Picking the Upsets and Final Bracket Selections

Yesterday, I released the rankings for teams I thought were due for the deepest run. Things got off to a rough start with Vandy yesterday, but the ratings don’t judge for heart and coaching. It’s the weakness in the ratings, but definitely something I considered when filling out my bracket, as you’ll see later.

Today, I just wanted to run through who I thought was most likely to get upset in the first couple of rounds.

Who’s Getting Upset in Round One?

I don’t really consider a 10 over a 7 as an upset, even though the winning percentages of the higher seed aren’t all that different from 6/11 or 5/12 games.

Games are listed in order by who I think has the best chance to win.

6 vs. 11 Games

11 seeds win 34.7% of the time or about 1.4 per year. I believe it’s something like five years in a row that one of the 11 seeds that wins a play-in game, wins the next game. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if any of these teams won.

1. Gonzaga over Seton Hall

The Zags were higher in the ratings from yesterday. I’ve heard a few people talk about being weary of Seton Hall just because they won the Big East Tournament – which they weren’t expected to do – just because Providence did it a couple of years ago and lost in the first round. The best team the Friars beat during that run was a Creighton team that lost by 30 on the first weekend. I could just as easily point out a 21-9 UConn team in 2011 that won a Big East Tournament they shouldn’t have and then won the national title.

I just don’t think conference tournaments matter. The last 14 national champions: seven have won their conference tournament, seven of them haven’t.

With that said, I think this game’s pretty much a toss-up. Whitehead has to be great if Seton Hall’s gonna do anything. I don’t think they match up well with the Zags. They keep teams off the glass and the free throw line, which the Pirates depend a lot on.

2. Northern Iowa over Texas

Like I said yesterday, Northern Iowa makes teams shoot threes and Texas isn’t good at making them. It might be the slowest game played in the tournament and I’d expect it to come down to the wire. At that point, I think it just comes down to who makes more plays between Wes Washpun and Isaiah Taylor.

3. Wichita State over Arizona

I think Arizona is clearly the best 6 seed, but I also think they’re playing the best 11 seed in the Shockers. Once again, I think it’s a one or two possession game. Turnovers could be the difference and Wichita is a heavy favorite to win that battle.

4. Michigan over Notre Dame

I don’t think Notre Dame is all that great, but Michigan’s worse.

5 vs. 12 Games

12 seeds win 35.5% of the time or about 1.4 times per year. Last year, none of them won.

1. Yale over Baylor

As I said yesterday, Baylor is only a three-point favorite in KenPom world. It’s also by far the closest game in my ratings and Yale would be favored if you discredit schedule. The Bulldogs are one of the best rebounding teams in the country and if they continue that against Baylor, that’ll take away a big part of the Bears offense. Yale’s better defensively and they don’t have a height disadvantage like you usually see between teams like these.

2. Little Rock over Purdue

I don’t really see any of these last three happening. Maybe it’s my Big Ten bias, but I also think all three of the 5 seeds are under-seeded.

The argument for Little Rock is that their Pack-line defense is going to minimize Purdue’s bigs down low. Maybe they will, but Hammons, Haas, and Swanigan are a little bigger than most of the teams the Trojans saw in the Sun Belt. They’re not only tall, but they’re large. They don’t have a lot of problems scoring even if you push them out to 8-10 feet. Also, Purdue shoots better from outside than anybody Little Rock has been playing.

The place Little Rock will probably have an advantage is point guard with Josh Hagins. Of course, that could be said for most of Purdue’s opponents this year.

3. South Dakota State over Maryland

I just don’t see an area where the Jackrabbits have a clear advantage over the Terps. I feel like Maryland’s bigs will slow down Mike Daum on the inside and he’s key to the SDSU offense.

You never know with the Terps though. There haven’t been many teams they’ve run out of the building. They have a tendency to make things harder than they have to be.

4. Chattanooga over Indiana

I just don’t see it. I guess if Indiana gets turnover crazy – which wouldn’t be the first time – that would allow the Mocs to get some easy buckets. I just think the Hoosiers have too much scoring to lose.

