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It's finally here. March Madness is upon us. All data related to efficiency and tempo come from Ken Pomeroy's site.
8 George Washington vs. 9 UNC-Wilmington
The Seahawks from UNC-dub make their first tourney appearance since falling in heartbreaking fashion to Maryland in 2003. They make their hay on the defensive end of the court, ranking 12th in adjusted defensive efficiency. Methinks they'll put the clamps on a team that but a few short days ago was ranked 6th in the country.
5 Syracuse vs. 12 Texas A&M
I wonder if a team that was dangerously close to missing the NCAA tournament ever went on a hot streak like Syracuse, won their conference tournament, and received an inflated NCAA seed. Ah yes. Only two years ago, Maryland pulled the same trick. The Terps barely escaped UTEP in the first round, and then lost to ta-da Syracuse in the second round. I don't think this Syracuse team is really that good. I'll take 4 months of data over 4 days anytime. The 12-5 upset streak continues here.
4 LSU vs. 13 Iona
The Tigers went 14-2 in the SEC and received a seed that was one higher than a team that went 7-9 in the Big East. Go figure. Iona is a dangerous team, but Glenn Davis will be too much inside for the Gaels. Too bad their coach can't suit up and play. Jeff Ruland is a robust 6'10 and he spent 8 years in the Association.
6 West Virginia vs. 11 Southern Illinois
Its strength versus strength as West Virginia (rated 12th in adjusted offensive efficiency) goes up against Southern Illinois (rated 9th in adjusted defensive efficiency). If the Salukis aggressive man to man defense can contain West Virginia's unique offense, then they have a real shot at winning. I think they can.
3 Iowa vs. 14 Northwestern St.
Iowa lost to Northwestern this year, and they will be challenged by Northwestern St. The Demons ran roughshod over the Southland Conference going 15-1. They also defeated Oklahoma St. in Stillwater and played close games at Texas A&M, Wichita St., Utah St., and Missouri, as well as an overtime thriller against Iowa St. in Honolulu.
7 Cal vs. 10 NC St.
A rematch of a first round game from 2003. This one may be a real snoozer until the last few minutes as both teams like to slow the pace. NC St. is 206th nationally in adjusted tempo and Cal is 294th. The Wolfpack has struggled lately losing 5 of 7, including 2 in a row to my alma mater. Expect their slide to continue here. However, any fan calling for Herb Sendek's ouster should face facts: 5 straight NCAA tourney appearances. Les Robinson had 5 straight ACC play-in game appearances, and top shelf coaches aren't exactly lining up to coach the Pack. Be happy with what you have.
2 Texas vs. 15 Penn
It would be nice if the Ivies would allow some new blood into the NCAA tourney. It seems as if Penn or Princeton win the thing every year. It's been a solid decade since an Ivy league school has beaten a higher seeded team (Princeton won a game as a 5 seed in 1998), and that streak will add one more year to the ledger after this game.
1 Duke vs. 9 UNC-Wilmington
Wilmington got the mid-major kiss of death in receiving the 9 seed. After a hard fought first round game with George Washington, their reward is the Duke Blue Devils. I think Wilmington can make it a game for the first 20 minutes with their stingy defense (12 in adjusted defensive efficiency), but Duke is no slouch themselves (19th in adjusted defensive efficiency).
4 LSU vs. 12 Texas A&M
The rebuilding job Billy Gillispie has done at Texas A&M (in only his second season) will get a lot of play after their upset of Syracuse. However, they don't have anyone who can stop Glenn Davis either.
3 Iowa vs. 11 Southern Illinois
If you're a betting man, take the under in this game. Both teams are slow (Iowa 209th in adjusted tempo, Southern Illinois 318th) and play tough defense (Iowa 2nd in adjusted defensive efficiency, Southern Illinois 9th). Baskets will be at a premium and the Salukis will be dicounted out of the tourney.
1 Duke vs. 4 LSU
If Duke is a top seed and doesn't make the Final 4, they almost always go down to a 4 or 5 in the Sweet 16 (2000 against Florida, 2002 against Indiana, and 2005 against Michigan St.) I think LSU pulls of the upset and I can't wait for the Sheldon Williams/Glenn Davis matchup.
2 Texas vs. 3 Iowa
This is a rematch of a late November game that Texas won 68-59 in Kansas City. While the Hawkeyes have a good defense, their offense is not in Texas' league. Texas is 2nd in adjusted offensive efficiency and Iowa is 105th. The Texas D is also stout (8th in adjusted defensive efficiency).
