The Pi-Rate Ratings

January 27, 2012

PiRate Ratings NCAA Basketball Report for January 28, 2012

Welcome back to College Basketball PiRate style.  We have a unique way of looking at the NCAA Tournament, and as March approaches, we will review what we call Bracketnomics.  Until then, we will concentrate on focusing in on the teams that are in contention for an NCAA berth.

 

In this week’s preview, we will focus on the low-major conferences.  In most years, these leagues would have no shot at sending multiple teams to the Big Dance.  However, that is not an impossible task this year.

 

Before we get to each of the 16 low-major conferences, let’s take a look at which low and mid-major teams appear in the top 50 in the RPI rankings (as of Friday, January 27, 2012).

 

There are 14 teams on the list.  Creighton, Southern Mississippi, and Gonzaga all appear in the second ten, and these teams would appear to be safe at-large teams if they do not win automatic bids.

 

San Diego State, Wichita State, Murray State, and St. Mary’s all have RPIs in the 20’s.  If these four teams continue to play at the same pace, they should have no trouble getting at-large bids as well.

 

Long Beach State, Oral Roberts, Davidson, Middle Tennessee, Harvard, Northern Iowa, and Iona have RPIs in the 40’s.  They need to improve on their resumes in order to be under consideration for at-large bids.

 

Here is our look at the bottom 16 conferences.

 

America East (definite 1-bid conference)

Stony Brook 8-1  13-7

Boston U. 7-2  11-12

Vermont 6-2  12-10

 

Stony Brook defeated Boston last night to take a one game lead over the Terriers.  BU had defeated Stony Brook two weeks earlier in the first contest.

 

Stony Brook is led by blue-collar worker Tommy Brenton.  He does all the dirty work—gets rebounds, makes great passes, and plays excellent defense.

 

Boston U has a big scorer in Darryl Partin, who averages 20 points per game.  D. J. Irving sets him up with crisp passes.  Irving scores 12 points per game and dishes out 5.5 assists per contest.

 

Atlantic Sun (definite 1-bid conference)

Belmont 7-2  14-7

Mercer 7-2  15-7

USC Upstate 7-3  13-9

 

Belmont defeated Mercer earlier this year, so the Bruins technically are in first place.  This Belmont team is not as good as last year’s 30-win squad, but they cannot be overlooked.  Belmont lost by one at Duke.

 

Seven teams are within two games of first in this league, so the conference tournament should be quite interesting. 

 

Big Sky (definite 1-bid conference)

Weber State 8-0  16-3

Montana 7-1  14-6

Montana St. 6-2  11-8

 

Weber State wins games at the free throw line.  The Wildcats lead the nation in free throw percentage at better than 80%, and they have a chance to break the all-time single season mark.  Two Wildcats, Damian Lillard and Scott Bamforth, average better than 90% from the line.  Lillard leads the Big Sky in scoring at 25 points per game.

 

The Wildcats have won 10 games in a row, outscoring opponents by an average of 80.1 to 62.5.

 

Big South (definite 1-bid conference)

UNC-Asheville 10-1  15-7

Coastal Carolina 8-2  15-5

Campbell 8-3  14-9

Charleston Southern 7-3  13-7

V M I 6-5  11-10

 

UNCA is a scoring machine.  The Bulldogs average 83 points per game and shoot close to 50% per game.  They have a great two-man tandem in Matt Dickey and J. P. Primm.  Both average 16 points per game and make it tough for opposing backcourts to matchup.

 

Coastal Carolina has a better inside game and could be the better NCAA Tournament team if they can get there.  CCU owns wins over LSU and Clemson.

 

Big West (possible 2-bid conference)

Long Beach St. 8-0  15-6

 

The 49ers have a 2 ½-game lead over Cal State Fullerton and UCSB.  LBSU defeated Pitt and Xavier and lost close games to San Diego State, Louisville, North Carolina, and Kansas.  The 49ers have three star players capable of starting in big conferences.  T. J. Robinson averages a double-double.  Casper Ware and Larry Anderson make the league’s best guard tandem.  Should LBSU win the regular season title with no or just one conference loss, the 49ers could still get into the Big Dance if they lost in the finals of the Big West Tournament.

 

Ivy League (possible 2-bid conference)

Harvard 3-0  17-2

Penn 2-0  10-9

Yale 2-1  12-5

Princeton 1-1  10-8

 

Harvard trounced Yale last night in New Haven by 30 points.  The Crimson have an RPI rating in the 40’s, and they might have a shot at an at-large bid if they finished tied for first in the Ivy at 13-1 and lost in a conference playoff. 

 

Penn and Princeton are always threats to run off a string of conference victories, but we believe that this is Tommy Amaker’s year in Boston.  Harvard has a win over Florida State.

 

M A A C (possible 2-bid conference)

Iona 8-2  16-5

Loyola (MD) 8-2  15-5

Manhattan 8-2  15-7

 

All three co-leaders won last night.  Iona has the best resume to date, and with an RPI in the high 40’s, the Gaels are on the cusp of at-large status.  They lead the nation in assists per game with 20, and they shoot almost 50% from the field.  They own a 26-point win over Maryland, and they lost by one to Purdue.

 

M E A C (definite 1-bid conference)

Norfolk State  7-0  15-6

Bethune-Cookman 6-1  9-12

Savannah St. 5-2  10-10

 

Norfolk State may be the best MEAC team in the last five years.  They lost by just two points to Marquette earlier this year, and at 15-6, they have a good shot at winning 20 regular season games.  The Spartans must play at Bethune-Cookman in the only meeting of the top two teams.

 

Kyle O’Quinn averages 16 points and 10 rebounds per game, and he shoots 59% from the field.  O’Quinn stands a great chance of winning league MVP honors.

 

N E C (definite 1-bid conference)

Long Island 8-1  14-7

Wagner 7-2  16-4

Robert Morris 7-2  16-6

St. Francis NY 7-2  10-10

 

Long Island is not as good this year as last, but the Blackbirds are still the class of the league.  LIU swept Wagner already, so the Blackbirds would have to lose twice for Wagner to have any chance to win the regular season title.

 

LIU still has three top notch stars.  Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere team for 33 points and 17 boards per game, while Jason Brickman averages six assists per game.

