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Breaking Down the Brackets: Midwest and East

The NCAA tournament tips off Thursday with 16 games and another 16 on Friday. Today we will take a look at the first round in the East and Midwest regionals, as well as breaking down the winner, followed by the West and South regionals tomorrow.

East Regional, Round One

2009 EAST REGIONAL

2009 EAST REGIONAL

1. Pittsburgh vs. 16. East Tennessee State

I actually thought that East Tennessee State got snubbed with the 16 seed and that it should have gone to Cal State Northridge.  Not that it would have made much difference, as Levance Fields and Dejuan Blair will look to jump out to an early lead to get some rest for round 2 as Pittsburgh will roll in this one.  Pittsburgh 84, ETSU 55


8. Oklahoma State vs. 9. Tennessee

This is a fantastic 8-9 matchup because Oklahoma State has been a much more consistent team all year, but when Tennessee is on they are better than Oklahoma State.  It will be interesting to see which team comes out stronger here, but I think this Tennessee team will come out strong in such a meaningful game and win in a shootout.  Tennessee 84, Oklahoma State 80

5. Florida State vs. 12. Wisconsin

I don’t think that Wisconsin played well enough to earn a tourney spot this year and I don’t think they will upset the Seminoles in the dreaded 5/12 matchup that everyone talks about every year.  Florida State has been playing great with Toney Douglas at the helm and as a team, the Seminoles are holding teams to .386% from the field.  Florida State 64, Wisconsin 58

4. Xavier vs. 13. Portland State

Portland State loves to run the floor and shoot the 3 ball which could set up a potential upset here, and with a win over Gonzaga this year and a loss to Washington by 1, I smell upset.  Yes, size has been an issue all year for Portland St. and Xavier has one of the bigger starting lineups in the tourney, but they have struggled as of late and Portland State is red hot right now.  Upset special: Portland State 75, Xavier 74

6. UCLA vs. 11. VCU

I think this matchup will end up being one of the best and one of the closest games in Round 1.  On one hand you have a Virginia Commonwealth team that has all the qualities of an 11 seed poised for an upset (72 points per game and a winning margin of more than 6 at 8.6) and then you have one of the most experienced teams in the tournament with UCLA.  The few times I have seen them play, the Bruins have not looked all that great and I think guard Eric Maynor and center Larry Sanders will knock off the Bruins. VCU 78, UCLA 75

3. Villanova vs. 14. American

14 seeds averaging under 76.5 points per game are just 2-55 in the tournament and after this game it will be 2-56.  Villanova is too strong for a small American team that almost upset Tennessee last year.  Scottie Reynolds and his back court counterparts will come out firing and crush the Eagles, especially because this game will be played in Philadelphia.  Villanova 76, American 57

7. Texas vs. 10. Minnesota

Texas has been one of the most inconsistent teams all year but I like the talent that they have on this team and think they can put it all together and make a little run in the tournament.  Minnesota was lucky to get into the tournament and, although I like their defense, I don’t think they can score with Texas.  Texas 72, Minnesota 65

2. Duke vs. 15. Binghamton

If you are looking for a 2/15 upset anywhere in this year’s bracket, this is it.  And no, not because I think Duke will have a letdown like they almost did last year vs. Belmont.  Rather, Binghamton is playing the best basketball of any of the 15 seeds, winning 11 in a row.  Still, this Duke team is loaded this year and much better than last year and will win this one, but not as easily as most think.  Duke 72, Binghamton 58

Who Wins the East Regional and Why? The East Regional features a lot of inconsistent but talent-heavy teams such as Oklahoma St., Florida St., Tennessee, Texas, Duke, and UCLA.  A lot of these games were tough to pick because of the talent the losing teams had.  As is the case in most tournament games, seeing which team comes to play in certain games will make all the difference. As for the winner, it came down to a Big East match up for me between Pittsburgh and Villanova.  Pitt will breeze its way to the Regional Final, while Villanova will have its hands full with a veteran VCU team and an always dangerous Texas team (and if not that, Duke).  In the end, I think Villanova will take the cake in the final and move to the Final Four.  They beat Pittsburgh early in the year and, although it was a much different Pitt team (pre-UConn wins), I think Villanova is a team that is near impossible to beat when they are on their game.  The inside-outside of Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham is tough to beat and their young role players have done an excellent job this year.

