Bracketology 101 Class Is In Full Session

Good evening, one and all.

I see that at least some of you managed to get at least half a good night’s rest.  In my case, it wasn’t easy–but I made it through while seeing tons and tons of rain fall outside my residence.

Briefly scanning over the virtual crowd, the usual group of cool cats featuring the likes of Cindy, Barbie, Stephanie, Tiffany, Iana, Heather, Yasmin, and Gia are sporting their usual springlike best (all of their last names withheld to protect their individual privacy).

(Matt’s eyes start to get really big, as the ladies all smile pretending if they are really engaged and interested in what he is saying and the passion he exudes in his voice).

Wow, some really neat looking dresses this year.

You really outdid yourselves this spring season.  Some awesome choices this year, I bet.

However, I will say this in reaction to the brackets being released on this Selection Sunday 2016:

With all of the parity that has happened during the regular season, will it carry over into the NCAA Tournament?  Historically dominant teams like Kansas, North Carolina, and Virginia usually dominate the headlines–but there will be other teams up and down the brackets that should make things very interesting during these next two weeks.

But just before I begin diving head first into the South Region, I have only two small beefs about the job done by the Selection Committee.

This year, they aren’t getting an argument about the seeding process.  I felt overall, this was as deep and balanced a bracket that I have seen in a long, long time.  Sure, some media members mildly complained that Texas A&M was a 3 seed and Kentucky was a 4, but look who they played this season.  A&M’s losses were to quality teams, Kentucky’s were not.  Similar case can be said concerning the defending champions from Duke.  But unlike the other 67 teams, Duke in 2016 has absolutely no bench.

None, nada, zip, zilch–you get the picture.

My only beefs are again about which teams should have deserved certain seed placement based on how the games turned out this weekend, and again–as Selection Committee Chairman Joe Castiglione kept saying on CBS Sunday night, “They did everything that was asked (by us) for them to do.”  For Monmouth, Valparaiso, and South Carolina, their bubbles sadly burst.  If the top seeds in many of the conference tournaments had won, the likes of Austin Peay, Holy Cross, and St. Joseph’s would not have even had a remote chance to be included–let alone smell the roses for a little bit.

Oregon was chosen over Michigan State, since the Ducks had an RPI of 2 and the Spartans had 11.  If I was on that Committee, I would have put major stock on the Spartans four point win Sunday afternoon over a very gutsy Purdue team.  Oregon basically blew out Utah before the first cards were laid out on the blackjack table.  By the time the dust settled on the Vegas strip, to me a 30 point blowout won’t buy you more than a hot dog at Burger King.

But also, I gained this bit of knowledge as first posted by bracketologist Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com:

  • UNC is the first 1 seed that wasn’t above .500 against the top 50 in the RPI
  • Virginia is the first 1 seed with four losses to teams outside the top 50
  • Oregon is the first 1 seed with two losses to 100+ RPI teams

And just before the last two regions were announced, did you know that this group of four number 1 seeds have the most combined losses ever (when the seeding process began in 1979) at 23.   The previous record was 20 losses in 2000, which included the eventual national champions that year in Indianapolis which Michigan State triumphed over a young upstart group of Florida Gators at the old RCA Dome.

Of the six schools that occupied the top slot during the regular season, those teams were 9-7 in true road games.  Figure that little nugget out while you contemplate those brackets.

Without further adieu, it is finally time to begin my discussion of the brackets:

SOUTH REGION

“Maryland and Cal have better talent than Kansas has, but not a better team.”

CBS Sports Network analyst Doug Gottlieb during the Selection Show

Starting with the overall Number 1 seed in the Kansas Jayhawks, they deserve it because of the way they finished things during the last six weeks.  Unlike in 2015, where we witnessed a wire-to-wire Number 1 in then undefeated Kentucky, there is nothing like that in this year’s field.

Their first round opponent in the Des Moines pod will be Austin Peay, no strangers to the Big Dance but definitely the most heartwarming story with the granddaughter of Austin Peay’s coach clinging to life at a hospital due to having some rare disease.  I am sure that emotional toll will weigh very heavy on the players, but I just don’t see the Governors coming within a basketball court’s length of the Jayhawks.  Expect Perry Ellis to have his usual field day inside and Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk should coast easily against the winner of the Colorado/UConn match-up.

As for the other match-up, this may not be your usual 8/9 cliffhanger on paper, but UConn is on one of those runs similar to what Shabazz Napier did in the Big East tournament in 2011 where the Huskies had to win four games in four days just to get in, and eventually went on to become national champions the last time the Final Four was staged in Houston.

The only other thing that had me briefly scratching my head was the starting tip time for the California-Hawaii matchup at the Spokane pod on Friday.  The game will start at 9 a.m. Hawaii time, or 2 p.m. Eastern time (more info on all of the tip times in my first blog on Monday, so stay tuned for that).  Usually, the NCAA would have the Rainbow Warriors on late at night so most Hawaiians can return home from work in time for the game–like it was the case several years ago when they took on Syracuse in Dayton.

That leads me to the first groups of Opening Round games on Tuesday.

Florida Gulf Coast leads off with Fairleigh Dickinson (winner advances to play North Carolina on Thursday), and Wichita State should hopefully have no problems against Vanderbilt (that winner takes on the 6 seed of Arizona on Thursday).

Wednesday will have a pair of games worth taking a peek or listen on your smartphone:  Holy Cross vs. Southern University, the last two schools listed on the official seed list will precede one school that should not have been invited in the first place–as Michigan should dispose of Tulsa like a bad habit.  Backcourt play might be huge for the Golden Hurricane, but Michigan is very well battle tested–especially in the way they came back to defeat the Big Ten regular season champions against a very good Indiana team on Friday.