 

Wagner defeated Pittsburgh, Penn, and Princeton this year, so the Seahawks might be a better matchup for a major conference opponent in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Ohio Valley (possible 2-bid league)

Murray State 8-0  20-0

 

The Racers have moved up to number nine in the nation, the first OVC team to crack the Top 10 since Western Kentucky was a member in the early 1970’s.  The last undefeated team in the nation has a small chance of running the table in the regular season.

 

The Racers are winning games with excellent outside shooting, where they average 42% from behind the arc.  Isaiah Canaan is the best of those outside shooters, hitting 47% three pointers and 18.7 points per game.

 

Patriot League (definite 1-bid league)

Bucknell 6-0  16-6

Lehigh 4-2  16-6

 

Bucknell may not be strong enough to pull off an epic upset in the first round of the Big Dance, but the Bison will be a tough out in the first round.  They lost by 12 to both Minnesota and Vanderbilt and lost by 19 to Syracuse.  The Bison have won eight games in a row.

 

Southern (possible 2-bid league)

North

Elon 5-3  10-9

UNC-Greensboro 5-4  7-14

 

South

Davidson 9-0  15-4

 

Davidson could possibly earn an at-large bid if the Wildcats failed to earn an automatic bid.  The Wildcats won at Kansas.

 

Southland (definite 1-bid league)

East

Northwestern State 4-2  11-9

McNeese State 4-2  8-10

 

West

UT-Arlington 6-0  14-5

UT-San Antonio 5-1  13-7

 

UT-Arlington has won 10 games in a row after beginning the season at 4-5.  They lost to Baylor by 10 points.  UTA has excellent depth for a low-major team.

 

S W A C (definite 1-bid league)

Mississippi Valley State 7-0  8-11

Southern 6-2  10-11

Texas Southern 5-2  6-13

 

No team in this league has a winning record, so it is a strong chance the winner of the SWAC Tournament will be making a quick trip to Dayton for the play-in round.

 

Mississippi Valley has won seven games in a row after beginning the season 1-11.  Among the teams that beat them are Notre Dame, North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Arkansas, and Ole Miss.

 

Summit League (possible 2-bid league)

Oral Roberts 11-0  19-4

South Dakota State 8-2  16-6

 

Oral Roberts has reeled off 12 straight victories and moved up to the mid 40’s in the RPI rating.  ORU owns a 22-point win over Xavier.  Two of their four losses came at the hands of Gonzaga by six and West Virginia by seven.

 

Sunbelt (possible 2-bid league)

East

Middle Tennessee 9-0  20-2

 

West

Denver 6-2  16-5

 

This could be Middle Tennessee’s best ever team.  The Blue Raiders have made waves in the NCAA Tournament in the past, knocking off Kentucky in 1982.

 

This Middle Tennessee team won by 20 points at UCLA, and if they can knock off Vanderbilt today, the Blue Raiders could move into the Top 25.  They have excellent depth and can go 10 or 11 deep.  Laron Dendy is the leader of the team.

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March 9, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 9 Update

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Three More Tickets Punched

Horizon League Championship

Butler 59  Milwaukee 44

 The Bulldogs held Milwaukee to 30% shooting from the field, and Matt Howard connected on seven of nine shots to pace Butler with 18 points, as the defending National Final runner-up earned another spot in the Big Dance.

 Summit League Championship

Oakland 90  Oral Roberts 76 

The Golden Grizzlies displayed a great offensive show with the aid of numerous first half steals by Drew Valentine and Reggie Hamilton to build a double-digit lead by the break.  After withstanding an early second half run by the Golden Eagles, Oakland pulled away to win the automatic bid.  

Keith Benson topped Oakland with 28 points and 14 rebounds.  Hamilton added 25 with six assists, while Will Hudson recorded a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Sunbelt Conference Championship

U A L R  64  North Texas  63 

The Trojans won their first Sunbelt Championship and earned their first bid to the NCAA Tournament since 1990.

 

SBC Player of the Year Solomon Bozeman drove from the backcourt to the left side of the top of the key and drained a three-pointer with 1.5 seconds remaining to give UALR the decisive points.  Bozeman scored a game-high 20 points. 

North Texas had led by seven points with less than two minutes to go, but the Mean Green wilted under the Trojan pressure defense.  With one last chance to try to win, UNT committed a turnover on the inbounds pass. 

11 Automatic Qualifiers To Date

Team Conference Record
Arkansas-Little Rock Sunbelt  19-16
Belmont  Atlantic South 30-4
Butler  Horizon 23-9
Gonzaga West Coast 24-9
Indiana State  Missouri Valley  20-13
Morehead State  Ohio Valley  24-9
Oakland  Summit  25-9
Old Dominion Colonial 27-6
St. Peter’s Metro Atlantic 20-13
UNC-Asheville Big South 19-13
Wofford Southern 21-12

 

Two Tickets To Be Punched Tonight

Big Sky Tournament Championship @ 9PM ET On ESPN2

#2 Montana (21-9) at #1 Northern Colorado (20-10)

 

Semifinal Round

Montana 57  Weber State 40

Northern Colorado 73  Northern Arizona 70

 

These two split their regular season series with Northern Colorado winning 63-45 in Greeley, and Montana winning 55-42 in Missoula.  Tonight’s game will be played at Butler-Hancock Hall in Greeley, so Northern Colorado will enjoy the home court advantage. 

This game is a great study in contrasts.  Northern Colorado is a quicker team, but Montana is a stronger team.  Northern Colorado has one exceptionally dominant player, while Montana has more, albeit less exceptional, weapons.

 

The Bears’ offense runs through 6-1 senior guard Devon Beitzel.  Beitzel averages a league-best 21 points per game, and he is deadly at the free throw line, where he connects on 91% of his tosses. 

The rest of the team collectively shoots under 41% from the field and commits more turnovers than assists, so if the Grizzlies can stop Beitzel, or at least limit his touches, they have a chance of defending their crown.

 

Montana has the dominant big man in the conference in 6-11/260 senior center Brian Qvale.  If the Grizzlies can keep this game a half-court affair, they stand a great chance of winning with Qvale plugging the middle on defense and controlling the boards at both ends of the court.  Qvale averages 15 points and nine boards a game, and he had a double-double with 16 points and 17 rebounds in the semifinal round.  Montana likes to limit possessions, so those numbers are even more impressive than they look. 