4 vs. 13 Games

13 seeds when 20.2% of the time or about 0.8 times per year. I don’t know if the 13 seeds will win more games, but I think more of them have a better chance at winning. I also don’t know if that makes sense.

1. Hawaii over Cal

Hawaii’s under-seeded because they didn’t beat a quality opponent, but they also only had two chances all year. They lost by 3 to Oklahoma and by 8 at Texas Tech after holding a halftime lead. They’re pretty good (61 in KenPom) and they’re cocky. There’s the incredibly weird situation with Cal just firing an assistant coach going on. It’s unclear how that will affect the players, but I think common fans underestimate how much assistant coaches do, especially at tournament time. If the Bows turn Cal over and get out in transition, they’ll have a real chance.

2. UNC Wilmington over Duke

Duke’s lowest AdjDE from 2002-2011, 2013, 2015: 36

Duke’s AdjDE during 2012: 81 (lost in first round to 15 seed Lehigh)

Duke’s AdjDE during 2014: 116 (lost in first round to 14 seed Mercer)

Duke’s AdjDE during 2016: 111

Yes, Duke was 57th at the beginning of the tournament last year before they won the title, but that team was also 29-4 and a 1 seed.

With that said, I’m not sure Wilmington’s pressing style is the one to beat the Blue Devils. Should be an entertaining game, however.

3. Iona over Iowa State

Like I said yesterday, they play the same style. I think it just comes down to whoever makes more shots.

It’s hard not to forget what happened with the Cyclones in the tournament last year. And i maintain that there’s something that’s just a little bit off with this team. You’d expect Jameel McKay to bring his best given that his next loss will be his last one in a college uniform, but you just can’t depend on him.

I’m not sure about Steve Prohm as a tournament coach yet. It’s only his second rodeo in the NCAA Tournament and a large part of that is his lack of success in conference tourneys. In his last two years at Murray State, he went into the OVC Tournament as the 1 and 2 seed and went 1-2, losing to lesser seeds both times. They just lost their first game in the Big 12 Tournament. With that said, it’s not like Tim Cluess is a proven commodity in March.

4. Stony Brook over Kentucky

Nah. I love watching Jameel Warney, but Calipari is underrated in how well he has his team ready to play in March. He’s gotten out of the first weekend in his last nine trips to the tourney. He’s got the guards to go on another run.

3 vs. 14 Games

14 seeds win 16.1% of the time or about twice every three years. It happened twice last year with UAB and Georgia State winning. Mercer beat Duke a couple of years ago.

1. Stephen F. Austin over West Virginia

Two teams that play a very similar style due to the fact that SFA’s coach, Brad Underwood, was an assistant for Bob Huggins. The only other time I remember that happening in a spot like this was Steve Masiello and his Manhattan team taking on his mentor Rick Pitino and Louisville in a 4/13 game. I’m sure it’s happened on other occasions, but the Jaspers lost a close one there.

This one’s a little different because the Jacks have been to three straight tournaments now. They won a game a couple of years ago and were (kinda) close last year. Their biggest downfall against Utah last year was going 5-26 from the outside. They also got abused by Jakob Poeltl on the inside. You never know with shooting and Devin Williams can do the same thing to them down low.

2. Fresno State over Utah

Fresno had the best rating of the 14 seed and they’ll have the best guard in the game in Marvelle Harris. They’re on a nine-game winning streak. Not many had them pegged as Mountain West champions, but here they are. They’ll definitely be able to turn Utah over with their pressure, but they’ll also probably struggle with Poeltl in the halfcourt. I’m probably not going to take the Bulldogs, but Utah’s no juggernaut.

3. Buffalo over Miami

Blake Hamilton and Lamonte Bearden will give the Canes all they can handle. I don’t know if the Bulls can really pull it off though. They’re 0-5 in Tier A games this year and they haven’t been within single digits in any of them. They weren’t even really that great in the MAC this year, but they got going at the right time. They were in the tournament last year, but that team was a lot better and lost.

4. Green Bay over Texas A&M

I just don’t think the Phoenix are going to fare well in this one. They love to get out and run and the Aggies will slow that down. They’ll struggle with Texas A&M’s length and I don’t see them competing on the glass. Green Bay was the 4 seed in the Horizon League and got on a nice roll to win their tournament, but if momentum does exist, I would imagine it fades after a 10-day break.