But I felt the best comment from the expanded Selection Show came from a question asked by Charles Barkley to Kansas head coach Bill Self, when Sir Charles asked about any added pressure he and his staff might be feeling during this special time of year:

“The big key for us…I think–is stay focused, no distractions, but play loose and play free.”

As for the bottom half of that part of the bracket, Miami should get past Buffalo and don’t be shocked if there are some inner tensions to take place in Philadelphia if Temple gets past Iowa and gets a rematch with Villanova.  Again, Villanova was in that one seed conversation until early Saturday evening when Seton Hall pulled out the Big East title and took away a bid from one of the mid-majors that should have been included had the field expanded to 128 teams.

WEST REGION

You can pretty much call it the ‘Buddy Hield Coming Out Party’, as Oklahoma got a pretty safe draw with the first time participants of Cal State Bakersfield as their first round opponent in Oklahoma City on Friday.  The 7/10 game would have been a fun one to monitor in 2015 and years prior when Shaka Smart was running the Havoc defense.  But you got Gary Payton II, just as good as his father was when he led the Beavers to the Big Dance in 1990.  That game can go either way.

I think Texas A&M should get to the Sweet 16, but Shaka Smart’s current team in Texas may surprise some people.   Northern Iowa is not the same bunch as last year’s team, but since the Aggies and the Longhorns only met in non-conference, this matchup can take place in the Second round on Sunday.

The top part of that bracket, I expect Duke will get past UNC Wilmington but their lack of depth on the bench will catch up with them against a very lengthy and very athletic Baylor team.  The upper part should have Oregon advancing with relative ease, but St. Joseph’s based on their Atlantic 10 win on Sunday afternoon should get past Cincinnati–but unlike last year’s 8/9 matchup when Purdue lost in the final seconds to the Bearcats in Louisville, I expect this game will be decided by early in the second half largely because of the Hawks’ outstanding shooting.

EAST REGION

Kenny “The Jet” Smith brought it up while making his picks on that special monitor (taking a small page out of ESPN’s virtual playbook).  Guard play will be huge in this region, but the only lower seed I think will come out and keep things close for a half against the Tar Heels is the 9 seed of Providence.  Their guards are really impressive, but USC does not really fare well on the road.  However, I do have to briefly give the Trojans special kudos since they managed to beat their inner city rivals of UCLA three times this season.

Indiana and Kentucky are poised for a Sunday showdown in Des Moines (nice story about Stony Brook making their first appearance, but I guess the old adage of, “They’re just happy to be there” firmly applies in this case).  All of the higher seeds should prevail without too many difficulties in the lower half of that bracket:  Notre Dame over Michigan, West Virginia over Stephen F. Austin, Wisconsin over Pitt, and Xavier over Weber State.  Pound for pound and I keep saying this–experience wins in March and teams that have had time to gel and become a cohesive unit usually win during March.

MIDWEST REGION

Grant Hill said this was the weakest region and outside of Virginia possibly getting tripped up for a third straight time by Michigan State, the only lower seed I see advancing is Butler over a good Texas Tech team in that particular 8/9 matchup in the Raleigh pod.  The Red Raiders had a nice non-conference season, but like most teams in the SEC hit that rough patch in January and February.  Butler is battle tested from the Big East and they have some very good shooters, so I like the Bulldogs to win in the First Round.

In the Denver pod, Purdue and Iowa State are set for a possible showdown but I think A.J. Hammons may be the difference maker over Georges Niang.  If Hammons goes–especially if he gets double digits rebounds, so go the Boilermakers.

The most difficult game to choose is Seton Hall matching up with Gonzaga.  In previous years, this would be an easy pick.  But with the Pirates basically coming out of nowhere and tripping Villanova in the final seconds to claim the Big East tournament title was impresssive.  But Gonzaga lost a bunch of games early and they wouldn’t have been here had they not beaten St. Mary’s in the West Coast Conference tournament final in Las Vegas.  Doug Gottlieb brought up a good point about the Gaels, “having a very soft schedule, and their only Top 50 wins were against Gonzaga, twice.”

But this can be many people’s double digit upset special and although the ‘Zags have had to patch up a decent backcourt, it is the frontcourt guys that should get the job done come Thursday night.  The lower right corner, I have Michigan State meeting up with Dayton.  Although the Selection Committee valued Syracuse winning five games over Top 50 opponents in the RPI, this is not your typical Orange team.  Without Jim Boeheim at the start of the ACC conference season due to the rules violations imposed last year against the basketball program, again they had a good year but not a great year.

That should sum up things from my point of view inside a nice, neatly wrapped package.

And so, college basketball’s version of Christmas has come and gone for another year.  I feel sorry for St. Bonaventure, South Carolina, and especially Monmouth and Valparaiso but like Joe Castiglione said in the final minutes of the expanded Selection Show on CBS, “Once many number 1 seeds lost in their conference tournaments, that bubble was getting smaller.”

The full schedule is out and you will get to see that first thing on Monday, along with my picks for the tournament (for entertainment purposes only).  Plus, for mere giggles–you will get to see which schools I picked way back in November to make the 68 team field and you will be among the first to know which ones I got right and which ones I badly missed the mark.

If there is one thing this season has taught me, expect the unexpected.

This is why the NCAA Tournament is the greatest time on the American sports calendar.  Not even the Olympics come close.

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