The Pi-Rate Ratings

March 17, 2010

Brackets, Brackets, Brackets & A Preview Of The First Round

Question:  How many of you reading this are beginning to come down with some symptoms that will force you to call in sick for work the next two days?  Big Dance Fever seems to strike hard every year at this time.

Now that you are in your pajamas in bed with your TV set to CBS, your computer set to March Madness on Demand, and your brackets as your bed partner, you can begin your two day miraculous recovery.

Before you send off your bracket picks, take a look at the PiRate method for picking teams to advance.  You should re-read the Sunday, March 14, 2010 blog to better understand this method.

Without further adieu, let’s dig in.

1. Which teams meet the upper range criteria in every category?  That means they outscored their opponents by eight or more per game; their field goal percentage was greater than 7.5% better than their opponents; they outrebounded their opponents by five or more per game; they forced at least three more turnovers per game than they committed; and they stole the ball 7.5 or more times per game.

ANSWER—Only two teams met this criteria this year, and neither are members of a big six conference.  Murray State not only met all criteria, they met the upper limits.  The Racers outscored opponents by 17 points per game.  They had a field goal percentage margin of 11.7%.  They outrebounded opponents by six per game and forced 2.7 more turnover per game than they committed.  Best of all, Murray averaged 10 steals per game.  Their R+T was an outstanding 12.48.  Alas, Murray’s schedule strength was just 46.02, and that is too low to consider the Racers a threat to make it to the Elite 8.  Sweet 16 is not totally out of the question.

The second team that met this criteria, but not as well as Murray State, was Brigham Young.  The Cougars outscored opponents by 17.8 points per game.  They shot 7.9% from the field better than their opponents.  They outrebounded the opposition by 5.1.  Their turnover margin was 4.1.  They averaged 8.5 steals per game, and their R+T was an amazing 13.46.  BYU’s schedule strength was 52.52, which is adequate enough to see the Cougars as a serious threat to advance to the second week in this tournament.

2. Which teams can be immediately eliminated due to a negative R+T rating?

ANSWER—Usually upwards of 8-10 teams can be eliminated every season due to poor R+T ratings.  In the Big Dance, this rating, which measures the number of extra scoring opportunities, is vital to winning.  Only two teams can be eliminated right off the bat, and not many people would think of picking them to win any way.  Those two teams are New Mexico State and UC-Santa Barbara.

Several teams just barely qualified with R+T ratings just above zero.  Two of those that just qualified are top 20 teams.  Georgetown and Vanderbilt could be ripe for upset bids in either the first or second round. 

The Hoyas face Ohio U in the first round, and the Bobcats don’t have the merits to pull the upset.  In a second round match, Tennessee definitely meets the criteria to advance to the Sweet 16, so the Volunteers could be a strong pick to knock off Georgetown and advance to St. Louis.

Vanderbilt draws Murray State in the first round, and the Racers could easily pull off the first upset by a double-digit seed.  Murray would then face either Butler or UTEP in a second round game, and the Racers would have a legitimate chance to advance to the second week.

3. Forget all this talk of first round upsets.  Which teams are capable of winning it all?

ANSWER—We thought you’d never ask.  Every year when we compose these ratings, we apply the PiRate formula and look for teams scoring 15 or above to find the real contenders.  Because we have added won-loss record away from home this year, we have elevated that real contender number to 18.  17 teams met that criteria this year.  Before we list them in order, we must clarify something.  After the first two rounds, and after the second two rounds, we recalculate these ratings.  Some teams still alive will cease to meet the minimum score and no longer be considered a serious threat, while one or two teams might move into this elite group.

This year, one team fared much better than all the others.  Thus, that team becomes our favorite to win all the marbles in Indianapolis.

Is that team Kansas or Kentucky?  Guess what?  It is neither.  The one team that scores almost six points better than any other is none other than Duke.  Could Coach K be on his way to title number three in Durham?  We love his seeding, and we definitely see the Blue Devils winning their first four to earn a ticket to Indianapolis.  As a matter of fact, as we see it, the selection committee did several huge favors for the Blue Devils.  First, they get the winner of the play-in game, so they will have a great scouting report.  Of course, this game will be a breather.  On Sunday, Duke will play either Cal or Louisville, and it could actually be the toughest of their four games on the way to the Final Four.  Because Villanova and Purdue are fading as fast as the sun in Barrow, Alaska, in October, there’s a chance that both could be gone before the Sweet 16.

After Duke, six other teams scored 20 or more points in the criteria rating.  They are Kansas, Kansas State, BYU, Syracuse, West Virginia, and Baylor in that order.

Kentucky comes in at number eight, followed closely by New Mexico, Villanova, Michigan State, Maryland, Texas, Tennessee, Old Dominion, Murray State, and Georgetown.  Yes, the Hoyas still qualify as one of the real contenders, but just by a razor’s edge.  Their R+T score is rather low.

The best of the rest (those that just barely missed the 18-point score) are: Siena, Utah State, Washington, Ohio State, and Wisconsin.  These 22 teams are the ones that you should consider for your Sweet 16.

Here is a look at the 32 first round games.  The number in (parentheses) represents the PiRate Bracketnomics criteria number.

First-Round Games

 

East Regional

 

#1 Kentucky (19.8) vs. #16 East Tennessee (1.6)

This is your typical one vs. 16 mismatch.  Kentucky will not win by 50 like they might have in the days of Rick Pitino; they might outscore the Buccaneers by 20 points in two separate segments in this game and yet win by only 20 points.

The Wildcats will dominate the glass, and ETSU won’t be able to force enough turnovers to make this a game.  We see UK holding the Bucs to about 35% shooting and 60 or fewer points.

