The Pi-Rate Ratings

August 18, 2012

2012 Western Athletic Conference Preview

For many years, the Western Athletic Conference was strong enough to produce national title contenders as well as top 10 teams.  In the 1970’s, Arizona State routinely stayed in the top 10 as a WAC member, and rival Arizona moved as high as number 12 in 1975 when they faced the number two Sun Devils.

 

Brigham Young won a national championship in 1984 while a member of the WAC.

 

Even back in the 1960’s, this conference had top 10 teams, as Wyoming appeared in the top 10 for at least one week for three consecutive seasons.

 

In the 1996, the WAC expanded to 16 teams for three seasons.

 

Times have changed.  Defections almost doomed the league in recent years.  Boise State, Hawaii, Nevada, and Fresno State left for the Mountain West Conference, leaving just five football members.  Texas State and Texas-San Antonio were added to bring the number up to seven, but while the two new FBS members are eligible to win the WAC, neither is eligible to play in a bowl.

 

Oddly, the two new FBS members will be WAC members for just this season.  Texas State will move to the Sunbelt Conference next year.  UTSA is set to join Conference USA next year, taking Louisiana Tech with them.  San Jose State and Utah State are joining their former brethren in the Mountain West.  Idaho and New Mexico State have no place to go.  The Vandals might be forced to return to the Big Sky Conference and FCS football if they cannot afford making it as an independent, while NMSU may be forced to drop football altogether.

 

This could be the WAC’s swan song as a football league.  At least three teams figure to compete for the conference championship, where only one team is guaranteed a bowl bid, while two other bowls have secondary agreements with the league.

 

The WAC has two official pre-season polls, one by the coaches and one by the media.

 

 

Coaches’ Poll

Votes

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

1

Louisiana Tech

6

36

2

Utah State

1

31

3

San Jose State

0

24

4

New Mexico State

0

22

5

Idaho

0

17

6

Texas State

0

10

7

U T S A

0

7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Media Poll

Votes

Rank

Team

1st Place

Total

1

Louisiana Tech

25

193

2

Utah State

3

164

3

San Jose State

0

130

4

Idaho

0

102

5

New Mexico State

0

95

6

Texas State

0

57

7

U T S A

0

43

 

The PiRate Ratings and the PiRate Vintage Ratings are similar to the official polls.

 

PiRate Ratings

Rank

Team

PiRate

1

Louisiana Tech

101.1

2

Utah State

91.3

3

San Jose State

87.6

4

Idaho

80.8

5

New Mexico State

75.9

6

U T S A

74.1

7

Texas State

73.6

 

   

 

   

Vintage Ratings

Rank

Team

Vintage

1

Louisiana Tech

101

2

Utah State

96

3

San Jose State

95

4

Idaho

91

5

Texas State

83

6

New Mexico State

81

7

U T S A

77

 

 

Team

Idaho Vandals

               
Head Coach

Robb Akey

               
Colors

Black and Gold

               
City

Moscow, ID

               
2011 Record              
Conference

1-6

Overall

2-10

               
PiRate Rating

80.8

               
National Rank

112

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

91.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

101

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

4-2

Overall

5-7

 

It was a rough season for the Vandals in 2011, as they crashed to the basement.  Idaho’s defense could not get off the field, surrendering nearly 75 plays per game.  The Vandals gave up almost 280 passing yards per game and 160 rushing yards per game.

 

Idaho returns five starters to this defense, but we expect the Vandals to be improved on this side of the ball this year.  The secondary should see the most improvement for two reasons.  First, two promising pass defenders return for their senior seasons, and second, the schedule is much easier in 2012.

 

Those two aforementioned secondary stars are cornerback Aaron Grymes and safety Gary Walker.  The two combined for 11 passes defended last year, and that number will head north this season.

 

The front seven is about on par with last year, but the easier schedule will make their numbers improve as well.

 

Offensively, Idaho is strong at receiver with the return of wideout Mike Scott, who caught 55 passes for close to 700 yards last year. 

 

Coach Robb Akey recently named University of Washington transfer Dominique Blackman as his starting quarterback, and Blackman should be an upgrade at this position.  Look for him to top 3,000 passing yards this year.  The big and bulky left-hander will benefit from having quality pass blockers on his right (blind) side.

 

The running game is a question mark at this time, since projected starter Ryan Bass is dealing with academic issues and is not currently practicing. 

 

Idaho must face Louisiana Tech and Utah State on the road this year, but the Vandals should be competitive in the rest of their conference games.  The out-of-conference schedule is a bit too difficult to give them a chance to post a winning season, but Idaho will definitely finish with a better record this year.

 

 

Team

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs

               
Head Coach

Sonny Dykes

               
Colors

Red and Blue

               
City

Ruston, LA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

6-1

Overall

8-5

               
PiRate Rating

101.1

               
National Rank

57

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

101.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

61

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

6-0

Overall

8-4

 

Sonny Dykes is probably in the last year or two of his tenure in Ruston.  The Bulldog head coach will be on multiple schools’ short list when coaching vacancies occur.  The son of former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes, who was an assistant in Lubbock to Mike Leach, has taken the LT offense and produced spectacular results with the spread passing game.  Tech has increased their passing yardage by around 30 yards per game both seasons under Dykes’ tutelage.  With the league’s best quarterback throwing to the league’s best receivers, the Bulldogs could easily improve by 30 yards per game again in 2012.

 

Colby Cameron became the starting quarterback just past the midway point in the season, and he guided the Bulldogs to six consecutive victories and the WAC championship.  He completed just 55% of his passes, but he tended to throw deeper passes and produced more than 14 yards per completion with a TD/Int ratio of 13/3.

 

Quinton Patton finished second in the WAC with 1,202 receiving yards.  He averaged better than 15 yards per reception and scored 11 touchdowns.  Tulane transfer D. J. Banks should be an excellent possession receiver, and he will get open in the short routes and help Cameron bring up his completion percentage.

 

The running game will not appear on any leaderboards, but the Bulldogs rarely see defenses that concentrate on trying to stop the running game first.  The loss of former Tennessee transfer Lennon Creer will be hard to make up, but the LT offense will not succeed or fail because of the running game.

 

There are some questions on the defensive side of the ball, and thus, the Bulldogs will not be a solid lock to run away with the 2012 WAC title.

 

The front six (LT deploys a 4-2-5 defense) is vulnerable with the loss of four starters from a year ago including two linebackers with more than 100 tackles apiece. 

 

The secondary is in a little better shape with the best tandem of safeties in the league in Chad Boyd and Jamel Johnson.

 

Tech hosts Utah State on November 17 and closes out the season at San Jose State a week later.  Those two games should decide the 2012 WAC championship, and we believe the Bulldogs are the favorite. 

 

 

Team

New Mexico State Aggies

               
Head Coach

DeWayne Walker

               
Colors

Crimson and White

               
City

Las Cruces, NM

               
2011 Record              
Conference

2-5

Overall

4-9

               
PiRate Rating

75.9

               
National Rank

116

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

81.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

120

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

1-5

Overall

3-9

 

Football in the state of New Mexico has taken a turn for the worse in the last few years, as neither FBS school in the Land of Enchantment has competed in recent years.  It has been nine seasons since the Aggies last finished above .500, and it has been 52 seasons since they last appeared in a bowl.  The Aggies could very well be looking at the possibility of dropping scholarship football if they cannot find a conference next year, and this news has not helped an already weak recruiting effort.

 

Coach DeWayne Walker had to rely on the junior college route to try to restock his depleted troops, bringing in a baker’s dozen from the Juco ranks.

 

If he can avoid further injury, quarterback Andrew Manley can move the State offense.  Prior to a season-ending knee injury, he had led the Aggies to an upset win over Minnesota.  He will be burdened with a depleted running back corps, and one of the new Juco players, Akeelie Mustafa, will be called on for immediate support.   

 

Manley has some talent to aim his aerials toward this season.  Kemonte’ Bateman and Austin Franklin form the nucleus of the receiving corps.  It could be even better if the coach’s son, Kevan Walker, can return from a knee injury.  This unit may not have flashy stars, but is has depth.  If NMSU is to challenge for a move out of the lower half of the standings, this receiving corps must live up to its potential.

 

The only good thing to say about the running game is that it is not the running game of the Hal Mumme era.  Looking at it that way is the only way to put a good spin on a running game that struggled last year and lost its top two rushers.

 

The defense faces a major rebuilding job, which may not be such a bad thing.  The Aggies surrendered 37 points and better than 460 yards per game in 2011, and there is nowhere to go but up.  Expect a lot of the Jucos to move into the starting lineup, and when combined with an easier schedule, this should make the defensive numbers a little more respectable in 2012, especially in the trenches.  Expect Kalvin Cruz to contend for all-conference honors, with Nicholas Oliva and Kevin Laudermill contributing to an improved defense against the run and pass rush.

 

There are six winnable games on the 2012 schedule, but we still see the Aggies coming up short.  A loss at Texas State in the finale could be a finale in more ways than one.  If it isn’t the last Aggie game as a member of the FBS, it could be Walker’s last as head coach.

 

 

Team

San Jose State Spartans

               
Head Coach

Mike MacIntyre

               
Colors

Dark Blue and Gold

               
City

San Jose, CA

               
2011 Record              
Conference

3-4

Overall

5-7

               
PiRate Rating

87.6

               
National Rank

102

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

95.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

85

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

4-2

Overall

6-6

 

 

The Spartans are a good quarterback away from contending for the WAC championship in 2012.  Third year coach Mike MacIntyre has recruited well, and his Spartans have a chance to become bowl eligible in year three.

 

MacIntyre may have found his good quarterback in Nevada transfer David Fales.  Fales has size and talent to withstand hard pass rushes and pass with poise. 

 

Fales will have help in the backfield this year with the emergence of former Minnesota running back De’Leon Eskridge and Juco standout Alvin Jelks.  Look for the Spartans rushing statistics to improve this year despite the loss of their leading 2011 rusher.

 

The receiving corps is second best in the league and returns the top four pass catchers from a year ago.  Tight end Ryan Otten will earn a paycheck to play football in 2013, and we expect him to surpass his totals of 52 receptions and 739 yards this season.  Jabari Carr is the key to this unit.  The speedy wideout needs to improve on his 33 receptions of a year ago; Carr has the ability to make short passes become long gains.

 

The SJSU defense gave up better than 30 points and 400 yards per game for the third consecutive year last season, and the Spartans could make that four in a row this season.  However, giving up 30 points could still allow the team to compete in this league.

 

While six starters have departed from last year, the top three tacklers return.  Defensive end Travis Johnson is a sack monster, who missed out on the WAC sack leadership by just one.  James Orth returns to the secondary after picking off four passes in 2011.  Keith Smith is a quality linebacker capable of leading the league in tackles.

 

The WAC championship should be decided by the outcomes of three games this year.  If the Spartans can defeat both Utah State and Louisiana Tech, they can emerge as the surprise league champions.  San Jose hosts both conference contenders.  This team may still be a year away from contending, but this is their last chance in the WAC.  It will be much more difficult to compete in the Mountain West next year.

 

Team

Texas State Bobcats

               
Head Coach

Dennis Franchione

               
Colors

Maroon and Old Gold

               
City

San Marcos, TX

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-0

Overall

6-6 (as FCS Independent)

               
PiRate Rating

73.6

               
National Rank

121

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

83.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

118

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

2-4

Overall

3-9

 

After five seasons out of the major college ranks, Dennis Franchione gets another chance to pilot a FBS team as the Bobcats make their debut on the big stage.  Franchione guided Texas State to a 6-6 finish as a FCS independent last year, but in the two games played against FBS opponents, State lost by a combined 95-20.  Expect the Bobcats to take their lumps this season.

 

Shaun Rutherford once teamed with Cam Newton in junior college.  The senior quarterback will not emulate his former teammate at this level, but he gives the Bobcats a chance to compete offensively in the WAC.  A good year from Rutherford would produce about 500 rushing yards and 2,000 passing yards.

 

Franchione can call on some quality depth to anchor his running game.  Texas State is one of the handful of run first teams, and Coach Fran has his full complement of backs returning from 2011.  Marcus Curry and Terrence Franks should get the bulk of the carries, as State looks to run the ball about 45 times per game.

 

The one possible weak spot of the offense is an inexperienced offensive line that must replace three starters.  It is also undersized for this level of football, as the five projected starters average about 275 pounds.

 

The Texas State defense surrendered 400 yards and 28.5 points per game against mostly FCS competition last year.  In the two games against FBS opposition (Texas Tech and Wyoming), the Bobcats gave up a very generous 1,123 yards (561.5 avg), yielding 6.5 yards per enemy rush and 8.6 yards per pass attempt.

 

While most of last year’s starters return to the defensive side, do not expect much improvement with a schedule that goes from two FBS opponents to 11.  Cornerback Darryl Morris and safety Xavier Daniels should finish one-two in tackles, and that never bodes well for a defense, as a linebacker should lead the team in stops.

 

The one place where Texas State takes a back seat to nobody is in the kicking game.  Kicker Will Johnson is both accurate and long.

 

Texas State has just one “gimme” game on the schedule when they host Stephen F. Austin.  The game against new rival UTSA is in San Antonio.  The Bobcats also play both of the weak New Mexico teams and host Idaho, so Coach Fran’s troops have a chance to compete in five games this year.  We expect them to win two or three games.

 

 

Team

Utah State Aggies

               
Head Coach

Gary Andersen

               
Colors

Navy and White

               
City

Logan, UT

               
2011 Record              
Conference

5-2

Overall

7-6

               
PiRate Rating

91.3

               
National Rank

92

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

96.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

78

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

4-2

Overall

7-5

 

At times last year, Utah State was the clear-cut best team in the WAC.  The Aggies opened the season by showing up the defending national champion Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium for about 53 minutes of the game.  A couple weeks later, they took BYU to the final gun.  They followed that up with a dismantling of a Wyoming team that would win eight games, and in November, they upset Nevada.  Untimely turnovers ruined USU’s chances of winning the WAC in 2011, but the Aggies have another chance in the league’s swan song.  Utah State has almost the same amount of quality talent as Louisiana Tech, but the big game against the Bulldogs is on the road this season.

 

Coach Gary Andersen saw his offense greatly improve last year thanks to a devastating rushing attack.  Except for the three schools that run the 21st century version of the wishbone (Army, Navy, Georgia Tech), Utah State had the best running attack of the non regular and triple option teams.  The Aggies rushed for 283 yards per game at nearly six yards per attempt last year, but the two men chiefly responsible for that output are no longer around.  Leading rusher Robert Turbin is now a Seattle Seahawk after he led the WAC with 19 rushing touchdowns and finished second with 1,517 yards.

 

Expect a major drop-off in running numbers this season, as the expected tandem of Kerwynn Williams and Joe Hill are not as good as what USU had last year.  

 

The Aggies will make up for the weaker ground game with a much better passing game this year.  Sophomore quarterback Chuckie Keeton could see his passing yardage more than double in his second season in Logan.  He completed 61% of his passes with a 12/2 TD/Int ratio last year.

 

Keeton has three exceptional targets in receivers Chuck Jacobs, Matt Austin, and Cameron Webb.  Look for Webb to have a breakout season this year.

 

The offensive line is one of the best in the league, led by NFL prospect Tyler Larsen at center.

 

The Aggies enjoyed their first winning record in more than a decade because the defense improved by six points and 60 yards per game last year.  Teams could no longer run the ball down USU’s throats.  Expect more of the same in 2012, as all three defensive units should be somewhat improved.

 

The strength of this defense is a fabulous secondary led by two potential All-WAC Cornerbacks and a speedy safety.  Nevin Lawson and Jumaine Robinson teamed for 23 passes defended, while McKade Brady kept opposing offenses from getting long gains.

