Monday, March 14, 2011

The Method Behind My March Madness 2011

With the release of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament bracket yesterday, everyone's got their picks for who'll be the last ones dancing on the court April 4. From the experts at ESPN to practically any office pool, there are 147,573,952,589,676,412,928 possible combinations of filling out a unique bracket between 68 teams. Whether you play it competitively or just for kicks, there's bound to be some measure you take in deciding who'll advance how far, who'll be upset, who'll be this year's Cinderella story, and who'll cut down the nets in Houston at the end. If you've come this far (i.e., visited my blog), I bet you're at least curious about who I have making it through this year. Don't worry, I'm probably as clueless as you when it comes to picking against evenly matched teams and rely on gut instinct. Read on to see my selections and my reasoning behind the majority of them, and drop a line if you agree, disagree, or never want me in Vegas with you at the same time.

Play-In Round
For the first time ever, there will be four play-in games to determine who will get clobbered... er, I mean, the opportunity to match up against an elite team. (That sounds better.) As such, I don't put a whole lot of faith into these picks. Ah, who am I kidding? I don't put any faith into these picks. ESPN won't even spot me some points for these opening round games. Thank goodness, since most of these are toss-ups, anyway. So in spite of my lack of enthusiasm, here's who I see advancing into the new second round.

*University of Texas-San Antonio over Alabama State: The Roadrunners have a better Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) and strength of schedule (SOS) than the Hornets, which typically bodes well in the opening week of the tournament.
*University of Alabama-Birmingham over Clemson: I don't like Clemson.
*University of Southern California over Virginia Commonwealth University: The Trojans' 5-5 record against teams inside the RPI Top-50 (compared to the Rams' 3-6 mark) and much harder SOS out in the competitive Pac-10 will get them over the hump.
*UNC-Asheville over Arkansas-Little Rock: Bulldogs' stronger RPI and SOS, coupled with a higher points per game (PPG) average, will put them past the Trojans.

Round of 64
Due to the vast number of teams seeded #1-#8 who I see making it past the second round, I'm just gonna focus on the teams seeded #9-#16 that'll pull off the "upset".

*Tennessee (9) over Michigan (8): The Volunteers are more battle-tested (and successful) against tough non-conference opponents than the Wolverines.
*Penn State (10) over Temple (7): The Nittany Lions are perfect on neutral courts, plus they've played against the likes of Ohio State and Wisconsin within the last week to prepare for the rigors of this tournament.
*Richmond (12) over Vanderbilt (5): The Spiders (yes, they're called the Spiders) have senior leadership and a great perimeter game, especially when hot, to knock off an underperforming Commodores team.
*Florida State (10) over Texas A&M (7): The Seminoles have got a chip on their shoulder after losing 2 of their last 3 games by a combined 3 points to teams equally challenging to the Aggies.
*Old Dominion (9) over Butler (8): Gordon Heyward's not walking through that door for the Bulldogs anymore, and the Monarchs are gonna play this to their advantage with one of the Top-5 defenses (in terms of opponent's PPG) in the country.
*Wofford (14) over BYU (3): It's gonna take more than Jimmer Fredette amongst a depleted Cougar squad to top this scrappy bunch from South Carolina, who come into this tournament winners of 8 straight games.
*Michigan State (10) over UCLA (7): As brutal as the Pac-10 is to prepare teams for the Big Dance, the Big Ten is more so; the Spartans also have a much better RPI record (4-3) against teams of their caliber than does UCLA (0-4).

The rest of the favorites will get through.

Round of 32
East Region
*Ohio State (1) over George Mason (8): The Buckeyes and their strong resume will have no problems outplaying the Patriots, who'll be drained after staving off a tough out in the Villanova Wildcats.
*Kentucky (4) over West Virginia (5): The Wildcats like to score quickly and often, which will eventually wear down a limping Mountaineers team throughout the second half.
*Xavier (6) over Syracuse (3): The Musketeers will find a way to frustrate the Orange's offense by keeping layups to a minimum and making them attempt contested shots from their experience with a tough non-conference schedule.
*North Carolina (2) over Washington (7): The Tar Heels are more consistent than the Huskies in terms of balancing it's offense and defense, as well as their record when playing on the road or at a neutral site.

West Region
*Duke (1) over Tennessee (9): The Blue Devils are the defending champions for a reason, and their tenacity in the face of adversity will be enough to stop the charismatic Volunteers.
*Arizona (5) over Texas (4): The Wildcats have a potent offense led by forward Derrick Williams that'll give the Longhorns' shaky defense a tough task to conquer throughout this wire-to-wire contest.
*UConn (3) over Cincinnati (6): Huskies guard Kemba Walker will continue his hot scoring stretch over a Bearcats team that struggles when up against top teams in their own conference.
*San Diego State (2) over Penn State (10): The Aztecs play a mean defense that'll keep the Nittany Lions on their toes and flustered trying to stop one of the hottest teams in the country.