Prediction: Kentucky 74  East Tennessee 53

 

#8 Texas (19.0) vs. #9 Wake Forest (4.9)

The Longhorns were a big disappointment after being ranked at the top at 17-0 earlier in the year.  Looking at their stats, it’s definitely hard to see how they lost nine times in their final 16 games.

Texas just barely misses qualifying as superior in every PiRate Bracketnomics’ category.  They outscored opponents by 11.5 points per game, shot 6.7% from the field better than their opponents, finished +6.8 in rebounding and +1.1 in turnover margin, and they averaged 7.8 steals per game.  They compiled these stats playing in one of the two toughest leagues.

Wake Forest lost five of their final six games and fell several places in their seeding.  The Demon Deacons have a negative turnover margin, which is always a tough thing to overcome in the Big Dance.

This game should be interesting due to the fact that neither team is playing as well as they could.  We think Texas will play a little more cohesively in the opening round and survive and advance. 

Prediction: Texas 77  Wake Forest 72

 

#5 Temple (14.5) vs. #12 Cornell (10.2)

A lot of prognosticators are going with Cornell to become yet another 12-seed upset winner and even advance to the Sweet 16, becoming the first Ivy League team to make it that far since Penn lost to Duke in the Sweet 16 in 1980.

The Big Red earned the respect of the nation when they played at Kansas and lost by just five points.

This was Temple’s best team in years—maybe the best since 1988.  The Owls, as they have for decades, play tough defense on the perimeter, denying the ball from being passed inside and getting tight on three-point shooters.  They don’t force many turnovers, but they commit less than 11 per game. 

Cornell coach Steve Donahue was an assistant to Temple coach Fran Dunphy, so these coaches know what to expect in this game.  We’re going with this five-seed to avoid the upset.

Prediction: Temple 68  Cornell 60

 

#4 Wisconsin (16.1) vs. #13 Wofford (5.3)

The Badgers cannot take the Terriers lightly.  Wofford is another 13-seed team capable of pulling off an upset.  Expect 40 minutes of half-court offense with less than 130 total points scored.

Both teams tend to rely on one player to bear the scoring burden.  For Wisconsin, guard Trevon Hughes is the go-to guy.  For Wofford, forward Noah Dahlman is the key offensive threat.

It will be easier for Wisconsin to shut down Dahlman than Wofford to shut down Hughes, and Hughes has a little better quartet of teammates. 

Prediction: Wisconsin 63  Wofford 56

 

#6 Marquette (12.2) vs. #11 Washington (16.9)

This will be one game you will want to tune in if you have March Madness on Demand.  We think it will be very entertaining.

Marquette will move the ball around the perimeter and take a lot of threes.  If they hit 35% or better, they will be tough to beat.  However, the Golden Eagles are weak on the boards, and if those treys don’t fall, they cannot win.

Washington is not getting much respect coming out of the weak Pac-10.  The Huskies won their final seven games including the league tournament to earn an automatic berth here.  They can score points in bunches, and even though they are on the small side, they are the best rebounding team in the Pac-10.  That happens to be Marquette’s weakness.  That happens to be why UW will still be playing Sunday.

Prediction: Washington 82  Marquette 75

 

#3 New Mexico (19.6) vs. #14 Montana (3.2)

At first glance, this looks like another blowout that you see when a number three takes on a number 14.  However, Montana is not to be disregarded without a fight.  The Grizzlies found themselves down by more than 20 points to Weber State in the Big Sky Championship Game and came back to win.

Montana plays tough defense and works patiently for intelligent shots.  This style of play may be a bit boring, but it can be quite effective if the players stay within the frame of the philosophy.

New Mexico wins games through tough hustle.  The Lobos are tough on the boards, and they seldom turn the ball over more than a dozen times per game.  They can pose tough matchup problems for a lot of teams, because they can post up their guards and bring their forwards out high to shoot the three.  We’ll go with the Lobos to win, but it may be a lot more difficult than most people expect.

Prediction: New Mexico 72  Montana 63

 

#7 Clemson (12.3) vs. #10 Missouri (14.7)

This will be a helter-skelter game from start to finish.  These teams are both reliant upon forcing turnovers and converting them into fast break points.  We expect a lot of physical play with the referees letting a lot of contact go.

Missouri relies a little too much on its outside game, while Clemson has some inside presence.  In the Big Dance, the teams that can get offensive putbacks are usually the teams that survive and advance.  We don’t think Missouri will have an answer for Clemson forward Trevor Booker.

Prediction: Clemson 77  Missouri 72

 

#2 West Virginia (23.5) vs. #15 Morgan State (-0.2)

Morgan State has been here before.  The Bears lost to Oklahoma in the first round last year.  Coach Todd Bozeman likes for his team to move the ball up the floor quickly and bang it inside.  That might work in the MEAC, but this is not the MEAC.

West Virginia looks a little sloppy at times, and the Mountaineers don’t shoot the ball all too well, but they play tough defense and dominate on the boards.  WVU enters this tournament with a chip on its shoulder after flopping in the first round against Dayton last year.  Coach Bob Huggins’ squad has played in several nail-biters this year, and they should be ready to play.

Prediction: West Virginia 69  Morgan State 52

 

South Regional

#1 Duke (34.4) vs. #16 Arkansas Pine Bluff (-11.5)

Well, we blew the play-in game, but luckily that’s a Mulligan in bracket picking.

Duke will get a breather game in their opener.  The Blue Devils will apply pressure man-to-man defense and force the Golden Lions to commit numerous turnovers.  Duke’s big guys will repeatedly get offensive rebounds when the Blue Devils miss shots, and those players will clean the defensive glass as well.

UAPB should be fortunate that they won the play-in game.  They will give up more points in the first half of this game than they did in the entire game Tuesday night.