2 Texas vs. 4 LSU
When mulling over this game, I decided I couldn't pick a team to go to the Final 4 that had lost games by 31, 21, and 18 points. So I'm going with the semi-cinderella Tigers to advance to Indy.
1 Memphis vs. 16 Oral Roberts
The Tigers, rated the weakest number 1 seed by the committee get the strongest 16th seed by a longshot. However, Memphis should still be able to handle Ned Flanders' alma mater with relative ease.
8 Arkansas vs. Bucknell
Stan Heath returns to the NCAA tournament for the first time since he lead Kent St. to the Elite 8 in 2002. His stay won't be as long this go round. Bucknell beat Syracuse and played Villanova tough for 20 minutes. They won't be in awe of Arkansas.
5 Pittsburgh vs. 12 Kent St.
Kent St. also returns to the tourney for the first time since Heath was their coach in 2002. The 5-12 game is usually ripe for an upset, but I don't see it happening here.
4 Kansas vs. 13 Bradley
If Kansas gets past this game, I think they are Final 4 worthy. However, the Braves are no slouch. They have won 7 of their last 8, with their only defeat coming to the Salukis in the Missouri Valley title game. The Jayhawks will win a squeaker, lead by the #1 defense in the nation (tops in adjusted defensive efficiency).
6 Indiana vs. 11 San Diego St.
The two coaches are the story in this game. One is a former Big 10 coach and the other will soon be a former Big 10 coach. San Diego St. has had a good season, but their best win is over fellow Mountain West member Air Force. I can't foresee them pulling an upset. Mike Davis lives to coach the Hoosiers another day.
3 Gonzaga vs. 14 Xavier
If you thought Gonzaga's defense was bad last year, it's even worse this season. They were 119th last year and are 162nd now. Barely escaping the likes of Loyola Marymount, San Diego, and St. Mary's in the West Coast Conference does not inspire much confidence. If I had any guts at all, I'd take the X-men. But I don't.
7 Marquette vs. 10 Alabama
The Tide has lost 2 in a row, including an ugly loss at Mississippi St., and look primed for another first round exit. Marquette, in the tourney for the first time since their Final 4 run in 2003, will make it to round 2.
4 Kansas vs. 5 Pittsburgh
This game is worthy of a Sweet 16 or Elite 8 showdown. According to Ken Pomeroy's adjusted ratings, both teams are in the top 10 (Kansas 4th and Pitt 8th). I like the baby Jayhawks to advance.
1 Memphis vs. 4 Kansas
Many people refuse to pick Kansas to go any further because they are a young team. Syracuse circa 2003: 'Melo and G-Mac helped lead the Orange to the NCAA championship. Kansas pulls off a minor upset over Memphis.
2 UCLA vs. 4 Kansas
This should be a classic regional final. Kansas is the top ranked team in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency and UCLA is 6th. UCLA's offense is a little better (13th in adjusted offensive efficiency versus 29th for Kansas), but the young Jayhawks will outlast the Bruins.
5 Washington vs. 12 Utah St.
As happy as I am to see Utah St. and coach Stew Morrill in the NCAA tourney, I can't help but feel Hofstra and Missouri St. were more deserving. Perhaps the committee was making it up to the Aggies when they got shafted with 24-3 record in 2004. The Aggies will slow the pace (309th in adjusted tempo) which should frustrate Washington (16th in adjusted tempo). Both teams are very effcient on offense(23rd in adjusted offensive efficiency for Utah St. and 10th for Washington). Two guys you've never heard of, Nate Harris and Jaycee Carroll will light up Washington and lead Utah St. to the second round.
6 Michigan St. vs. George Mason
If one of George Mason's best players (Tony Skinn) had not been suspended for checking another players credential, they would be the pick here. Michigan St. went a mediocre 8-8 in the Big 10. They'll do enough to survive this round, but that's all.
3 North Carolina vs. 14 Murray St.
Murray St. is no stranger to strong teams, having played relatively close games with Cincinnati (an OT loss), Tennessee, and Southern Illinois. However, they haven't encountered anyone like Tyler Hansbrough yet.
7 Wichita St. vs. 10 Seton Hall
The Sockers have been oh so close to getting in the dance the last 2 years, finishing second in the Missouri Valley Conference in 2004 and 2005. This season, they won the regular season title to all but guarantee an NCAA bid. Seton Hall is a bit of a wildcard in the tourney having beaten Syracuse, NC St., Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia; while at the same time losing to Richmond, Northwestern, Rutgers (twice), Notre Dame, St. John's, and DePaul. I like the Shockers in this one.