 

The non-conference schedule presents some tough challenges again for the Aggies with games against in-state rivals Utah and BYU combined with a trip to Madison, Wisconsin, to take on the Badgers.  An easier league slate should allow Utah State to finish on the plus side of .500 again.  And, if the Aggies can win their two biggest conference games on the road against Louisiana Tech and San Jose State, they will claim the final WAC championship.  They figure to be underdogs in both big games. 

 

 

Team

Texas-San Antonio

               
Head Coach

Larry Coker

               
Colors

Orange and Blue

               
City

San Antonio

               
2011 Record              
Conference

0-0

Overall

4-6 (as FCS Independent)

               
PiRate Rating

74.1

               
National Rank

120

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vintage Rating

77.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Rank

124

 
2012 Prediction

 

Conference

1-5

Overall

3-9

 

It is a far cry from a decade ago for Coach Larry Coker.  The former Miami of Florida coach won a national championship in Coral Gables with one of the most dominating teams in modern football.  He returns to FBS football with a team that lost to McMurry, Southern Utah, Sam Houston, UC Davis, and McNeese State last year and played no FBS teams.

 

The Roadrunners will be more talented this season, as practically every letterman that contributed returns this year.  Only two starters from the 22 first teamers are gone, and there are still very few seniors on this roster, as this is just the second season of football in San Antonio.

 

It is difficult to gauge how good the returning talent is, since UTSA played no FBS opponents in their first year of organized football.  Coker expects to employ a two-quarterback system this year with returning starter Eric Soza and junior college transfer Tucker Carter splitting the reps.  Soza, the better runner, completed 56% of his passes last year but threw nine interceptions or about one pick for every 34 pass attempts.  Carter put up some gaudy stats in junior college, and he is the stronger passer.

 

The top unit on the offense is the receiving corps.  Tight ends Jeremiah Moeller and Cole Hubbell and wideouts Brandon Freeman, Kenny Harrison, and Kam Jones will provide the quarterbacks with multiple options on passing plays.

 

UTSA will use a 4-2-5 defense, and the strength is at linebacker, where Steven Kurfehs and Bradon Reeves combined for 130 stops, 12 ½ behind the line.

 

UTSA will play a weak non-conference schedule, which will give the Roadrunners a chance to win two or three games.  However, even in the much weaker WAC, UTSA will be lucky to win one time.

 

Coming Sunday, August 19: A look at the Mid-American Conference, a quarterback-rich league in 2012.

Advertisements

March 14, 2011

2011 PiRate NCAA Basketball Tournament Preview

Filed under: College Basketball — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — piratings @ 7:01 pm

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

 

ANSWER—No teams this year meet all the perfect criteria described above.  Six teams come close to meeting the perfect criteria, but all fall short in at least one statistic.  This means there is no clear-cut favorite—only six teams that most closely resemble the great champions of the past.  Of the six, three come from power conferences.  These three are Kansas, Ohio State, and Syracuse.

 

Kansas fails to meet the turnover margin requirement, but the Jayhawks surpass all the other qualifications.  Ohio State comes up a tad bit short in field goal percentage margin, rebounding margin, and steals per game, but just misses in all three.  Syracuse misses in rebounding and turnover margin, but they Orangemen do not miss by much. 

 

2. Which teams can be immediately eliminated due to a negative R+T rating?  Which teams have an incredibly low R+T Rating (<2.0)?

 

ANSWER—Three teams can immediately be eliminated due to negative R+T Ratings.  It comes as no surprise that Alabama State and Texas-San Antonio, two teams facing off in the First Round in Dayton, have negative R+T ratings.  The third team is Michigan.  The Wolverines were outrebounded by 1.9 boards per game, and they only had a +1.4 turnover margin with just 4.7 steals per game.

 

Five other teams finished with R+T ratings less than 2.0.  This usually means one and done for these teams, unless they have outstanding FG% margins or cupcake opponents with worse criteria numbers.  Those five teams are: Penn State, Richmond, St. Peter’s, UCLA, and UCSB.

 

3. Which teams are capable of winning it all?

 

ANSWER—We separate the contenders from the pretenders by looking at the total PiRate Criteria score and then looking to see if the high criteria scoring teams receive merit on every individual statistic.

 

Last year, Duke was head and heels better than the other 64 teams.  The Blue Devils had the highest score overall, and they satisfactorily rated in every PiRate category.

 

No teams appear to be as strong this year as the Blue Devils were last year, but nine teams meet most of the minimum requirements to be considered Final Four contenders this year.

 

It should come as no surprise that the top two teams, Ohio State and Kansas, rank at the top in the Criteria.  Kansas actually has the highest score of the 68 teams, a score of 23.  The Jayhawks outscored their opposition by 17.2 points, shot 11.7% better from the field than their opponents, and outrebounded their opponents by 7.8 boards per game.  These stats are worthy of a powerhouse.  However, KU enjoyed just a 0.9 turnover margin and stole the ball 7.9 times per game, giving the Jayhawks an R+T Rating of 9.5.  We tend to look for teams with an R+T Rating in excess of 10, so KU is not a great favorite to go all the way. 

 

Ohio State’s total Criteria score is 21, good for second best.  However, the Buckeyes enjoy an R+T Rating of 13.2, which is a number we really like in a Final Four contender.  This number correlates to 13 extra scoring opportunities that their opposition does not receive.  OSU outscores their opponents by 17.3 points per game, shot 6.9% better from the field than they allows, outrebounded their opponents by 4.9 per game, had a turnover margin of +4.8, and stole the ball 7.2 times per game. 

 

San Diego State comes in third with 19 total criteria points.  BYU, Pittsburgh, and Texas come in next with 18 points; the Panthers have an R+T rating above 10.  The other three teams with PiRate Criteria scores showing themselves to be strong contenders for a Final Four berth are Syracuse, Purdue, and Duke

 

Florida, North Carolina, and UNLV are actually almost in a statistical tie with Duke, meaning those three are dark horse candidates for the Final Four.

 

Overall, this is the weakest field by far in the six tournaments where we have ranked the teams according to our criteria.  Looking back, this could be the weakest field since the tournament expanded to 64 teams. 

 

North Carolina State, Kansas, and Villanova won national titles in the past with less than stellar numbers.  We do not have all the statistics from those years, so we cannot really calculate criteria numbers for those three champions.  Could this be a season in which one team gets hot for six games and comes from out of the pack to win it all?  It could happen, but we are sticking with this mechanical system and going with its results.  Kansas, Ohio State, Pittsburgh, and Texas appear to be the best PiRate Criteria matches to past Final Four teams, and they are the quartet we officially pick to make it to Houston.  Syracuse becomes the wildcard team that could sneak into the mix.

 

Here is a look at the First Four Round One games and the 32 second round games.  The number in (parentheses) represents the PiRate Bracketnomics criteria number.

 

First Four Round

 

#16 Texas-San Antonio 19-13 (Elim) vs. #16 Alabama State 17-17 (Elim)

At first, we thought this was highly ironic, but upon further review, we consider it sort of a compliment.  These two teams both must be eliminated based on negative R+T ratings.  Of course, one of them must win this game so that they can advance to a 25-point or more loss in the next round.

 

Most of you filling out your brackets do not have to worry about these games in Dayton.  You get to turn in your choices after these games have been played.

 

UTSA has better criteria numbers after you factor out both teams’ R+T numbers. 

 

Prediction: Texas-San Antonio 64  Alabama State 55

 

 

#12 U A B 22-8 (2) vs. #12 Clemson 21-11 (1)

If you have been following the “experts” since the pairings were announced Sunday evening, then you know that these two teams do not belong in the tournament in their opinion.  It is not our mission statement to declare which teams should and should not have been included in the Big Dance, but we will tell you that Harvard and Saint Mary’s enjoyed Criteria scores several points better than these two teams, while Colorado and Virginia Tech had equal numbers to these two.

 

This game should be as close as the criteria scores show.  UAB has a one-point advantage in the criteria, but the Blazers just do not excel in any stage of the game.  Clemson’s strong point is forcing turnovers by way of steals, and that leads to a lot of cheap baskets.  Cheap baskets pay off big time in the NCAA Tournament, so we will take the Tigers in this one.

 

Prediction: Clemson 74  UAB 67

 

#11 Southern Cal 19-14 (-1) vs. #11 Virginia Commonwealth 23-11 (-1)

The winner of this game is going home two days later.  Neither team merits inclusion in the Big Dance this year. 

 

Southern Cal has no apparent weakness according to the PiRate Criteria.  In fact, they have a great resume—for an NIT team.

 

The Trojans outscore their opponents by four points per game, and they outshoot them by 3.3%.  They have a small rebounding margin of 1.2, and they have an even smaller turnover margin of 0.6.  They average six steals per game and have a R+T rating of 2.1.  On top of these modest numbers, their schedule was average.

 

VCU is much in the same boat as USC with two exceptions.  They have a negative turnover margin, but they also average 8.5 steals per game.

 

The only other difference in these teams is their records away from home.  USC won only 41% of their games, while VCU won 60%.

 

This one is quite tough to pick, but we will go with the Trojans due to their superior inside talent.  We expect USC to win the rebounding edge by at least five.

 

Prediction: Southern Cal  65  V C U  60

 

#16 UNC-Asheville 19-13 (-5) vs. #16 Arkansas-Little Rock 19-16 (-13)

Obviously, we have two teams that would not even merit NIT bids had they lost in the championship games of their conference tournaments.  UALR has one of the lowest Criteria Scores in the seven years we have been calculating this data.

 

UNC-Asheville actually has a couple of positive Criteria stats.  Their R+T is 5.5, which had it come against a more difficult schedule, would have made them worthy of becoming a possible team to watch in the Round of 64.

 

We will go with UNCA here, as schedule strength is about the same for both teams.

 

Prediction: UNC-Asheville 69  Arkansas-Little Rock 59

 

 

Second-Round Games

 

East Regional

 

#1 Ohio State 32-2 (21) vs. #16 UTSA (Elim)/Alabama State (Elim)

This game will be over quickly.  There will be no scare, not even for two TV timeouts.  The second highest Criteria score versus one of the teams with an R+T Rating of “Eliminate.”

 

The Buckeyes outscored their opponents by more than 17 points per game.  Their strength of schedule was 13 points better than UTSA and 16 points better than Alabama State. 

 

We will go under the theory that UTSA will be the opponent in this game.  Using our Criteria Rating, Ohio State figures to be 30-40 points better than UTSA.  Coach Thad Matta will definitely empty his bench early in this game, so the Buckeyes may “only win” by 25-30. 

 

Prediction: Ohio State 78  Texas-San Antonio 50

 

#8 George Mason 26-6 (8) vs. #9 Villanova 21-11 (5)

George Mason is the higher seed in this game, so if they win, it cannot really be considered an upset.

 

Villanova was on course to be a four-seed when the Wildcats were 16-5 and contending for the Big East Conference regular season title.  The Wildcats could not compete down low against the more physical teams in their league.

 

George Mason has a higher PiRate Criteria Score, but it is not an insurmountable advantage.  The key stat for this game is the R+T Rating.  For GMU, it is 6.8.  For VU, it is 4.9.  Considering that Villanova played a harder schedule, these numbers basically cancel each other out, thus making this a tossup game.

 

There are two variables to consider here.  George Mason performed much better on the road, and Villanova is banged up a bit.

 

Prediction: George Mason 66  Villanova 62

 

#5 West Virginia 20-11 (6) vs. #12 UAB (2)/Clemson (1)

We believe the Mountaineers will be facing Clemson in this game, but the prediction will hold up if they play UAB. 

 

West Virginia is not as good this season as last season, and the Mountaineers will not advance to the Final Four, or even the Elite Eight.  They are liable to be out by the end of the weekend.  However, they are strong enough to get into the Round of 32. 

 

The Mountaineers best attribute is that they put up decent numbers against one of the toughest schedules in the country.  Of the NCAA Tournament teams, only Georgetown played a tougher schedule.  They will have to limit turnovers, or else this game will be close and go down to the wire.  We believe Coach Bob Huggins will be able to keep the pace at a level he likes and not allow Clemson (or UAB) to force the Mountaineers into enough mistakes to turn the tide.

 

Prediction: West Virginia 69  Clemson 62 (Or UAB 58)

 

#4 Kentucky 25-8 (14) vs. #13 Princeton 25-6 (-2)

Princeton has pulled off the big upset in the past, and they came within a missed jumper at the buzzer of becoming the only #16 seed to beat a #1 seed.  However, that was two decades ago.  The Tigers have not been to the NCAA Tournament in seven years, and that big win over UCLA was 15 years ago. 

 

Kentucky is not the type of team that will allow Princeton’s style of play to affect their style of play.  The Wildcats should actually play better than their norm with fewer mistakes. 

 

We believe that Princeton will actually crumble under relentless man-to-man pressure and turn the ball over enough times in the opening minutes of the game to allow the Wildcats to open a quick double-digit lead.  This group of Cats tends to fiddle around a little once they get a quick double-digit lead and then play uninspired ball until the opponent makes a run.  Then, they go on the attack at the right time and put the game away.

 

Adolph Rupp had a team just like this in 1958.  They were called “The Fiddlin’ Five.”  They were also called National Champions.  We won’t go so far as to put UK into this category, but we will advance the Wildcats into the next round and then into the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Kentucky 72  Princeton 59

 

#6 Xavier 24-7 (8) vs. #11 Marquette 20-14 (3)

If you are looking for a tough, hard-fought game with two Midwestern teams, then tune into this game Friday evening.

 

If the Musketeers were a little more competent at forcing turnovers, they could be a dark horse candidate to advance to the Elite Eight.  XU shoots the ball well and plays well on defense when it comes to preventing a lot of easy shots.  They do well on the boards, and against a team that cannot exploit their ball-handling and ball-hawking deficiencies, they will hold their own inside.  The only other possible problem for the Musketeers is a lack of depth, but in the NCAA Tournaments, TV timeouts are longer.  It is hard to wear a team down with such long breaks every four or so minutes.

 

Marquette does not have enough depth to take advantage of Xavier’s lack of depth, so this factor will become a non-factor.  The Golden Eagles got to this tournament due to their ability to put the ball into the basket.  Marquette needs to shoot better than 46% to win, while Xavier is adept at holding teams under 45% as a rule.

 

Prediction: Xavier 71  Marquette 65

 

#3 Syracuse 26-7 (17) vs. #14 Indiana State 20-13 (-4)

Syracuse has been getting very little national exposure since their 18-0 start ended with an 8-7 finish.  The Orangemen are a team to watch in this tournament.  If not for a pedestrian 71% winning percentage away from the Carrier Dome, we would have them as one of the top four teams in this tournament.

 

Coach Jim Boeheim’s team outscores their opposition by 10.3 points per game; they outshoot them by 7.6%, and they outrebound them by 3.6 boards per game.  Their turnover margin is +1.9, and they averaged almost nine steals per game.  Their R+T Rating is 7.6, and their Strength of Schedule is somewhere between above-average and very good.  This is the Criteria Score of a team that will advance to the Sweet 16 and compete for an Elite Eight and Final Four berth.

 

Indiana State needs the return of Larry Bird to win this game.  They are too perimeter-oriented.  The Sycamores do not have the beef down low to contend in the paint, and even though Syracuse plays a 2-3 zone, teams rarely beat the Orangemen by firing up 25 long-range bombs.

 

This one smells like a blowout.

 

Prediction: Syracuse 81  Indiana State 62

 

#7 Washington 23-10 (13) vs. #10 Georgia 21-11 (2)

Washington is one of those teams that can play with anybody in this tournament—when they are playing up to their potential.  The Huskies could also exit in the first round if they play like they did the weekend they went to Oregon and Oregon State.

