(Barack Obama’s bracket makes as much sense as anybody else’s.)
Filling out a bracket this season has been significantly different than in years past. The lack of a true Cinderella team or overall favorite has led many people to do quirky things while making selections. I have seen brackets with zero number one seeds in the Elite Eight, all the number one seeds in the Final Four, eight-seeded Pittsburgh winning it all, and multiple two seeds losing in the first round.
All of those brackets are insane.
All of those brackets are perfectly plausible.
If there was ever a year to pick teams based on colors, mascots, and which nearest major city has the best shopping, this would be the year to do it. You could tell me just about anything that could happen in this tournament and I would not be surprised if it happened.
“Iowa State is in the Elite Eight!” Feasible.
“Ole Miss is in the national title game!” Not surprised.
“Roy Williams finally beat Kansas and he did it in Kansas City!” Well, I guess I do have my limits on believability, but you get the point.
So keeping in mind that I’m more clueless than usual about this NCAA tournament, here are my picks to win the NCAA tournament.
SWEET SIXTEEN: Louisville, Oklahoma State, Michigan State, Creighton; Kansas, VCU, Minnesota, Georgetown; Pittsburgh, Kansas State, New Mexico, Iowa State; Indiana, Syracuse, Bucknell, Miami.
Do I have three 11-seeds making the Sweet Sixteen? Yup. Am I comfortable with picking three 11-seeds to advance to the Sweet Sixteen? You bet I’m not.
I’m not a fan of any of the six-seeded teams in this year’s tournament: Arizona, Memphis, Butler, and UCLA. Whether it be because of injuries (UCLA, Butler) or the way they play (Memphis), I have a hard time seeing them beat some of the strongest 11-seeds we’ve seen in a long time. It does seem like there were a lot of mid-major teams who are much stronger this year, but also a lot of talented “BCS” schools who underacheived for one reason or another. Missouri is a very good example of this; a team with top fifteen talent who put together a very average resume because they had poor point guard play and coaching in the final minutes of road games. If I’m Louisville or Kansas or Indiana or Gonzaga I’m thinking “How in the heck are these teams eight-seeds when all of them were ranked very highly at one point or another throughout the season?”
NC State was a sexy preseason pick to win the national title this year. Pittsburgh has been ranked in the top 10 in KenPom’s ratings all season. Missouri is maybe a two seed if they could close out games in which they had a lead with under one minute left. UNC is loaded with talent and can score like crazy, with six of their 10 losses coming to Miami, Duke, and Indiana – no slouches there.
This is just a nutty tournament.
ELITE EIGHT: Louisville, Michigan State; Kansas, Georgetown; Pittsburgh, New Mexico; Indiana, Miami.
Three one-seeds, two two-seeds, two three-seeds, and an eight-seed. This seems about right. (Not really.)
Here is where I think Kansas falls. Everyone has been talking about how North Carolina and VCU pose matchup problems with Kansas, and I disagree. When Kansas struggles it is either because they are beating themselves (see: TCU), someone is hitting an insane number of shots (see: Baylor), or someone is matching their toughness (see: Oklahoma State).
While TCU and North Carolina can put pressure on the ball, both are going to have issues dealing with KU’s inside presence and defensive aggressiveness. Williams’ teams are generally very soft and VCU cannot match the size that Kansas has inside and on the wings. Both of those teams are going to have to hit a lot threes if they are going to beat the Jayhawks, and will not be able to rely just on creating turnovers.
Georgetown meanwhile can neutralize everything Kansas does. They defend the perimeter AND the paint very well in the half-court setting, not just transition. KenPom has them rated as a better defense than Kansas. Additionally, Otto Porter is the piece that neither VCU or North Carolina have – a top-five NBA draft pick who can disrupt Kansas’ inside offensive game and compete and score against Jeff Withey and Kevin Young on offense. This isn’t to say Kansas cannot beat Georgetown, but I thinking they’ll have a tougher time beating the Hoyas than the other two teams KU is projected to play.
(Note: Kansas can certainly lose to VCU or UNC, may point is more towards the idea that Georgetown poses the bigger matchup threat to Kansas than UNC or VCU. If Kansas loses early in the tournament to UNC, Villanova, VCU, or Michigan it wouldn’t be as stunning as when they lost to Northern Iowa or Bucknell.)
FINAL FOUR: Michigan State, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Indiana.
CHAMPION: Indiana over Michigan State, 72-70.
I feel good about precisely none of these picks. Madness, I tell you. Madness.