Who is the Biggest Sleeper? A team that I could see sneaking into the Elite 8 has to be Florida St.  They have looked so good this year and are led by Toney Douglas, a senior, which always makes life easier.  They beat North Carolina this year after the heart-breaking buzzer beater from Ty Lawson earlier in the year and have looked excellent at times.  They are coming into the tourney after a loss to Duke, but they match up well with Pitt if they were to get there and they are capable of playing great basketball.


Midwest Regional, Round One

2009 MIDWEST REGIONAL

2009 MIDWEST REGIONAL

1. Louisville vs. 16. Alabama St./Morehead St.

For the record, I like Morehead St. to beat Alabama St. for the right to get a butt-kicking from the overall number one seed Louisville Cardinals.  Louisville is fresh off a  Big East Tournament Championship and should roll against whoever they play with the consistent play of Terrance Williams and Earl Clark.  Louisville 86, Morehead St. 63

8. Ohio State vs. 9. Siena

As all the 8/9 matchups seem to be, this game will be very hard to pick.  Ohio State was a few missed shots away from the Big Ten Championship and seems to be getting hot at the right time, while Siena has the experience and determination to play with anyone.  The Bulldogs had the second toughest non-conference schedule in the nation, playing Tennessee, Pittsburgh, and Kansas this year.  Ohio State will not be able to keep up with Siena.  Siena 71, Ohio State 66

5. Utah vs. 12. Arizona

A lot of people are overlooking the Utes and thinking about Arizona in terms of knowing the prestige behind the school. But don’t overlook it: this Utah team is good. Combine that with Arizona backing into the tournament, losing 5 of their last 6, and I think Utah has a chance to take this game. Luke Nevill will lead the squad into battle and try to shutdown Arizona’s Jordan Hill on the low post.  In order for Arizona to win, their big 3 of Budinger, Hill, and Wise will need to be on their game and try to shut down the 7’2″ Nevill.  In the end I think they end up pulling out the victory by a hair.  Arizona 72, Utah 70

4. Wake Forest vs. 13. Cleveland St.

I have watched a lot of Wake Forest this year and they are my one sleeper to go very far in the tournament this year, especially getting a Sweet 16 matchup (potentially) against the smallest 1 seed in Louisville.  Cleveland St. has been a great story this year and I love the hustle and aggresiveness they play with.  However, Wake Forest is just too good and poised to make a run this year.  Wake Forest 75, Cleveland St. 67

6. West Virginia vs. 11. Dayton

I have seen Dayton play just one time this year and it was against Xavier in a game where they were outplayed on every level and never really in the game.  I loved their resume and never thought they got enough credit, but they got a bad draw playing, in my opinion, the best 6 seed.  West Virginia is starting to turn it on and their young players are maturing at a great time ever since their upset win over Villanova.  This is a potential Sweet 16 team.  West Virginia 70, Dayton 62

3. Kansas vs. 14. North Dakota St.

Bill Self and his young Jayhawk team have had way too much unexpected success this year to have a letdown in the first round.  Kansas looks to rebound the ball and get the offense going and that is exactly what they will do against a smaller NDSU team.  Still, I could very easily see an upset occurring here if the Jayhawks play sluggish.  The Bison put 4 seniors in the starting lineup that average 12, 19, and 23 points per game and are one of the best 3 point shooting teams in the nation, shooting 41% from deep. Expect a close one here.  Kansas 79, North Dakota St. 70

7. Boston College vs. 10. USC

Boston College is another team that I am really liking this year and could sneak into the Sweet 16 when it is all said and done.  Led by the back court of Tyrese Rice and Rakim Sanders, this team will shoot from the outside until the clock reads 0:00, and they do it well.  With wins over North Carolina and Duke this year, this team has played well against solid competition all year long.  As for USC, they are on a roll right now, but inconsistency has hurt them and I think their run ends here against a very underrated BC team.  Boston College 71, USC 68