 

Georgia is much more consistent, but their best effort will not defeat the Huskies’ best effort.

 

Washington lacked the seasoned experience this season, and it showed when they ventured away from Seattle.  The Huskies lost to weaker opponents because they lacked the composure to win on foreign courts.  That changed when they arrived in Los Angeles for the Pac-10 Tournament.  Isaiah Thomas took over command of the team and led them to the tournament title.  This makes UW a scary and dangerous team capable of returning to the Sweet 16.

 

Georgia must really dominate the glass in this game, because we believe they will turn the ball over too many times against UW’s pressure man-to-man defense.  It is our opinion that the Bulldogs will play a little timidly at the start of this game and find themselves in a hole.

 

The Bulldogs had trouble against Alabama’s defense, and Washington is similar but with a much better offense.

 

Prediction: Washington 78  Georgia 70

 

#2 North Carolina 26-7 (15) vs. #15 Long Island 27-5 (-1)

 

Long Island is just the type of team that can forget that their opponent is a dynasty program that chews up and spits out little programs like this.

 

Teams from Brooklyn don’t intimidate easily, especially when they are led by a trio of Texans.  So, LIU will not be intimidated, but will they be talented enough to make a game of this contest?

 

That’s the rub.  They lack the defensive ability to slow down the Tar Heels, while Coach Roy Williams’ team will be able to hold the Blackbirds under their scoring average.  The big problem for LIU will be holding onto the ball, and we could see North Carolina forcing 20 turnovers in this game.  When the Tar Heels force more turnovers than they commit, they are almost unbeatable.  This game could be interesting for a short time, but it will eventually get out of hand.

 

Prediction: North Carolina 88  Long Island 70

 

West Regional

 

#1 Duke 30-4 (15) vs. #16 Hampton 24-8 (-8)

Duke has nothing to worry about here.  This will be like one of their November/December home games where they quickly put the cupcake away with a barrage of power and speed.  You know the type: a 37-point win over Princeton; a 34-point win over Miami of Ohio; a 52-point win over Colgate.

 

Hampton got to the Dance using an aggressive defense and three-point shooting barrage on offense.  Duke will not be affected by the defensive pressure, and they will cut off the open shots from the outside.  It will be a mercy killing, and it will be quick.  Look for the Blue Devils to be up by more than 15 points before the halfway point of the first half.  By the time Coach K empties the bench, the Blue Devils should be up by 25-30 points.

 

Prediction: Duke 81  Hampton 61

 

#8 Michigan 20-13 (Elim) vs. #9 Tennessee 19-14 (10)

Michigan is the highest-rated team that fails to meet our R+T Rating requirement, so the Wolverines are automatically tabbed as a first-round loser.

 

Coach Jim Beilein has been in a similar position before.  He guided a West Virginia team with not-so-flashy Criteria numbers to the Elite Eight, where they forced Louisville to come from 20 points down to rally for the victory.  That WVU team had one of the worst negative rebounding numbers of any team in Elite Eight history, but that team made few mistakes and had a nice turnover margin.

 

This Michigan team was only outrebounded by two a game, but they do not create enough extra possessions with their miniscule turnover margin of 1.4 and their average of just 4.7 steals per game.

 

Tennessee has been up and down, and the Volunteers are not going to make a repeat run to the Elite Eight this year.  However, Coach Bruce Pearl’s troops will control the boards in this game and maybe force more turnovers than they commit.  We figure that Tennessee will have 10 more opportunities to score in this game, and that is too many for the Wolverines to make up with their three-point shooting.

 

Prediction: Tennessee 74  Michigan 69

 

#5 Arizona 27-7 (3) vs. #12 Memphis 25-9 (-1)

Memphis was not going to earn an at-large bid this season had they failed to win the Conference USA Tournament.  They received an ideal first round opponent, and the Tigers actually have a fighting chance to pull off yet another classic #12-seed over #5-seed upset.

 

Arizona needs to pound the ball inside and rely on numerous offensive rebounds to win this game.  Other teams might be able to exploit Memphis’s poor ball-handling skills, but the Wildcats do not have the defensive acumen to take advantage here.

 

Memphis will try to make this an up-tempo game where they can neutralize Arizona’s height advantage inside.  It has a chance of working, but Arizona probably has too much power inside and just enough quickness to stop the Tigers’ transition game.

 

Prediction: Arizona 76  Memphis 69

 

#4 Texas 27-7 (18) vs. #13 Oakland 25-9 (3)

This has become a popular upset pick in the media.  Oakland has generated a lot of positive press, and many “experts” are calling for the upset in this game.  We are not one of them.  Not only do we believe the Longhorns will take care of Oakland with relative ease in this game, we believe Texas is a force to be reckoned with in the next two or three rounds. 

 

Let’s look at Texas’ Criteria Rating.  At 18, the ‘Horns rate as our sixth best team in the tournament.  They have a 13.5 point scoring margin, a 7.1% field goal margin, a 6.6 rebounding margin, and a 1.2 turnover margin.  Their only Achilles Heel is a low amount of steals resulting in a R+T Rating of 8.3.  Had that number been above 10, we would be selecting Coach Rick Barnes’ team for the Final Four.

 

Oakland won this year with strong rebounding and an excellent ability to force their opponents into bad shots.  Center Keith Benson is a future NBA player, but he is not enough to propel the Golden Grizzlies into the next round.

 

Prediction: Texas 77  Oakland 65

 

#6 Cincinnati 25-8 (9) vs. #11 Missouri 23-9 (10)

On paper, this looks like the best game of this round between a team with contrasting styles.

 

Cincinnati is one of the top defensive teams in the tournament.  The Bearcats are tough inside, and they have quality depth to continue playing hard in the paint. 

 

Missouri uses the “40 minutes of Hell” approach that Coach Mike Anderson learned under his mentor Nolan Richardson.  The Tigers press full court and run the fast break as often as they get the chance.  They are perimeter-oriented and can score a lot of points in a hurry.

 

When we try to decide tossup games, we look to the all-important defense and rebounding stats, since that is what wins close games in the Big Dance. 

 

Missouri is vulnerable in both of these crucial areas.  They have given up a lot of cheap baskets this year when teams solved their press.  The Tigers were outrebounded by 1.7 boards per game.

 

Cincinnati owns a +2.7 rebounding margin, and the Bearcats held onto the ball quite competently.  We believe Coach Mick Cronin’s crew will advance.

 

Prediction: Cincinnati 68  Missouri 65

 

#3 Connecticut 26-9 (9) vs. #14 Bucknell 25-8 (-4)

Ask Kansas Coach Bill Self if it is wise to underestimate Bucknell.  The Bison know how to hold onto the ball and work for intelligent shots.  Give them an opening, and they can bury you with a high field goal percentage.

 

Connecticut did the unthinkable by winning five games in five days.  Their defense does not get the merit it deserves, because Kemba Walker gets more attention for his offensive antics.  The Huskies actually held teams under 40% from the field.

 

Coach Jim Calhoun knows how to prepare a team for tournament action.  He will have UConn ready for this game, and the Huskies will not overlook the Bison.

 

Prediction: Connecticut 73  Bucknell 58

 

#7 Temple 25-7 (5) vs. #10 Penn State 19-14 (-1)

Temple’s score must be tempered by the fact that they are a wounded team coming into this tournament.  Two starters suffered injuries late in the season, and one is out for the remainder of the year, while the other may or may not be ready to play.  We must throw out Temple’s score of “5” in the PiRate Criteria, because 40% of the key players that produced that number will either not play or be greatly less effective.

 

Penn State is a lot like Southern Cal in this tournament.  The Nittany Lions have the look of a strong NIT team.  Aside from a so-so record against a strong schedule, they really have little to offer outside of one star player. 

 

We believe this Keystone State rivalry game will be close, and it could come down to the last shot.  Because the Owls are limping, we will go with the Big Ten representative.

 

Prediction: Penn State 59  Temple 56

 

#2 San Diego State 32-2 (19) vs. #15 Northern Colorado 21-10 (-6)

Most of you reading this probably cannot remember Texas Western University, but you may have scene the movie where the Miners were too quick for Kentucky and pulled off the big upset to win the 1966 National Championship.  Maybe some of you remember the Long Beach State 49ers ascension into the top 10 under Jerry Tarkanian and then Lute Olson.  Still more can remember when Tark the Shark moved to UNLV and turned the Runnin’ Rebels into a national power.

 

San Diego State is the next Western team to fit this bill.  The Aztecs are legitimate contenders to advance deep into this tournament.  They have few exploitable weaknesses, and they are the best team West of the Rockies.  Coach Steve Fisher knows how to get teams ready for tournament play, as he has three Final Fours on his resume and one National Championship.

 

SDSU’s PiRate Criteria numbers are flashy.  Their scoring margin is 13.3 points per game.  Their FG% margin is 7.1%.  They outrebound their opposition by almost seven per game, and they force 1.6 more turnovers than they commit.  Their one weak spot is a pedestrian 6.2 steals average.  If they run up against a more powerful team inside, they could have trouble getting enough extra scoring opportunities.

 

Northern Colorado will not be one of those teams that can cause trouble for the Aztecs.  The Bears are a good rebounding team, but their rebounding prowess came against a schedule that rates 10 points weaker than San Diego State’s schedule.

 

Prediction: San Diego State 73  Northern Colorado 51

 

Southwest Regional

#1 Kansas 32-2 (23) vs. #16 Boston U 21-13 (-11)

Kansas is a team on a mission.  The Jayhawks will not allow a repeat of what happened last year, and that extra incentive should be enough to send KU to Houston.

 

Kansas has the top PiRate Criteria Score this year.  They meet the basic requirements that most prior National Champions have met—scoring margin: 17.2; FG% margin: 11.7; Rebounding margin: 7.8; Turnover Margin: 0.9; Steals per game: 7.9; R+T Ratings: 9.5.

 

How do you beat this year’s KU team?  Kansas State and Texas pulled it off by matching up well inside and going head-to-head with them in the paint.

 

Boston U has the second lowest PiRate Criteria score of the 65 teams that have positive R+T Ratings.  The Terriers are way overmatched in this game, and they will have to be glad they just made it here.

 

Prediction: Kansas 90  Boston U 62

 

#8 U N L V 24-8 (15) vs. #9 Illinois 19-13 (1)

If our ratings are worth their salt, then this game should not be all that close.  UNLV may be just the third best team in the Mountain West, but the MWC was better overall this year than the Pac-10.  Third best in the MWC makes the Runnin’ Rebels one of the dozen or so teams capable of making a two weekend run.

 

Coach Lon Kruger has taken two different teams to the Elite Eight (Kansas State and Florida).  His teams play intelligently without being flashy.

 

UNLV went 24-3 against teams not named Brigham Young or San Diego State.  They are not particularly strong on the boards, and this will eventually be their downfall.  The Rebels shoot the ball brilliantly, and they alter enough opponent shots to force a lower field goal percentage.  They also take care of the ball and do not make a lot of floor mistakes.

 

Illinois is an inconsistent, underachieving team.  This can be dangerous for the prognosticator, because it is difficult if not impossible to predict which schizophrenic state will appear for each game.

 

The Illini are not particularly strong on the glass or at taking care of the ball, and that is a recipe for disaster when the opponent is as good as UNLV.  Even if Illinois comes out playing their best basketball, it may not be enough to beat UNLV playing their typical game.

 

Prediction: U N L V  72  Illinois 64

 

#5 Vanderbilt 23-10 (5) vs. #12 Richmond 26-7 (2)

Here is another game getting a lot of attention due to its upset potential.  Historically, the #12 seed produces the a lot of great upsets.

 

This game could go either way.  Both teams have exploitable weaknesses, and it just so happens that both teams’ have the assets capable of exploiting the other’s weaknesses.

 

Let’s start with Vanderbilt.  The Commodores are not particularly strong on the defensive perimeter.  Worthy opponents have been able to beat them off the drive and get a lot of open inside shots.  This weak perimeter defense has also led to frontcourt players having to help, thus leaving open holes near the basket.

 

Richmond’s offense is a modified version of the Princeton Offense.  The Spiders have the talent to get open shots inside and in the five to ten-foot range.

 

Richmond cannot rebound against more physical teams.  The Spiders make up for their rebounding liabilities by seldom throwing the ball away.

 

Vanderbilt has an excellent physical presence inside with three beefy players that can rebound the ball on offense and defense.

 

So, which team gets the edge in our PiRate Ratings?  We always look to defense in rebounding in tossup games.  Vanderbilt holds the rebounding edge, while Richmond holds the defensive edge.  It is basically a wash, so we have to look elsewhere.  While Richmond has been much better away from home, Vanderbilt’s schedule is seven points more difficult.  We’ll go with the power conference team, but not by much

 

Prediction: Vanderbilt 70  Richmond 67

 

#4 Louisville 25-9 (12) vs. #13 Morehead State 24-9 (3)

This should be an interesting game, but in the end the big brothers are going to defeat their little brothers in this battle of two Bluegrass State teams.

 

40 years ago this week, another little brother upset a big brother on their way to a surprise appearance in the Final Four (later vacated).  In 1971, Western Kentucky did not just upset Kentucky, the Hilltoppers ran the Wildcats off the floor.  Can there be a repeat two score later?  No!

 

Coach Rick Pitino’s Cardinals are vulnerable on the boards, and Morehead State has the nation’s best rebounder in the nation in Kenneth Faried.  However, the Eagles do not have enough talent or depth to keep up with Louisville.  They may emerge with a slight rebounding edge in this game, but it will not be enough to make up for all the open shots the Cardinals will get.

 

Louisville is going to run into trouble when they meet up with a team that can rebound and play credible defense.  That would be Kansas in the Sweet 16.  Until then, they have a relatively easy route to the Sweet 16.

 

Prediction: Louisville 78  Morehead State 62

 

#6 Georgetown 21-10 (8) vs. #11 Southern Cal (-1)/Va. Commonwealth (-1)

Last year, we discussed Georgetown’s vulnerabilities and the probability that they would fail to make it past the first weekend.  We expected the Hoyas to fall as a favorite in their second game, but they were a one and done team.

 

This year’s team is not much better than last year’s Hoya team, but they received a much more favorable draw.

 

Coach John Thompson III’s Hoyas once again have a rather low R+T Rating thanks to a turnover margin of -1.9 and a low amount of steals per game.  They will exit from the tournament in the next round unless there is a monumental upset in their pairing.

 

Neither USC nor VCU has the talent to take advantage of Georgetown’s deficiencies.  The three teams combined have a R+T rating below Purdue’s.

 

One additional note: The Hoyas will be a tad bit better than their Criteria Score in the tournament.  Chris Wright suffered a hand fracture in the middle of the schedule, and he is expected to be near 100% for the tournament.  You have to add maybe one point to their Criteria Score, but that is not enough to put them over the top in their second game.

 

Prediction: Georgetown 69  Southern Cal 61 (or VCU 60)

 

#3 Purdue 25-7 (16) vs. #14 St. Peter’s 20-13 (-7)

If only… Purdue fans will never know just how good their team might have been with Robbie Hummel joining JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore playing together.  This would have been the best Boilermaker team since Rick Mount led Purdue to the Championship Game against UCLA in 1969.

 

The Boilermakers no longer have that one glaring weakness that Gene Keady’s teams had and thus prevented Purdue from getting past the second round.  This team does well on the boards like most of those past Purdue teams, but they are particularly strong when it comes to forcing turnovers and taking advantage by converting steals into points.  It is the way many teams go on runs that put opponents out of commission.

 

St. Peter’s just barely avoided being immediately eliminated with a negative R+T Rating.  They squeaked by at 0.1.  It might as well be a negative number, as the Peacocks were outrebounded by 0.4 per game and had a turnover margin of -0.9 against a schedule that was four points below average and seven points weaker than the schedule Purdue faced.

