March 13, 2005
The greatest part about having a blog is being able to write and pretend people care but without restraints like liability, space concerns, or editing. As a warning, this is about the NCAA tournament...all of it. Suggested equipment for this read includes a catheter bag, some MRE's, and several no-doze. Ok, so maybe you only need an empty bladder, a full belly, and some caffeine. The point is, it's not exactly short. That said, here we go: (edit: I cut about a quarter of my stuff out because it was based on some faulty information. I can hear every English teacher I ever had laughing because an internet source was faulty)
All week I've tried to keep on top of the changing NCAA tournament scene, guessing who's in and who's out, who gets what seed, etc. I would like to say I successfully picked the at-large field Saturday night and Sunday morning (I had to wait til Sunday morning to find out the Big West tournament champion) The last two teams in were UAB and Northern Iowa. Had Pacific beaten Utah State, I think that Notre Dame would be in the field. In fact, I think the only mistake was that Notre Dame was left out in favor of UAB. If I thought ND should be in, then why didn't I pick them to be in? I know what the committee was looking for and UAB had it. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to look past the numbers. I watched both teams play through the course of the year, and I can say with absolute certainty that ND would beat UAB at least 3 times out of 5 that they played, at least. Sure, UAB had a more impressive record and conference record(UAB: 21-10 (10-6) ND: 17-11 (9-7)). Sure UAB had the better RPI (~50 vs. ~75) and they played a bit better their last 10 games (5-5 vs. 4-6). But past all the numbers, look at the teams. UAB beat only one team that is in the NCAA tournament (in 6 tries), Alabama A&M, who gets to be first-round fodder for North Carolina. UAB's best win is Clemson. That's right Clemson, who finished 9th out of 11 teams in the ACC(I suppose you could make a case for Depaul or Memphis in conference, but for here I'm just going to go along with foxsports.com.) Notre Dame on the other hand, beat 4 in 11 tries, beating Boston College, Connecticut, West Virginia, and Villanova. All that said, Notre Dame's best out of conference win was Indiana. The line between the cases for these two teams was razor thin, and I can't fault anybody, but that's my opinion. I called Northern Iowa. I am extremely proud of that. I called the Missouri Valley getting three teams in, which is great for the conference. I only wish the Mid-American Conference would've gotten the same respect, but that's life. Northern Iowa got in because they beat Iowa State and because they lost close at Iowa and close at Cincinnati. Northern Iowa played some power conference schools, and they got rewarded. I'm extremely happy with that. I'm always happy when a "mid-major" gets a bid over a power conference team. I've always held the opinion that the majority of the time the 2nd best team from a conference like the MAC or the MVC is better than the 5th, 6th, or 7th team from a power conference. As far as seeding goes, I don't dwell on it much because, to be honest, it doesn't really make a difference if you're one seed higher or lower, and this year especially you could make a case for many different teams at each level. Alright, on to the actual bracket. Go here to look at a bracket and follow along. In fact, go ahead and print it out and just fill it out as you go along, then find a good pool to get into, cuz I'll give you the perfect 63 for 63 bracket. Actually, I'm not going to give you every game, because I need to make sure I win all the contests without any co-champions. ;) I do have a pretty in-depth analysis of each region. The reason I have such lofty goals: because I can't be held accountable in any way, shape, or form. In reality, though, with all of the parity this year, if I pick 10 of the sweet sixteen and 4-5 in the elite eight, then I will be pretty happy with myself. That said, let's start with the region I'll be following the closest: Chicago
(All upset calls are for first round games only, unless otherwise specified)
Top Four Seeds: Illinois, Oklahoma St., Arizona, Boston College
Upsets I would be willing to bet on given the right stakes(based on seeds): Wisconsin-Milwaukee, St. Mary's
Upsets I could see happening: Utah St.
Sweet 16 teams: Illinois, Boston College, LSU, Oklahoma St.
Elite 8: Illinois, Oklahoma St.
Regional Champion: Illinois
General Comments: My worst fear has come to pass, Oklahoma State is in the same region as Illinois. OSU matches up with Illinois too well for my liking and I love Bruce Weber, but Eddie Sutton is a far superior basketball coach at this point in their respective careers. Elsewhere, I don't like Arizona to get too far. I think they rely too much on Salim Stoudamire and, to a lesser extent, Channing Frye. If those two don't combine for at least 50 points, I don't think they beat good teams. Still, they won 27 games so they know how to win, but i just don't see them getting too far. Boston College, oh how the mighty have fallen. They finished the year 4-4. I think they deserve better, but it's hard to displace the teams above them. I don't think they have the guards to keep up with Illinois. They have the guys inside, but they need the guards to get them the ball and keep Illinois from crashing down on them. I don't know much about Alabama, but they just didn't impress me when I saw them in the SEC tournament and Wisconsin-Milwaukee has been the class of the Horizon League all year. I think the Southern Illinois-St.Mary's game will be a really good one in the game itself and to compare the West Coast Conference and the Missouri Valley. Texas-Nevada will be a good game to compare the 2nd best team in the Mountain West with the 5th best team from the Big 12. I don't think either team have the athletes to beat Illinois though.