2. Michigan State vs. 15. Robert Morris

Tom Izzo in the NCAA Tournament being overlooked.  Nuff’ said.  Michigan St. 70, Robert Morris 49

BREAKING IT ALL DOWN

Who wins the Midwest Regional and Why? The Midwest Regional features the overall #1 seed, the defending champions, 10 conference tournament winners, and arguably the best head coaches in Rick Pitino, Bill Self, Tom Izzo, and Bob Huggins.  The clear favorite in the Midwest Regional has to be the Louisville Cardinals.  They just won the Big East Tournament and have not lost since February 15th.  But I think that’s where they are in trouble. They are on a tear right now, winning 12 in a row against some pretty good competition, and have looked unstoppable over the last month or so.  However, if you think about what Lousiville would need to do, win 6 more games in a row, to win the tournament, it seems unlikely.  Teams like Kansas, Wake Forest, and Michigan St. did not win their conference tournaments and that had “bump in the road” already occur.  Louisville hasn’t had a bump in the road since their game at Notre Dame and that was over a month ago.  I could easily see them in the Final Four with how they are playing right now, but something tells me it isn’t going to happen.  Because of that, I like Wake Forest to come out of the Midwest.  Led by Jeff Teague, they are an incredibly fast and athletic team that can shoot the jumper but also pound it inside.  They have great inside presences with Al-Farouq Aminu and James Johnson and will outrun you to death.  Don’t forget, this team started the year off 17-0 with wins over Duke, North Caroloina, Clemson (twice) and Florida State. Not many people remember that this team was #1 overall for quite a while, and they have the kind of team that I for to go deep into March.

Who is the biggest sleeper? If you don’t want to count Wake Forest as a sleeper, look no further than West Virginia.  Bob Huggins is an excellent tournament coach and he has his players hitting their stride at a perfect time.  The team is very young, but his freshman have matured greatly and with senior leadership in Alex Ruoff, they could go far.  They got a favorable matchup with a Dayton team that hasn’t looked sharp as of late, and in the second round a Kansas team that has lost 2 of their last 3 games.

West and South Regionals will follow tomorrow with a Marquette preview on Thursday, as well as reactions from Day 1…..

March 17, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Final Four/National Championship | , | Leave a comment

Factors Involved in Winning the NCAA Title

Every year, painstaking hours go in to countless amounts of brackets, trying to figure out which team will come out on top in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Do you go with the consistent team of seniors, the fast paced, high scoring team, or the shutdown defensive squad that will be in every game? It’s a tough question to answer year in and year out, because if it was easy Las Vegas would be out of business. But to make the process a little easier (luck still being very much involved), I think I have narrowed down the four most important factors in determining who will win the NCAA Tournament. Now remember, multiple teams may have these four factors, but it is who can act on them the best that will hoist the trophy at the end of each year in April. I have looked at the last 10 NCAA winners, dating back to the 1999 Connecticut Huskies and looked at what made these teams so well round and put together. From there, I found the four factors that are ranked in order of importance.

1. A point guard that, when his points and assists are combined, total at least 17, and a free throw percentage better than 70%. If free throw percentage is under 70%, points + assists must equal at least 20.

2. A forward/center that, when his points and rebounds are combined, total at least 17, and has a field goal percentage better than 52%.

3. Have a starting lineup with an average of at least a junior, OR have 2 of the best three players on the team be underclassmen.

1. A point guard that, when his points and assists are combined, total at least 17, and a free throw percentage better than 70%. If free throw percentage is under 70%, points + assists must equal at least 20.