 

Prediction: Purdue 73  St. Peter’s 56

 

#7 Texas A&M 24-8 (8) vs. #10 Florida State 21-10 (2)

The Big 12’s third best team has enough talent to challenge for a Sweet 16 berth.  We’ll leave the next round for another time and talk about this game.

 

The Aggies have no glaring weakness, and they have a few strengths, namely rebounding and defense (which wins games in the NCAA Tournament).  They are much like Kansas Lite.  A&M was not a team of surprises during the regular season.  They beat the teams they were supposed to beat and failed to upset the teams better than they were.  We expect the trend to continue.  They are better than the Seminoles.

 

Florida State does not take good care of the ball, and that costs them in confrontations against good opponents.  The Seminoles do not play particularly well away from Tallahassee, and they should be making a quick exit from the Dance.

 

Prediction: Texas A&M 73  Florida State 65

 

#2 Notre Dame 26-6 (11) vs. #15 Akron 23-12 (-9)

This is the best Irish team since Digger Phelps led Notre Dame in the late 1980’s.  Throw in the fact that this team has a chip on its shoulders following a first round exit last year, and the Irish have to be considered the Sweet 16 favorite in their four-team pairing this weekend.

 

The Irish finished the regular season with a scoring margin of 10.4 points per game.  Down the stretch, they went 7-2 against teams in this tournament.  The Selection Committee placed Notre Dame in a bracket that should provide a very memorable Sweet 16 contest against one of their most bitter arch-rivals.

 

Akron has a big seven-foot center, but the Zips do not rebound the ball all that well.  Zeke Marshall, the aforementioned big man, concentrates his efforts on blocking shots, and he frequently is not in position to rebound the ball.  So, the blocked shot frequently turns into a made basket off an offensive rebound.  The Zips did not fare well on the road this year, and with a considerably weaker schedule than average, this does not bode well.

 

Prediction:  Notre Dame 81  Akron 57

 

Southeast Regional

#1 Pittsburgh 27-5 (18) vs. #16 UNC-Asheville (-5)/U A L R (-13)

One of us here at the PiRate Ratings might be dating himself, but he sees a lot of the 1962 Cincinnati Bearcats in this year’s Pitt team.  The Panthers have a dominating inside power game that will pulverize any finesse team that cannot hit 10 three-pointers.  Neither UNCA nor UALR has a remote chance to make this game a close contest.

 

Pitt outscored their opposition by 13.1 points per game.  This stat looks even better when you factor in that they compiled this gaudy stat playing in a league that produced 11 NCAA Tournament teams.  The Panthers outshot their opponents by 7.6%, and they totally dominated the glass with a 10.4 rebounding advantage.  If you are thinking the way to beat them is to play a packed in zone, think again.  Ashton Gibbs can bury you from outside with his near 50% three-point accuracy, and Brad Wannamaker can still get the ball inside to one of the bruisers waiting to punish you with a thunder dunk.

 

Only a negative turnover margin prevents the Panthers from being there with Kansas as a co-favorite for winning all the marbles.

 

Pitt’s cupcake opponent will have to be happy with winning their First Four game, because they will be humiliated in this game.

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 78  UNC-Asheville 54 (or UALR 48)

 

#8 Butler 23-9 (7) vs. #9 Old Dominion 27-6 (10)

This is the second best matchup in this round, and the winner will put a scare into Pittsburgh in the next round and even have a decent shot at the upset.

 

Butler is now the hunted rather than the hunter.  The Bulldogs will not sneak up on anybody this year.  More importantly, they are not as talented as they were last year.  The Bulldogs fared much better on the road last year than this season.  However, down the stretch, Butler started to look like a team proficient enough to get past the first weekend once again.

 

Old Dominion has the talent to advance past the first weekend as well.  The Monarchs are a miniature version of Pittsburgh, the team they would face in the next round should they win this game.

 

ODU is the nation’s number one rebounding team with a +12.2 margin.  The Monarchs’ schedule was not outstanding, but it was on par with several teams from the so-called power conferences, and they finished 6-4 against teams in this tournament.  This is a better ODU team than the one that upset Notre Dame in the first round last year, and this game should be one you do not want to miss.

 

 

Prediction: Old Dominion 72  Butler 70 in overtime

 

#5 Kansas State 22-10 (9) vs. #12 Utah State 30-3 (14)

This is the one game where a number 12 seed winning would not really be all that much of an upset.  Utah State should have been a top eight seed in this tournament.  If we were conspiracy buffs, we would say that the Selection Committee searched for a team that the Aggies do not match up with all that well and placed them in this spot to verify their actions.

 

Kansas State does not take care of the ball well enough to advance very deep into this tournament, but their first game opponent cannot take advantage of that weakness.

 

Utah State has dominated their opponents by forcing them to play a patient half-court game with very little scoring in transition.  They prefer to work the ball patiently for a good shot and then force opponents to take a low-percentage shot.  Thus, the Aggies outrebound their opponents, but they do so by forcing more bad shots than by out-leaping their opponents.

 

Kansas State has the talent to force Utah State to play at a quicker tempo and force them to defend one-on-one.  Jacob Pullen is a poor man’s (and smaller) Derrick Rose.  He can break down most opponents off the dribble, and he should be able to force USU to resort to some type of combination defense to keep him from going wild.

 

What scares us most about Utah State is that they had two opportunities to show they are deserving of their lofty ranking.  They lost to BYU and to Georgetown, and they never really threatened to pull of the upset in either game.

 

This is one game where we are going to go against our own chalk.  Kansas State’s schedule was seven points tougher, and the Wildcats can exploit the Aggies’ weaknesses.

 

Prediction: Kansas State 70  Utah State 63

 

#4 Wisconsin 23-8 (7) vs. #13 Belmont 30-4 (9)

This game has become the most-picked upset special around the nation.  Belmont is being compared with Butler of last year.  The Bruins are lofty of all this attention-gathering admiration, but Wisconsin is not the Washington Generals.

 

Belmont has the highest scoring margin in the nation at 18.4 points per game.  The Bruins outshot their opposition by 5.7% per game, and they took a lot of three-point attempts.  They outrebounded their opponents by 3.9, and they had an eye-popping 5.3 turnover margin.  They share the top steals per game average in this tournament with Missouri at 9.7, and their R+T Rating is the best in the tournament at 16.2 (three better than number two Ohio State).

 

Of course, these statistics were compiled against inferior competition.  Belmont’s schedule strength is nine points below the national average and a dozen below their first round opponent.  Against the opponents that made it to this tournament, they were 1-3.  They beat Alabama State by 13.  The three losses were on the road to in-state rivals Tennessee (twice) and Vanderbilt, but they led in the second half of those games.

 

The last time Belmont was in the Big Dance, the Bruins came within a missed last shot of sending Duke home.   

 

Wisconsin was not expected to be this good in 2011.  This was supposed to be a minor rebuilding season for the Badgers.  The Badgers usually run Coach Bo Ryan’s Swing Offense with great efficiency, rarely turning the ball over.  They outscored their opponents by 9.9 points per game, and they outshot they outrebounded them by 3.8 boards per game. 

 

The Badgers have been a hot and cold team this year.  When they have been hot, they have been nearly unbeatable, because Ryan’s teams always limit possessions.  When they have been cold, they have been easily beatable, because Ryan’s teams always limit possessions.  They finished the season as cold as ice, so the Badgers must be considered a slight underdog in this game.

 

Prediction: Belmont 74  Wisconsin 70

 

#6 St. John’s 21-11 (9) vs. #11 Gonzaga 24-9 (13)

Here is a game where we believe the seedings should be switched.  Gonzaga has been here enough times to be considered a regular in the NCAA Tournament, like Duke, Kansas, Ohio State, and Connecticut.  This makes a baker’s dozen consecutive appearances in the Big Dance for the Bulldogs. 

 

In past years, Gonzaga had a big scorer that could take over games.  Adam Morrison comes to mind.  This year, the Zags are more difficult to prepare for, because they are more team-oriented.  There is not a big star on the roster, but all five starters are capable of taking the team on his shoulders with a hot night.

 

In their nine-game winning streak to close the season, Gonzaga eliminated Saint Mary’s from the Dance party with two victories.  The Bulldogs scoring margin in those nine games was 76-58.  This is a good team playing its best ball of the year, and we expect Coach Mark Few to win yet another NCAA Tournament game.

 

St. John’s comes into the tournament minus one of its stars.  Starting forward D. J. Kennedy went down for the season with a knee injury in the Big East Tournament, and the Red Storm is now suspect in the paint.  Their Criteria Score of nine should be discounted by two to three points.  It is enough to take this contest from tossup status to near-comfortable status for Gonzaga.

 

Prediction: Gonzaga 74  St. John’s 66

 

#3 Brigham Young 30-4 (18) vs. #14 Wofford 21-12 (-1)

So, you didn’t get a chance to see Pete Maravich play at LSU in 1968, 1969, or 1970, eh?  We must admit that nobody will ever be the collegiate equal for Maravich, but Jimmer Fredette may be the closest thing to him.

 

Throw out the floppy socks and floppy Beatles haircut and throw out some of the most unbelievable passes in the history of the game (so unbelievable that Maravich’s teammates frequently could not see them coming), and Fredette is not that far behind Maravich.

 

The sports nation will be turning its eyes to this game just to see if Fredette can make a run at a single game scoring mark.  If we remember correctly, Notre Dame’s Austin Carr set the mark back in 1970 with 61 points against Ohio U in a regional qualifier game.

 

BYU may have been a strong Final Four contender had Brandon Davies not loved his girlfriend so much.  The Cougars averaged 8.7 fewer points per game once Davies was suspended. 

 

Wofford will not be able to take much advantage of Davies’ absence.  The Terriers fared well in all PiRate Criteria categories, but they did not meet even the minimum “numbers to look for” in any category, and their schedule strength was five points below the norm. 

 

Prediction: Brigham Young 75  Wofford 63

 

#7 U C L A 22-10 (-3) vs. #10 Michigan State 19-14 (1)

If only this were a few years ago.  Neither of these historically dominating teams is going to make waves in this year’s tournament, and the winner will be around for just one more game.

 

UCLA would be a national title contender if Kevin Love had stuck around for four years.  Imagine Love as a senior on this team.  Can you say Bill Walton-like numbers?  Alas, the Bruins must get by with a couple of well above-average forwards instead of the best three-man tandem in the nation.

 

The Bruins have the worst turnover margin of any team in this tournament.  At -3.4, UCLA would need to dominate on the boards, and while they usually win that battle, it is anything but dominating.

 

Michigan State’s one asset year in and year out under Coach Tom Izzo has been their rebounding acumen.  For most teams, a +4.3 edge on the boards would be considered outstanding, but in East Lansing, this is considered a down year. 

 

Neither team has done all that well away from their home court this season, and there really is only one stat where one team stands out ahead of the other.  MSU’s schedule was four points tougher than UCLA’s schedule.  That’s our spread for this game.  

 

Prediction: Michigan State 64  UCLA 60

 

#2 Florida 26-7 (15) vs. #15 UC-Santa Barbara 18-13 (-10)

The Gators looked like a potential Final Four team in the last month, at least when they were not playing Kentucky.  UCSB is not Kentucky. 

 

Florida tends to commit too many floor mistakes to win four games in this year’s tournament.  They have enough talent to get through the first weekend, but we do not see the Gators extending their stay after that.

 

UCSB upset Long Beach State to get here, and the Gauchos are one of the weakest teams in the tournament according to our Criteria Score.  With negative rebounding and turnover margins, they just barely escape automatic elimination with a R+T rating of 0.3. 

 

Prediction: Florida 76  U C S B  54

 

 

 

Our Bracket

 

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

 

Third Round Winners

Ohio State over George Mason

Kentucky over West Virginia

Syracuse over Xavier

North Carolina over Washington

Duke over Tennessee

Texas over Arizona

Connecticut over Cincinnati

San Diego State over Penn State

Kansas over UNLV

Louisville over Vanderbilt

Purdue over Georgetown

Notre Dame over Texas A&M

Pittsburgh over Old Dominion

Kansas State over Belmont

Gonzaga over Brigham Young

Florida over Michigan State

 

Sweet 16 Winners

Ohio State over Kentucky

Syracuse over North Carolina

Texas over Duke

San Diego State over Connecticut

Kansas over Louisville

Purdue over Notre Dame

Pittsburgh over Kansas State

Florida over Gonzaga

 

Elite 8 Winners

Ohio State over Syracuse

Texas over San Diego State

Kansas over Purdue

Pittsburgh over Florida

 

Semifinal Winners

Ohio State over Texas

Kansas over Pittsburgh

 

National Championship

Kansas over Ohio State

March 12, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 12 Update

Bucknell Joins The Dance Party

The Bucknell Bison earned the Patriot League’s automatic bid Friday with a 72-54 victory over Lafayette.  Versatile big man Mike Muscala led the Bison with 18 points while sharpshooter Bryson Johnson added 15.

 

Bucknell improved to 25-8 on the season.  They project to be a 12 or 13-seed.

 

12 More Bids To Go Out Saturday

 

This is the busiest day of the tournament schedule.  13 conferences will crown their champion, and four other conferences will conduct semifinal rounds.  All told, every single one of the 21 games scheduled will be televised nationally.  Do you have enough televisions and a good high-speed computer?

 

Here is a conference-by-conference look at all the action.

 

All Game Times EST

 

Atlantic Coast Conference—Greensboro, NC

Quarterfinal Round

#1 North Carolina  61  #9 Miami  59

#4 Clemson  70  #5 Boston College  47

#2 Duke  87  #7 Maryland  71

#6 Virginia Tech  52  #3 Florida State  51 

 

Semifinal Round

#1 North Carolina (25-6)  vs. #4 Clemson (21-10)  1:30 PM  ESPN 

#2 Duke (28-4)  vs. #6 Virginia Tech (21-11)  3:45 PM  ESPN

 

All four teams are safely in the NCAA Tournament.  The Hokies secured a spot in the Dance with the nail-biting win over the Seminoles.

 

America East Conference

Championship Round

#5 Stony Brook (15-16)  at #2 Boston U (20-13)  12 Noon  ESPN2

 

Boston U won both regular season meetings.  The Terriers won 67-62 at home and 62-49 on the road.  They win with their defense, as they only shoot 40.6% from the field.

 

Atlantic 10 Conference—Atlantic City, NJ

Quarterfinal Round

#9 Dayton  68  #1 Xavier  67

#12 St. Joseph’s  93  #4 Duquesne  90  ot

#2 Temple  96  #10 LaSalle  76

#3 Richmond  55  #6 Rhode Island 45

 

Semifinal Round

#9 Dayton (21-12)  vs. #12 St. Joseph’s (11-21)  1 PM  CBS College

#2 Temple (25-6)  vs. #3 Richmond (24-7)  3:30 PM  CBS College

 

The Bubble teams will have to sweat it out all the way until Sunday.  At least one long shot will advance to the Championship Game.  Neither St. Joe’s nor Dayton is getting an at-large bid, and one of the two will be playing for an automatic bid Sunday.  Both Temple and Richmond are in the Dance.

 

Big 12 Conference—Kansas City

Semifinal Round

#1 Kansas  90  #5 Colorado  83

#2 Texas  70  #3 Texas A&M  58

 

Championship Game

#1 Kansas (31-2)  vs. #2 Texas (27-6)  6 PM  ESPN

 

The Jayhawks are still playing for the overall number one seed, while Texas is probably locked in on a number two seed.  However, with Notre Dame losing, a Longhorn win could put them in the conversation, especially if Duke does not win the ACC Tournament.

