LET THE MADNESS BEGIN…
Well here we are again at the precipice of the most productive work weeks of 2019 fiscal year. A three week period where everyone that never watches college basketball is suddenly a Ken Pomeroy or Seth Greenberg. At GCW, we want to help you attain eternal office glory and that ever-so-brief position of ascendancy over your bosses and managers. So without further ado, let’s bust some brackets!
Top seeds are never a sure thing, just ask Virginia. Last year they lost to UMBC in the first ever loss by a #1 seed to a #16 seed. There have been some close calls over the years with 2 one-point games, a two-point game and an overtime game in the 16 vs. 1 matchup.
Only once have all four number 1 seeds advanced to the Final Four. In fact, we’d strongly recommend not picking more than two number 1 seeds to reach your Final Four. The sports books agree as they have set the over/under at 1.5 #1 seeds making it into the final four. Only five times in the past 40 years have more than two number ones reached the Final Four. Our final stat is that since 2010, only 12 number one seeds have reached the Final Four with eight being eliminated prior to the Sweet 16. We say play the odds and only carry at most 2 number ones into the Final Four.
While we are on the topic of top seeds, please don’t pick all number one and number twos to meet in the Elite 8. That has never happened. The closest we have ever come to that feat was in 2007 when seven of the eight were ones or twos but number three Oregon broke the mold. Interesting fun fact; Oregon beat Lon Krueger’s number seven seeded UNLV Running Rebels to advance to the 2007 Elite 8.
The number two seeds are generally safe bets in the first round with an overall record of 128-8. However, these teams are not nearly as likely to win the second round game as the number ones are. There are typically some strong 7/10 seeds that give the number two seeds all kinds of trouble. Last year two #7s beat the number twos. While we don’t know if that will happen again this year, statistically you only want half of your number twos making the Elite 8 and one in the Final 4.
At the number three/number 14 matchups are where the odds start swinging toward the underdogs. A 14 seed has won 21 times giving them a 16.4% chance of winning in the first round. Even if the three seed survives in round one, only half of these teams make it to the Sweet 16 and only one is likely to make it to the Elite 8. There are similar odds for the number four seeds. In 34 years (since the current format), the #4 has made the Sweet 16 64 times with a dismal 21-43 (33%) record. Of course they generally have to beat the number one at the Sweet 16 to advance.
The number 5/number 12 matchups generally get a ton of upset picks as there are many Cinderella 12s typically predicted. Last year the number five seeds went a perfect 4-0 but the number only has an overall 89-47 record against the #12s. That’s a winning percentage of 65% which is a pretty dramatic drop-off from the 80% or better winning percentage of the top four seeds in the first round. Similar results are expected for the number six seeds. About 32% of number sixes make it to the Sweet 16 and only 10% to the Elite 8 where their record is 3-11. As for the 11 seeds, a total of three have ever advanced out of their region to the Final Four: LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006 and VCU in 2011. All three lost in the semifinal game.
Interestingly the number sevens have done almost as well as the number five and number sixe seeds posting a 61% win rate in first round games, but that’s where the similarities end. Only 27 have reached the next weekend, 10 made the Elite 8, and three achieved the Final Four. Only one team has made the national title game, but the good news is that they won. That was UConn back in 2014.
As for the number eight vs number nine matchup, you might as well just flip a coin. There is no statistical edge for either seed with the number eight holding a slight edge over the number nine (52.6% win rate). The dream doesn’t typically last long though, since they have to play the number one seed in round two where only 16 teams have advanced. Interestingly though, the number eight seed is the lowest-seeded team to go all the way and win the championship when in 1985 Villanova knocked off Georgetown.
This region not only has a ton of conference tournament champions but, if you love defense, then this is your region. We believe that this region will be the bracket busting region although there is no way that number one Virginia will lose its first round game again this year. The Cavaliers have heard about losing to the number 16 seed all year and this is a vengeance statement game for them. That said, Tony Bennett’s NCAA record doesn’t instill much confidence that they can shake the “Can’t win in March” label. The Cavaliers are a great defensive team but are ill-equipped to score points and mount a comeback if they fall behind. They must also shake off the ACC tournament semifinal loss to Florida State.