Prediction: Duke 87 Arkansas Pine Bluff 59

 

#8 California (11.4) vs. #9 Louisville (9.5)

Louisville beat Syracuse twice this year, but the Cardinals are not nearly as good this year as they were last year.   This UL team lacks the little something extra to advance very far in this tournament.

Cal won their first outright Pac-10 regular season title since Darrall Imhoff led the Bears to the National Championship Game against Ohio State in the 1959-60 season.  This edition of Bears is the polar opposite to that earlier version.  Cal is strictly a perimeter-oriented team that must shoot the ball well in order to win.

This one is a true tossup game.  It will be a contest of better offense vs. better defense.  Cal has to travel almost 3,200 miles, and the long trip could be their undoing.

Prediction: Louisville 72  California 68

 

#5 Texas A&M (12.7) vs. #12 Utah State (17.3)

This is one of those 5-12 games where the PiRate system shows the underdog to be the better team.  Utah State would be the outright favorite in this game if they played a little better defensively, especially on the perimeter.

Texas A&M played one of the toughest schedules in the nation, and the Aggies showed they could go head-to-head with them.  Their defense is tough, and the Aggies from Texas should hold the Aggies from Utah well below their scoring and shooting averages.  A&M doesn’t shoot the ball all that well, and this should be a close game.  We’ll go against the PiRate chalk and take the Big 12 team.

Prediction: Texas A&M 70  Utah State 66

 

#4 Purdue (15.4) vs. #13 Siena (17.8)

This year, we like the 13-seeds better than the 12-seeds as upset possibilities.  Purdue would probably have been a 10-seed or even missed the tournament altogether had Robbie Hummel been injured all season.  Without Hummel, the Boilermakers are not much better than your average NIT team.

Siena defeated Vanderbilt in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament and Ohio State in the first round last year.  The Saints may be a little better this year thanks to a balanced team.  Siena has four starters that can score 20 points on any given night.  They have an inside presence with Alex Franklin and Ryan Rossiter combining for more than 19 rebounds per game.  Throw in a +3 turnover margin, and the Saints get seven more scoring opportunities per game than their opposition. 

We will call the upset in this game, but we give a warning.  Star players have missed NCAA Tournament games in the past, and those starless teams found a way to win.  Loyola Marymount won three games in the Big Dance after Hank Gathers died.  Going back several years to 1965, Wichita State made it to the Final Four after losing their top two players to eligibility.

Prediction: Siena 70  Purdue 65

 

#6 Notre Dame (6.5) vs. #11 Old Dominion (18.8)

This should be an entertaining game with a lot of inside action.  Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody missed multiple games due to injury in February, and the Irish defense stepped up and did the job.  With the big forward back, the Irish are playing their best ball of the season.  While they finished the season winning just eight of their final 13 games, those five losses came by a combined nine points.

Old Dominion is one of those teams like Butler and St. Mary’s that big-six conference teams don’t want to play.  The Monarchs dominate on the boards and seldom give up a high-percentage shot. 

We look for this one to stay close throughout, and the difference could be which team has the better outside shooting day.  If one team has a decent enough outside shooting day to force defenses to stretch, their inside game will become too strong to lose.

While ODU has much better total numbers, we think Notre Dame will get the job done.

Prediction: Notre Dame 71  Old Dominion 66

 

#3 Baylor (21.39) vs. #14 Sam Houston St. (10.33)

Watch out for Baylor!  The Bears rate in that elite group of teams capable of getting to Indianapolis.  In the Bracketnomics Class blog, we mentioned that you needed to be alert for a team that shoots 48% from the field and allows only 38%.  Baylor is one of two teams that meet this criteria.

The Bears also dominate on the glass, and if it weren’t for a negative turnover margin, we would pick them as a Final Four team.  Some future opponent will exploit this liability and defeat them, but it won’t be Sam Houston.

The Bearkats are an interesting and fun team to watch play.  They begin firing threes the moment they enter the gym.  It won’t get the job done in this game.

Prediction: Baylor 81  Sam Houston 67

 

#7 Richmond (10.0) vs. #10 St. Mary’s (10.1)

This game could come down to pace.  If Richmond presses the tempo and makes this a maximum possession game, the Spiders will have a decided advantage.  Richmond needs to speed the game up to force St. Mary’s into unforced errors.

Seldom in the opening round of the tournament do we ever see a team consciously trying to speed up the game.  Nerves and uncertainty usually slow these games down until midway through the second half.

St. Mary’s will win this game if the total number of field goal attempts is 115 or less.  If the pace is average to below average, their seven-man rotation will be able to avoid fatigue.  Center Omar Samhan can control the lane in this game and give the Gaels a strong advantage inside.

Prediction: St. Mary’s 73  Richmond 67

 

#2 Villanova (19.5) vs. #15 Robert Morris(-2.9)

This game should be a mismatch, but it could take some time before the Wildcats pull away.  VU finished the regular season on a 4-6 slide, but the Wildcats lost five of those games to NCAA Tournament teams from their conference.

Once this game begins, we look for the Colonials to keep it within striking distance for a couple of time outs before Villanova slowly pulls away.

Prediction: Villanova 78  Robert Morris 63

 

Midwest Regional

 

#1 Kansas (28.7) vs. #16 Lehigh (0.22)

If there is a chance that one team will top 100 points in the first round without going into multiple overtimes, this game is the one.  Kansas will begin its march to the Final Four with a tune-up game. 

Lehigh will take 25 or more three-pointers in this game, but we believe the Jayhawk defense will force many bad shots from the outside.  KU will then score 1.3-1.5 points per possession.  We’re sorry if you get stuck with this game and cannot get another.

Prediction: Kansas 94  Lehigh 61

 

#8 UNLV (11.7) vs. #9 Northern Iowa (11.7)

How about this for tossup game status?  Not only is this an eight-nine game, their criteria scores are equal.