In the win over UNC, Montana held the Bears to 23.3% shooting, while they shot just 32.6% in the loss at Greeley.

 

It is our opinion that the visiting number two seed will pull off the mild upset over the host numbone seed, but it is not a strong feeling. 

 Northeast Conference Tournament Championship @ 7PM ET On ESPN2

#3 Robert Morris (18-13) at #1 Long Island (26-5)

Semifinal Round

Long Island 69  Central Connecticut 67

Robert Morris 64  Quinnipiac 62

Brooklyn has not been this excited over one of their own sports teams since the Dodgers won the 1955 World Series.  Long Island is one of the most exciting teams in the nation, and their 26-5 record has throngs of Brooklynites cramming into the Wellness, Recreation, and Athletic Center.  The WRAC holds just 2,500 seats, but you can bet that more than that amount will find their way into the game tonight, as they “Pack the WRAC.” 

Those fans will be converging to the corner of Ashland and Dekalb tonight, dressed in all white, to watch what could be a blowout win for their team.   

LIU is on a roll.  The Blackbirds have won 12 games in a row (longest current streak in the nation) and 20 of their previous 21 games.  They average almost 83 points per game.  The Blackbirds have exceptional depth with eight players capable of scoring 15 or more points. 

 

The Blackbirds pose difficult matchups with their roster, as they rely on quick guards and medium-sized forwards with great leaping ability to play at a fast pace.  There is no center on the roster, but the two 6-7 forwards have controlled the boards in most games this year. 

Those forwards are Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere, who team up for 25.4 points and 15.7 rebounds per game.

 5-10 backup guard Jason Brickman plays just 22 minutes per game, but he leads the team with 5.3 assists per game.  When he comes in the game, the pace picks up, and the Blackbirds shoot a lot of threes in transition.

 

Robert Morris is definitely not cannon fodder.  The Colonials are the two-time defending NEC Tournament champions, and they believe they can three peat even on the road in hostile conditions. 

The Colonials have won eight games in a row, relying on a stellar defense that limits possessions and pressures the guards.  They are missing their leading scorer, as 5-9 guard Karon Abraham’s season ended two weeks ago with a torn Achilles Tendon.  On the positive side, Abraham missed RMU’s win at LIU on December 2, as he was serving a multi-game suspension. 

Velton Jones and Russell Johnson will have to shine tonight for the Colonials to pull off the upset.  The duo are the only double figure scorers left, but both shoot less than 39% from the field. 

Without Abraham, RMU shoots just 33.7% from behind the arc, so the only way they can possibly win tonight is to replicate the formula that was successful more than three months ago—control the tempo and prevent LIU from getting off any uncontested three-pointers. 

We believe this game will begin slowly with RMU taking the lead in the early stages.  Somewhere in the first half, LIU will go on one of their patented runs and gain the lead.  Then, a second spurt will give them a commanding lead.  RMU might cut into that lead, but we believe in the end, the Blackbirds will be celebrating at the WRAC.  We do not believe the Brooklynites will be crying “Wait ‘Til Next Year.”  This will be like October of 1955 in the borough.

 

Yesterday’s Other Tournament Results

Atlantic 10 Conference

First Round

LaSalle 75  St. Bonaventure 73  2ot

St. Joseph’s 71  George Washington 59  ot

Rhode Island 70  St. Louis 61

Dayton 78  U Mass 50

 

Big East Conference

First Round

Connecticut 97  DePaul 71

Rutgers 76  Seton Hall 70 ot

South Florida 70  Villanova 69

Marquette 87  Providence 66 

M A C

First Round

Bowling Green 74  Northern Illinois 54

Ohio U 74  Toledo 57

Akron 67  Eastern Michigan 53

Buffalo 64  Central Michigan 50

 

M E A C

First Round

MD-Eastern Shore 87  F A M U 85  2ot

S. C. State 64  Delaware State 59 

Ivy League Playoff Set

Princeton defeated rival Penn 70-58 last night in Philadelphia, forcing a one-game playoff for the Ivy League’s automatic berth.  Princeton (24-6) will take on co-champion Harvard (23-5) Saturday afternoon at 4PM Eastern Time.  The game will be played at Yale University in New Haven, CT, and it can be seen live on ESPN3.com.

Princeton has appeared in all seven Ivy League tiebreaking playoff games in the history of the league.  This is Harvard’s first Ivy League basketball championship of any kind.  The Crimson last appeared in the NCAA Tournament in 1946. 

There is a chance that the loser of this game could hold a slim chance of earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.  Harvard is ranked #35 in the RPI, while Princeton is ranked #49.  Harvard has two wins over top 50 teams as well as three losses.  Their biggest win was at Boston College.  Princeton has just one win against the top 50 and two losses.  For the Ivy to earn two bids, the Tigers have to win Saturday and hope Harvard’s high RPI is enough to earn the second bid. 

Conference Tournaments In Action Today

Big 12 Conference

Tournament Site: Kansas City

1st Round Games

#8 Nebraska (19-11) vs. #9 Oklahoma State (18-12)  12:30 PM ET

#5 Colorado (19-12) vs. #12 Iowa State (16-15)  3 PM ET

#7 Baylor (18-12) vs. #10 Oklahoma (13-17)  7PM ET

#6 Missouri (22-9) vs. #11 Texas Tech (13-18) 9:30 PM ET 

Big East Conference

Tournament Site: New York City

2nd Round Games

#8 Georgetown (21-9) vs. #9 Connecticut (22-9)  12 Noon ET on ESPN

#5 St. John’s (20-10) vs. #13 Rutgers (15-16)  Approx. 2:15 PM ET on ESPN

#7 Cincinnati (24-7) vs. #15 South Florida (10-22)  7 PM ET on ESPN

#6 West Virginia (20-10) vs. #11 Marquette (19-13)  Approx. 9:15 PM ET on ESPN 

Conference USA

Tournament Site: El Paso, TX

1st Round Games

#8 East Carolina (16-14) vs. #9 Central Florida (19-10)  1 PM ET

#5 Southern Miss (21-9) vs. #12 Tulane (13-16)  3:30 PM ET

#6 Marshall (21-10) vs. #11 Houston (12-17)  7:30 PM ET

#7 S M U (17-13) vs. #10 Rice (13-17)  10 PM ET 

M E A C

Tournament Site: Winston-Salem, NC

Note: The MEAC has a unique way of scheduling their tournament.  As a result, one first round game will be played today as well as two quarterfinal round games.  The other two quarterfinal round games will be played Thursday. 