Number seven Cincinnati is in an interesting situation by getting to play in Columbus just a few hours from the Bearcats’ campus. That’s a bad draw for the number two seed Tennessee. The Vols are a very good team with a starting lineup full of upperclassmen and both the offense and defense rank in the top 20 in field-goal percentage. Do you trust Rick Barnes though?
The number three seed Purdue is coming off back-to-back Sweet 16 finishes in the NCAA Tournament. However, this year’s Boilermakers aren’t as strong and have a tough draw with a resurgent Villanova and St. Mary’s in their pod. We like Nova as the Big East Champ and conference tournament winner. They are the only team in this group that can really light it up averaging nearly 11 three-pointers a game. But they can be extremely hot and cold, so buyers beware.
K State is yet another defensive minded team and play a patient offensive game. They’ve been consistent all season but injuries to key players have been a problem so they may be overvalued. The Wildcats have a real battle in the first round with the UC Irvine Anteaters who have a smothering defense of their own. UC Irvine comes in having won 16 straight games and had road wins over Texas A&M and St. Mary’s in non-conference play so you can’t take them lightly.
Number 12 Oregon has reinvented themselves of late winning their last eight games including a triumphant run through the PAC-12 tournament as the six seed. They have a matchup with a tough defense in the number five Wisconsin Badgers who, like Virginia, sometimes find points hard to come by. We feel like the Dana Altman’s Ducks with their resurgent defense have a real shot to beat both Wisconsin and K State.
Picks: Tennessee and Oregon
Cinderellas: Cincinnati, Oregon, and UC Irvine
There is no question that Duke is one of the best teams in the country but they are not without their flaws. They are young, don’t shoot the three-pointer very well, and are heavily reliant on their all-world forward Zion Williamson. But there is plenty of NBA talent on this team and they are poised to put the Duke in the Final Four for the first time since 2015.
As the top number two seed, Michigan State got placed in a really tough region. Despite being saddled with injuries, the Spartans still found a way to be Big 10 co-champs and won the conference tournament. Great guard play and a stout defense have been their M.O.
The number seven/number 10 game should be a great one. Louisville has balanced scoring and some hallmark wins (including a win over Michigan State) but they struggled down the stretch, losing five of their last seven. Minnesota has really turned things around beating Purdue twice in March but they have to rebound and play defense. The Gopher offense has experience but would fare better if there were no three-point line which can be scary in today’s game. Nevertheless, if they can upset Louisville, then they are at least very familiar with their likely second round opponent in Michigan State.
The real story in this region is number three LSU who is reeling with the suspension and FBI probe of Coach Will Wade. The Tigers looked lost in the conference tournament and face a disciplined number 14 Yale team that utilizes high-ball screens, constant movement and a fast pace to produce a high scoring offensive output.
Number four Virginia Tech relies on a great defense and three-point shooting to beat teams. The Hokies don’t have a great interior game so they must hit three’s if they want to stay around for a few rounds. Their guard play is good and this team has beaten Duke, albeit without Zion. They could see the Blue Devils again in Sweet 16.
Watch number 11 seed Belmont who is more than capable of beating number six Maryland. The Terps play six freshman and had a horrible showing in the Big 10 Tournament,
Picks: Duke and Michigan State
Cinderellas: Belmont, Minnesota, and Yale
This region has the potential to also be a real bracket buster. You have a number one seed that plays in the weak West Coast Conference, three of the best point guards in the nation, and tournament proven teams and coaches.
Number one Gonzaga gets the bulk of its points from the frontcourt although they have capable perimeter shooters. That style of offense might be difficult if they meet number eight Syracuse with Jim Boeheim’s exotic zone defense or the number four Florida State team that is tall, athletic and deep. The Seminoles eliminated the Bulldogs from the tournament last year, so Gonzaga would have plenty of motivation in a rematch.
Number two Michigan is at least as good as it was last season, when it advanced to the championship game and we love Coach John Beilein during Tournament time (24-12). The Wolverines thrive on defense but have spells of really poor offensive output. This team hammered Villanova and North Carolina this season so they are capable of big wins.