This game comes down to how well the Panthers can stop the Runnin’ Rebels outside shooting game.  We think UNI will be able to hold the UNLV backcourt of Tre’Von Willis, Oscar Bellfield, Anthony Marshall, and reserve Kendall Wallace under their norms.  At the same time, look for UNI brute center Jordan Eglseder and forward Adam Koch to dominate on the inside.  Combine that with a defense that fits the opponents’ offense like a glove, and we see the Missouri Valley team advancing.

Prediction: Northern Iowa 58  UNLV 53

 

#5 Michigan State (19.5) vs. #12 New Mexico St. (3.4)

We cannot see a 12-seed upset in this game.  The Aggies have a negative R+T rating, which means they typically allow more scoring opportunities than they create.  Against a seasoned NCAA Tournament team, one coming off a visit to the national title game, that won’t be the winning recipe.

Michigan State will win the rebounding battle by 10 or more in this game.  If the Spartans don’t turn the ball over 18 or more times, they will be comfortably ahead by the first TV timeout of the second half.

Guard Chris Allen is expected to return to action after serving a one-game suspension for arguing with the coaching staff.

Prediction: Michigan State 75  New Mexico State 62

 

#4 Maryland (19.5) vs. #13 Houston (1.9)

Houston got hot and won the CUSA tournament after being picked to contend for the conference championship and finishing in the middle of the pack.  The Cougars cannot rebound.  While Maryland is only so-so on the boards, the Terps will win this battle by at least five caroms.

Houston relies on putting pressure on the ball and trying to play in the passing lanes to get steals and force turnovers.  Maryland takes care of the ball and can exploit this type of defense.

Throw in the fact that the Terps play tough defense, and this one looks like a huge mismatch.  Maryland comes mighty close to qualifying for the special field goal percentage criteria.  They connect on 47.2% of their shots and hold opponents to 38.8%.

Prediction: Maryland 83  Houston 70

 

#6 Tennessee (18.9) vs. #11 San Diego State (15.6)

This has the makings of a good game between similar styles.  Tennessee likes to force turnovers and run the break for quick baskets.  In the half-court offense, they try to work the ball inside.  The Volunteers aren’t the best outside shooting team.

San Diego State plays like your typical Steve Fisher-coached team.  The Aztecs have a dominating inside game and hold a +6.7 rebounding edge over their opposition.  The Aztecs aren’t great three-point shooters either, but inside the arc, they shoot almost 55%.

Tennessee is mad at being lowered to a number six seed in a year where they knocked off Kansas and Kentucky, but the Vols went only 10-7 away from home.  They are primed to make a run to the Sweet 16 if the team has enough gas in the tank.

Prediction: Tennessee 72  San Diego State 65

 

#3 Georgetown (18.0) vs. #14 Ohio U (0.7)

This game is a mismatch similar to your typical 1-seed vs. 16-seed game.  Ohio should have been a lower seed.  The Bobcats finished below .500 in a weak MAC this year, and they have no chance against the Hoyas.

Georgetown is not as complete this year as in past seasons.  They are a definite upset possibility, but it won’t happen in this round.  The key to the Hoyas advancing to the Sweet 16 will be how much the regulars can rest in this one. 

Prediction: Georgetown 72  Ohio 59

 

#7 Oklahoma State (6.2) vs. #10 Georgia Tech (9.5)

A very strong Big 12 allowed the Cowboys to move up to a seven-seed, when their performance looks more like a 10-seed.  Georgia Tech belongs as a 10-seed, so this game should be close and exciting.

OSU is a hot and cold team that won’t be around next week.  They either hit from behind the arc or get beat. 

Georgia Tech isn’t a world-beater, but the Yellow Jackets play somewhat consistently.  They will control the boards in this game, but they are turnover prone.  OSU’s shot at winning hinges on how many times they can force Tech into floor mistakes.  We think they will come up a bit short, but this game should be 40 minutes of entertaining ball.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 72  Oklahoma State 68

 

#2 Ohio State (16.8) vs. #15 UCSB (-4.5)

The Buckeyes won 16 of their final 18 games including the regular season and tournament championship in the Big Ten.  Evan Turner is a mini-Magic Johnson.  He can do it all, and he deserves serious consideration for national player of the year.  He isn’t a one-man team, but the Buckeyes’ only liability is a lack of depth.  They go only seven deep, and the two key reserves don’t contribute all that much.

UCSB is one of the two teams that must be immediately eliminated due to a negative R+T rating.  Their stay in the Dance will last just one number, and they will feel like their rival cut in on them in the middle of the song.

Prediction: Ohio State 76  UCSB 54

 

West Regional

 

#1 Syracuse (23.6) vs. #16 Vermont (-3.8)

The ‘Cuse is primed for another run to the Final Four.  Except for a lack of depth, this team would be even with Duke and Kansas.  It won’t bother them in the first two rounds, as the Orange won’t be extended by pressure defense.

This is not the Vermont team of 2005 that actually won an opening round game.  This version of Catamounts is just happy to be here, and they will put up no fuss and wave bye-bye after 40 minutes of tournament action.

We expect Vermont to keep it close for maybe 8-12 minutes before Syracuse goes on a big run and puts this one away before the intermission.

Prediction: Syracuse 90  Vermont 64

 

#8 Gonzaga (13.4) vs. #9 Florida State (14.4)

We don’t believe this will be Gonzaga’s year to advance to the Sweet 16.  The Bulldogs don’t dominate on the glass and pick up nothing in turnover margin. 

This Florida State team reminds us a lot of the Seminole teams of Hugh Durham.  They play aggressive man-to-man defense and work the ball for intelligent shots. 

Gonzaga needs a good shooting effort every time in order to win, and the Seminoles hold opponents to just 37.4% from the field. 