1st Round

#6 Norfolk State () vs. #11 Howard ()  3 PM ET

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Bethune-Cookman (20-11) vs. #9 South Carolina State (10-21)  7 PM ET

#2 Hampton (21-8) vs. #10 Maryland-Eastern Shore (9-21)  9:30 PM ET 

Mountain West Conference

Tournament Site: Las Vegas

1st Round

#8 Wyoming (10-20) vs. #9 T C U (10-21)  5 PM ET 

Pac-10 Conference

Tournament Site: Los Angeles

1st Round

#8 Stanford (15-15) vs. #9 Oregon State (10-19)  9 PM ET on Fox Sports Net

#7 Oregon (14-16) vs. #10 Arizona State (12-18)  11:30 PM ET on Fox Sports Net 

Southland Conference

Tournament Site: Katy, TX (Houston Area)

Quarterfinal Round

#2 Northwestern State (LA) (18-13) vs. #7 Texas-San Antonio (16-13)  1 PM ET

#3 Sam Houston (17-12) vs. #6 Stephen F. Austin (18-10)  3:30 PM ET

#1 McNeese State (19-10) vs. #8 Nicholls State (14-13)  7 PM ET

#4 Texas State (15-15) vs. #5 Southeastern Louisiana (15-13)  9:30 PM ET 

S W A C

Tournament Site: Garland, TX (Dallas-Ft. Worth Area) 

Quarterfinal Round

#2 Jackson State (16-14) vs. #7 Prairie View (10-21)  12:30 PM ET

#1 Texas Southern (18-11) vs. #8 Arkansas-Pine Bluff (7-23)  9 PM ET

W A C

Tournament Site: Las Vegas

1st Round

#5 Hawaii (18-11) vs. #8 San Jose State (15-14)  3 PM ET

#6 Nevada (12-18) vs. #7 Fresno State (14-16)  5:30 PM ET

March 8, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 8 Update

 

The Four Newest Dance Invitees

Did you see those conference championship games last night?  Was this the Monday Night Fights or basketball?  There were more cut men and cut women than in your average boxing card.

 

When it is all or nothing for these smaller conferences, you get what we saw last night—teams playing like their lives were on the line.

 

Colonial Athletic Association

Old Dominion 70

Virginia Commonwealth 65

 

Old Dominion 27-6

 

The Monarchs are capable of making a semi-surprise run in the Big Dance.  They lead the nation in rebounding margin, and they can score points in the paint. 

 

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

St. Peter’s 62

Iona 57

 

St. Peter’s 20-13

 

The Peacocks beat Alabama earlier in the season, and their defense could keep them within striking defense in an opening round game, but we cannot see SPC advancing to the second round.

 

Southern Conference

Wofford 77

College of Charleston 67

 

Wofford 21-12

 

The Terriers finally beat the Cougars (we predicted this yesterday), and they will not roll over and play dead in the first round.  This team returns to the Dance for the second consecutive season, and they will not back down.  They may not advance, but they will not be in awe of their heavily favored first round opponent.

 

West Coast Conference

Gonzaga 75

Saint Mary’s 63

 

Gonzaga 24-9

 

This edition of Zags may not be the most talented in the Coach Mark Few era, but they are playing their best ball at the right time.  It will depend on their bracket, but this team has Sweet 16 potential.

 

Three More Invitations Go Out Tonight

By 11:15 PM Eastern Time tonight, we will know the names of three more NCAA Tournament participants.  Let’s break down these games.

 

Horizon League Championship @ 9PM ET on ESPN

Butler (22-9)  at  Milwaukee (19-12)

 

Butler defeated Cleveland State in the semifinal round Saturday evening, while Milwaukee topped Valparaiso.  During the regular season, Milwaukee swept the Bulldogs, winning 76-52 at home and 86-80 in overtime on the road.  The top-seeded Panthers host this game.

 

Both teams are red hot coming into this title match.  Milwaukee has gone 10-1 in their last 11 games, and the only loss was in the Bracketbuster to Buffalo.  Their defense is what got them here, as they shoot only 43% from the field and 65% at the foul line.

 

Three Panthers average double figures in scoring, led by Anthony Hill.  Hill averages just under 16 points per game, but he broke out with a 24-point, 11-rebound performance in the semifinal game against Valpo.  Kaylon Williams is the X-factor for Panthers.  He can score when needed, rebound with the big men, and run the offense.  He recorded a triple-double earlier in the season against Butler (10 points-10 rebounds-10 assists), and he added a double-double in the second win over the Bulldogs.

 

Butler missed Gordon Hayward even more than most experts predicted.  The Bulldogs played a tough pre-conference schedule and limped into February.  With their backs against the wall, they reeled off eight consecutive victories to get to the title game tonight.

 

Most basketball fans know Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack from last year’s team that made the surprise run to the National Championship Game.  The duo has teamed for 32 points and 6.5 rebounds per game this year.  However, it has been the emergence of 6-11 sophomore center Andrew Smith that has allowed Butler to turn things around and look like a force to be reckoned with once again.  Smith averaged 11 points per game over the second half of the season.  In the eight game winning streak, he has averaged 32 minutes per game and pulled down close to eight rebounds per game.  His 63% field goal percentage has forced defenses to stop him first, giving Howard and Mack more room to get open.  Smith was a non-factor in the two games against Milwaukee, and he is the key to tonight’s game.  If he plays 32 minutes and gets double figure points and eight rebounds, Butler will be cutting down the nets yet again.

 

Summit League Championship @ 9PM ET on ESPN2

Site: Sioux Falls, SD

Oakland (24-9)  vs. Oral Roberts (19-14)

 

If you like high-scoring, fast-paced games, you will definitely clear your schedule to view this one.  Oakland is the second best offensive team in the nation, averaging 86 points per game (92 ppg in their last 10 games).  The Grizzlies connect on close to 50% of their field goal attempts, and they tend to hit spurts where they score 10 points in two minutes.  Oral Roberts averages 81 points per game and has no qualms running with Oakland.

