Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Best Day in Sports.

It's impossible for me to wake up on the Thursday of March Madness and not feel excited. I'm going to keep this one quick, because y'all don't need me telling you what a fine, fine day we're existing in. Even the birds seem to be chirping more loudly outside my window. Even the birds, everybody!

(For real, does anyone know how to get birds to stop chirping? It's super annoying. I don't want to have to cut down every pine tree in my complex, but in the absence of another good solution...)

Here's something interesting: while making my picks this year, I noticed that a lot of lower seeds were actually favored over higher seeds by KenPom (and hence, probably by Vegas). Does that mean the committee did a bad job? Hard to say, but I decided to compile a list of all first-round games where the low seeds were straight up favorites. Here they are, with KenPom's predicted score:

#12 Clemson over #5 West Virginia, 52-51
#11 Marquette over #6 Xavier, 73-72
#9 Illinois over #8 UNLV, 68-67
#10 Florida St. over #7 Texas A&M, 61-60
#12 Utah St. over #5 Kansas St., 64-62
#11 Gonzaga over #6 St. John's, 69-68
#10 Michigan St. over #7 UCLA, 65-63

That's a surprising 7 games where the seeding seems like it should be reversed, and only one of them was an 8/9 game. Weirdly enough, and I swear I didn't look at these scores when I made my picks, I have all of them. But again, I was reading the same source (KenPom) for stats, even if I wasn't looking at the scores themselves. It'll be fun to see how many come true.

The second order of business is to link Grant Hill's response to Jalen Rose. It's good stuff, even very good stuff, and if I were Grant Hill I'd definitely have written something similar. My only complaint is that Rose was telling people how he felt as a kid, not as an adult. Like I said before, the big mistake he made, and the one Hill torches him for, is somehow blaming the Duke players for being from middle class families. That's absurd. But again, this is how he felt as a kid. That's what he was telling us, right? I guess he should have made the distinction a bit more clearly, but as anyone who watched the Fab 5 documentary could tell, Rose is a natural storyteller who speaks for effect. That's his style. So read the Times piece and enjoy it, but that's my one reservation. On the other hand, Hill's last line is pretty badass. He's an original Moody Blue!

Third order of business: Duke Blue Planet, you've done it again. Every Duke fan in the world should watch this video before our games, before other games, and before most meals.


The fourth and final order of business is to pick the East Region. Late last night I picked the Southwest Region, and that's posted below.

Final note: Back tomorrow with Final 4 picks and a Duke-Hampton preview. Later today, I might have a link to a little something I'm doing for (probably a Q&A type format about Duke). That may also come tomorrow.

Now the picks. The rationale is going to be quicker this time, but no less scientific. Here they be:


Ohio State over Somebody

Didn't watch that game. Not concerned.

George Mason over Villanova

The "Fightin' Masons" (name made up) never turn the ball over, and they can really shoot. Their perimeter D is pretty solid too, and they'll be going up a team with a lot of guards. Push comes to shove, there's no way I'm picking the team that just dropped 5 straight.

Clemson over West Virginia

This is going to be a sweet moment for everyone who spends their free hours lobbing grenades at the ACC. Clemson is a very good all-around team, and they're an excellent defensive team (6th in the country). I have three worries about this pick. First, WVU is obviously very good as well. They're especially excellent at defending the three and getting offensive boards, though they struggle with defensive rebounding and shooting. Second, Clemson has yet to get the big win. They've come within a hair's breadth, but that's not the same as winning. Third, they had to play in Dayton Tuesday night, and now they have the early game today. That's a crappy schedule. But I'm sticking to my guns.

Kentucky over Princeton

I wonder what percentage of white people over the age of 55 are picking this upset? 98%? 99%? The Tigers don't have it. Kentucky is wayyyyy too athletic and way too efficient to drop this one.

Marquette over Xavier

This is a 6/11 "upset," but KenPom actually has the Golden Eagles favored by one. And you can see why; their offense is very efficient (19th nationally), they beat Syracuse, UConn, and Notre Dame at some point this season, and they do everything well on defense except defend the three. Xavier's efficiency numbers are roughly equal (a little worse on offense, a little better on defense), but the fact that they're not playing in the Big East is enough to give Marquette the nod. No-brainer.

Syracuse over Indiana State

No chance for the Sycamores. A team in the bottom half of D-1 offensive efficiency ain't gonna beat the Orange and their smothering zone. Larry Bird ain't gonna save your ass, State.

