colony was not undefeated entering the Kentucky Derby, but he was one for one under his new trainer, Johnny Campo.  Campo was a likeable loudmouth.  He was the quintessential New Yorker with a large opinion of his opinions.  He was never at a loss for words, and when his horse won the roses at Churchill Downs, Campo’s lips were the only thing that he exercised. 

 

Campo was a short and quite obese but hard-working trainer with a chip on his shoulders the size of his girth.  He made for great copy.  Members of the press would ask him one question and get enough information for two stories.  When Pleasant Colony won the Preakness, Campo was ready to give reporters enough verbiage to write a book the size of War and Peace.  He had a heated feud with commentator and hall of fame jockey Eddie Arcaro.

 

Pleasant Colony was a heavy favorite to win the Triple Crown, but a horse named Summing held off his late charge.  Pleasant Colony finished third, and Campo took his medicine but was gracious in defeat.

 

So here we are in 2008.  Big Brown has impressively won all of his prior races.  Trainer Rick Dutrow has been almost as controversial and loudmouthed as Delp and Campo.  Big Brown has suffered an injury that led to the possibility that he might not run.  However, after the now infamous quarter crack has supposedly healed, he has been deemed well enough to run.  Following a seemingly excellent workout at the track, all is apparently well with the newest “greatest horse of all time.”

 

Wednesday morning’s Belmont draw found the big favorite assigned to the number one post.  That’s not where Dutrow wanted his phenom to break.  To make matters worse, the chief rival, Casino Drive, drew the fifth post that Dutrow was hoping for.  To make matters even worse, the horse that drew the second post is a maiden who really doesn’t belong in this race.  All the cards are stacked against Big Brown.  At his current 2-5 odds, there is no value whatsoever in putting two bucks on him to win $2.80.

 

So, let’s take a look at the field and try to find value elsewhere.

   

 

The Horses

 

1-Big Brown: Morning Line Odds- 2-5/Jockey- Kent Desormeaux/Trainer- Rick Dutrow, Jr.

Most of the horse-racing fans throughout the world will be pulling for Big Brown to win the Triple Crown, and I will predict the bettors at Belmont Park and elsewhere will drive his odds down below the current 2-5.  The odds could even go to 1-10 by post time.  Many people will purchase two dollar tickets and hold them with the hopes that a never cashed ticket of a Triple Crown winner might one day be worth several times more than the $2.20 for which it could be cashed around 6:30 PM Saturday night.  As I have explained herein, I am not one for sentiment.  While I agree he is a super horse win or lose this race, I am not risking capital for such a small return.  He might win with ease, and he might do it in a manner similar to Secretariat, but $2.20 is just not enough reward here.  Horses can lose a race due to many factors beyond their jockey’s control.  All it takes is a little stumble, a bumping from another horse, or jockey’s error, and the greatest horses can be upset.  Kent Desormeaux has stated on record that he erred when he rode Real Quiet in the 1998 Belmont and narrowly lost a Triple Crown bid.  He took Real Quiet to the lead too early and vows not to do the same with Big Brown.  There is a possibility he could overcompensate and go for the lead too late.  We’ll have to wait and see, but there are place and show bets that will return far more money than $2.20 if Big Brown wins the race.

 

2-Guadalcanal: Morning Line Odds- 50-1/Jockey- Javier Castellano/Trainer- Fred Seitz

This horse has already run a race of 1 ½ miles, albeit on turf.  That’s the only good thing to say about him.  He is a maiden, and maidens don’t finish in the money in Triple Crown races.  He is a notorious slow starter coming out of the gate, and he has a history of getting involved with another horse in a bumping contest.  If he bumps Big Brown at the start, it could be the bump heard around the world.  He’s clearly out of his class here, and I wouldn’t consider him.

 

3-Macho Again: Morning Line Odds- 20-1/Jockey- Garrett Gomez/Trainer- Dallas Stewart

When was the last time the second place horse in the Preakness was 20-1 in the Belmont Morning Line?  Now, take into consideration that this horse gained in the stretch on Big Brown, and even though Big Brown was not asked to run all out, none of the other horses in the race gained 1¾ lengths.  New jockey Garrett Gomez should get a great trip coming out of the third post.  Look for Macho Again to make a game effort and possibly take the lead at some point after six furlongs.  Whether he can hold off a charge from two excellent horses, I don’t know, but he has as strong a chance of finishing third as any of the other contenders.  I’d highly consider putting Macho Again in your show betting and as part of your exacta and trifectas.

 

4-Denis of Cork: Morning Line Odds- 12-1/Jockey- Robby Albarado/Trainer- David Carroll

Here is a horse whose past performances scream for inclusion in some form of your wagers.  He will be racing on five weeks rest.  His pedigree screams for him to run at longer distances.  He only needs a hot pace to be considered a serious contender to hit the board and possibly pull off a big upset.  I’m not sure we’re going to see the opening quarter in less than 23 and change and the opening half in less than 46 and change.  It may be tough for him to make that one huge run in the final furlong and get a piece of the pot.  Still, you have to give him strong consideration in your wagering.