Statistics of the starting point guards from the last ten national champions

Statistics of the starting point guards from the last ten national champions

To me, this is the single most important factor when looking at teams that I believe have a chance at winning the NCAA Tournament each year. It’s the reason that Marquette is struggling so much without Dominic James and the reasons Connecticut and Pittsburgh have enjoyed the success they have had this year. Don’t forget about Davidson last year, either. Yes, Stephen Curry was fantastic but his point guard, Jason Richards, led the nation in assists and was a key component to the Wildcats doing so well in March. It’s true that the point guard position goes a lot deeper than points, assists, and free throw percentage, and that stats like A/TO ratio, field goal percentage, and even intangibles need to be taken into account. However, there is a pretty sharp correlation based on the three stats I chose, and if you think about the point guards on the list below, they had just about everything a national championship was looking for. Going to that chart, the last ten national champions have point guards that have fallen underneath this category. The reason I put the last part into the equation was because Jay Williams and Raymond Felton would not have had the credentials to fall underneath this factor, and they were arguably two of the best three point guards on that list. If you shoot under 75% from the charity stripe (which I consider to be a solid free throw percentage), you had better make up for it in any other way that you can, and clearly Williams and Felton did so, with Williams averaging over 21 points per game and Felton averaging 7 assists per game. Taliek Brown from the 2004 UConn Huskies did not make the cut, but you have to take into consideration who was around him. Ben Gordon dished out 4.5 assists per game and he had Emeka Okafor in the post, who was the best player in basketball that year. If you do not have a point guard that falls under this category, it would be important for that team to have a big man equivalent to Okafor (see Oklahoma later). Looking at this year’s tournament teams ranked 1-5, there were six teams that do not have a player on their roster that would fall underneath this category. They are Xavier, Louisville, Utah, Oklahoma, Gonzaga, Missouri, Washington, and Purdue. If you want to include Terrance Williams in the debate, then Louisville would be off of this list, but still the fact that 8 of the top 20 teams in the tournament lack a point guard worthy of taking his team to national championship is surprising. As I said earlier, there will be multiple teams that have a certain factor accomplished, and of those 12 teams in the top 20 of the tournament, this is how each player ranks: The last thing to remember here is that it really isn’t a huge deal where you rank on this list, but rather just that you are on it. For example, Levance Fields and A.J. Price are ranked 9th and 10th on that list, but when push comes to shove I am taking either of them over the majority of the guys ahead of them on that list. Also, if you refer back to the top, Mateen Cleaves is lower on that list than Kalin Lucas is, and if you were to ask most Michigan State fans, the comparison right now is really not that close. Also on the above table, Mario Chalmers has one of the lowest combined score, yet we all know how important he was in the tournament for the Jayhawks.

Statistics of the starting point guards of this year's tournament teams seeed 1-5.

Statistics of the starting point guards of this year's tournament teams seeed 1-5.

2. A forward/center that, when his points and rebounds are combined, total at least 17, and has a field goal percentage better than 54%.

Statistics of the best forwards/centers from the last 10 national champions

Statistics of the best forwards/centers from the last 10 national champions

Coming in at a close second place to the most important factor in the tournament is a presence of a big man. Not only does he give you high percentage shots, but can also lure in defenders that leave jump shooters open and can shut down teams in the paint on defense. If a team has a solid big man, it can change the way that the game is played and how the other team prepares for him. You look at this year and Tyler Hansbrough has been a nightmare for defenses, DeJuan Blair comes out of nowhere in his first game vs. UConn to truly show how important a big man can be, and also Hasheem Thabeet, affecting just about every offensive possession teams have against the Huskies. Just as it was for the point guard spot, this factor misses a few elements that some would argue are more important such as blocks, fouls and the always important intangibles. But once again, a player that can do well on the offensive end usually has talent overall, and as you will see every guy on this list has a passion for the game that will take his team deep into the tourney if everything clicks. Going back to the past 10 tournament winners, it amazed me how every team (except the Michigan State Spartans) had an absolute force inside. There wasn’t one player on the list that I didn’t think about and say, “Wow, he really did make the difference for that team in the tournament”. All the way from Emeka Okafor’s dominating performance, down to Darrell Arthur shutting down Joey Dorsey in the championship game before getting him to foul out. It’s debatable that this is even more important than having a stud point guard. The big boys in the front court are more consistent on a game-to-game basis, permitting they do not get into foul trouble and at times can change more parts to a game than a smaller guy could. Another thing to note for teams that do not have a big man but have solid guard play, the Michgan State Spartans did not have much of a force inside but used their guard play of Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, and Charlie Bell to will their way to a title, so don’t be upset if your team did not make the cut for this year’s tournament. Also, the 52% field goal mark was chosen based on this year’s big men and how they have shot from the field. Clearly from the last 10-year mark, the players that cut down the nets were higher than that for the most part. Moving forward to this year’s top 20 ranked tournament teams, the only teams that do not have a player to fall under this category are Duke, Memphis, Washington, Florida State, and Louisville. Just as it was for the guards, ranking is not that big of a deal, but rather being on that list means that you have the minimum credentials for what we have seen to be national champions come April. Also, one quick note is that there were a few teams that had two player fall under this category and they were Oklahoma (Tyler Griffin), UConn (Jeff Adrien), Gonzaga (Austin Daye), and Syracuse (Paul Harris).