 

Big East Conference—New York City

Semifinal Round

#9 Connecticut  76  #4 Syracuse  71  ot

#3 Louisville 83  #2 Notre Dame  77  ot 

 

Championship Game

#3 Louisville (25-8)  vs. #9 Connecticut (25-9)  9 PM  ESPN

 

Connecticut becomes the first team ever to play five games in five days in modern college basketball history.  Will they have anything left in the tank next week when it really counts?  Louisville’s win more than likely killed any chance for the Irish getting a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament.

 

Big Ten Conference—Indianapolis

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Ohio State  67  #8 Northwestern  61 ot

#4 Michigan  60  #5 Illinois  55

#7 Michigan State  74  #2 Purdue  56

#6 Penn State  36  #3 Wisconsin 33

 

Semifinal Round

#1 Ohio State (30-2)  vs. #4 Michigan (20-12)  1:40 PM  CBS

#6 Penn State (18-13)  vs. #7 Michigan State (19-13)  4 PM  CBS

 

Michigan State has now earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament.  Penn State might move from the Bubble to in the tournament with a win over the Spartans.

 

Big West Conference—Anaheim

Semifinal Round

#1 Long Beach State  74  #7 UC-Riverside  63

#5 UC-Santa Barbara 83  #3 Cal State Northridge 63

 

Championship Game

#1 Long Beach State (22-10)  vs. #5 UC-Santa Barbara (17-13)  8 PM  ESPN2

 

Long Beach State won both meetings against the Gauchos in the regular season, and neither game was close.  The 49ers are not going to become another Butler or even repeat the exploits of Northern Iowa last year, but they could scare a favored team in the first round.  If UCSB wins, then they will make a quick exit in the first round.

 

Conference USA—El Paso, TX

Semifinal Round

#4 Memphis  76  #8 East Carolina  56

#3 U T E P  66  #2 Tulsa  54

 

Championship Game

#3 UTEP (25-8)  vs. #4 Memphis (24-9)  11:30 AM  CBS

 

The host Miners blew Memphis off the floor 74-47 in their only regular season meeting.  That game took place on this court.

 

Ivy League Playoff

Harvard (23-5)  vs. Princeton (24-6)  at Yale University  4 PM  ESPN3.com 

 

If Princeton wins a close game, there is an outside chance that the Ivy League could get two bids.

 

Mid-American Conference—Cleveland

Semifinal Round

#6 Akron  79  #2 Western Michigan  68

#1 Kent State 79  #4 Ball State 68

 

Championship Game

#1 Kent State (23-10)  vs. #6 Akron (22-12)  6 PM  ESPN2

 

The winner goes dancing, while the loser can only hope for a trip to Madison Square Garden in late March.

 

M E A C—Winston-Salem, NC

Semifinal Round

#4 Morgan State  61  #1 Bethune-Cookman  48

#2 Hampton  85  #6 Norfolk State  61

 

Championship Game

#2 Hampton (23-8)  vs. #4 Morgan State (17-13)  2 PM  ESPN2

 

Morgan State goes for a four-peat.  The Bears beat Hampton in the regular season 78-72.

 

Mountain West Conference—Las Vegas

Semifinal Round

#1 B Y U  87  #5 New Mexico  76

#2 San Diego State  74  #3 UNLV 72

 

Championship Game

#1 B Y U  (30-3)  vs. #2 San Diego State (31-2)  7 PM  Versus

 

Is the third time the charm for San Diego State?  The Aztecs’ two losses were to the Cougars.  If they can hold Jimmer Fredette under 35 points, we have a feeling that SDSU will cut down the nets. 

 

Both teams are legitimate threats to make it to the Sweet 16 and possibly a round or two farther.

 

Pac-10 Conference—Los Angeles

Semifinal Round

#1 Arizona  67  #4 Southern Cal  62

#3 Washington 69  #7 Oregon 51

 

Championship Game

#1 Arizona (27-6)  vs. #3 Washington (22-10)  6 PM  CBS

 

This should be an exciting game, even though it will not greatly affect the NCAA Tournament seedings.

 

The two teams split the season series, but the Huskies came close to sweeping.  UW won by 17 at home and fell by a single point in Tucson.  We think this is a tossup game.

 

Southeastern Conference—Atlanta

Quarterfinal Round

1W  Alabama 65  4E Georgia 59  ot

2E  Kentucky  75  3W  Ole Miss 66

1E  Florida  85  5E  Tennessee  74

3E  Vanderbilt  87  2W  Mississippi State  81

 

Semifinal Round

1W  Alabama (21-10)  vs. 2E  Kentucky (23-8)  1 PM  ABC

1E  Florida (25-6)  vs.  3E  Vanderbilt (23-9)  3:30 PM  ABC

 

Alabama played themselves into position to get one of the final at-large bids.  The Crimson Tide fans need to route against a Dayton or St. Joseph’s tournament championship in the Atlantic 10, because there is still little room for error for ‘Bama.

 

Kentucky looks unstoppable at times and then looks like a team that doesn’t belong in the tournament at others.  That’s what you get with a bunch of underclassmen and with no depth.

 

We believe this game will be close for most of the day, but the Wildcats will enjoy one nice spurt in both halves to hold off the Tide by six to 12 points.

 

Florida is playing about as well as either of their two National Champion teams.  It is hard to stop a team with five guys capable of scoring 20 points.  The Gators’ have few weaknesses.

 

Vanderbilt is a lot like Florida, but not as talented.  The Commodores have excellent outside shooters, but they cannot create their own shot like Florida’s outside shooters.  They have a couple of excellent inside scorers, but they can disappear against Florida’s inside players.  We look for the Gators to dominate this one from the beginning and win by double digits.

 

Southland Conference—Katy, TX

Championship Game

#1 McNeese State (21-10)  vs. #7 UT-San Antonio (18-13)  4 PM  ESPN2

 

S W A C—Garland, TX

Semifinal Round

#4 Alabama State  73  #1 Texas Southern  66

#6 Grambling  81  #2 Jackson State  75  ot

 

Championship Game

#4 Alabama State (16-17)  vs. #6 Grambling (12-20)  8:30 PM  ESPNU

 

The winner of this game can definitely plan on heading to Dayton for a First Four game.

 

W A C—Las Vegas

Semifinal Round

#1 Utah State  58  #8 San Jose State  54

#2 Boise State 81  #3 New Mexico State  63

 

Championship Game

#1 Utah State (29-3)  vs. #2 Boise State (20-11) 10 PM  ESPN2

 

Utah State is definitely in the Dance, so if the Broncos can pull off the big upset, another bubble will burst somewhere else.

 

Note: St. Mary’s defeated Weber State Friday night 77-54 in a non-conference game that was scheduled only two months ago.  The Gaels appear to be safe as an at-large team.

March 11, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 11 Update

Patriot League Championship—4:45 PM EST On ESPN2

#6 Lafayette (13-18)  at #1 Bucknell (24-8)

 

Lafayette makes an appearance in the conference championship game for the second consecutive year.  The Leopards fell to rival Lehigh last season and were tabbed the best team in the league in the preseason.  They took a step backward and tumbled to sixth in the league.

 

Bucknell closed 2010 with an 8-2 finish and returned all five starters and most of their key reserves.  The Bison continued to play top-notch ball and ran away with the Patriot League title.  Bucknell is on fire, having won nine games in a row by an average of 72-60 and 22 of their last 24 games.

 

The Bison swept the series against their Keystone State rival, winning 75-56 in Lewisburg and 74-69 in overtime at Easton.  Tonight’s game is on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, so Bucknell will enjoy the home court advantage.

 

In the earlier game in Lewisburg, Bucknell began the second half of a close game by going on a 20-3 run to put the game out of reach.  The Bison held Lafayette to 37% shooting and controlled the boards by 14.  In the game at Lafayette, Bucknell led 61-50 with four and a half minutes to go, but the Bison did not score another point in regulation.  Lafayette scored 11 consecutive points to force overtime and then briefly took a 64-61 lead at the start of the extra period.  The Leopards shot under 40% again and were outrebounded once again.

 

Bucknell goes just seven-deep, and all seven contribute to the offense.  Muscular big man Mike Muscala leads the way with 14.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.  The 6-11 Muscala has recorded six double-doubles in the last 15 games.  Bryson Johnson is an excellent long-range shooter, and he shoots 47% from three-point range.  As a team, Bucknell shoots 40.6% from behind the arc.

 

Lafayette led the entire game at Holy Cross in the conference tournament quarterfinal.  The Leopards placed five players in double figure scoring, and they stole the ball nine times to knock off the Crusaders.  In the semifinal round at number two seed American, the Leopards trailed by two points in the final seconds when Jim Mower buried a three-pointer as the clock expired to seal a double overtime victory.

 

If the Leopards are to pull off the big upset and advance to a First Four game in Dayton next week, big man Jared Mintz will have to neutralize Muscala.  Mintz gives away two inches in height, but he has the power to hold his own inside.  Mintz leads the Leopards with a 15.8 point scoring average and 5.8 rebound average.  Mower averages 12.4 points per game.

 

Thursday’s Results And Friday’s Games With NCAA Tournament Repercussions

All Times EST

Atlantic Coast Conference—Greensboro, NC

1st Round

#9 Miami  69  #8 Virginia  62

#5 Boston College  81  #12 Wake Forest  67

#7 Maryland  75  #10 North Carolina State  67

#6 Virginia Tech  59  #11 Georgia Tech  43

 

Quarterfinal Round

#9 Miami (19-13)  vs. #1 North Carolina (24-6)  12 Noon  ESPN2

#5 Boston College (20-11)  vs. #4 Clemson (20-10)  Approx. 2:15 PM  ESPN2

#7 Maryland (19-13)  vs. #2 Duke (27-4)  7 PM  ESPN2

#6 Virginia Tech (20-10)  vs. #3 Florida State (21-9)  Approx. 9:15 PM  ESPN2

 

North Carolina, Duke, Florida State, Clemson, and Boston College are in.  Virginia Tech, Maryland, and Miami are on the bubble.  Miami and Maryland must win today, or they are NIT-bound.  Virginia Tech is in a near must-win situation.  They are on the middle of the bubble.

 

Atlantic 10 Conference—Atlantic City, NJ

No Games Played Thursday

Quarterfinal Round

#9 Dayton (20-12)  vs. #1 Xavier (24-6)  12 Noon  CBS College

#12 St. Joseph’s (10-21)  vs. #4 Duquesne (18-11)  2:30 PM  CBS College

#10 LaSalle (15-17)  vs. #2 Temple (24-6)  6:30 PM  CBS College

#6 Rhode Island (19-12)  vs. #3 Richmond (24-7)  9 PM  CBS College

 

Xavier, Temple, and Richmond are in.  Duquesne must win the tournament to get in, so the bubble teams will be pulling for Dayton or Xavier to stop them in the semifinals.  Keep an eye on Rhode Island.  The Rams are capable of upsetting Richmond and Temple to get to the finals.

 

Big 12 Conference—Kansas City

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Kansas  53  #9 Oklahoma State  52

#5 Colorado  87  #4 Kansas State  75

#2 Texas  74  #10 Oklahoma  54

#3 Texas A&M  86  #6 Missouri  71

 

Semifinal Round

#1 Kansas (30-2)  vs. #5 Colorado (21-12)  7 PM

#2 Texas (26-6)  vs. #3 Texas A&M (24-7)  9:30 PM

 

Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M, Missouri, Kansas State, and Colorado are in.  The Buffalos secured their bid yesterday, so the rest of this tournament is all about the seedings.

 

Big East Conference—New York City

Quarterfinal Round

#9 Connecticut  76  #1 Pittsburgh  74

#4 Syracuse  79  #5 St. John’s  73

#2 Notre Dame  89  #7 Cincinnati  51

#3 Louisville  81  #11 Marquette  56

 

Semifinal Round

#9 Connecticut (24-9)  vs. #4 Syracuse (26-6)  7 PM  ESPN

#2 Notre Dame (26-5)  vs. #3 Louisville (24-8)  Approx. 9:15 PM  ESPN

 

11, yes 11, teams will receive invitations Sunday evening.  This is the strongest league not just this year, but maybe since the Big East placed three teams in the Final Four in 1985.  This should be a great finish to the tournament, and Notre Dame has a chance to move to a number one seed if the Irish win it.  Any one of these four could still be playing in late March.

 

Big Ten Conference—Indianapolis

1st Round

#8 Northwestern  75  #9 Minnesota  65

#7 Michigan State  66  #10 Iowa  61

#6 Penn State  61  #11 Indiana  55

 

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Ohio State (29-2)  vs. #8 Northwestern (18-12) 12 Noon  ESPN

#4 Michigan (19-12)  vs. #5 Illinois (19-12)  Approx 2:20  ESPN

#2 Purdue (25-6)  vs. #7 Michigan State (18-13)  6:30 PM  Big Ten Network

#3 Wisconsin (23-7)  vs. #6 Penn State (17-13)  Approx. 8:45  Big Ten Network

 

Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois are in.  Michigan State can definitely punch a ticket with an upset over Purdue today, and they are still on the highest part of the bubble if they lose.  Northwestern and Penn State must win the tournament to get in, although the Nittany Lions could get in the discussion with a loss in the finals.  We would not be all that surprised if the Wildcats play Ohio State a close game, at least for 30 to 32 minutes.

 

Big West Conference—Anaheim

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Long Beach State 79  #8 UC-Irvine  72

#5 UC-Santa Barbara  79  #4 Pacific  67

#7 UC-Riverside  70  #2 Cal Poly  66  ot

#3 Cal State Northridge  75  #6 Cal State Fullerton  54

 

Semifinal Round

#1 Long Beach State (21-10)  vs. #5 UC-Santa Barbara (16-13)  9:30 PM  ESPNU

#3 Cal State Northridge (14-17)  vs. #7 UC-Riverside (12-18)  12 Midnight  ESPNU

 

The champion is the only team that will advance.  Long Beach State has a minimal at best chance of winning a first round game if they are the champion.

 

Conference USA—El Paso, TX

Quarterfinal Round

#8 East Carolina  75  #1 U A B  70  ot

#4 Memphis  66  #5 Southern Miss.  63

#3 U T E P  77  #6 Marshall  65

#2 Tulsa  81  #7 Rice  72

 

Semifinal Round

#2 Tulsa (19-12)  vs. #3 U T E P  (24-8)  3 PM 

#4 Memphis (23-9)  vs. #8 East Carolina (18-14)  5:30 PM

 

At this point, no team is guaranteed a spot in the Big Dance.  UAB played their way to the bottom half of the bubble with a loss to ECU.  Memphis and UTEP could possibly get into the conversation if they both advance to the championship game.  For now, we are projecting just the champion to make it into the tournament.  The host Miners enjoy a large home court advantage and should top Tulsa in a thriller today.

 

Mid-American Conference—Cleveland

Quarterfinal Round

#2 Western Michigan 67  #7 Bowling Green  56

#6 Akron  82  #3 Miami (O)  75  2ot

#1 Kent State  73  #8 Buffalo  62

#4 Ball State  76  #5 Ohio U  73  ot

 

Semifinal Round

#2 Western Michigan (20-11)  vs. #6 Akron (21-12)  7 PM

#1 Kent State (22-10)  vs. #4 Ball State (19-12)  9:30 PM

 

The MAC has been down in recent years, but the eventual champion of this tournament could be a formidable opponent as a number 13 or 14 seed for a better team in the first round. 

 

M E A C—Winston-Salem, NC

Quarterfinal Round

#4 Morgan State  77  #5 North Carolina A&T  59

#6 Norfolk State  55  #3 Coppin State 53

 

Semifinal Round

#1 Bethune-Cookman (21-11)  vs. #4 Morgan State (16-13)  6 PM

#2 Hampton (22-8) vs. #6 Norfolk State (12-19)  Approx. 8:15 PM

 

These teams are playing for a probable spot in the First Four.  The first semifinal will be a thriller; the top-seeded Wildcats face the three-time defending champion Bears.