 

5-Casino Drive: Morning Line Odds-7-2/Jockey-Edgar Prado/Trainer-Kazuo Fujisawa

If this were a Western movie, this horse would come to the track with jockey Edgar Prado wearing the black hat.  Prado has already played the role of spoiler twice before, when he rode Sarava and Birdstone to upset wins in the Belmont, preventing War Emblem and Smarty Jones from winning the Triple Crown.  He has a stronger horse in this race than he had when he pulled off those upsets.  In the Peter Pan Stakes, Casino Drive ran the type of race that Big Brown likes to run.  He relaxed into a nice stalking position about two lengths off the pace and then made one tremendous move in the final quarter, running away from the field.  The one real weakness this horse has is little experience.  This will be just his third race.  Both of his previous races were at 1 1/8 miles, and there is no hard evidence that this horse can go 12 furlongs.  Still, he earned a 101 Beyer Speed Rating for his Peter Pan win, while Big Brown earned a 100 in the Preakness.  His odds may be as low as 5-2 by post time, but if they move to 4-1 or more, he becomes a value play.  Betting Big Brown and Casino Drive in a cold exacta may return little more than bus fare.  

 

 

6-Da’ Tara: Morning Line Odds- 30-1/Jockey-Alan Garcia/Trainer-Nick Zito

I don’t wager on horses with only a maiden win in their history in Triple Crown races.  Da’Tara broke his maiden in January at Gulfstream Park, finished third in a cheap allowance race, and then finished well back in the Florida Derby.  He is better than Guadalcanal, but that’s not saying much.

 

 

7-Tale of Ekati: Morning Line Odds-20-1/Jockey-Eibar Coa/Trainer-Barclay Tagg

I suspect this horse will eventually prove to be a capable sprinter.  I don’t believe distance racing is his strong point.  In the Louisiana and Kentucky Derbies, he was close to the lead entering the home stretch and faded.  He won the Wood Memorial when the opening fractions were ridiculously fast.  This won’t happen in the Belmont, and this horse will be forced to make his move at the same time Big Brown and Casino Drive make their move.  He’ll be left behind.

 

 

 

This horse has done absolutely nothing this year after looking strong as a two year old.  His four 2008 races resulted in finishes of eighth, seventh, fifth, and seventh.  I’d toss this one out, unless you plan on playing several long shots in your exotic wagers. 

8-Anak Nakal: Morning Line Odds- 30-1/Jockey- Julien Leparoux/Trainer- Nick Zito

9-Ready’s Echo: Morning Line Odds- 30-1/Jockey- John Velazquez/Trainer- Todd Pletcher

We have yet another horse eligible to race in no victories other than maiden allowance races, so he is supposed to be automatically tossed out.  He won’t win the race and won’t get any win wagers placed by me, but he just may be strong enough to contend for finishing in the money.  Ready’s Echo ran in the Peter Pan against Casino Drive, and while he finished 6¼ lengths back in third, he basically ran even with him in the final two calls after making up several lengths earlier in the race.  This horse has some intriguing factors working in his favor.  He should like the long distance, and he should be considered in your place, show, and exotic wagers.

 

10-Icabad Crane: Morning Line Odds- 20-1/Jockey-Jeremy Rose/Trainer- H. Graham Motion

He finished third in the Preakness and made up 1 ¼ lengths only after Big Brown wasn’t pushed in the final 220 yards.  Yet another stretch running horse who likes to come from off the pace, he should be forced to go wide when he makes his move.  He cannot afford to be more than three wide and have any chance to pass enough horses to hit the board.  I’ll pass on him.

 

My $100 Mythical Wager

 

I am not wagering at all on Big Brown in this race.  I am looking for better value.  I am also going to lay off Casino Drive, because I think Prado will go for the lead earlier than he can afford to do so, and Casino Drive will run out of gas and/or his odds will not be high enough for there to be betting value. 

 

On the other hand, I am not about to pick another horse to win this race.  I’m looking for long shots to hit the board in the second and third place slots.  At least one long shot is guaranteed to hit the board because there are just two low-priced horses in the race as of late Thursday night when I write this story.

 

There are three horses I like in this betting strategy—Macho Again, Denis of Cork and Ready’s Echo.  I like Macho Again and Ready’s Echo a little more than Denis of Cork, so here is how I am playing the Belmont.  I am putting $20 on Macho Again and Ready’s Echo to both place and show (4 wagers) and $20 on Denis of Cork to show.  I decided to avoid the exotics due to the high take on exotics at Belmont Park.  These wagers are still a bit risky, as I will need two of these horses to finish in the money in order to make a profit.  I think I have the three top long shots though, and I like my chances of two of them finishing in the money, if Casino Drive proves not to be up for the distance.   

 

The PiRate Team Makes Their Mythical $100 Wagers

 

Because I have to compose this story a day earlier than normal due to travel considerations, I had to ask my band of experts to submit their ideas a day earlier than normal as well.  Not all of them could participate this time, and the three who did could only submit their betting choices without commentary.  Here is how they see the race.

 

Walker Jones picks Big Brown, Casino Drive, and Ready’s Echo in that order.  His $100 wager includes a $60 exacta straight on Big Brown on top of Casino Drive; a $20 Trifecta with Big Brown on top of Casino Drive and Ready’s Echo; and a $20 Trifecta with Big Brown on top of Ready’s Echo and Casino Drive.

 

Wesley Kahnert picks Big Brown, Casino Drive, and Tale of Ekati to finish one-two-three.  His $100 wager includes $10 on Big Brown on top of each of the other nine horses and $2 each on Big Brown on top of Casino Drive and these five horses in a trifecta: Macho Again, Ready’s Echo, Denis of Cork, Icabad Crane, and Anak Nakal.

 

Boulder Bob picks a huge upset in this race.  He picks Ready’s Echo to win with Big Brown second and Da’Tara third.  His $100 wager includes $20 on Ready’s Echo to win, $30 on Ready’s Echo to place, and $50 on Ready’s Echo to show.

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

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.

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