Has your bracket been busted yet? If you answered no then you are either a liar or the luckiest person alive.
Another year of surprises in the NCAA tournament as Florida becomes the sole #1 seed left in the tourney in their win over Dayton, Friday. The Gators will await the surprising 7 seeded University of Connecticut Huskies in North Texas next Saturday. The other 2 teams in the Final Four are the #2 seeded Wisconsin Badgers, who won in over time against top seeded Arizona Saturday night, and the 8 seeded Kentucky Wildcats, who have created many upsets to get to where they are now. We have seen everything from overtime to blowouts throughout this jaw dropping tournament which has yet again gotten the best of our brackets.
It all started in the first 2 hours of the tournament when Dayton started its’ unpredictable run to the Elite Eight, with a win over Ohio State. Buckeye fans didn’t have to worry long about being the best team upset because at the same time the next day Duke fell to none other than the Atlantic Sun champs, the Mercer Bears.
And the madness didn’t stop there.
Stanford made their case known when they won over an Embiid-less Kansas team in the round of 32. Villanova joined Kansas as the #2 seeds to not reach the Sweet Sixteen later that night and Wichita State became the 1st #1 seed ousted from the bracket. Both ‘Nova and Wichita State lost to Final Four teams in UConn and Kentucky. But the real question you are probably asking is how did this whole thing play out.
Here are 5 things to watch for while picking games in the NCAA Tournament.
1) Conference Inflation
I heard so much chatter before the tournament about how the Big 12 was the best conference in all of basketball; valid argument right? I mean they did have 7 teams make the tournament, which is 70% of their whole conference. Well I’m sure all of that speculation was put to rest when only 2 of those teams made the Sweet Sixteen (Baylor and Iowa State) and none made the Elite Eight. So how did this happen? With so many teams beating up on each other in their own conference they seem very good because they keep playing teams of low or medium caliber. This turns into chaos in the tournament because the teams from these conferences will go up against a team from another conference and will stumble early, leaving everyone shocked at how this team that seemed so good could have played so bad. Or it could be the exact opposite. The Big 10 was another stacked conference this season and yet their tournament teams have exceeded expectations, with the exceptions of Ohio State and Iowa. Michigan and Wisconsin came in to the tournament receiving a ton of criticism about how a team like Duke or Louisville deserved the #2 seeds instead of two middle of the pack type teams. Also having no #1 seeds the Big 10 was not receiving much credit pre-tournament. Well how about now? Big 10 teams made up almost have of the Elite Eight and are one of four conferences to have a team in the Final Four. Once again people just saw all of these teams losing to each other during the regular season with teams moving in and out of the top 25 throughout the season; this is all contributed to how stacked the conference really is. I will admit it is hard to tell which conferences will meet which stereotype out of the two I just named, making it hard to be aware of this.
How do the 12 seeds always manage to upset the 5 seeds in this tournament? Momentum. The 12 seeded teams are ones that get the last of the non automatic bids and are usually the ones that come on hot late in the season. This is also true for some 11 seeds too. For example this season Stephen F. Austin was a team that I guarantee not many people had heard of unless they live in Texas. Therefor not many people knew about their 28 game win streak coming into the tournament. This was also true of 11 seeded Tennessee who had just figured out the formula for success right as the season was coming to a close, putting together a 6 game win streak before being narrowly beaten by Florida in the SEC Tournament. They went on to beat Iowa, Massachusetts, and Mercer, before losing a controversial game against the Michigan Wolverines. Also with momentum going in the total opposite way, Syracuse started off the season as the team to beat, before losing to Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech, and NC State just to name a few. And guess what happened in the tournament; a humiliating 2nd round loss to a Dayton team that had the momentum going in their favor.
You may have been staring at your TV screen in disbelief, when Andrew Wiggins and the #2 seeded Jayhawks fell to the Stanford Cardinal. Yes, it was a bit of a shock but not as much as you might think. The Jayhawks, who had lost star big man, Joel Embiid, gave up too many open shots inside the 3-point line. This is true considering the Cardinal did not make a single 3 throughout the whole game. Kansas was out rebounded by a Stanford team that doesn’t rebound at a high rate. The Jayhawks combined for a total of 2 blocks on the game, (both made by Wiggins) a total that is less than Embiid’s average blocks per game, at 2.6. Those who had been paying close attention to Kansas may have foreseen this in the making after Embiid went down in the Oklahoma State game in Stillwater, in which Oklahoma State pulled away after the loss of Embiid. They went on to lose games to unranked West Virginia, Iowa State, and then Stanford, who barely made the tournament in the first place. Speaking of Iowa State, they too had injury problems in the tournament, after Georges Niang went down with a foot fracture. I know you had already filled out your bracket prior to this, but it made it less of a surprise when the Cyclones fell to UConn in the Sweet Sixteen.
