Monday, March 14, 2011

NCAA Tournament

Last year, I codified a few lessons about the NCAA Tournament. Now seems like a good time to share them again.

Don't Mess With Texas
Seriously, the Long Horns barely show up for the Tournament. Rick Barnes, UT's coach, recently admitted as much. "We would love to win a national championship," he said before this year's NCAA Tournament, "but we're not obsessed with it because we're obsessed with these guys trying to live their NBA dream. What's happened to Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge, T.J. Ford - I'd give up a national title for all our guys to be able to live their dream."

It's worth wondering if Coach Barnes is more concerned with the stock profiles of Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson than the interior games of Keith Benson and Derrick Williams.

Pick Pitt At Your Peril
Before penciling in No. 1 Pitt for the Final Four, ask yourself this: When was the last time the Panthers came through for you?

The Big East Helps the Least
Every year, the Big East sends a bunch of teams to the Tournament. And, every year, they make graceless, early exits. Avoid the middle-of-the-pack teams from the conference. They aren't as good as you think, and they certainly aren't as good as the top teams from the other major or mid-major conferences.

There are 11 Big East teams in this year's Tournament. Eleven teams out of 68. That's about 16 percent of the entire field. How many, do you think, will advance to the second round? No good can come from loading up on teams from the nation's most overrated conference. The East Coast Bias is real.

11 Over 6 Is a Winning Pick
In 2006, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee knocked off Oklahoma, and George Mason upset Michigan State. The following year, Winthrop topped Notre Dame (See Above), and VCU smacked around Duke. In 2008, Kansas State knocked off USC, while Dayton beat West Virginia (See Above) in 2009. Last year, Washington had its way with Marquette (See Above) and Old Dominion sent Notre Dame home early (See Above).

Take a closer look at this year's 11-6 contests: USC or VCU/Georgtown (!); Marquette/Xavier; Missouri/Cincinnatti (1); Gonzaga/St. John's (!). Notice a pattern?

Michigan State Equals the Elite Eight
In 13 NCAA Tournament appearances under Tom Izzo, the Spartans have reached the Elite Eight seven times. What's more, they've reached the Sweet 16 nine times. Michigan State is about as safe a bet to win three games in the Tournament as any school in the country. You might as well start your bracket with them in the Elite Eight.

I admit, this final lesson is the hardest to heed. The Spartans have been very non-Spartan-like this year. Injuries, expulsion and all-around poor play have dulled some of Izzo's annual shine. The Elite Eight is a stretch. Consider, though, State's first opponent, the up-and-down UCLA Bruins. Would you bet against the Spartans? If not, would you then lay the house on Florida against them? What about St. John's, Gonzaga, BYU (sans Davies) or Wofford, all of whom would stand in the way of Michigan State and another trip to the Elite Eight?

It's more interesting than you thought, isn't it?

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