 

Both teams are riding major winning streaks entering tonight’s title game.  Oakland has won 17 of their last 18 games, while the Golden Eagles have won 10 in a row.  In the regular season, Oakland won both high-scoring games, but both were nail-biters that went down to the wire. 

 

Oakland has a tall and short combination that has done a lot of the damage on opponents.  6-11 center Keith Benson is the best player in the league.  Benson averages 17.7 points and 10 rebounds per game.  He showed he can do it against the big schools, as he had 17 points and 12 rebounds in a close loss to Michigan State and 26 points and 10 rebounds in a big win at Tennessee. 

 

5-11 guard Reggie Hamilton is a threat to top 20 points any night.  He is quick and can get open without help from screens.

 

Oral Roberts has a star in its own right.  Dominique Morrison averages just under 20 points per game, and he doesn’t need to heave up 25 shots per game to get those points.  Morrison shoots 51.3% from the field, 40% from behind the three-point line, and 78.4% at the foul line.  He scored 56 points in the two games against Oakland.

 

This should be a great game, and we don’t believe Oakland is that much of a favorite.  ORU has been to the Big Dance four times in the last six years, while Oakland is the defending tournament champion.  We expect the winner to top 90 points in this game, and it is too close to call.  We say Oakland has about a 54% chance and Oral Roberts a 46% chance of winning.

 

Sunbelt Conference Championship @ 7PM ET on ESPN2

Site: Hot Springs, AR

 

North Texas (22-10)  vs. U A L R (18-16)

 

On paper this looks like a mismatch, even though the teams finished one game apart in the regular season.  North Texas finished fourth in the West with an 8-8 league mark, while Little Rock finished fifth at 7-9.

 

North Texas was one of the biggest underachievers this season.  The Mean Green returned four starters from their 2010 conference champion team and were expected to win again this year with the best backcourt and one of the best frontcourts in the league.  Instead, a 3-9 swoon in the middle of the season placed them out of contention for the West crown.  Since that awful slide, UNT has recovered with five consecutive victories.

 

6-5 senior guard Tristan Thompson has led the way for the Mean Green in the tournament, scoring 80 points in the first three games.  He has done a lot of the damage at the foul line, where he is 31-35 in Hot Springs, including an unbelievable 20-20 performance in the win over top-seed Florida Atlantic.  Thompson combines a quick move to the basket with a sweet shot from outside.  Beefy forward George Odufuwa averages 11 points and 10.2 rebounds per game, and UALR has a tough matchup problem against him.

 

The Trojans dropped both regular season games to North Texas, mostly because they could not compete under the basket.  Their chance to win this game will come down to limiting possessions and trying to win 55-50.  They have won three games in the tournament by getting to the foul line and hitting foul shots, while using the clock and taking 30 seconds to shoot on most possessions.  UALR’s big star in this tournament has been senior guard Solomon Bozeman.  Like Thompson, Bozeman has gotten to the free throw line and made the most of his opportunities.  He has connected on 37 of 42 attempts including an eye-popping 19 of 22 against Middle Tennessee last night.

 

We expect a low-possession, low-scoring game.  There may be fewer than 100 field goal attempts tonight.  North Texas has been there before, while UALR has never won the Sunbelt Conference Tournament.  We think that trend will continue, but it wouldn’t surprise us if this game stays relatively close for the entire 40 minutes.  We could see North Texas winning 60-54.

 

The Other Tournaments In Action Today

 

Atlantic 10 Conference

First Round At Higher Seed Home Court

 

#9 Dayton (19-12) at #8 U Mass (15-14)  9PM ET on CBSC

#12 St. Joseph’s (9-21) at #5 George Washington (17-13)  7PM ET on CBSC

#10 LaSalle (14-17) at #7 St. Bonaventure (16-13)  5 PM ET on CBSC

#11 St. Louis (12-18) at #6 Rhode Island (18-12)  7 PM ET no TV

 

Big East Conference

Madison Square Garden in New York City

 

#16 Depaul (7-23) vs. #9 Georgetown (21-9) 12 Noon ET on ESPN2

#13 Rutgers (14-16) vs. #12 Seton Hall (13-17) Approx. 2:15 PM ET on ESPN2

#15 South Florida (9-22) vs. #10 Villanova (21-10) 7PM ET on ESPNU

#14 Providence (15-16) vs. #11 Marquette (18-13) Approx 9:15 ET on ESPNU

 

Big Sky Conference

Semifinal Round At Higher Seed Home Court

#3 Weber State (18-11) at #2 Montana (20-9)

#4 Northern Arizona (19-11) at #1 Northern Colorado (19-10)

 

Mid-American Conference

1st Round At Higher Seed Home Court  All Games At 7PM ET

 

#10 Northern Illinois (9-20) at #7 Bowling Green (13-18)

#11 Eastern Michigan (9-21) at #6 Akron (19-12)

#9 Central Michigan (10-20) at #8 Buffalo (17-12)

#12 Toledo (4-27) at #5 Ohio U (17-14)

 

Mideastern Athletic Conference

Lawrence Joel Coliseum in Winston-Salem, NC

 

#9 South Carolina State (9-21) vs. #8 Delaware State (9-20)  9PM ET

#10 Maryland-Eastern Shore (8-21) vs. #7 Florida A&M (12-19)  6:30 PM ET

 

Note: One more 1st round game Wednesday plus two quarterfinal games

 

 

March 7, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 7 Update

NCAA Tournament Qualifier #4

Congratulations to the Indiana State Sycamores, the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament champions.  ISU defeated Missouri State Sunday by a score of 60-56, giving them eight wins in their last nine games.  This Sycamore team is not to be confused with the 1979 National Finalists with some guy named Larry Bird doing a lot of the scoring, but ISU (20-13) has enough talent to pull off an upset in the first round.  The last time they were in the Big Dance, ISU upset Oklahoma 70-68 in the first round of the 2001 tourney; they lost 85-68 to Gonzaga in the next round.  The Sycamores lost by nine at Notre Dame and by 13 against Purdue, so they can compete against Top 10 teams.

 

Indiana State joins UNC-Asheville, Belmont, and Morehead State as automatic qualifiers in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Four More Teams To Enter The Dance Party Tonight

The field of automatic qualifiers doubles from four to eight tonight.  Let’s take a look at the four conference championships for Monday.