2 vs. 15 Games

15 seeds win 5.6% of the time. There’s been 7 wins in 31 years of the current seed format. Two of them happened in 2012: Lehigh and Norfolk State. They each had a pro. CJ McCollum for Lehigh, Kyle O’Quinn for Norfolk State.

1. Weber State over Xavier

Joel Bolomboy might actually get drafted this year and Jeremy Senglin will definitely be playing professional basketball somewhere after next year. Xavier is the weakest 2 seed in the bracket by quite a bit, according to the ratings. Hmm. I’d like it more if I didn’t believe in Chris Mack as a coach as much as I do. But if Coach K can lose a 2/15 game, no one’s exempt.

2. CSU Bakersfield over Oklahoma

No pros, but they’re in the top-100 on KenPom, which is nice. Also, for as good as Oklahoma is, Buddy’s their only guy who’s going to the NBA.

3. UNC Asheville over Villanova

Outside of Villanova’s tourney struggles, there’s not much to this one. They exited early last year, but they still at least won the opening round game by 41.

4. Middle Tennessee over Michigan State

You know why.

1 vs. 16 Games

0%. Someone might linger, but the history is the history.

1. Florida Gulf Coast over North Carolina

2. Southern over Oregon

3. Hampton over Virginia

4. Austin Peay over Kansas

Top 2 Seeds Who Are Going Home Early

In the previous piece I mentioned that at least two of the top-2 seeds have gone home in the first weekend the last five years and three of them have done that the past two years. Who are the most likely candidates?

1. Xavier

Not surprising given the previous section. I don’t think they’ll lose to Weber State, but it’s no walkover. I’m betting on Wisconsin to move past Pittsburgh to face the Muskies in the second round. That one will be a grind and I don’t really think there’s that much separation between the two for it being a 2/7 game.

2. Oregon

St. Joseph’s is a dangerous team and Bembry is about as good as anybody Oregon has. If Cincinnati wins, they might make it a grind that the Ducks don’t want. They’ve underperformed this year and those teams are always dangerous when they’re a lower seed.

3. Virginia

Butler could be a problem for Virginia. They’ll be disciplined against the Cavs and they’ve got the shooting that can be an Achilles heel for Virginia’s defense.

4. Oklahoma

I think the Sooners should have a relatively easy first weekend given their opponents, but you never know if the shots stop falling.

5. Villanova

Always gotta be leery with the Cats, but I don’t have a lot of worry about any of their matchups week one.

6. North Carolina

USC’s size on the inside could cause problems for the Heels front line. Providence is capable of a lot, but they often disappoint.

7. Kansas

You can never really count out UConn until they’re officially dead.

8. Michigan State

No.

Final Bracket(s)

If it stays relatively normal

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This is the one that I’m (most) comfortable with. I’m not going to break down every game, but I’ll explain myself on some bigger things.

I really have no idea how the West region is gonna go. None of the top teams are especially good. I’ve got Oregon in the Final Four, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they lost in round two. I also have a +8000 future on the Ducks, so maybe I’m just hopeful. I could see every scenario happening with the 5/12-4/13 pod. I just couldn’t put Oklahoma on a deep run with their dependency on shooting.

I think Kentucky will come out of the East because I think they’ll just hit a few more shots than North Carolina. I don’t like anybody on the bottom half of that bracket. Nothing would surprise me. I went back and forth on Xavier and Wisconsin.

I don’t think there’s a big difference between Virginia and Purdue, so I’m going with the 5 seed to try and gain an advantage. I think Michigan State against either of them will be a toss-up game, but the Spartans have an easier path to the Elite Eight than either of them, so they’re a better bet to advance for me.

But Kansas is the squad for me. They’ve got everything you want. If they slip up in their region, my money’s on Maryland to be the one that does it.

Shit gets crazy
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I’ve said before that this year fits the bill of a wild tournament when you look at the strength of top teams, so here’s what I’m going with in that scenario. Most likely it will be the worst rated bracket on all of Yahoo Sports. I’ll let you know how it checks out.

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