Prediction: Florida State 67  Gonzaga 63

 

#5 Butler (14.2) vs. #12 UTEP (15.8)

This is a game that all five of us here would like to attend.  We think it will be the best of the 5-12 games, and it won’t be an upset if UTEP wins.  These teams are fairly even, and both are talented enough to advance to the second week.

If the question were, “which game has the best chance of going to overtime?” this game would receive strong consideration. 

We will go with the Miners to win a great game and become the favorite in the next round in a possible second classic matchup against another double-digit seed.  This is the 12-seed that has the best chance of pulling off the “upset.”  We don’t call a 50-50 game an upset.

Prediction: UTEP 79  Butler 77 in overtime

 

#4 Vanderbilt (11.2) vs. #13 Murray State (18.0)

Murray State rates as one of four teams not from a big six conference that we believe has the talent to make it to the Sweet 16.  The Racers are actually the most complete team in the tournament and best fit the criteria to go to the Final Four, but their schedule strength lowers their criteria out of that rarified air.

Murray outscores their opponents by 17 points per game.  They shoot better than 50% from the field, and they allow only 38.6% shooting on defense.  They control the boards with a +6.0 margin, and they force more than 17 turnovers per game with 10 steals per game.

Vanderbilt was a fatigued team down the stretch, closing 8-5 after opening 16-3.  In that last 13 games, they outscored their opponents by just two per game.  The Commodores just barely avoid being eliminated from consideration with an R+T of 0.6.  They outrebound their opponents by 0.7 per game and have a slightly negative turnover margin.  They rely too much on free throw shooting, and fouls are not called as frequently in the Big Dance.

We look for this to be a great game, but we’re going with another #13 seed to pull off the upset.

Prediction: Murray State 75  Vanderbilt 69

 

#6 Xavier (15.1) vs. #11 Minnesota (10.4)

Morgan State, Butler, Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Purdue are a good list of teams in the Big Dance.  Minnesota owns wins over these seven Samurais.  Xavier doesn’t have a showcase win this year, and the Musketeers are not as tough as they have been in recent seasons.

Tubby Smith’s teams always play well in the Big Dance, while this is the first go around for Xavier coach Chris Mack.  In yet another mild upset, we believe Minnesota will advance to the second round.

Prediction: Minnesota 69  Xavier 66

 

#3 Pittsburgh (8.7) vs. #14 Oakland (4.3)

For those of you who believe the Selection Committee tries to put certain teams together, you might not see the irony in the pairing of these two teams.  First, Oakland is not from California.  The Golden Grizzlies are from Rochester, Michigan.  Pittsburgh is located in the Oakland suburb of the Steel City.  So, when we say the team from Oakland will win the game, we aren’t talking about the Golden State Warriors, and we’re not talking about the team with the word “Oakland” on their jerseys.

This is not the year for the Panthers.  Their numbers aren’t all that good, and they will not advance to the Elite 8 this year.  However, they will cruise in the opening round after maybe facing a struggle through the first couple of TV timeouts.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 67  Oakland 58

 

#7 BYU (24.5) vs. #10 Florida (10.5)

Many prognosticators are calling for the Gators to pull the small upset in the opening round, but we cannot see it happening.

BYU ranks along with Murray State as having the most complete criteria components in the tournament.  The Cougars outscore their opposition by nearly 18 per game.  They do tend to rely on a lot of foul shooting and three-point shots, but BYU also gets a lot of easy baskets via the fast break and secondary offense.  Their R+T rating is a whopping 13.5, as they own a +5.1 rebounding margin, +4.1 turnover margin, and pick off 8.5 passes per game.  Since they have a shooting percentage of 48.6%, they will score a lot of points.

Florida returns to the Big Dance for the first time since they won their second consecutive national title in 2007.  This team is lacking what those two champions had—a dominating inside game.  Center Vernon Macklin is capable of putting up decent numbers, but the Gators rely on perimeter players Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton to get the job done.  Walker is just 5-8, and he will have a tough time against the tall and lanky BYU guards.

Look for Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery to outduel the Florida guards, and the Cougars will prevail in a fast-paced game.

Prediction: BYU 85  Florida 77

 

#2 Kansas State (25.9) vs. #15 North Texas (-3.22)

After Duke, Kansas State may have drawn the best possible bracket.  The Wildcats have the talent to win this regional and possibly set up a fourth game with their in-state rival in the National Semifinal. 

This will be a fun team to watch.  Kansas State coach Frank Martin is a combination of Al McGuire and Bobby Knight with a little Bob Huggins thrown in.  He’s the coach most likely to implode or spontaneous combust during a game.  His antics are working this year, and his players respond by playing like their life is on the line.

North Texas will get killed on the boards in this game, and they don’t have a ball-hawking defense to even it out with a great turnover margin.  Unlike conference rival Western Kentucky, the Mean Green will not carry on the Sunbelt Conference’s recent success in the tourney.

Prediction: Kansas State 82  North Texas 65

 

Our Bracket

 

You have seen the 32 teams we believe will win the first round games.  Here is how we fill out the rest of our bracket.

Second Round Winners

 

Kentucky over Texas in a close game

Wisconsin over Temple

New Mexico over Washington

West Virginia over Clemson

Duke over Louisville

Texas A&M over Siena

Baylor over Notre Dame

Villanova over St. Mary’s

Kansas over Northern Iowa

Michigan State over Maryland in a great game

Tennessee over Georgetown

Ohio State over Georgia Tech

Syracuse over Florida State

UTEP over Murray State

Minnesota over Pittsburgh

Kansas State over BYU in a thriller

Sweet 16 Winners

Kentucky over Wisconsin

West Virginia over New Mexico

Duke over Texas A&M

Baylor over Villanova

Kansas over Michigan State but a fantastic upset bid

Ohio State over Tennessee

Syracuse over UTEP

Kansas State over Minnesota

Elite 8 Winners

West Virginia over Kentucky

Duke over Baylor

Kansas over Ohio State

Kansas State over Syracuse

Semifinal Winners

 

Duke over West Virginia

Kansas State over Kansas (The Wildcats finally beat KU in their fourth try)

National Championship

 

Duke over Kansas State

Might Coach K pull a John Wooden and announce his retirement after winning the semifinal game?  Might he be tempted to take a very large pay raise to coach the Nets for a year or two and then enjoy real retirement like his mentor The General is enjoying?