 

Colonial Athletic Association

Virginia Commonwealth (23-10)  vs. Old Dominion (26-6)

7:00 PM EST on ESPN

 

In the semifinal round, VCU upset top-seed George Mason 79-63, while Old Dominion ousted Hofstra 77-69.  Bubble teams will be cheering hard for ODU because if VCU wins, the CAA could send an extra team to the Dance.  George Mason and ODU are virtually assured at-large spots, but VCU will be College Insiders, CBI or NIT-bound if they lose tonight.

 

ODU has won eight games in a row and 12 of 13.  Big forward Frank Hassell has continued to improve and impress down below, and Notre Dame can tell you how well he plays in the postseason; ODU beat the Irish in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament.

 

VCU slumped at the end of the regular season, losing four of their final five games (and the one win was in the Bracketbuster) to fall from first to fourth.  The Rams won nine games in a row in the middle of the season, including a road victory over their opponent tonight. 

 

Forward Jamie Skeen will be the key man to watch.  If he can match or beat Hassell point-for-point and rebound-for-rebound, VCU should pull off the victory.  If Hassell wins the battle, then the Monarchs will live up to their preseason billing as best in the league. 

 

If the game comes down to the backcourt, then VCU has the superior tandem there with Bradford Burgess and Joey Rodriguez.  If the battle comes down to the rebounding game, ODU will win and maybe win by 10-20 points.

 

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

St. Peter’s (19-13)  vs.  Iona (22-10)

7:00 PM EST on ESPN2

 

St. Peter’s pulled off the big upset in this tournament, defeating #1-seed Fairfield 62-48 in yesterday’s semifinal round.  Iona slaughtered Rider 83-59 to earn their spot in the championship game.  The Gaels won their opener by 30 over Siena, so they are the clear-cut favorite tonight.

 

St. Peter’s is an experienced team.  The Peacocks’ top four players are seniors—Wesley Jenkins, Jeron Belin, Nick Leon, and Ryan Bacon.  The quartet averages a combined 45 points a game with all four averaging more than 10 points a game.  Their strongest asset is their defensive ability, and teams have a tough time scoring on SPU.  Unfortunately, the Peacocks barely top 40% shooting from the field and less than 64% at the foul line.  To win tonight, they need to connect on at least 45% of their shots and get some second chance opportunities.

 

Iona has the look of a champion.  The Gaels have won nine games in a row by an average margin of 18.6 points per game.  They swept SPU by 18 and 14 in the regular season.  Star forward Michael Glover has recorded 17 double-doubles, and the only thing that could prevent him from making it 18 tonight would be his early exit from the game due to the game being a blowout.

 

As you can surmise, we think Iona will put this game away with a big run about halfway into the opening half after a five to eight-minute period to calm the nerves.

 

Southern Conference

College of Charleston (24-9)  vs.  Wofford (20-12)

9:00 PM EST on ESPN2

 

Semifinal Scores

College of Charleston 63  Furman 58

Wofford 86  Western Carolina 72

 

The top two teams in the league meet for the third time and Charleston won the first two meetings.  The Cougars won the battle on the boards in both games and in turn took several more shots.  Andrew Goudelock was unstoppable in both games, and Wofford must do something to keep the ball out of his hands tonight and prevent him from scoring his average of 23 points per game to have a chance.

 

The Terriers are the defending SoCon Tournament champions, and they were the overwhelming pick to repeat as champions this year.  They will need a repeat of yesterday’s performance to pull off the upset.  Wofford connected on 54% of their field goals, 50% of their three-point attempts, and 80% at the foul line.  Their big three, Noah Dahlman, Jamar Diggs, and Cameron Rundles, teamed for 52 points and 16 rebounds.  Wofford also has excellent depth with three players capable of coming off the bench and scoring points and pulling down rebounds in massive numbers.

 

Charleston proved to be the better team in the regular season sweep, but we tend to believe this night will belong to Wofford.  The Terriers are playing up to their potential, while the Cougars are not. 

 

West Coast Conference

Saint Mary’s (24-7)  vs. Gonzaga (23-9)

9:00 PM EST on ESPN

 

Semifinal Round

Saint Mary’s 73  Santa Clara 64

Gonzaga 71  San Francisco 67

 

This is the game of the night.  We tend to believe both teams have done enough to punch a ticket to the tournament, but still, this will be a hard-fought rivalry game.

 

The teams split their regular season series, both winning close games on the other’s home court.  If you like offense, then this is the game for you.  Both teams routinely top 80 points per game, and both have enjoyed many nights where they shot in excess of 50% from the field.

 

Gonzaga has won eight games in a row, and the Bulldogs utilize great depth to wear down opponents.  They can go 10-deep with very little drop in talent, as no player averages over 14 points per game, and only one tops six rebounds per game. 

 

SMC relies on a trio of talented players in Mickey McConnell, Rob Jones, and Matthew Dellavedova.  They team up to average 43.3 points per game.  McConnell is one of the best outside shooters in the nation, and he is virtually automatic at the charity stripe.

 

This game is a tossup in the truest since, and we expect it to go down to the final minute for the third time this season.  They could not settle it in 40 minutes the last time they faced off, so this has to be considered a 50-50 game.  We will go with Gonzaga’s 50% chance tonight.

 

Continuing Tournaments

America East Conference

Semifinal Round

Boston U. 55  Hartford 49

Stony Brook 69  Vermont 47

 

Championship Game—Saturday, March 12@ 12 Noon on ESPN2

Stony Brook (15-16) at Boston U (20-13)

 

Northeast Conference

Semifinal Round

Long Island 69  Central Connecticut 67

Robert Morris 64  Quinnipiac 62

 

Championship Game—Wednesday, March 9 @ 7PM on ESPN2

Robert Morris (18-13) at Long Island (26-5)

 

Patriot League

Semifinal Round

Lafayette 73  American 71  2ot

Bucknell 66  Lehigh 64

 

Championship Game—Friday, March 11 @ 4:45 PM on ESPN2

Lafayette (13-18) at Bucknell (24-8)

 

Summit League

Quarterfinal Round

South Dakota State  85  I P F W  75

I U P U I  79  Missouri-KC  55 

 

Semifinal Round—Monday, March 7 @ Sioux Falls, SD

Oakland (23-9)  vs.  South Dakota State (19-11) @ 7:00 PM EST

Oral Roberts (18-14)  vs.  I U P U I (19-13) @ 9:30 PM EST

 

Sunbelt Conference

Quarterfinal Round

Western Kentucky 81  Louisiana-Lafayette 76

North Texas 78  Florida Atlantic 64

Middle Tennessee 73  Florida International 38

U A L R  59  Arkansas State 52

 

Semifinal Round—Monday, March 7 @ Hot Springs, AR

Western Kentucky (16-15)  vs. North Texas (21-10) @ 7:00 PM EST

Middle Tennessee (16-15)  vs.  U A L R (17-16) @ 9:30 PM EST

 

Coming Tomorrow: The Big Sky Conference and Horizon League Tournament Championships are decided, and four more conference tournaments begin.  Check back Tuesday afternoon for more coverage.