 

Hampton has been a surprise team, and they should have an easier contest and be more rested for the championship.

 

Mountain West Conference—Las Vegas

Quarterfinal Round

#1 B Y U  64  #9 T C U  58

#5 New Mexico  67  #4 Colorado State 61

#2 San Diego State  64  #7 Utah  50

#3 U N L V  69  #6 Air Force 53

 

Semifinal Round

#1 B Y U (29-3)  vs. #5 New Mexico (21-11)  9 PM  CBS College

#2 San Diego State (30-2)  vs. #3 U N L V  (24-7)  11:30 PM  CBS College

 

BYU, San Diego State, and UNLV are in.  Colorado State played themselves into the NIT with the loss yesterday to New Mexico.  As for the Lobos, with a third win over BYU today, they could get into the conversation, but they probably need to earn the automatic bid to go dancing.

 

Pac-10 Conference—Los Angeles

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Arizona 78  #9 Oregon State  69

#4 Southern Cal  70  #5 California  56

#7 Oregon  76  #2 U C L A  59

#3 Washington 89  #6 Washington State 87

 

Semifinal Round

#1 Arizona (26-6)  vs. #4 Southern Cal (19-13)  9 PM  Fox Sports

#3 Washington (21-10)  vs. #7 Oregon (16-16)  11:30 PM  Fox Sports

 

Arizona, UCLA, and Washington are in.  Oregon must win this tournament to get in.  As for Southern Cal, the Trojans might work their way into one of the final bubble spots with an upset over the top-seeded Wildcats tonight.  Last night’s battle of the Evergreen State was one of the most exciting of the tournament season with the Huskies coming from behind to knock off arch-rival Washington State by two.

 

Southeastern Conference—Atlanta

1st Round

#4E  Georgia  69  #5W  Auburn  51

#3W  Ole Miss  66  #6E  South Carolina  55

#5E  Tennessee  74  #4W  Arkansas  68

#3E  Vanderbilt  62  #6W  L S U  50

 

Quarterfinal Round

#1W  Alabama (21-10)  vs. #4E Georgia (20-10)  1 PM

#2E  Kentucky (22-8)  vs. #3W Ole Miss (20-12)  3:30 PM

#1E  Florida (24-6)  vs. #5E  Tennessee (19-13)  7:30 PM

#2W Mississippi State (17-13)  vs. #3E  Vanderbilt (22-9)  10 PM

 

Florida, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt are definitely in.  Tennessee is probably in and would only be out if a lot of surprise winners win the remaining conference tournaments.  The Vols would safely secure a spot with a win over the Gators. 

 

The big game in all of college basketball today is the Georgia-Alabama game.  Call this an extra play-in game.  The winner survives to the Dance, while the loser will be hosting an NIT game next week.

 

Southland Conference—Katy, TX

Semifinal Round

#1 McNeese State  91  #4 Texas State  83

#7 UT-San Antonio  79  #3 Sam Houston State 70

 

Championship Game on Saturday

 

S W A C—Garland, TX

Quarterfinal Round

#4 Alabama State  81  #5 Alabama A&M 61

#6 Grambling  65  #3 Mississippi Valley  62

 

Semifinal Round

#2 Jackson State (17-14)  vs. #6 Grambling (11-20)  3:30 PM

#1 Texas Southern (19-11)  vs. #4 Alabama State (15-17)  9 PM

 

The Champion will probably be forced to play in the First Four.  Jackson State is on a mission after losing in the first round last year as the number one seed.

 

W A C—Las Vegas

Quarterfinal Round

#8 San Jose State  74  #4 Idaho 68

#3 New Mexico State  66  #6 Nevada  60

 

Semifinal Round

#1 Utah State (28-3)  vs. #8 San Jose State (17-14)  9 PM

#2 Boise State (19-11)  vs. #3 New Mexico State (16-16)  11:30 PM  ESPN2

 

Utah State is in and should be the higher seed in their first round game.  If the Aggies are upset, then one more bubble will burst.  The one WAC team that beat USU (Idaho) was knocked out of the conference tournament yesterday.

March 10, 2011

NCAA Basketball Conference Tournaments–March 10 Update

Two Newest Dance Participants

 

Northeast Conference Championship

Long Island  85  Robert Morris  82 ot

 

In what may have been the most exciting championship game of the season, the home-standing Blackbirds and visiting Colonials exchanged leads all night.  Two missed three-point shots in the final seconds, one at the buzzer, was all that prevented this game from going to double overtime.

 

LIU opened with a cold shooting hand, and RMU took the lead.  Once the Blackbirds started hitting their shots, this became a game of runs.  LIU had the hot hand in the second half, but RMU kept getting enough offensive rebounds to keep the Colonials in the game.

 

Jamal Olasewere had a game-high 31 points to go with 11 rebounds; he scored seven points in the overtime.  Team leader Julian Boyd was held to just seven points, but the Blackbirds had excellent showings off the bench.  Jason Brickman tossed in 15 points and dished out eight big assists, while Kenny Onyechi added 13 points.

 

Russell Johnson and Velton Jones teamed up for 42 points for the losers.

 

LIU will be a formidable opponent for their favored foe in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.  Their style of play could cause severe matchup problems for a bigger, slower team, especially if that team is not the strongest ball-handling team.  If they were to be bracketed against BYU in the first round, it would be the thriller of the first round. 

 

Big Sky Conference Championship

Northern Colorado  65  Montana  60

 

This game was anticlimactic following the NEC Championship.  Montana kept the pace slow, and the Grizzlies shot out to a 7-0 lead in the first two and a half minutes.  UNC made a run to take its first lead at 17-16 on a three-point shot by Tate Unruh.

 

The lead switched hands several times the remainder of the half with the buzzer sending the teams to the locker tied at 31-31.

 

Montana maintained a small lead for most of the second half, until star guard Devon Beitzel took over.  His three-pointer at the 4:56 mark gave the Bears the lead for good.  Beitzel continued shooting and then forced Montana to foul him, and the Bears hung on to win.

 

Beitzel did not score until late in the first half, but the Big Sky Conference’s leading scorer finished with 27 points.

 

Montana center Brian Qvale hit a layup with 16 seconds remaining to cut the lead to 62-60, but following two made Beitzel free throws, Art Steward committed a turnover to seal the game. 

 

Steward led the Grizzlies with 16 points, while Qvale added 11.

 

Northern Colorado will be one of those teams that will be glad just to be there at the NCAA Tournament.  The Bears should make a quick exit in game one, unless they are chosen as one of the First Four #16 seeds.

 

13 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
Long Island Northeast 27-4
Morehead State Ohio Valley 24-9
Northern Colorado Big Sky 21-10
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

 

No Championship Games Are Scheduled For Thursday

 

Wednesday’s Results/Thursday’s Schedule

All Times EST

Atlantic Coast Conference—Greensboro, NC

1st Round

#8 Virginia (16-14)  vs. #9 Miami (Fla) (18-13)  12 Noon

#5 Boston College (19-11)  vs. #12 Wake Forest (8-23)  Approx. 2:15 PM

#7 Maryland (18-13)  vs. #10 North Carolina State (15-15)  7 PM  ESPN2

#6 Virginia Tech (19-10)  vs. #11 Georgia Tech (13-17)  Approx. 9:15 PM

 

Big 12 Conference—Kansas City

1st Round

#9 Oklahoma State  53  #8 Nebraska  52

#5 Colorado  77  #12 Iowa State  75

#10 Oklahoma  84  #7 Baylor  67

#6 Missouri  88  #11 Texas Tech  84

 

Quarterfinal Round

#9 Oklahoma State (19-12)  vs. #1 Kansas (29-2)  12:30 PM on ESPN2

#5 Colorado (20-12)  vs. #4 Kansas State (22-9)  3PM

#10 Oklahoma (14-17) vs. #2 Texas (25-6)  7 PM

#6 Missouri (23-9) vs. #3 Texas A&M (23-7)  9:30 PM

 

Big East Conference—New York City

2nd Round

#9 Connecticut  79  #8 Georgetown 62

#5 St. John’s  65  #13 Rutgers 63

#7 Cincinnati  87  #15 South Florida 61

#11 Marquette  67  #6 West Virginia  61

 

Quarterfinal Round

#9 Connecticut (23-9)  vs. #1 Pittsburgh (27-4)  12 Noon  ESPN

#5 St. John’s (21-10)  vs. #4 Syracuse (25-6)  Approx. 2:15 PM  ESPN

#7 Cincinnati (25-7)  vs. #2 Notre Dame (25-5)  7 PM  ESPN

#11 Marquette (20-13)  vs. #3 Louisville (23-8)  Approx. 9:15 PM  ESPN

 

Big Ten Conference—Indianapolis

1st Round

#8 Northwestern (17-12)  vs. #9 Minnesota (17-13)  2:30 PM  ESPN2

#7 Michigan State (17-13)  vs. #10 Iowa (11-19)  4:50 PM  ESPN2

#6 Penn State (16-13)  vs. #11 Indiana (12-19)  7:30 PM  Big Ten Network

 

Big West Conference—Anaheim

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Long Beach State (20-10)  vs. #8 UC-Irvine (13-18)  3 PM

#4 Pacific (16-14)  vs. #5 UC-Santa Barbara (15-13)  5:20 PM

#2 Cal Poly (15-14)  vs. #7 UC-Riverside (11-18)  9 PM

#3 Cal State Northridge (13-17)  vs. #6 Cal State Fullerton (11-19)  11:20 PM

 

Conference USA—El Paso, TX

1st Round

#8 East Carolina  78  #9 Central Florida  60

#5 Southern Miss.  63  #12 Tulane  47

#6 Marshall  97  #11 Houston  87

#10 Rice  58  #7 S M U  57

 

Quarterfinal Round

#8 East Carolina (17-14)  vs. #1 U A B  (22-7)  1PM  CBSC

#5 Southern Miss (22-9)  vs. #4 Memphis (22-9)  3:30 PM  CBSC

#6 Marshall (22-10)  vs. #3 U T E P  (23-8)  7:30 PM  CBSC

#10 Rice (14-17)  vs. #2 Tulsa (18-12)  10 PM  CBSC

 

M A C—Cleveland

Quarterfinal Round

#7 Bowling Green (14-18)  vs. #2 Western Michigan (19-11)  12 Noon

#6 Akron (20-12)  vs. #3 Miami (O) (16-15)  2:30 PM

#8 Buffalo (18-12)  vs. #1 Kent State (21-10)  7 PM

#5 Ohio U (18-14)  vs. #4 Ball State (18-12)  9:30 PM

 

M E A C—Winston-Salem, NC

Note: The MEAC has a unique scheduling format which rewards its top three seeds.  Thus, yesterday, there were both first round and quarterfinal round games scheduled.  The quarterfinal round concludes today.

 

1st Round

#6 Norfolk State  68  #11 Howard 53

 

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Bethune-Cookman  66  #9 South Carolina State 50

#2 Hampton  77  #10 Maryland-Eastern Shore  55

 

Quarterfinal Round Continues

#4 Morgan State (15-13)  vs. #5 North Carolina A&T (15-16)  8 PM

#3 Coppin State (16-13)  vs. #6 Norfolk State (11-19)  7 PM

 

Mountain West Conference—Las Vegas

1st Round

#9 T C U  70  #8 Wyoming  61

 

Quarterfinal Round

#9 T C U (11-21)  vs. #1 Brigham Young (28-3)  3 PM

#5 New Mexico (20-11)  vs. #4 Colorado State (19-11)  5:30 PM

#7 Utah (13-17)  vs. #2 San Diego State (29-2)  9 PM

#6 Air Force (15-14)  vs. #3 U N L V  (23-7)  11:30 PM

 

Pac-10 Conference—Los Angeles

1st Round

#9 Oregon State 69  #8 Stanford 67

#7 Oregon 76  #10 Arizona State 69

 

Quarterfinal Round

#4 Southern Cal (18-13)  vs. #5 California (17-13)  3 PM  Fox Sports

#1 Arizona (25-6)  vs. #9 Oregon State (11-19)  5:30 PM  Fox Sports

#2 U C L A  (22-9)  vs. #7 Oregon (15-16)  9 PM  Fox Sports

#3 Washington (20-10)  vs. #6 Washington State (19-11)  11:30 PM  Fox Sports

 

Southeastern Conference—Atlanta

1st Round

#4E  Georgia (20-10)  vs. #5W  Auburn (11-19)  1 PM

#3W  Ole Miss (19-12)  vs. #6E  South Carolina (14-15)  3:30 PM

#4W  Arkansas (18-12)  vs. #5E  Tennessee (18-13)  7:30 PM

#3W  Vanderbilt (21-9)  vs. #6E L S U  (11-20)  10 PM

 

Southland Conference—Katy, TX

Quarterfinal Round

#1 McNeese State 61  #8 Nicholls State 54

#4 Texas State 72  #5 Southeastern Louisiana 68

#7 Texas-San Antonio 97  #2 Northwestern State (LA) 96

#3 Sam Houston State 61  #6 Stephen F. Austin 45

 

Semifinal Round

#3 Sam Houston State (18-12)  vs. #7 Texas-San Antonio (17-13)  7 PM

#1 McNeese State (20-10)  vs. #4 Texas State (16-15)  9:30 PM

 

S W A C–Garland, TX

Quarterfinal Round

#1 Texas Southern 50  #8 Arkansas-Pine Bluff 45

#2 Jackson State 50  #7 Prairie View 38

 

Quarterfinal Round Continues

#3 Mississippi Valley (13-18)  vs. #6 Grambling (10-20)  12:30 PM

#4 Alabama State (14-17)  vs. #5 Alabama A&M (13-14) 9 PM

 

W A C—Las Vegas

1st Round

#8 San Jose State 75  #5 Hawaii 74

#6 Nevada 90  #7 Fresno State 80

 

2nd Round

#4 Idaho (18-12)  vs. #8 San Jose State (16-14)  3 PM  ESPNU

#3 New Mexico State (15-16)  vs. #6 Nevada (13-18)  5:30 PM  ESPNU

August 14, 2010

2010 Western Athletic Conference Preview

Go to www.piratings.webs.com where we beat the spread 60.4% in 2009!

 

2010 Western Athletic Conference Preview

 

No team has dominated a conference for an entire decade the way Boise State has dominated the WAC since Alabama toyed with the SEC for 10 years after Bear Bryant went to the wishbone.  The Broncos last eight years in conference play have produced a league mark of 62-2!  Things will change next year, when BSU moves to the Mountain West.  It appears impossible for the Broncos to top last year’s 14-0 record, but this year’s team might be considerably stronger.

Nevada is the clear-cut second best team, and Fresno State is the clear-cut third best team.  After those two, there are three teams that are equally mediocre and three teams that will be fodder for the top six.  With Boise primed to make a run for a National Championship, there is a legitimate possibility that there will not be enough bowl eligible teams for the allotted bowl spots.

Note: The PiRate Ratings are not meant to be used to predict the outcome of future games.  They are usable only as a basis for the current week’s games.  We do not use these ratings to make our selections.  They are only a starting point.  The predictions given below, as for every college conference and NFL division, are not taken from the ratings themselves.

Predictions

Pos Team WAC Overall
1 Boise State 8-0 12-0
2 Nevada 7-1 10-3
3 Fresno State 6-2 9-3
4 Utah State 4-4 5-7
5 Hawaii 4-4 6-7
6 Louisiana Tech 4-4 5-7
7 Idaho 2-6 3-10
8 New Mexico State 1-7 2-10
9 San Jose State 0-8 2-11

 

BCS Bowl: Boise State (possible National Championship Game)

Humanitarian Bowl: Fresno State

Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl: Nevada

Hawaii Bowl: Will need an at-large team

New Mexico Bowl: Will need and at-large team

 

Hawaii is guaranteed a spot in the Hawaii Bowl if they have seven or more wins.  If not, this bowl gets the third choice after the Humanitarian and Kraft Bowls select.