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March 2, 2010

And They’re Off…

Let’s Start The Partying

 

It may feel like it’s mid-January in most of the nation, but the calendar doesn’t lie.  It’s time to start the sports reality show called “Big Dancing With The Stars; Trying Not To Be The Biggest Loser.”  Yes, the conference tournaments begin to tip-off tonight.

15 conferences begin tournament play in the next four days.  Let’s take a look at the brackets.

America East Conference

Site: Hartford, CT until the Championship Game.  Championship Game on the home court of the higher seed.

Late Note:#5 seed Binghamton has withdrawn from the conference tournament, making this an 8-team tournament that will now begin Saturday.

Saturday, March 6

G1-#1 Stony Brook (21-8) vs. #9 Albany (7-24)

G2-#4 Boston U (17-12) vs. #6 Hartford (8-21)

G3-#2 Vermont (22-9) vs. #8 Maryland-Balt. Co. (4-25)

G4-#3 Maine (19-10) vs. #7 New Hampshire (12-16)

Sunday, March 7

G5-Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner

G6-Game 3 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner

Saturday, March 13

Game 6 Winner vs. Game 7 Winner at higher seed’s home court

Boston U is the hot team as tournament play begins.  The Terriers have an easy first round game thanks to Binghamton pulling out.  Look for a very interesting semifinal match between BU and Stony Brook.

Look for New Hampshire to give Maine a great game and have a great shot at the upset.  Beating Vermont in the next round won’t happen.  The Catamounts have a clear path to the title game, and if Boston can upset Stony Brook, Vermont would host the title game.

Atlantic Sun Conference

Site: Macon, GA

Wednesday, March 3

G1-#1 Lipscomb (17-12) vs. #8 Kennesaw St. (12-19)

G2-#2 Jacksonville (18-11) vs. #7 North Florida (13-17)

Thursday, March 4

G3-#3 Belmont (19-11) vs. #6 Mercer (14-16)

G4-#4 Campbell (19-10) vs. #5 East Tennessee (17-14)

Friday, March 5

Game 1 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner

Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner

Saturday, March 6

Semifinal Winners

Lipscomb won its last four games to earn a four-way tie for first.  The Bisons got the top-seed based on head to head results against the other three teams.  Their path to the championship game is not an easy one.  In the opening round, they face a Kennesaw team that gave them fits in both games, earning a split.  

Campbell has the most complete game of any team in this tournament, and they could be the team to beat from their number four seeding.  They also split with Lipscomb, and a possible semifinal match with the Bisons could be the game of the tournament.

Belmont and Jacksonville should handle their first round opponents, and in a semifinal match, the Dolphins have the upper hand when matching up.  A Jacksonville-Campbell final game would be interesting.  Both teams defended their home court in the regular season, winning by double digits.

Big Sky Conference

Site: All games played at higher seed

Saturday, March 6

#6 Portland State (12-17) at #3 Montana State (15-13)

#5 Northern Arizona (14-13) at #4 Montana (19-9)

Tuesday, March 9

Lower Remaining Seed at #1 Weber State (19-9)

Higher Remaining Seed at #2 Northern Colorado (24-6)

Wednesday, March 10

Lower Remaining Seed at Higher Remaining Seed

 

Big South Conference

Site: Quarterfinals at higher seed/Semifinals at Coastal Carolina/Finals at higher seed

Tuesday, March 2

G1-#8 VMI (10-18) at #1 Coastal Carolina (26-5)

G2-#7 Charleston Southern (13-16) at #2 Radford (18-11)

G3-#6 Liberty (15-15) at #3 Winthrop (16-13)

G4-#5 High Point (15-14) at #4 UNC-Asheville (14-15)

Thursday, March 4 (at Coastal Carolina)

Game 1 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner

Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner

Friday, March 5

Lower Remaining Seed at Higher Remaining Seed

The top two teams are clearly the two best in this league, as they dispenses of all the competition coming down the stretch.  Radford has a dominating inside player capable of causing matchup problems for a good team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  Keep an eye on Art Parakhouski, a 6-11 hulk from Belarus.  He makes Radford the favorite to meet Coastal Carolina for a great rubber match worth watching.

Colonial Athletic Association

Site: Richmond, VA

Friday, March 5

G1-#8 Towson (9-20) vs. #9 UNC-Wilmington (9-21)

G2-#5 Va. Commonwealth (20-8) vs. #12 Delaware (7-23)

G3-#7 Hofstra (18-13) vs. #10 Georgia State (12-19)

G4-#6 Drexel (16-15) vs. #11 James Madison (12-19)

Saturday, March 6

G5-#1 Old Dominion (23-8) vs. Game 1 Winner

G6-#4 George Mason (17-13) vs. Game 2 Winner

G7-#2 Northeastern (19-11) vs. Game 3 Winner

G8-#3 William & Mary (20-9) vs. Game 4 Winner

Sunday, March 7

Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner

Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner

Monday, March 8

Semifinal Winners

There’s decent parity in this league, and any of the top seven seeds could emerge the victor.  Hofstra is the hottest team in the league, having finished the regular season with six consecutive wins and nine out of ten, including a double digit win at Northeastern.