March 5, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 6 Update

Congratulations To Three Champions

Three teams have punched their tickets to the Big Dance.

 

Big South Conference

UNC-Asheville 60  Coastal Carolina 47

 

UNC-Asheville 19-13

 

Atlantic Sun Conference

Belmont 87  North Florida 46

 

Belmont 30-4

 

Ohio Valley Conference

Morehead State 80  Tennessee Tech 73

 

Morehead State 24-9

 

Scores From Other Conference Tournaments

 

America East Conference

Vermont 57  Binghamton 46

Stony Brook 67  Albany 61

Boston U 69  New Hampshire 60

Hartford 66  Maine 63

 

Sunday, March 6 Semifinal Round

Vermont 23-7  vs. Stony Brook 14-16

Boston U. 19-13  vs. Hartford 11-19

 

Big Sky Conference

Weber State 79  Eastern Washington 70

Northern Arizona 65  Montana State 62

 

Tuesday, March 8 Semifinal Round

Montana 20-9  vs. Weber State 18-11

Northern Colorado 19-10  vs. Northern Arizona 19-11

 

Colonial Athletic Association

George Mason 68  Georgia State 45

Virginia Commonwealth 62  Drexel 60

Old Dominion 59  Delaware 50

Hofstra 72  William & Mary 56

 

Sunday, March 6 Semifinal Round

George Mason 26-5  vs.  Virginia Commonwealth 22-10

Old Dominion 25-6  vs. Hofstra 21-10

 

Horizon League

Butler 76  Cleveland State 68

Milwaukee 70  Valparaiso 63

 

Tuesday, March 8 Championship Game

Butler 22-9  vs. Milwaukee 19-12

 

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference

Fairfield 55  Marist 31

St. Peter’s 70  Loyola (MD) 60

Rider 79  Canisius 64

Iona 94  Siena 64

 

Sunday, March 6 Semifinal Round

Fairfield 24-6  vs. St. Peter’s 18-13

Rider 23-9  vs. Iona 21-10

 

Missouri Valley Conference

Missouri State 60  Creighton 50

Indiana State 61  Wichita State 54

 

Sunday, March 6 Championship Game

Missouri State 25-7  vs. Indiana State 19-13

 

Southern Conference

Western Carolina 77 UNC-Greensboro 66

Wofford 67  Appalachian State 56

Furman 61  Chattanooga 52

College of Charleston 78  Elon 60

 

Sunday, March 6 Semifinal Round

Western Carolina 18-14  vs. Wofford 19-12

Furman 22-9  vs. College of Charleston 23-9

 

Summit League

Oakland 82  Southern Utah 66

Oral Roberts 72  North Dakota State 65

 

Sunday, March 6 Quarterfinal Round Continues

I P F W  18-11  vs. South Dakota State 18-11

I U P U I  18-13  vs. Missouri-Kansas City 16-13

 

Sunbelt Conference

Western Kentucky 66  Louisiana-Monroe 50

North Texas 83  Troy 69

Florida Int’l 53  Denver 49

U A L R  82  South Alabama 68

 

Sunday, March 6 Quarterfinal Round

Louisiana-Lafayette 14-14  vs. Western Kentucky 15-15

Florida Atlantic 21-9  vs. North Texas 20-10

Middle Tennessee 15-15  vs. Florida Int’l  11-18

Arkansas State 17-14  vs. U A L R  16-16

 

West Coast Conference

Santa Clara 76  Loyola Marymount 68

San Francisco 76  Pepperdine 59

 

Sunday, March 6 Semifinal Round

St. Mary’s 23-7  vs. Santa Clara 19-13

Gonzaga 22-9  vs. San Francisco 17-13

March 4, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 5 Update 1

Two new conference tournaments begin today (Saturday), but more importantly the first three spots in the Big Dance Card will be filled.

 

All Times EST

Summit League Tournament

Tournament Site: Sioux Falls, SD

Saturday, March 5: Quarterfinal Round

G 1: #1 Oakland vs. #8 Southern Utah  7PM

G 2: #2 Oral Roberts vs. #7 North Dakota State 9:30 PM

 

Sunday, March 6: Quarterfinal Round

G 3 #4 I P F W vs. #5 North Dakota State 7 PM

G 4 #3 I U P U I vs. #6 Missouri-Kansas City 9:30 PM

 

Monday, March 7: Semifinal Round

G 5: G 1 Winner vs. G 3 Winner 7 PM

G 6: G 2 Winner vs. G 4 Winner  9:30 PM

 

Tuesday, March 8: Championship Game at 9PM on ESPN2

G 5 Winner vs. G 6 Winner

 

Hot Team:  Oral Roberts has won eight consecutive games by an average margin of 12.6 points per game.   This includes a key win over IUPUI that clinched the second seed.

 

Oakland enters the tournament riding a five-game winning streak.  The Golden Grizzlies won 15 of their final 16 regular season games.

 

Not Hot:  Missouri-Kansas City lost its last three games, but they were to three of the top four teams in the league.

 

Team Nobody Wants To Play: South Dakota State is only one hour from Sioux Falls, and the Jackrabbits will fill the arena.  Oakland would much rather play four-seed I P F W in the semifinals.  If SDSU wins their quarterfinal game, look for them to give Oakland fits in a semifinal match.

 

Oakland as Favorite:  The Golden Grizzlies finished 17-1 in league play, so they must be considered solid favorites.  Their lone league loss came at IUPUI, and in their 18 conference games they had a +14.2 scoring margin.    