Top four seeds: North Carolina, Connecticut, Kansas, Florida
Upsets I would be willing to bet on: NC State, Northern Iowa
Upsets I could see happening: Iowa St., New Mexico, Ohio
Upset I would pay almost any price to see: Oakland/Alabama A&M over North Carolina
Sweet Sixteen: North Carolina, Florida, Kansas, Connecticut
Elite Eight: North Carolina, Connecticut
Regional Champion: Connecticut
General Comments: That's right, Connecticut will be in the final four. They're playing as well as anybody and have the talent to do it. UConn actually lost to NC earlier in the year so I think UConn will be more than happy to get another shot at them. I really like Northern Iowa against Wisconsin. Wisconsin plays such an ugly type of grind-it-out game that they can lose to anybody. I don't think they score enough points to get very far and I still say Northern Iowa is the 2nd best MVC team behind Southern Illinois (but not far). Minnesota-Iowa St. is a coin-flip and I really think that either could stun North Carolina if NC's not playing well. I like Ohio and New Mexico a lot, but Florida and Villanova are playing so well right now that I think they'll both make it to the weekend. Kansas is a bit too inconsistant for me to be too confident in them. I would love nothing more than to see Northern Iowa get to the sweet sixteen, but I think Wayne Simien will put Kansas on his back and get them to the 3rd round no matter how much they try and give it away. Still, they could very well go down early. UConn is gonna make the sweet 16 pretty easily. NC State would need to really catch UConn with their pants down to keep them out of the sweet sixteen. I could really see North Carolina getting knocked off in the sweet sixteen, but after the first two rounds this region is one toss-up after another as far as picking winners goes. A very competitive region with, as far as I see it, no real big favorite to win it.
Top Four Seeds: Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Syracuse
Upsets I would be willing to bet on: Iowa, Mississippi St.
Upsets I could see happening: Old Dominion, UTEP
Sweet Sixteen: Duke, Syracuse, Oklahoma, Kentucky
Elite Eight: Syracuse, Oklahoma
Regional Champion: Syracuse
General Comments: This Region is very equal at the top. Watch out for Utah, though. Andrew Bogut can carry a team. Oklahoma is probably the only team with the inside players to keep Bogut under control in the Region. I would be happy and unsurprised if Iowa made a run into the Sweet Sixteen. Anything to help prove the Big Ten is truly a power conference. That said, I think Michigan State is on a bit of a slide and could go down to a good Old Dominion team, although I doubt if Tom Izzo lets Michigan State overlook them. I think we will finally see Duke proven overrated if/when they play Syracuse. Vermont is a very capable team and could make me look like a fool if syracuse doesn't show up. I think Vermont got a raw deal being a 13 seed, and particularly bad luck to have to go against Syracuse first round but that's life. Overall, this looks to be your classic "any of these 3-4 teams could realistically make the final four" This region could make or break a lot of bracket pools.
Top four seeds: Washington, Wake Forest, Gonzaga, Louisville
Upsets I'd be willing to bet on: Pittsburgh, Creighton,
Upsets I could see happening: UCLA, George Washington
Sweet Sixteen: Washington, Louisville, Texas Tech, Wake Forest
Elite Eight: Washington, Wake Forest
Region Champion: Wake Forest
General Comments: There are a lot of high-scoring teams in this region and they should be fun to watch. I think Wake is the favorite, even though Washington is the number one seed. I really like Pacific, but if Pittsburgh shows up they can be pretty tough. Georgia Tech could spoil everything if they stay as hot as they were in the ACC conference tournament, although they are playing a good George Washington team that beat some big names preseason. I really like Texas Tech, they're peaking at the right time and they have one of the best (Bob Knight) at the helm. They had a good run in the Big 12 tournament and have the talent to do some damage. I just don't see Gonzaga getting to the sweet sixteen. Both Texas Tech and UCLA are solid teams that have a good shot at knocking them off. I'd love to see Creighton get the Missouri Valley a little more respect by knocking off West Virginia, the sixth and last team to get in from the Big East. That game could be a three-point fest as both teams like to shoot the three.