Chris Beard, who was UNLV’s coach for all of two weeks in 2016, has his Red Raiders poised to make a deep run in the tournament this year. The Red Raiders have a difference-maker with Jordan Culver and play stout defense. After losing to eventual national champion Villanova in the Elite 8 last year, they know what it takes to get there and display a certain toughness about them.
Number four Florida State often gets overlooked with all the hype around the three number one seeds in the ACC in Duke, Virginia and UNC. However, the Seminoles are talented with big wins over LSU, Purdue, Virginia, and Virginia Tech this season.
The number five/number 12 matchup in this region is an interesting one as two of the best guards in the county go head-to-head. Marquette lost their last four regular-season games before beating St. John’s in the conference tournament. Marquette now faces a Murray State Racers team that has won 11 in a row. This should be an offensive shoot out as Murray State averages 83 points per game and Marquette 78 PPG.
Number six Buffalo is a strong offensive teams with veteran leadership. The Bulls averaged 85 PPG and have three different seniors who average in double-figures. Their up-tempo in your face attack is also something that could give teams who haven’t seen them before a lot of problems.
Picks: Texas Tech and Gonzaga
Cinderellas: Buffalo, Murray State, and Florida State
The Midwest is the Blue Blood group with North Carolina, Kentucky, and Kansas.
Number one North Carolina has depth and athleticism which allows them to play at a frenetic pace. When they play their game, most of the points are coming from layups and dunks which is a good thing since perimeter shooting can be spotty. Tar Heels played Duke tight in all three times so they are clearly a contender this year.
As happens every year, number two Kentucky has morphed into a very formidable team by the end of the season. If you like dominating size as a winning formula then the Wildcats might be your team. UK dominates opponents on the backboard and their size allows them to take high-percentage shots which is a good thing since they are not consistent from three land. Their size also forces their opponents to stay out of the interior and shoot from range.
This Houston team is far from the Phi-Slamma-Jamma teams under Guy Lewis. Instead, the Cougs rely on a defense that ranks among the best in the country and supplement that with an offense that can throw up 80 points any given night. It a veteran group capable of making a run deep into March. They are strong from behind the arc should they fall behind and superb at defending the three-point line if they have a lead. Buyer beware though, this team struggled a bit in the AAC Tournament with a close win over Memphis and a loss to Cincinnati.
Number four Kansas has been an enigma this season. Injuries and attrition took its toll as the Jayhawks run of 14 consecutive Big 12 regular-season championships ended. Kansas now has a young lineup filled with four freshmen. The interior presence of Dedric Lawson has been really solid as has the point guard play from Devon Dotson. Interesting fact, the Jayhawks were 19-1 at home, but only 6-8 in road or neutral-site games.
The number five/number 12 matchup in this region should be an old fashioned three-point shootout. Auburn’s game is to shoot a ton of threes and live with the results. When those fall, the Tigers are dangerous. If they don’t fall, there could be an early exit. The New Mexico State team is a rebounding machine but they also hoist up a huge dose of three’s on their opponents. Should be a really fun game to watch if the long balls are dropping.
It feels like Iowa State is seeded too low especially after winning four of their last six, and netting another Big 12 Tournament title. When this team is on, they can be really, really tough to beat. All five starters averaged at least nine PPG and they have double digit PPG players off the bench. The only problem is they are a real Jackal and Hyde team that needs their shots to fall. The Cyclones aren’t a great defensive team and really struggle on the boards. Hard to figure this group out.
Number seven Wofford has won 20 straight games and have one of the best sharpshooters in the tournament in senior guard Fletcher Magee. For those that don’t know, Magee has made more than 500 three-pointers in his career and hit 41% from long-distance this season. We have seen similar type of players go off in the Big Dance. The only problem is the path to the Final Four couldn’t be much tougher, as they will have to get by number two Kentucky just to make the Sweet 16.
Picks: North Carolina and Houston
Cinderellas: Auburn, Wofford, and Iowa State
OUR FINAL FOUR
Tennessee, Duke, Texas Tech and North Carolina
Texas Tech and North Carolina