Washington over Georgia

Oh gosh, Washington all the way. Gosh. They have a fun, fast-paced, efficient offense (9th in the country), a decent defense, good guards, and one pretty good big man (Bryan-Amaning). Georgia doesn't have the O to keep up. They can't shoot threes, they turn it over too much, their interior defense strength doesn't really apply against Washington. The tempos of these teams could hardly be more disparate; UW averages almost 72 possessions per game (16th), while Georgia doesn't quite average 65 (261st). The Bulldogs will try to slow things down, but their penchant for giving up steals and not getting to the line will undermine them. Huskies, easy.

UNC over Long Island

UNC will not lose in Charlotte.


Ohio State over George Mason

Overmatched. The #1 offense in the country should steamroll GMU's 43rd-ranked defense. The only way this game is close is if George Mason gets really hot from three. And they're quite capable; the team is 12 in 3-point FG % in the country. Another hurting them, though, is that they're middle-of-the-pack on the offensive and defensive glass. To beat Ohio State, you need a big, physical team who can limit second chances and create some of their own. I can't see Mason pulling this one off.

Kentucky over Clemson

Damn! I wanted this one so bad, but there's no way to justify it once you look at the stats. And I'm trying to be emotionless here. Kentucky is super on offense, very good on defense, and especially excellent at limiting inside points. They have that sort of Big 10-style defense where they don't get many steals, but nobody can score on them. And let's face it, they looked awesome in the SEC tourney. Clemson's D is nice, but they can't really score to save their lives. I had them penned in over Kentucky for a long time, but I can't pull the trigger.

Syracuse over Marquette

Big East hierarchy asserts itself. Isn't it kind of stupid to have two conference teams meeting as early as the second round? My friend Brian pointed this out to me. Wasn't there a way to avoid that? Anyway, Syracuse is playing really well lately, but they have two weaknesses: letting other teams get to the line, and giving up offensive boards. Marquette is good at exploiting those weaknesses, so I expect this game to be real close. And as the pundits will tell you in the lead-up, Marquette beat Syracuse 76-70 in their only regular season meeting. But Syracuse's superior size and skill will carry the day. There's a reason they're the 3-seed. If Marquette could hit threes at a slightly higher percentage, I might look more closely. But they can't.

UNC over Washington

On a neutral floor, I'd basically be rolling a dice. But believe me, Charlotte isn't neutral. This state belongs to Carolina. Washington matches up pretty well, and it'll be interesting to finally see a team who will love to run with Carolina rather than trying to slow them down, but that's not going to be enough. Carolina is a team that's ready to lose, but it'll take a neutral court. This one should stay within 4-7, though.


Kentucky over Ohio State

Yes!!! First #1 seed to hit the deck. Ohio State has a tendency to play close games, and it's going to bite them in the neck here. Kentucky has plenty of firepower to score points, and their "weaknesses" on defense- a lack of turnovers and steals- will play to their advantage against a highly efficient but very regimented Buckeye offense. OSU thrives against teams who take chances, but they're less effective when the other guys stay at home. Last, Kentucky has the 6th-ranked 2-point field goal defense in the country, so they have at least a fighting chance to contain Sullinger. This is going to be an excellent game, and with just a little luck and some missed shots from OSU, the Wildcats go through.

Syracuse over UNC

Here's where the freshmen fall, and I don't think it's going to be close. Syracuse is big and brutal down low, and unlike most teams UNC has faced, they won't have any match-up problems with Henson and Zeller. I expect Zeller in particular to be a non-factor; his weakness will kill him against Cuse's size. The Orange guard play is similarly superior, and UNC's recent problems with turnovers and poor shooting will bury them. I expect this to resemble the Duke game pretty closely. (As a side note, it's going to be really fun to see the #1 blocking team in the country take on Henson, arguably one of the best individual blocking forces around.)


Kentucky over Syracuse

In a classic. Let me put this in perspective, though: every year, I have a Final Four team that gets knocked out in one of the first two sessions. I'm serious. It's happened like four years in a row, and it always pisses me off. This year, I picked 3 #1 seeds to make the Final Four, so I'm a little safer. But I just checked the schedule, and Kentucky plays Princeton at 2:45 this afternoon. Put all your money on the Ivy boys.

The perfect bracket is nearly complete. Enjoy the hell out of these games. Leave a comment with your biggest upset, and the one who picks the lowest successful seed will get showered with praise in this space tomorrow.


  1. Might just be wishful thinking on my part, hoping to see Barnes throttle the confidence and talent of yet another team come tournament time, but I'll go with Oakland over UT.