Statistics of the best forwards/centers on this year's tournament teams seeded 1-5

Statistics of the best forwards/centers on this year's tournament teams seeded 1-5

3. Have a starting lineup with an average of at least a junior, OR have 2 of the best three players on the team be underclassmen.

Everyone knows that it is vital to have a team that has been to the tournament or has some big game experience. Young teams that have not been together as long do not have the same chemistry as a Pittsburgh or a Marquette or a North Carolina. They also most likely have not played in as big of games as the NCAA Tournament and definitely not on the same national stage. What I did for this factor was consider the last 10 national champions and how young or old they were when they won it. Simple math says that Freshman = 1, Sophomore = 2, Junior = 3, and Senior = 4. For all but three teams, the starting lineup average was over three. For the three teams that did not fall under the same category, they all had sophomores or freshman that led the team in scoring or could be considered the team’s best players. Those were Duke in 2001, who had four sophomores including Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy to go with senior leader Shane Battier, then came Syracuse in 2003 that was clearly led by freshman Carmelo Anthony and underclassmen Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara. The third team to fall under an average of a junior were the Florida Gators, who had four sophomores. Those sophomores were also the reason the team won the national championship in Al Horford, Corey Brewer, Joakim Noah and point guard Taurean Green. The other seven national champions had an average that was greater than a junior, so what I decided was that, despite the disadvantage a younger team has, if their young players are really that good then they should be taken in as having the experience factor because clearly they are being thrown into the line of fire right away and succeeding at it. Out of this year’s tournament teams, the teams that did not fall under this category were Duke, Florida State, Kansas, Wake Forest, Oklahoma, Syracuse, Washington, Illinois, and Purdue. Out of those teams, the ones that still make the cut (2 of the 3 best players are underclassmen) are Duke, Kansas, Wake Forest, Oklahoma, Syracuse, and Purdue. That leaves the only teams that are inexperienced in the wrong places being Florida State, Washington, and Illinois. The graph below shows each team above a “3 average” and who is the oldest.

The average age of this year's tournament teams, over 3, ranked 1-5.

The average age of this year's tournament teams, over 3, ranked 1-5.

If I had to make a fourth factor in who does well in the tournament, it would probably come down to either head coaching, perimeter jump shooting, or free throw shooting. Anyways, these are my big three factors and I will break this down and tell you what it means for this year’s tournament and who is going to succeed, but to end the blog let’s take a look at each team and see how many check marks each team received in the factor department. In regards to the experience factor, if a team fell underneath the sophomore rule but passed the test, I counted it in the tally and there is an asterisk next to their number. And the last thing I want to preach to anyone out there reading is that these are simply numbers based on the last ten years. The numbers may be different from the last 20 and there is a chance that Louisville can win the national title. All this shows is that Lousiville does not the same make-up of a team that won the title 10 years ago. I think that Lousiville could potentially be a Final Four Team, but what these stats show, based on my factors, is that the Cardinals will not be hoisting the trophy come April. Enjoy and leave me comments!

factors

March 17, 2009 Posted by | Basketball, College Basketball, Connecticut Huskies, Final Four/National Championship, North Carolina Tar Heels | , , , | Leave a comment