(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.
I'M GOOSEY! I'M GOOSEY! I'M SO PSYCHED I JUST WENT OUT ON MY BALCONY AND HELD UP A SIGN SAYING "BIRDS BE QUIET" AND THEY DID!
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 ACCSports.com (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.