Old Dominion has a road win against Georgetown this year, and the Monarchs would be a bubble team if they lost in the semifinals or finals.

Horizon League

Site: 1st Round at Higher Seed/All Others at Indianapolis

Tuesday, March 2

G1-#10 Youngstown (8-21) at #3 Green Bay (20-11)

G2-#9 Illinois-Chicago (8-21) at #4 Milwaukee (18-13)

G3-#8 Loyola (Chi) (14-15) at #5 Cleveland St. (15-16)

G4-#7 Detroit (18-13) at #6 Valparaiso (15-16)

Friday, March 5

G5-Game 1 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner

G6-Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner

Saturday, March 6

Butler (26-4) vs. Game 6 Winner

Wright St. (19-11) vs. Game 5 Winner

Tuesday, March 9

Semifinal Winners

It’s all about Butler in this tournament.  The Bulldogs are going dancing win or lose, but they could move up to a number three seed by winning on March 9.  Detroit is the only team that gave Butler any trouble this year, so it could become interesting if the Titans beat Valpo, Green Bay, and Wright State to make it to the finals.

M A A C

Site: Albany, NY

Friday, March 5

G1-#7 Canisius (14-16) vs. #10 Marist (1-28)

G2-#8 Loyola (Md) (13-16) vs. #9 Manhattan (10-19)

Saturday, March 6

G3-#1 Siena (24-6) vs. Game 2 Winner

G4-#2 Fairfield (20-9) vs. Game 1 Winner

G5-#3 Iona (21-9) vs. #6 Niagara (17-14)

G6-#4 St. Peter’s (16-13) vs. #5 Rider (16-15)

Sunday, March 7

Game 3 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner

Game 4 Winner vs. Game 5 Winner

Monday, March 8

Semifinal Winners

Siena’s resume does not allow them a Mulligan in this tournament.  The Saints have no signature wins, and they got their hat handed to them in the Bracketbuster game against Butler.  Siena has to win this tournament or it’s the NIT for them this year.

Fairfield gave Siena two close ballgames this year, and it could be hard for the Saints to beat the Stags three times.  

Iona is flying under the radar.  The Gaels won nine in a row in midseason, and they have the talent to make it to Monday night’s game.

Missouri Valley Conference

Site: St. Louis (Arch Madness)

Thursday, March 4

G1-#7 Missouri State (19-11) vs. #10 Evansville (9-20)

G2-#8 Drake (13-18) vs. #9 Southern Illinois (15-14)

Friday, March 5

G3-#1 Northern Iowa (25-4) vs. Game 2 Winner

G4-#2 Wichita State (23-8) vs. Game 1 Winner

G5-#3 Illinois State (21-9) vs. #6 Indiana St. (17-13)

G6-#4 Creighton (16-14) vs. #5 Bradley (15-14)

Saturday, March 6

Game 3 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner

Game 4 Winner vs. Game 5 Winner

Sunday, March 7

Semifinal Winners

Northern Iowa won the regular season title by three games, but don’t consider the Panthers an overwhelming favorite.  A good case could be made for any of the top five teams, and nobody wants to play Ninth-seeded Southern Illinois.

This will be a great tournament, and you should make it a point to watch these games if you have access. 

UNI is a pretty safe bet to garner an at-large bid if they don’t win the automatic bid.  Wichita State was once in the discussion for an at-large bid after a 16-2 start, but the shockers finished 7-6.

Northeast Conference

Site: All Games Played at Higher Seed

Thursday, March 4

G1-#8 Monmouth (12-18) at #1 Quinnipiac (21-8)

G2-#7 Cent. Connecticut (12-17) at #2 Robert Morris (20-11)

G3-#6 St. Francis (Pa) (11-18) at #3 Mt. St. Mary’s (15-14)

G4-#5 Fairleigh Dickinson (11-20) at #4 Long Island (13-16)

Sunday, March 7

Game 1 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner at higher seed

Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner at higher seed

Wednesday, March 10

Semifinal Winners at higher seed

Rarely is the number three seed considered the favorite, but in the NEC, Mt. St. Mary’s must be considered just that.  The Mountaineers won their final 10 games, which included victories over the two top seeds.  MSM has been in the tournament title game the last two years, winning in 2008.  Point Guard Jeremy Goode cut down on his turnovers down the stretch and played more like he was capable of playing.  Look for the 5-9 hotshot to play his best and guide the Mountaineers back to the Championship Game, where they are liable to face Quinnipiac.

Bobcat star James Feldeine was held to just four points in the last meeting with MSM; he will be ready for blood in a title match.

Ohio Valley Conference

Site: 1st Round at higher seed/All Others at Nashville

Tuesday, March 2

G1-#8 Tennessee State (9-22) at #1 Murray State (27-4)

G2-#7 Jacksonville St. (11-18) at #2 Morehead St. (21-9)

G3-#6 Tennessee Tech (14-16) at #3 Austin Peay (17-14)

G4-#5 East. Kentucky (20-11) at #4 East. Illinois (18-11)

Friday, March 5

Game 1 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner

Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner

Saturday, March 6

Semifinal Winners

Murray State won 27 games during the regular season, but even if the Racers lose in the title game, they will fall to the NIT.

Morehead State is the defending OVC Champion, and the Eagles have the league’s top player in Kenneth Faried (16.8 ppg/13.0 rpg).  Morehead won 17 of 20 down the stretch including a win over Murray St.

Austin Peay is always a force to be reckoned with in this tournament.  The Governors have been a regular in the championship round.