Illinois vs. Wake Forest: My second worst fear also came to pass. I think Illinois will have to play Wake Forest again in order to get to the national championship game. I can hear your thoughts from here: "but Illinois destroyed them earlier this year." That's exactly the problem. This is not the same Wake Forest team that Illinois pounded, they're much more cohesive, much more experienced then they were then. Also, I would like to say that Illinois wouldn't overlook someone in the final four, but still...they did wipe the floor with them. I've always had confidence in Illinois and I will stay with them to put the first game out of their minds so they can come out and play. Illinois, I think, stands a good chance against ACC teams because of their defense. The ACC is a very offense-oriented league that doesn't like to play defense. Both teams can run and score, but Illinois can defend. Illinois 86 Wake Forest 78.
Connecticut vs. Syracuse: Two Big east teams in the final four? I think so. The big east was the strongest conference in the country from top to bottom. Both these teams know each other. This would be the 4th time these two teams meet. UConn won both games they played in the regular season, by 8 at Syracuse and by 18 at Connecticut, but Syracuse won 67-63 in the Big East conference tournament on a neutral court. This time around? I look for Connecticut to go back to what worked when they beat Syracuse the first two times, but it could very well go the other way. Connecticut 74 Syracuse 72
Illinois vs. Connecticut: What's that you say? no North Carolina? nope. But you said...? I know, opinions change. UConn gets a chance to win back-to-back titles. However, there's a hungry Illinois team in their way. Josh Boone is a handful inside for UConn, but as they did all year, the Illinois guards will guard the perimeter players tight so they can't get the ball inside. Still, UConn has a couple very good guards in Rashad Anderson and Charlie Villanueva. But what does UConn do with the third guard from Illinois? Good question and I'm not sure UConn has an answer outside of playing a zone defense. UConn isn't known much for its defense, though. As a side note, I think every team that Illinois faces (except North Carolina for reasons I'll explain in a sec) will have to slow the game down, and they will probably have to play a zone defense. After Illinois blew out Wake Forest, no one has tried to run with Illinois, in short, because almost noone can. But back to this game. I like Illinois's chances with their three-guard attack. Illinois 81 Connecticut 77
As long as Illinois stays focused and plays their game, they can win the National Championship. The mostly outwardly worrisome teams for them are Oklahoma St. and Wake forest (I said why earlier) and it looks like they'll have to go through both of those teams. I think that if, by some chance, I'm wrong and North Carolina does play Illinois in the National Championship, then Illinois won't try to run. The reason is that North Carolina likes to run. In fact, when they've been forced to play a half-court game, they've gotten beat. Just about everyone in the ACC tries to run. North Carolina is used to that and not playing their half-court offense and working for every point. Illinois, on the other hand, plays in the gritty, defense-loving Big Ten. They've been forced to play half-court games ever since they blew Wake Forest out. They're used to and good at it. Therefore, Illinois would slow the tempo against NC and run against just about everyone else. Illinois has their path set, and I think they can do it. As long as they take it one game at a time and play like they're capable of. All year, Illinois has come out ready to play in the big games (Wake Forest, @Wisconsin, @Michigan State, Conference Championship, etc.) and I think they'll contunue that trend all the way to St. Louis.
The top 16 teams were (in order):
2. North Carolina
5. Wake Forest
8. Oklahoma St.*
16. Boston College
* Oklahoma State may have been one spot higher or lower and Kansas may have been one spot up but had to be moved due to scheduling conflicts. Two teams from the same conference cannot play until the regional finals (elite eight)
Conference With Multiple Bids:
Big East: 6 teams
Big 12: 6 teams
ACC: 5 teams
Big Ten: 5 teams<--Ha Ha Dick Vitale...the Big Ten is as good as the ACC ;)
SEC: 5 teams
Pac-10: 4 teams
C-USA: 4 teams
MVC: 3 teams
Big West: 2 teams
MWC: 2 teams
WCC: 2 teams
The Illinois High School Association actually was the first to use and copyrighted the term "March Madness". The IHSA and the NCAA jointly formed a holding company to hold the rights so that both organizations could use the phrase. Here's an atricle about it.
Just in case you want more info on the NCAA tournament, I suggest this on espn.com. It's a good article with some impressive number crunching. Also, I've entered my picks into the espn.com tournament challenge and the foxsports.com Bracket Buster contest. I'll use this here soap box to post my results. Last year I had a pitiful 31 of 63 spots thanks mostly to a Georgia Tech team that was supposed to lose in the second round. This year I'm hitting them all....I hope
Let the Madness Begin!