 

Team By Team Breakdown

 

Team Boise State Broncos
               
Head Coach Chris Petersen
               
Colors Blue and Orange
               
City Boise, ID
               
2009 Record              
Conference 8-0
Overall 14-0
               
PiRate Rating 121.7
               
National Rating 8
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 8-0
Overall 12-0

 

Offense: Better?  You betcha.  The Broncos return 10 starters on this side of the ball as well as every player that ran the ball and every receiver that caught a pass!

Let’s start with the nation’s number two quarterback in passing efficiency in 2009, trailing only some guy named Tebow.  Kellen Moore made 3rd Team All-American last year, and he could move up two spots if his team runs the table this year.  We expect him to be making a trip to the Downtown Athletic Club in Manhattan in December.  Moore completed 64.3% of his passes for 3,536 yards.  His TD/Int ration was an astonishing 39/3.  He was a down-the-field passer, so those stats were not inflated by having some speedster frequently turning a two-yard pass into a 65-yard touchdown.

Moore’s only problem may be trying to decide which open receiver to throw the ball.  His top two options are 2009 1st Team All-WAC Austin Pettus and Titus Young.  Those two combined for 142 receptions and 24 touchdowns.  Tyler Shoemaker is the bruiser of this group, and he can go across the middle and make the tough catch in a sea of defenders.

When Boise runs the ball, they will have a trio of special backs toting the pigskin.  Jeremy Avery ran for more than 1,150 yards, and Doug Martin added 765.  Martin led the ground contingent with 15 touchdowns.  Third back D. J. Harper accounted for just 285 yards, but he is the best breakaway threat of the three.  He averaged 6.5 yards per rush a year ago.

The offensive line returns four starters a year after allowing just five QB sacks, only three after the first game.  The entire second team has some starting experience, so Coach Chris Petersen can feel confident relieving his starters for a series.

Boise State averaged 42.2 points and 450 total yards last year, and those numbers should be eclipsed by this veteran squad.  Look for 45-50 points and 450-475 yards per game this season.

Defense: Now the bad news: Uh, the only bad news is for the rest of the league, because Boise State will be more improved on this side of the ball than on offense!

The Broncos gave up 17 points and 300 yards per game last year, and 10 starters also return on this side of the ball.  Almost the entire second team returns as well, and it would not surprise us to see BSU finish in the top five in both total offense and total defense.  We’re talking 1997 Nebraska-type dominance if that happens.

If there is a liability of any kind with this defense, it is at linebacker.  Boise uses a 4-2-5 defense, and the two linebackers get lost among all the stars on the stop side.  Aaron Tevis and Daron Mackey combined for just 90 stops a year ago, and they were merely above-average players in the WAC.

In the trenches, the Broncos can rely on four experienced upperclassmen, including a sure future NFL (assuming the NFL plays in 2011 or 2012) end.  Ryan Winterswyk made 17 tackles on the other team’s side of the line—nine sacks and eight tackles of runners.  Tackle Billy Wynn is just as potent at causing teams to lose yardage.

The secondary is even stronger this year.  Nickel back Winston Venable is a monster against both the run and the pass, and when he is on the field, opposing teams may think there is more than one #17 running around.  Cornerback Brandyn Thompson and strong safety Jeron Johnson should both make 1st Team All-WAC after teaming for 10 interceptions last year.

Schedule: It all comes down to the first game of the season.  Boise travels over 2,000 miles across two time zones to face Virginia Tech at the Washington Redskins’ stadium on Monday night, September 6.  The Broncos proved they could beat a BCS conference champion last year when they completely shut down Oregon in the opener.  That game was at home.  If the Broncos beat the Hokies, we don’t see anybody else threatening them.  A home game with Oregon State and a road game against Nevada might be the only other games where they cannot win by three touchdowns or more.  It will be either 1-0 on the way to 12-0 or 0-1 on the way to maybe 10-2.  At 12-0, they would be riding a 26-game winning streak and deserve to go to Glendale, Arizona, on January 10.

Team Fresno State Bulldogs
               
Head Coach Pat Hill
               
Colors Cardinal and White
               
City Fresno, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 6-2
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 99.6
               
National Rating 60
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 6-2
Overall 9-3

 

Offense: Fresno State has always fielded exciting, well-balanced offenses under Coach Pat Hill.  This year will be no different.  The Bulldogs may have lost their top player on this side of the ball, but they return eight starters and should have another successful season moving the ball.

It will be hard to replace running back Ryan Mathews after he led the league with more than 1,800 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns.  We expect Robbie Rouse to step in and rush for 1,000+ yards in his first year as a starter.  He showed flashes of brilliance last year in a backup role.

In a league of outstanding quarterbacks, Ryan Colburn rarely gets a mention in the press outside of Fresno.  Colburn is a capable, but not flashy passer.  He completed 61% of his tosses for 2,459 yards last year, but he needs to cut down on his 3.7% interception rate.

The Bulldogs lost three of their top four receivers, but there is good talent left.  Jamel Hamler and Devon Wylie can turn a short pass into a long gain.

The offensive line welcomes back all five starters.  This unit could be a little better than Boise State’s interior line.  Best among this quintet are center Joe Bernardi and tackle Kenny Wiggins, two seniors that should have a chance to play professionally (maybe in Canada).

Fresno State may take a small step backward on this side of the ball, but the Bulldogs will still be an offensive threat in every game.  Look for about 28 points and 400 yards per game.

Defense: FSU surrendered 214 rushing and 200 passing yards last year, and we see that problem continuing in 2010.  The Bulldogs return the majority of their contributors from 2009, but we see only three really good players on this side of the ball.

One of those three is end Chris Carter.  The 1st Team All-WAC performer accounted for almost half of the team’s sacks (5 out of FSU’s poor 11) and added eight other tackles for loss.  He’s the only star player in the trenches, and he will see double teams on most plays this year.  The Bulldogs gave up a profane six yards per rush last year, so teams will run the ball at them until they can prove they can slow it down.

The second line of defense is much better than the first and considerably better than the unit behind them.  Linebacker Ben Jacobs led FSU with 106 tackles last year, but too many were five or more yards down the field.  Neither he, nor outside linebacker Kyle Knox recorded a sack.

The secondary is pedestrian, but it was hard to cover the WAC’s receivers when there was no pass rush.  Strong safety Lorne Bell earned 2nd Team All-WAC honors, but he is better in run support than in pass coverage.

Fresno State will give up a lot of points again this season, and it will prevent the Bulldogs from contending with the big two in the league.  Look for 26-30 points and 400-425 yards allowed—about the same as last year.

Schedule: Outside of the WAC, Fresno plays its usual contingent of BCS schools.  This year, they host Cincinnati and Illinois and visit Ole Miss.  They get a breather with FCS member Cal Poly.  Boise State is a road game, and they have no chance in that one.  They get Nevada at home and could sneak up on the Wolf Pack.  6-2 in the league is a strong possibility, and we believe the Bulldogs can upend two of the three BCS conference teams they play.  Call it nine wins and a bowl in 2010.

Team Hawaii Warriors
               
Head Coach Greg McMackin
               
Colors Green, Black, and White
               
City Honolulu, HI
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 6-7
               
PiRate Rating 85.0
               
National Rating 97
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 6-7

 

Offense: Hawaii has once again become a great vacation trip for BCS schools.  Since June Jones left for SMU three years ago, the Warriors have fallen on hard times.  The UH offense went from a 40+ per game juggernaut to a 20-point per game patsy.

Don’t look for any improvement on this side of the ball in 2010.  Coach Greg McMackin has too many holes to fill to expect a better showing.  In fact, things could get worse.  Only five starters return, but only one of them is from the offensive line.  Tackles Austin Hansen and Laupepa Letuli give the Warrior a good couple of anchors.

Quarterback Brian Moniz returns to pilot the attack after starting eight times last year.  He is a good runner as well as passer, but he won’t be confused with Colin Kaepernick.

Moniz will benefit from the return of receivers Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares.  The two combined for 172 receptions and 2,280 yards.  Speedy Rodney Bradley gives Moniz a third good option.

The running game has not been much of a factor in recent years.  As long as the back in the game can block for the quarterback, run a good safety valve route and cut on a draw play, he has done his job.  Alex Green should fit the bill nicely, and he should catch 25-30 passes this year.

With the troubles up front, we just cannot see Hawaii topping 24 points per game this season.  Look for 21-24 points and 375-400 yards.  The Warriors turned the ball over a lot last year, and that trend may continue in 2010. 

Defense: There should be improvement on this side of the ball, but it may not show up that much in the stats.  If the offense gives up the ball quickly due to incompetence, the defense will stay on the field longer.

Seven starters return on this side of the ball, but the top two tacklers from a year ago are gone.  One area that should not be a problem is the secondary.  All four starters return after giving up just 203 passing yards per game (low for this league).  All four (corners Jeramy Bryant and Lametrius Davis and safeties Mana Silva and Spencer Smith) proved to be excellent pass defenders, combining for 10 interceptions and 24 passes batted away.

The front seven is more of a problem.  Hawaii did a poor job against the run last year, and it could continue this season.  Two starters must be replaced up front, and two starters must be replaced at linebacker.  None of this year’s front seven will contend for even honorable mention all-conference.

Hawaii will give up 30-35 points and 400-425 yards per game.  

Schedule: The opener should draw a lot of national attention.  UH entertains bad boy Lane Kiffin and his Southern Cal Trojans on Thursday night, September 2.  They follow it up with a trips to West Point to face Army on 9/11 and to Boulder to take on the Colorado Buffaloes on 9/18.  It could actually be snowing in the Front Range on that date.  The Warriors return home to face Charleston Southern, which should be their first win.  UH concludes the season with UNLV.  The Rebels could possibly be playing for bowl eligibility in that game.  In league play, UH has road games with Fresno State and Boise State and will come home with their tails beneath their legs. 

We believe the Warriors will break even in league play, but they will fall one game short of bowl eligibility again.

Team Idaho Vandals
               
Head Coach Robb Akey
               
Colors Black and Gold
               
City Moscow, ID
               
2009 Record              
Conference 4-4
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 90.3
               
National Rating 88
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 2-6
Overall 3-10

 

Offense: 2009 was one of those years when the stars aligned just right for Coach Robb Akey’s Vandals.  Idaho won five close games, including a 43-42 Humanitarian Bowl thriller over Bowling Green, on its way to its first winning season of the century.  With the graduation of most of their offensive line, their top running back, and their top receiver, it looks like the one year recovery will be an anomaly. 

The one bright spot on this side of the ball is the return of quarterback Nathan Enderle.  After the big two, he may be the third best QB in the WAC.  Last year, he passed for 2,906 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Enderle’s top target has graduated, and Max Komar was vital to this team’s success.  Maurice Shaw returns after averaging more than 20 yards on his 32 receptions.  He should form a solid trio with Preston Davis and tight end Daniel Hardy, but Komar will be sorely missed.

Idaho used a platoon at tailback, and two of the three principle members of that platoon return.  Princeton McCarty and Deonte Jackson combined for 1,108 yards, so the Vandals’ running game is in good hands this year.

Because the rebuilding blocking wall will be a liability this year, expect both the rushing and passing yardage to fall back in 2010.  Call it about 23-26 points and 380-420 yards per game.  

Defense: Idaho didn’t win because of great defensive play in 2009.  They gave up 36 points and 433 yards per game!  With 10 starters returning, there should be some improvement, but we don’t see enough improvement to justify picking Idaho to return to a bowl.

The entire front seven returns intact.  They were not particularly strong against the run or the pass.  While the Vandals gave up just a tad over 150 rushing yards per game, opponents averaged 4.7 yards per rush.  They were too busy picking the secondary to shreds to run the ball much more than 30 times per game.

The strength of the front seven is on the outside where end Aaron Lavarais and outside linebacker Jo Jo Dickson will contend for all-conference honors.

The secondary will not fare much better than their dismal performance last year after giving up 278 passing yards per game and allowing better than 66% completions.  Without a much better pass rush, look for the Vandals to maybe give up 300 yards per game through the air.

Idaho will once again give up 30+ points per game, but maybe it will be less than last year’s 36.  Let’s go with 32-35 points and 425-450 yards allowed.

Schedule: The Vandals should start off the season on a winning note when they open with North Dakota at home.  Then, they must play at Nebraska, where they could lose by six touchdowns.  A home game with UNLV should tell the fans whether they have any reason to remain optimistic, and we believe the Rebels will leave Moscow with a win.  A trip to Colorado State the following week will either put the nail in the coffin for the 2010 season or give the Vandal hope.  The Rams will treat that game as a must-win contest.  A final non-conference game at Western Michigan won’t give them a win.  Idaho hosts both Nevada and Boise State, which should be considered a curse this year.  They cannot compete with either, and it would be better for the Vandals to have two other home games.  At least, UI gets New Mexico State and San Jose State at home—those are their two conference wins for 2010.

Team Louisiana Tech Bulldogs
               
Head Coach Sonny Dykes
               
Colors Red and Blue
               
City Ruston, LA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 96.5
               
National Rating 66
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7

 

Offense: After half of the coaches in FBS football turned down the Tennessee job last year, Tech coach Derek Dooley took the job.  Welcome new coach Sonny Dykes.  Dykes turned around the Arizona Wildcats’ offense after learning the “Air Raid” Spread offense at Texas Tech under Mike Leach.  Expect a complete overhaul of the offense this year, as the Bulldogs return to a wide open offense like teams of yesteryear in Ruston.

Unfortunately, Tech won’t have Tim Rattay, Luke McCown, or Terry Bradshaw lining up at quarterback.  Actually, neither Dooley nor offensive coordinator Tony Franklin know who will be lining up at quarterback in the opener.  As August practices began, it was a four-way race between incumbent Ross Jenkins, Auburn transfer Steven Ensminger, last year’s backup Colby Cameron, and junior college transfer Tarik Hakim.  Whoever wins the battle will be throwing the ball anywhere from 40 to 60 times a game.

Tech has a fine stable of pass receivers thanks to the school that stole their prior coach.  Tennessee transfer Ahmad Paige left Orangeville last year to escape the tornado known as Lane Kiffin.  Paige will join holdovers Cruz Williams and Phillip Livas to form a solid first team.  In this offense, expect at least five other receivers to catch more than 25 passes. 

Another escapee from the Kiffin asylum is tailback Lennon Creer.  We expect Creer to step in and start from day one, but the Bulldogs backs will not match the production of graduated star Daniel Porter.

The offensive line returns four starters, but there could be some rough times in the transition from a predominantly running attack to an offense that will pass the ball at least 60% of the time and as much as 80-85% of the time.

LT averaged 29 points per game last year, and we think the Bulldogs will shatter that mark this season.  Look for 31-35 points and 400-425 yards per game in year one of the “air raid.”

Defense: This is the reason Dykes won’t turn things around in year one.  Tech gave up 26 points per game last year, and the defense is noticeably weaker this season.

The problems start up front where only one starter returns to the four-man trench.  Included in the graduation losses was two-time All-WAC star D’Anthony Smith.

The three-man linebacking corps returns two starters, including 2009 1st Team All-WAC Mike linebacker Adrien Cole.  Cole led the Techsters with 93 tackles last year.

The secondary is better than average and returns three starters, but they may have trouble matching last year’s numbers due to the weaker pass rush. 