Patriot League

Site: All Games Played at Higher Seed

Wednesday, March 3

G1-#8 Army (14-14) at #1 Lehigh (19-10)

G2-#7 Holy Cross (8-21) at #2 Bucknell (14-16)

G3-#6 Colgate (10-18) at #3 Lafayette (17-12)

G4-#5 Navy (13-16) at #4 American (10-19)

Sunday, March 7

Game 1 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner at Higher Seed

Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner at Higher Seed

Friday, March 12

Semifinal Winners at Higher Seed

A month ago, Bucknell stood at 6-14 and looked like a possible 20-game loser.  The Bison turned it around and rebounded to go 8-2 down the stretch with a win over Lehigh.  One of the two losses was also to Lehigh, so this does not make Bucknell the favorite.

There is no clear-cut favorite in this league.  In fact, sixth-seeded Colgate has been playing as well an any team as the tournament opens.  The Raiders had Lehigh on the ropes a couple weeks ago before falling short at the end.

Southern Conference

Site: Charlotte

Friday, March 5

G1-#3N Chattanooga (14-17) vs. #6S Ga. Southern (9-22)

G2-#4N UNC-Greensboro (7-22) vs. #5S Furman (13-16)

G3-#3S Davidson (16-14) vs. #6N Elon (8-22)

G4-#4S Citadel (15-15) vs. #5N Samford (11-19)

Saturday, March 6

G5-#1N Appalachian St. (20-11) vs. Game 4 Winner

G6-#1S Wofford (23-8) vs. Game 2 Winner

G7-#2N Western Carolina (21-10) vs. Game 3 Winner

G8-#2S Charleston (20-10) vs. Game 1 Winner

Sunday, March 7

Game 5 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner

Game 6 Winner vs. Game 7 Winner

Monday, March 8

Semifinal Winners

With Davidson just a middle of the pack team, the Socon Tournament becomes a wide-open race.  The top four seeds all have the talent to run the table, but Wofford must be considered the favorite.  The Terriers won their final 10 games and 19 of 21, after starting 4-6.

Keep an eye on College of Charleston.  Coach Bobby Cremins has talent at the guard spot, and he knows how to get to the Big Dance.

Summit League

Site: Sioux Falls, SD

Saturday, March 6

G1-#1 Oakland (23-8) vs. #8 Mo.-Kansas City (12-17)

G2-#2 I U P U I (22-9) vs. #7 Western Illinois (13-16)

Sunday, March 7

G3-#3 Oral Roberts (19-12) vs. #6 N. Dakota St. (11-17)

G4-#4 S. Dakota St. (14-15) vs. #5 I P F W (15-14)

Monday, March 8

Game 1 Winner vs. Game 4 Winner

Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner

Tuesday, March 9

Semifinal Winners

Oakland’s path to the Championship Game is not all that easy.  Last place UMKC was no pushover, and the Grizzlies didn’t win all that convincingly in the regular season.  A possible semifinal match with the host team, South Dakota State, will be even harder.  The Jackrabbits have the best backcourt in the league, but they are a little weak inside.  That’s where Oakland is strongest with 6-11 center Keith Benson, the league’s top player.

IUPUI won 12 of its final 14 games and blew Oakland off the floor by 24 points.  The Jaguars have an easier path to the title game.

Sunbelt Conference

Site: Hot Springs, AR (in two separate gyms)

Saturday, March 6

G1-#4 Western Kentucky (19-12) VS. #13 New Orleans (8-21)

G2-#5 Arkansas St. (16-13) vs. #12 Ark.-Little Rock (8-21)

G3-#6 Denver (17-12) vs. #11 Florida Int’l (7-24)

G4-#7 UL-Lafayette (13-16) vs. #10 UL-Monroe (11-18)

G5-#8 Fla. Atlantic (14-15) vs. #9 South Alabama (16-14)

Sunday, March 7

G6-#1 Troy (18-11) vs. Game 5 Winner

G7-#2 North Texas (21-8) vs. Game 4 Winner

G8-#3 Middle Tennessee (19-12) vs. Game 3 Winner

G9-Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner

Monday, March 8

Game 6 Winner vs. Game 9 Winner

Game 7 Winner vs. Game 8 Winner

Tuesday, March 9

Semifinal Winners

The top four seeds enter this tournament on high notes, but none are higher than Western Kentucky.  The Hilltoppers went 7-7 during the 14-games missed to injury by beefy forward Sergio Kerusch.  WKU defeated Vanderbilt, Murray State, and Mississippi State in the pre-conference schedule, and they could be headed back to the Big Dance for the third year in a row, as they ride a six-game winning streak entering the tournament.

North Texas comes into this tournament on an eight-game winning streak.  The Mean Green edged WKU in overtime during the time Kerusch was out.

Arkansas State is coming into this tournament as a darkhorse, but watch out for Red Wolves.  Former LSU coach John Brady’s squad swept North Texas; both wins were by double digits.  

West Coast Conference

Site: Las Vegas

Friday, March 5

G1-#5 Loyola Marymount (16-14) vs. #8 Pepperdine (7-23)

G2-#6 San Diego (10-20) vs. #7 Santa Clara (11-20)

Saturday, March 6

G3-#3 Portland (19-9) vs. Game 2 Winner

G4-#4 San Francisco (12-17) vs. Game 1 Winner

Sunday, March 7

Gonzaga (24-5) vs. Game 4 Winner

St. Mary’s (24-5) vs. Game 3 Winner

Monday, March 8

Semifinal Winners

For once, this is a three-team race.  Gonzaga swept St. Mary’s and Portland and will more than likely have to face one of the two for the championship.  It’s hard to beat a good team three times in a row, but the Bulldogs have the talent to do so.

St. Mary’s and Portland split a pair of really tight games, so there is no clear cut favorite if they meet in the Semifinals.  The Gaels benefit from getting an extra day off.

If any team from the first day of play has a chance, it is Loyola Marymount.  The Lions beat Gonzaga and Portland in February.  First year coach Max Good took a team picked to be last in the league and brought them home at 7-7 in WCC play.

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