Southwest Region
*Kansas (1) over UNLV (8): The Jayhawks have a dual threat in twins Marcus and Markieff Morris to poke several holes in the Runnin' Rebels defense and frustrate their offense in keeping up with the Joneses... er, I mean, the Morrises.
*Louisville (4) over Richmond (12): The Cardinals have a better inside game than do the Spiders (yes, they really are called the Spiders), which is more dependable and consistent than any three-point attack both can employ at ease.
*Purdue (3) over Georgetown (6): The Boilermakers are real good at forcing turnovers on defense, and this'll cost a so-so Hoya team valuable time and opportunities late in the game.
*Notre Dame (2) over Florida State (10): The one-two punch of Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis for the Fighting Irish will prove too much to handle for a Seminoles team with injury concerns about their own star player, Chris Singleton.

Southeast Region
*Pittsburgh (1) over Old Dominion (9): The Panthers' high-octane offense will stymie a Monarchs defense that hasn't seen the likes of one of the Big East's best.
*Kansas State (5) over Wisconsin (4): Wildcats coach Frank Martin will draw up a game plan to challenge the Badgers' defense and shut down one of the more effective shooting tandems in the game today.
*St. John's (6) over Wofford (14): The Red Storm have paid their dues more so than the Terriers, and it'll show with another Big East domination.
*Florida (2) over Michigan State (10): This is a Gator team that's dangerous in its home state, plus they've been more consistent than a waffling Spartans squad.

Sweet Sixteen
East Region
*Ohio State (1) over Kentucky (4): The Buckeyes' seasoned prowess on offense and defense will be too much for a heavily freshmen-led Wildcat team.
*North Carolina (2) over Xavier (6): The Tar Heels play physical ball, which is the last thing the Musketeers want to see after squeaking by the Orange.

West Region
*Duke (1) over Arizona (5): The Blue Devils may be without their own future star in Kyrie Irving, but they have greater depth amongst their other starters and bench players than do the Wildcats.
*UConn (3) over San Diego State (2): Huskies coach Jim Calhoun will outduel Aztecs coach Steve Fisher in a battle of time management between two teams of equal toughness.

Southwest Region
*Kansas (1) over Louisville (4): The Cardinals have got a dynamic core to make this game competitive, but the Jayhawks will bring the dynamite to blow them away en route to the quarterfinals.
*Notre Dame (2) over Purdue (3): The Fighting Irish are too mature to fall into the Boilermakers' traps of turning the ball over without scoring some points off the possession.

Southeast Region
*Pittsburgh (1) over Kansas State (5): The Panthers' defense will be the difference in this matchup of two high-scoring offenses from power conferences.
*Florida (2) over St. John's (6): There's still too much nearby home-cooking for the Gators to go down to a challenging Big East team one year ahead of schedule.

Elite Eight
East Region
*Ohio State (1) over North Carolina (2): The Buckeyes have a stronger desire to get into the Final Four this year, unlike the Tar Heels who missed this tournament altogether last year and are sort of lucky to be in it this far.

West Region
*UConn (3) over Duke (1): The Blue Devils' short-handed woes will finally be their own demise as the Huskies keep their composure and roll into their second Final Four in three years.

Southwest Region
*Kansas (1) over Notre Dame (2): The Jayhawks post better offensive numbers than do the Fighting Irish, especially on a stage they've been before and were quickly bounced out the year prior.

Southeast Region
*Pittsburgh (1) over Florida (2): In a battle of two teams that haven't received enough national attention for their consistency, the Panthers' best is better than the Gators' best, especially if this game gets tense near the end.

Final Four
*Ohio State (1) over UConn (3): The Buckeyes have their own one-man wrecking crew in Jared Sullinger, and he's got a stronger supporting cast to take them into the finals, too.
*Kansas (1) over Pittsburgh (1): The Jayhawks can really light up the scoreboard, and their pace will be too fast for the Panthers to effectively counteract.

Championship Game
*Ohio State (1) over Kansas (1): The Buckeyes have been the more dominant team between the two all season long, and they'll ultimately pull away from the Jayhawks in the final minutes; I see Ohio State winning their first NCAA title in over 50 years by the score of 73-64, and Jared Sullinger will lay claim to the Most Outstanding Player award.

Let's make it happen!

My complete bracket for this year's tournament

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