We expect LT to give up more than 28 points and maybe as much as 33 points per game to go along with 375-400 yards per game.

Schedule: Finally it will happen!  Louisiana Tech will play Grambling for the first time ever to kick off the 2010 season.  The schools are within walking distance, but they have been separated by mountains of Southern philosophical opinion for years.  It should be an interesting game, but any chance for Grambling to pull off the upset disappeared when they weren’t able to gain approval for a medical hardship redshirt for their starting quarterback.  Tech will be 1-0 when they venture to Aggieland to take on Texas A&M, and that game should be a shootout.  Ditto the following two weeks’ games with Navy and Southern Miss.  When Tech enters WAC play, they may be just 1-3, but they could be averaging 40 points per game.  We see them splitting their league games, coming up one win short of bowl eligibility.

Team Nevada Wolf Pack
               
Head Coach Chris Ault
               
Colors Blue and Silver
               
City Reno, NV
               
2009 Record              
Conference 7-1
Overall 8-5
               
PiRate Rating 102.6
               
National Rating 51
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 7-1
Overall 10-3

 

Offense: Coaltown, Alydar, Sham, the 1961 Detroit Tigers, the 1962 Detroit Lions—what do these have in common?  Coaltown, Alydar, and Sham were great horses that might have won the Triple Crown in their three-year old campaigns, but they happened to race against Citation, Affirmed, and Secretariat.  The 1961 Tigers won more than 100 games and was probably better than the 1968 World Champions.  The 1962 Lions were probably the best ever in the Motor City.  Those Tigers played second fiddle to the Maris and Mantle Yankees.  Those Lions played second fiddle to the greatest NFL team in history—the 1962 Green Bay Packers.

Nevada is this year’s Coaltown.  The Wolf Pack is clearly the second best team in the WAC and one of the best teams in WAC history (in the current alignment) not wearing an orange and blue uniform.

Coach Chris Ault’s team ran the pistol offense to near perfection a year ago.  Nevada outpaced Georgia Tech and the three service academies that run triple option and averaged a nation’s best 345 yards rushing per game.  They had three players top 1,000 rushing yards.  Not even the great Oklahoma teams of the 1970’s that rushed for more than 400 yards a game had such a trio.

Two of those three stars return this season.  One is quarterback Colin Kaepernick.  He rushed for almost 1,200 yards (actually well over 1,300 when you factor out sacks) and 16 touchdowns.  He tossed another 20 touchdown passes on his way to 2,052 yards passing.

Joining Kaepernick in the pistol backfield will be Vai Taua, the other 1,000 yard back.  He totaled 1,345 yards with 10 touchdowns.  Backup Mike Ball will take over as the number two running back.  He averaged almost 10 yards per try in limited action last year, so he could replace Luke Lippincott as the third 1,000-yard rusher this year.

The receiving corps isn’t exactly chopped liver.  The four main receivers return after combining for 130 receptions and 14 touchdowns.  Brandon Wimberly was the WAC Freshman of the Year after grabbing 53 passes for 733 yards.

The offensive line lost two All-WAC performer, but we think this unit will be close to last year’s unit in blocking ability. 

Unless one of the option teams has an incredible season, there is no reason not to believe that Nevada will top the rushing charts again this season.  Look for another 325-350 effort on the ground with an additional 175-200 yards through the air.  The Wolf Pack should top 40 points per game after threatening that mark the last two seasons.

Defense: This side of the ball is missing just enough to prevent Nevada from competing with Boise State for the title.  As it is, the Wolf Pack is still the second best team by far.  Three of the top four tacklers must be replaced, so it is likely that Nevada will have to outscore opponents this season.

Up front, one of the returning starters is end Dontay Moch, who earned WAC Defensive Player of the Year in 2009.  Moch registered 20 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, including  6 ½ sacks.  At 6-1, he may be on the small side to be a star at the next level.

Brandon Marshall gives Nevada an outstanding strong-side linebacker.  Marshall dumped defenders for loss 9 ½ times in 2009, and he batted away four passes as well.

It is the secondary where Nevada cannot stop Boise State and thus cannot win the WAC this year.  The ‘Pack surrendered almost 300 yards through the air and 61.5% completions in 2009, and no starter had more than one interception.  Former Utah quarterback Corbin Louks has been brought to Reno to anchor the secondary at free safety. 

Nevada will once again give up more than four touchdowns per game.  Look for about 30 points and 425 yards allowed per contest.

Schedule: Nevada gets two breathers to open the season.  They host Eastern Washington and Colorado State.  A third consecutive home game against California could give the Wolf Pack a good chance to pull off the minor upset and crack the polls.  The following week finds them venturing to BYU for a potentially great shootout.  A week later, Nevada plays at UNLV.  They could be 5-0 when WAC play starts, and they will be no worse than 3-2.  They should be 4-0 in conference play when they go to Fresno State on November 13.  After a breather with New Mexico State, they host Boise State on Friday, November 26.  It isn’t impossible, but highly improbable they will win this game unless Boise State falls apart with numerous injuries.  Still, this should be Ault’s best team in Reno since he returned for the third time in 2004.  Call if a double-digit winning year.

Team New Mexico State Aggies
               
Head Coach DeWayne Walker
               
Colors Crimson and White
               
City Las Cruces, NM
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 3-10
               
PiRate Rating 78.4
               
National Rating 109
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10

 

Offense: One word can best sum up the Aggies’ offense—offensive.  NMSU scored just 11.5 points per game and tallied just 229 total yards per game.  That looks like stats you would see from a college team in the days when players went both ways.  The Aggies had no passing game whatsoever, and they were not an option team.  They averaged just 88 yards per game and completed less than half of their passes.

Quarterback Jeff Fleming might do better if he could throw to himself.  He just doesn’t have much talent in which to throw the ball.

Things are much better with the running game.  Seth Smith ran for more than 1,000 yards even though defenses placed an extra defender and sometimes two extra defenders up close to stop the run.

The offensive line returns three starters, but the Aggies pick up a plum in former Texas Longhorn tackle Aundre McGaskey.

With stats like last year, there is only one way to go for Coach DeWayne Walker’s offense, but we don’t expect State to fool many defenses this year.  Look for a slight improvement to 14-17 points and 250-275 yards per game. 

Defense: When your offense cannot sustain many drives and convert first downs, your defense will be on the field much longer than average.  Opponents ran an average of eight more plays per game against the Aggies last year, and more of the same will happen this season.

One unit that will be better is the back line.  All four starters return to the secondary.  This quartet of Stephon Hatchett, Alphonso House, Jonte Green, and Davon House teamed up for 32 batted passes and five picks.

The defensive line will be a little better this year, and that will make the secondary that much better.  Ends Pierre Fils and Donte Savage teamed up to make 13 QB sacks.

It’s at linebacker where there will be difficulties this year.  The Aggies must break in three new starters, only one of whom saw any real action last year.

The Aggies will give up 28-32 points and 400-425 yards again this season.  They are still a long way from competing for bowl eligibility.

Schedule: The one plus for New Mexico State is that as weak as they are, their in-state rival is weaker.  The Aggies should beat New Mexico.  They won’t be so lucky with San Diego State, UTEP, or Kansas.  NMSU gets upstart San Jose State at home, so we believe they will win twice this season.  That is one less than last year.

Team San Jose State Spartans
               
Head Coach Mike MacIntyre
               
Colors Dark Blue and Gold
               
City San Jose, CA
               
2009 Record              
Conference 1-7
Overall 2-10
               
PiRate Rating 82.7
               
National Rating 101
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 0-8
Overall 2-11

 

Offense: New Spartan head coach Mike MacIntyre takes over at San Jose after earning the national Assistant Coach of the Year award as the defensive coordinator at Duke.  Too bad he won’t get to defend against his own offense.  The Spartans scored just 13.8 points and produced 284 yards of total offense in 2009. 

Quarterback Jordan La Secla returns after passing for 1,926 yards at a 60% completion rate.  He tossed more interceptions than touchdown passes.

La Secla will have to make do without the top two receivers from last year.  Kevin Jurovich graduated, while Marquis Avery was declared academically ineligible.  Throw in the sudden departure of offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze to Arkansas State, and it looks like another long season on this side of the ball.

The running game was abysmal last year; don’t expect much improvement, after the Spartans averaged a meager 77 yards per game.

The offensive line is probably the strongest component of the offense, but it is still below average in the WAC. 

If MacIntyre can squeeze 17 points and 300 yards out of this offense, it will be a huge success.

Defense: San Jose State must replace four of their front seven defenders, so there won’t be much improvement on this side of the ball.  The Spartans didn’t fare much better on defense than offense last year. 

SJSU surrendered 259 rushing yards (6.1 yds./rush) last year, and with three of the front four having to be replaced against a slate of teams that can pound the ball down the field, the Spartans might actually fare worse this year.

All four starters return to the secondary.  Unfortunately, this quartet had to stop a lot of running plays last year and didn’t face many passing plays, as opponents ran the ball almost 65% of the time.

After giving up 35 points and 443 yards per game last year, the numbers could actually head south this year.  Look for maybe 36-40 points and 450-475 yards allowed.

Schedule:  By the time San Jose State faces a team they can beat, their players will be demoralized after beginning the season on the road with Alabama and Wisconsin. The Spartans will be 0-2, nursing a lot of bumps and bruises, and facing a scoring deficit of about 90-10!  They should find a way to beat Southern Utah in game three.  The following week finds them heading to Utah, where the Utes will remember the scare this team gave them last year.  Look for another blowout loss.  Then, SJSU faces UC Davis.  They should get a nice win in that one, but that will be their last of the season.  We see them losing all eight league games.

Team Utah State Aggies
               
Head Coach Gary Andersen
               
Colors Navy and White
               
City Logan, UT
               
2009 Record              
Conference 3-5
Overall 4-8
               
PiRate Rating 95.3
               
National Rating 72
               
2010 Prediction              
Conference 4-4
Overall 5-7

 

Offense: Coach Gary Andersen was a defensive genius as Utah’s defensive coordinator.  In his first year in Logan, he looked more like Urban Meyer.  If it wasn’t for a couple of key injuries, Utah State might have been looking at a winning season and bowl bid this year for the first time since 1997.

Running back Robert Turpin tore his ACL earlier this year and appears to be out for the season.  He led the Aggies with close to 1,300 rushing yards.  In his place, Michael Smith will carry the load.  Don’t expect 1,300 yards, but Smith has breakaway speed and can turn a small hole into a big gain.

Quarterback Diondre Borel ranks with Nathan Enderle as one of the WAC’s two best passers not named Moore or Kaepernick.  Borel had a splendid junior season in 2009 passing for 2,885 yards with 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions. 

The Aggies had a lot of options in the passing game, but they have been henpecked with injuries.  Turpin was a great receiver out of the backfield.  2009’s top receiver, Stanley Morrison, caught 33 passed and averaged 19 yards per catch.  He is gone for the season with a broken foot.  Then, just before practice began, wide out Eric Moats dropped a refrigerator on his foot.  He needed stitches, and as of this writing, he has yet to practice.  Junior college star Matt Austin was supposed to be a starter last year, but he missed the entire season.  He returns and will have to live up to his potential immediately.

The offensive line returns four starters, so if Borel has any talent running routes, he will have time to find them. 

Even with all the injuries, we believe USU will move the ball and score points this year, just not enough to move from middle of the pack to within shouting distance of Fresno State.  Look for 25-30 points and 400-425 yards per game.

Defense: Defense was a major problem last year, as USU gave up 34 points and 455 yards per game.  They could not stop the run or the pass.  With eight starters returning, expect some form of improvement.

The three linebackers are as good as any other WAC unit short of Boise State.  Bobby Wagner, Kyle Gallagher, and Junior Keiaho should team for more than 200 tackles.  Hopefully, not too many will be more than five yards downfield.

The defensive line returns three starters, but there is nothing special up front.  Actually, new starter Levi Koskan recorded more three more sacks than the three returning starters, who recorded ZERO SACKS!

The secondary had no chance last year with no pass rush.  Two starters return, and the two new starters saw considerable action last year.

If the Aggies can trim a touchdown off their defensive scoring average, they have a shot to emerge as the fourth bowl eligible WAC team.  Look for the defense to yield 26-31 points and 425-450 yards.

Schedule: The Aggies start the season at Oklahoma.  Assuming they have any depth left after that game, they should slaughter Idaho State.  If they are relatively healthy, game three could determine whether or not they can get over the hump and become the Idaho of 2009.  The Fresno State game in Logan is a make or break game.

Following that game, USU plays at San Diego State and then hosts BYU on Friday, October 1.  They should go 1-3 out of league play, so they will need five WAC wins to become bowl eligible.  They will have to beat either Fresno State or Louisiana Tech plus Hawaii to get there.  We believe they will come up one win short.

 

Coming Tomorrow: The Mountain West Conference—Can anybody beat TCU?  Are there six bowl eligible teams?

March 17, 2010

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

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

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

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

Without further adieu, let’s dig in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First-Round Games

 

East Regional

 

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

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

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

Prediction: Kentucky 74  East Tennessee 53

 

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Texas 77  Wake Forest 72

 

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Temple 68  Cornell 60

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Wisconsin 63  Wofford 56

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Washington 82  Marquette 75

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: New Mexico 72  Montana 63

 

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

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

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

Prediction: Clemson 77  Missouri 72

 

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

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

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

Prediction: West Virginia 69  Morgan State 52

 

South Regional

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Duke 87 Arkansas Pine Bluff 59

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Louisville 72  California 68

 

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

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

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

Prediction: Texas A&M 70  Utah State 66

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Siena 70  Purdue 65

 

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Notre Dame 71  Old Dominion 66

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Baylor 81  Sam Houston 67

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: St. Mary’s 73  Richmond 67

 

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

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

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

Prediction: Villanova 78  Robert Morris 63

 

Midwest Regional

 

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

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

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

Prediction: Kansas 94  Lehigh 61

 

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

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

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

Prediction: Northern Iowa 58  UNLV 53

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Michigan State 75  New Mexico State 62

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Maryland 83  Houston 70

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Tennessee 72  San Diego State 65

 

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

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

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

Prediction: Georgetown 72  Ohio 59

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Georgia Tech 72  Oklahoma State 68

 

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

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

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

Prediction: Ohio State 76  UCSB 54

 

West Regional

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Syracuse 90  Vermont 64

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Florida State 67  Gonzaga 63

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: UTEP 79  Butler 77 in overtime

 

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Murray State 75  Vanderbilt 69

 

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

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

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

Prediction: Minnesota 69  Xavier 66

 

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

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

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

Prediction: Pittsburgh 67  Oakland 58

 

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: BYU 85  Florida 77

 

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Kansas State 82  North Texas 65

 

Our Bracket

 

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

Second Round Winners

 

Kentucky over Texas in a close game

Wisconsin over Temple

New Mexico over Washington

West Virginia over Clemson

Duke over Louisville

Texas A&M over Siena

Baylor over Notre Dame

Villanova over St. Mary’s

Kansas over Northern Iowa

Michigan State over Maryland in a great game

Tennessee over Georgetown

Ohio State over Georgia Tech

Syracuse over Florida State

UTEP over Murray State

Minnesota over Pittsburgh

Kansas State over BYU in a thriller

Sweet 16 Winners

Kentucky over Wisconsin

West Virginia over New Mexico

Duke over Texas A&M

Baylor over Villanova

Kansas over Michigan State but a fantastic upset bid

Ohio State over Tennessee

Syracuse over UTEP

Kansas State over Minnesota

Elite 8 Winners

West Virginia over Kentucky

Duke over Baylor

Kansas over Ohio State

Kansas State over Syracuse

Semifinal Winners

 

Duke over West Virginia

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

National Championship

 

Duke over Kansas State

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

Blog at WordPress.com.