Breaking down the bracket and thoughts on the coaching carousel
Louisville deserves a No. 1 seed, but Wake Forest can knock off Cards
Arizona, Western Kentucky are the most likely 12-seeds to pull off an upset
As the coaching carousel spins, Few, Capel, Tubby will be hot names
Happy Brackets, everyone! I'm sure we're all glad the speculation about bubbles and seeds is over, and we can get down to talking hoops. My own bracket picks are here. I've gone through each of the four regions and have offered up a few Hoop Thoughts below to explain why I filled it out the way I did. Feel free to follow my advice on your own brackets, but remember my No. 1 rule: No blaming!
Also, at the end of my region-by-region Hoop Thoughts, I've weighed in about what I'm hearing regarding the annual offseason coaching carousel which, alas, got another push this week when Virginia parted ways with Dave Leitao. That's four major openings and counting, folks. Lots to cover and speculate about.
Herewith, then, my thoughts on the bracket and the hirings and firings to come. Enjoy the Madness, Hoopheads!
I agreed wholeheartedly with the committee's decision to make Louisville the No. 1 overall seed, but if you take a magnifying glass to the Cardinals' résumé, you see it's not quite as impressive as their seeding would indicate. Yes, they won the Big East regular season, but they did not have to play at UConn or at Pittsburgh. (They split those games at home.) Nor did they have to play either of those teams en route to winning the Big East tournament, where they also got a gassed Syracuse team in the final. Louisville won during the regular season by one point at Villanova and by three at West Virginia. Meanwhile, the Cardinals lost at Notre Dame by a whopping 33 points, they lost at home to UNLV and on neutral courts to Minnesota and Western Kentucky. Again, I'm not saying Louisville isn't a very good team, but they don't look like a juggernaut, either. That, plus the fact that they basically do not have a point guard, is the reason why I took a chance and picked them to lose in the Sweet 16 to Wake Forest. As Charles Barkley would say, I may be wrong, but I doubt it.
Why do I like Wake to beat Louisville and make the Final Four? Well, the Deacs have shown the type of inconsistency one would expect from such a young team, but my experience tells me that inconsistent teams tend to play to their potential come tourney time. You might get caught sleeping against Maryland in the ACC tournament, but nobody sleeps in the NCAA tournament. If you're going purely by future NBA players, Wake is arguably the most talented team in the country. I've got a hunch it'll maximize that talent, but it's kind of a scary pick considering it's playing a very dangerous Cleveland State team in the first round. But hey, this wouldn't be any fun if I went all chalk, would it?
I am apparently one of many people who questioned Arizona's inclusion in this tournament. Still, I had the Wildcats as my second team out (behind Penn State), so it's not like I'm screaming high dudgeon on this one. Besides, I like Arizona to beat Utah in the first round because the Wildcats should be able to overwhelm the Utes with their athleticism. The bottom line is, Russ Pennell has done as good a job this season as could possibly be expected given the circumstances under which he took the job. He should be congratulated for keeping this school's NCAA tourney streak alive. Plus, his team's pretty darn good when it wants to be.
The lower half of the Midwest region is the best eight-team grouping in the bracket. If you take out the two Cinderellas, Robert Morris and North Dakota State, then every team bases its game on defense and toughness -- except for Kansas. I'm not saying that the Jayhawks don't play D, but it is not part of their DNA the way it is those other teams. That's why I think it will be very, very hard for Kansas to make the regional final. They would have to win two-straight games against tougher teams, and whoever they play in the Sweet 16 is going to be on some type of offensive role (or else they wouldn't still be in the tournament). The No. 1 sign of toughness is the ability to win on the road, and Kansas' best road win this season was at Oklahoma on a night when the Sooners didn't have Blake Griffin. In their last two games away from Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks got blitzed at Texas Tech by 19 points and lost to Baylor in the first round of the Big 12 tournament. Something to keep in mind.
I argued that UConn deserved a No. 1, and obviously the committee felt the same way. Where we apparently differed, however, is in my belief that the No. 5 overall team in this tournament would be Memphis. Many fans do not realize that the committee ranks the entire field one through 65, but while the NCAA never releases that list (and pooh on them for that), it's clear to me that Memphis was, in fact, seeded behind Michigan State and Duke.
Here's how I can tell. I used to believe in the S-curve myth, too, where the top No. 2 seed is automatically paired with the last No. 1 seed, but it is in fact a myth. After the committee places the four No. 1 seeds in the bracket, it then places the first No. 2 seed in the closest available region. In Memphis' case, it wasn't allowed to go to the South because that regional is being played in Memphis, so the next available spot would have been Indianapolis. But Michigan State went to Indy. Boston is closer to Memphis than Glendale (Ariz.), yet Duke, not Memphis, went there. The committee keeps track of the competitive balance only through the first four lines, but it's more important for them to keep teams as close as possible to home than to hew perfectly to an S-curve. I realize this is getting really deep into the weeds, but this is something most commentators have missed. I wrote last week that Memphis was closer to a three seed than a one, and it turns out that's how it went down.
So if I argued for UConn to be a one seed ahead of Memphis, why am I picking Memphis to make the Final Four? Two reasons. First, I just have a nagging feeling that the loss of Jerome Dyson is going to catch up with UConn at some point. It's not that the Huskies aren't capable of winning a national championship, but they are definitely operating on a reduced margin for error. Second, while I don't think Memphis is as good as they were last year, I do think this is a better defensive team, though. Tyreke Evans would be a very tough matchup for A.J. Price, and if Price can't score 20, UConn will have a hard time beating good teams.
The one team seeded below the two line in this region that could be dangerous is Washington. The Huskies have a high-octane offense as well as arguably the best defensive rebounder in the country in Jon Brockman. Other than that, I just don't see anyone in this region who can really challenge the big two. Missouri has done a fabulous job maximizing its talent this season, but if an opponent can handle the Tigers' full-court pressure and force them to score in the half court, they're going to be in trouble. Like everyone else, I was loving Marquette until Dominic James went out. The Golden Eagles lost five of their last six without him and will be lucky to get by Utah State in the first round.
More College Basketball
College Basketball Truth & Rumors