  2. Last night I went through and made my picks. Didn't worry about seeding, tried to look at the matchups and make an informed decision without spending too much time on it.

    Hit submit. Felt really good about my bracket.

    This morning I go back and look at it, my sweet-sixteen is completely chalk. Fuck. I have upsets in the first round, but every 1-4 making the sweet-sixteen. Has that ever happened? I'm not changing it now, but I sure as hell don't feel good about it anymore.

  3. I heard Jimmer had sex last night. Wofford in a landslide.


  4. Biggest upset seed-wise I have is Belmont over Wisconsin. Don't you dare bring your ugly 40-point basketball games in my second round (third?), Badgers!

  5. Kenpom's winner/score predictions were wrong often during the regular season. Doubtful he was more successful than any other prognosticator.

  6. Are there other prognosticators that publicly predict the final score of every D1 basketball game?

  7. Anon, no prognosticator is going to be dead on with predictions. What KenPom's showing is that at least based on their statistics and schedule and results and etc., those particular lower seeds appear to be slightly superior than the high seeds. It's all on paper, obviously, but it does show that maybe the committee didn't get the seedings exactly right. It's just interesting.

    Taylor, that would be amazing if it happened. It would make my year. I'd start dancing and writing Duke into the Final Four.

    Justin, I don't have that one either, for reasons mentioned in the last post. But again, it would be great. Who likes Wisconsin?

    Nasty, your new nickname is Ole Chalksy. Congrats.

    Who's everyone else got? As you saw, my biggest upset is Bucknell over UConn.


  8. The one pick I kind of wish I could change is the Tennessee game. They keep getting distracting drama bombs dropped on em before the game vs Michigan. Shit has been bad for them all year long but the timing of the latest statements has been hilariously sabotaging.

    That perfect bracket is starting to take damage early!


  9. i picked bucknell over uconn as well.
    looks like the louisville game didn't go our way either!

  10. I called Spiders over Vandy, so far that's the biggest upset I had called. I bet Cinderella is going to be a Spider this year thanks to Morehead State, which drew first blood on my Sweet 16. The Cardinals choked big time in the final minutes, but I don't think anyone picked that one. I suspect that was the biggest bracket buster of the day unless BYU loses to Wofford.


  11. Man, rough first day. Utah St. and Bucknell; could've used more.


  12. After the first day of Gothic Madness, SCSD has 5 of the top 9, and 4 in the next group tied at 120 points each!

  13. In the hunt in the first day on both of the bracket groups, which is about as much as I could have hoped for. I got my ass beat on bonus points in the yahoo one. Damn you Zags! *shakes fist*

    SCSD def had a strong showing

    Hero of the day for my brackets. RICHMOND SPIDERS! Anything with 8 legs has 8 feet and drastically increases the chances of a dance slipper fitting on at least one of them. I think they are going to the sweet 16 but sadly I didn't have em going there because I figured they'd run into the Cardinals. Wrong.

    Which brings me to the wall of shame, and a little bracket rage.

    Louisville...Really? Seriously? Pathetic. You're a major national basketball program with tons of tradition and a hall of fame coach in Rick Pitino and a very talented team and a large fan base and a great route to go deep in the tourney. Then you go and lose to Morehead State. Who the hell are they? NOBODY! Where the hell are they from? Morehead ain't any state I ever heard of! Do they speak english in Morehead? The only positive that came out of this is I didn't have them going very deep, and this loss screwed a bunch of people way more than me. Does anyone besides me think Pitino looks like Al Pacino? Even their names rhyme...HOOAH!

    Next up is Michigan State. Damn you Michigan State. All I asked from you is to win 1 game and bow out, and it was a meager request from a team that seemed to magically land in the Final Four every damned year. What a shit way to end your train wreck of a season. Worst of all you unleashed a UCLA team which could potentially take out my Elite 8 pick Florida. I don't have a hell of a lot of faith in Billy Donovan when his team isn't ridiculously loaded.

    Now for the lowest of the low. The team that falls into the dead to me category. Saint mother fuckers. First off you beat Duke's ass earlier this year in the Garden, and then you proved yourself a giant killer with an impressive series of wins late in the season. You got me to buy into your hype and then you promptly shit the bed and screwed me by dropping one to the Zags. I knew I should have picked the Zags because as a general rule a crap seeded Zag team makes a deep run and a great seeded Zag team drops a deuce in the first round, but did I listen to my own wisdom? Noooooooooo.


  14. On the Louisville, Morehead State upset: My aunt picked that. I think she's like 13/16 right now and she picked them all "on a whim". Utterly absurd.