 

Our Pick:  We will stick with the favorite to win here, even though we believe they will struggle to win their semifinal and final game.

 

 

Sunbelt Conference Tournament

Tournament Site: Hot Springs, AR (using Summit Arena and Convention Center Court)

 

Saturday, March 5: Opening Round

G 1: #3E Western Kentucky vs. #6W Louisiana-Monroe  7:45 PM (Convention Center)

G 2: #4W North Texas vs. #5E Troy  7:30 PM (Summit Arena)

G 3: #3W Denver vs. #6E Florida International  9:45 PM   (Summit Arena)

G 4: #4E South Alabama vs. #5W U A L R  10PM (Convention Center)

 

Sunday, March 6: Quarterfinal Round

G 5: G 1 Winner vs. #2W Louisiana-Lafayette  7:30 PM (Summit Arena)

G 6: G 2 Winner vs. #1E Florida Atlantic  7:45 PM (Convention Center)

G 7: G 3 Winner vs. #2E Middle Tennessee  10 PM (Convention Center)

G 8: G 4 Winner vs. #1W Arkansas State  9:45 PM (Summit Arena)

 

Monday, March 7: Semifinal Round (Summit Arena)

G 9: G 5 Winner vs. G 6 Winner  7PM

G10: G 7 Winner vs. G 8 Winner  9:30 PM

 

Tuesday, March 8: Championship Game (Summit Arena)

G11: G 9 Winner vs. G 10 Winner at 7PM on ESPN2

 

Hot Team: Louisiana-Lafayette has won 11 consecutive games, but seven of those wins were by five points or less or in overtime.  The Ragin’ Cajuns defeated both division winners in that stretch

 

Not Hot: Denver dropped from first to third when they lost their last three games and six of their final eight.  The Pioneers had won eight consecutive games in midseason, but they lost their offensive touch down the stretch.

 

Team That Nobody Wants To Play: After starting conference play 0-4, Western Kentucky righted the ship and won eight of their last 12 conference games.  The Hilltoppers greatly underachieved, and with two studs in Steffphon Pettigrew and Sergio Kerusch, WKU can beat anybody in the SBC.

 

Florida Atlantic As Favorite: The Owls started 8-0 in league play before faltering a bit down the stretch.  We do not feel strongly that FAU can win three games in three days.  In fact, we believe they will not even be around for the championship game. 

 

Our Pick: When UL-Lafayette takes on Western Kentucky in the quarterfinal round, we believe the winner of that game will upset FAU in the semifinal round and go on to win the league’s lone bid to the Dance.

 

The First Three Bids Go Out Today

 

The league championship games are on tap for Saturday.  Let’s look at the scores from Friday with the schedule for the three conference championship games.

 

Big South Conference— 4:00 PM on ESPN2

#3 UNC-Asheville (18-13) at #1 Coastal Carolina (28-4)

 

UNCA beat Charleston Southern 72-63 and High Point 62-45.  Coastal Carolina beat Gardner-Webb 83-72 and VMI 89-81

 

Atlantic Sun Conference—6:00 PM on ESPN2

Site: Macon, GA

#1 Belmont (29-4) vs. #6 North Florida (15-18)

 

Belmont defeated Kennesaw State 72-57 and Mercer 80-72.  North Florida defeated Jacksonville 68-64 and East Tennessee 59-55

 

Ohio Valley Conference—8:00 PM on ESPN2

Site: Nashville

#2 Morehead State (23-9) vs. #4 Tennessee Tech (20-11)

 

Morehead State beat Austin Peay 68-49.  Tennessee Tech beat UT-Martin 83-59 and Murray State 64-59.

 

Scores From Other Conference Tournaments

 

Colonial Athletic Association

#9 Georgia State 58  #8 UNC-Wilmington 52

#5 Drexel 75  #12 Towson  69

#7 Delaware 60  #10 Northeastern 58

#11 William & Mary 72  #6 James Madison 68

 

Quarterfinal Round—Saturday

#1 George Mason vs. #9 Georgia State

#4 Virginia Commonwealth vs. #5 Drexel

#2 Old Dominion vs. #7 Delaware

#3 Hofstra vs. #11 William & Mary

 

Horizon League

#3 Cleveland State 73  #6 Wright State 59

#4 Valparaiso 88  #5 Detroit 78

 

Semifinal Round—Saturday

#1 Milwaukee vs. #4 Valparaiso

#2 Butler vs. #3 Cleveland State

 

M A A C

#9 Marist 73  #8 Niagara 61

#7 Siena 68  #10 Manhattan 66 OT

 

Quarterfinal Round—Saturday

#1 Fairfield vs. #9 Marist

#4 St. Peter’s vs. #5 Loyola (MD)

#3 Rider vs. #6 Canisius

#2 Iona vs. #7 Siena

 

Missouri Valley

#1 Missouri State 58  #8 Southern Illinois 56

#5 Creighton 60  #4 Northern Iowa 57

#2 Wichita State 70  #10 Bradley 56

#3 Indiana State 52  #6 Evansville 50

 

Semifinal Round—Saturday

#1 Missouri State vs. #5 Creighton

#2 Wichita State vs. #3 Indiana State

 

Southern Conference

#5N UNC-Greensboro 71  #4S Davidson 64

#3N Appalachian State 65  #6S Georgia Southern 57

#3S Furman 61  #6N Samford 48

#4N Elon 85  #5S Citadel 74

 

Quarterfinal Round—Saturday

#1N Western Carolina vs. #5N UNC-Greensboro

#2S Wofford vs. #3N Appalachian State

#2N Chattanooga vs. #3S Furman

#1S College of Charleston vs. #4N Elon

 

West Coast Conference

#8 Loyola Marymount 72  #5 Portland 68

#6 Pepperdine 84  #7 San Diego 81

 

Quarterfinal Round—Saturday

#4 Santa Clara vs. #8 Loyola Marymount

#3 San Francisco vs. #6 Pepperdine

 

Ivy League Results (Princeton and Harvard)

Harvard 79  Penn 64

Princeton 77  Dartmouth 55

 

Princeton is now 11-1.  Harvard is now 11-2.  The two teams square off in Cambridge tonight.  If Princeton wins, the Tigers clinch the Ivy League title.  If Harvard wins, then Princeton must win at Penn Tuesday night to force a playoff for the Ivy League title.

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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