4) Teams that struggle on one side of the court
Harvard got their 2nd tournament win ever this year against the American Conference regular season champions, the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Bearcats had gotten to where they were solely by their strong defensive play, led by the American Conference Player of the Year in Sean Kilpatrick. So how exactly did Cincinnati lose to a team where a single player has a higher IQ than the combined score of the game? Well, it turns out Harvard has a pretty good defense also, allowing just 60.5 points per game. The Bearcats allow only 58.3 points per game, but only score 69.1, opposed to Harvard who averages over 4 points more at 73.6 points per game. Both teams ranked top 15 in defense and Harvard ranked top 10 in margin of victory. Just to highlight Cincinnati’s struggles on the offensive side of the court, they have had 3 different games when they held opponents under 60 points and lost; the worst of these was a 51-45 game against UConn. Due to these struggles the Bearcats could simply just not score well against Harvard. This lead to their downfall to the Ivy League champions, who had calculated this upset far in advance.
5) Teams that depend too heavily on one player
I have already talked enough about Kansas in their loss so I won’t talk about how nice it would have been for them if Andrew Wiggins would have made more than one field goal. Creighton on the other hand is not avoiding my chatter about them on this topic.
It is always nice to have the leading candidate for the Wooden Award on your team, it is also nice to have other players that do something on your team. This was Creighton’s issue. Doug McDermott ended the season at Creighton averaging over 16 points more than the 2nd leading scorer on the Jays. So when Baylor comes into the picture and only allows McDermott 15 points, no one else on Creighton could figure out how to score the basketball! We have seen this before when Jimmer Fredette was dominating at BYU, but then he has one off night or a team puts all the pressure on him and everyone else on the court seems useless. This is how the Blue Jays seemed in that blowout loss to 6 seeded Baylor last weekend.
My predictions for the rest of the tournament
After you have now figured out how your bracket got busted, here is how the rest of the tournament should play out.
I will start with the matchup of Wisconsin and Kentucky.
Wisconsin has gotten to the Final Four due largely on their ability to create mismatches with their size, specifically with their leading scorer and rebounder Frank Kaminski. He is a 7 footer with speed and fantastic shooting abilities, there is simply no one has been able to put on him so far this tournament. He has been the best player so far in this tournament, with the exception of one other player who I will name shortly. Well now they play Kentucky, a team where the shortest player in the rotation is 6-6. Kentucky will shock Wisconsin with their ability to match the Badger’s size and speed. I also see a drought season coming to Wisconsin, with a shortage of rebounds. The Wildcats lead the nation in rebound margin, averaging almost 10 rebounds more than their opponents. Wisconsin, on the season, averaged just one rebound more than their opponents. Honestly I don’t see Wisconsin having too much of a chance against the talent loaded Wildcats, who are playing their best basketball of the season right now and don’t show any signs of letting up on the accelerator. All in all, I think it would take a really bad night for Kentucky for them to lose to Wisconsin. If Wisconsin was to win however, just keep in mind that they are one of 2 teams to have beaten Florida this season.
On to the other matchup of the Florida Gators and the upset minded UConn Huskies.
First of all I would like to congratulate Shabazz Napier, who has, in my opinion, been by far the best player of not only the tournament but he is my pick for the Wooden Award also. He leads his team in points, rebounds, assists, and steals; there really is not another player like him in the NCAA. Him, Larry Bird, and former Huskie guard Kemba Walker are my 3 exceptions to my rule of one player can’t carry a team all the way, and I think that is what Napier could do. Many people are focused on who the Gators will play in the championship… totally overlooking the fact that UConn has already beaten them earlier this season. UConn on the season has half their losses to top 10 teams and don’t have many bad losses. Teams they have beaten include Indiana, Florida,
Memphis 3 times, Cincinnati twice, Villanova, Iowa State, and Michigan State the other night. I do think that the Gators will beat the Huskies in many statistical categories but the Huskies are very good shooters and they almost never miss their free throws. The ladder of the 2 arguments I just named may not seem like a huge advantage but it has been the determining factor in many games, especially against Michigan State who made 6 more 3s than UConn,but the Huskies shot 21-22 from the free throw line, opposed to the Spartans 9 points from the line. I also think that Florida won’t be ready to face a team like UConn because of their lack of strength in the regular season, they were 5-2 against ranked opponents, 3 of those wins were against the exact same team. I think in the end it will be a very close game with UConn coming out on top, although Patric Young will go off I think. If Florida does win though they will play either round four of Kentucky vs Florida or they will get a chance at redemption against Wisconsin.
I think that Kentucky will end up winning it all over UConn and it comes down to the fact that Kentucky just has too much talent for teams to handle, and now the fact that they are playing like experienced players, it’s honestly kind of scary.