2 Tennessee vs. 15 Winthrop
How did Winthrop manage a 15 seed? I though for sure they would be a 14 at the lowest and possibly a 13. They beat Marquette, and played close games at Alabama, South Carolina, Auburn, and Memphis. Their RPI is a respectable 73. Oh well, they'll have to settle for playing perhaps the weakest 2 seed in the field. Tennessee has lost 4 of 6 since their scalding 19-3 start. Winthrop will keep it close, but the Vols will prevail.
1 Connecticut vs. 9 UAB
The Huskies will be in for a second round test against UAB and their press. UAB is the best team in the nation at forcing turnovers. This combined with the fact that the Huskies are terrible at forcing turnovers (315th nationally) will keep the game close. However, the Huskies, with their superior front line, will end UAB's Sweet 16 hopes.
3 North Carolina vs. 6 Michigan St.
Michigan St. may be a tad overrated, but the battle inside in this game should be vintage. Tyler Hansbrough against Paul Davis. I'll call it a draw, but Carolina's supporting cast (Wes Miller, Reyshawn Terry, and David Noel) will lead them to the Sweet 16.
8 Arizona vs. 9 Wisconsin
Both these teams have their share of bad losses. Wisconsin lost to Wake Forest, North Dakota St., Purdue, and Northwestern. Wisconsin has also lost 3 in a row. Arizona lost to Houston, Oregon, Oregon St., and Southern Cal. I'll take the Wildcats in this one.
5 Nevada vs. 12 Montana
Another perplexing committee decision, how did Montana get a 12 seed? They beat one team in the RPI top 100 (Stanford), and lost to 5 teams below the RPI 100, including 2 below 200. And they finished 2nd in their conference in the regular season. My mom doesn't like it when I swear, so I'll gladly tell her the only 'f' word I'll be saying in this game is Fazekas.
4 Boston College vs. 13 Pacific
Congrats to the Pacific Tigers for making their 3rd straight tourney appearance. They are also seeking their 3rd straight first round win. It won't happen here as Jared Dudley 'Do Right' leads the Eagles to round 2.
7 Georgetown vs. 10 Northern Iowa
The Hoyas return to the tourney for the first time since 2001. They made the Sweet 16 in 2001 thanks to a first round upset by the Hampton Pirates. If this game were played in December, Northern Iowa would have a real shot (they beat LSU and Iowa before conference play started). However, Northern Iowa has struggled of late losing 5 of 7. Make it 6 of 8.
2 Ohio St. vs. 15 Davidson
A rematch of a 2002 first round tourney game. In s strange conincidence, a week after that game I met some Davidson basketball players at a Wake Forest frat party. Nice guys they were. Unfortunately, this team seems destined to suffer the same fate as those gentlemen.
4 Boston College vs. 5 Nevada
Boston College played a little over their heads in the ACC tournament. The Eagles defense will be their undoing (1ooth in adjusted defensive efficiency) against the Wolfpack (22nd in adjusted defensive efficiency). Also don't forget that this game is in Salt Lake City, so the crowd may be a little partisan towards Nevada.
3 Florida vs. 6 Oklahoma
I don't trust either of these teams as far as I can throw them. Florida under Billy Donovan had a history of losing to teams seeded below them. While I don't know if this is indemic to the team or simply the result of random chance, I don't have faith in picking them to go very far. Oklahoma on the other hand has been walking on egg shells since January. At one point they won 4 games in a row by a single point. If they had gone 2-2 in those contests, we could be looking at one of the last teams in or out of the tourney. In a game like this, I'll take the higher seed.
2 Ohio St. vs. 7 Georgetown
Georgetown definitely has a chance with their deliberate (329th in adjusted tempo) but efficient (11th in adjusted offensive efficiency) offense. However, I think Thad Matta and Ohio St. advance.
2 Ohio St. vs. 3 Florida
I wouldn't rank either of these teams in the top 8 of the country, but one of them will be after this game. I'll go with the Buckeyes because of my trust issues with the Gators.
4 LSU vs. 4 Kansas
In the cinderella half of the bracket, Glenn Davis and LSU face off against the young Jayhawks. Sasha Kaun and the rest of the Jayhawks will contain 'Big Baby' and advance to the national title game.
1 Connecticut vs. 1 Villanova
In the chalk half of the bracket, we get a rubber match between the 2 Big East titans. Both teams won on their respective home floors in the regular season. Connecticut will take the rubber match and advance to the championship game on Monday night.
Tue 03/14/06, 3:14 pm EST