My bracket was off to a great start after the first round: I called 28 of the first 32 games correctly. I even got a few, “your bracket’s looking good man!” compliments from friends. Thanks. But in the back of my mind, I thought, ehh, it’s only a matter of time before we’re all screwed.
Sufficed it to say, things quickly went south for my once terrific bracket. First Wisconsin upset Villanova. OK, not a big deal. I had the defending champs losing in the Elite Eight. It’s not like I had them in the Final Four. But then Saint Mary’s, another one of my elite eight picks, couldn’t come through to beat Arizona. Well, shame on me for picking a team from the WAC to go that far.
Way down we go. Early on Sunday, the upstart Michigan Wolverines knocked off my first Final Four team, Louisville, even after the Cardinals had a sizable lead at the half. And last but not least, a near-knockout blow to my bracket had to be delivered by the sneaky South Carolina Gamecocks, who somehow dropped 65 second-half points to upset Duke, one of my finalists.
The only chance I have to win my ten-person bracket group now, in all likelihood, is if North Carolina comes through to win the national championship and/or if West Virginia sneaks into the Final Four. So I’m still in it (sort of). But with a paltry PPR of 800, I’m fortunate that I’m in a group that did not do a buy-in this year.
Why do people even bother making March Madness predictions, anyway? There’s just no calling it. The first round was devoid of any of those truly shocking upsets–I’m talking a fourteen over a three magnitude–so it appeared as if this would be a rather straight-forward year. But then three of the top, say, six teams in the country were unceremoniously bounced in the Round of 32, including the oddsmakers favorite, Duke. I can’t remember the last time that happened.
Nonetheless, the next Charlie Parker would never be discouraged. So let’s see if I can rebound after my original bracket went bust, or if I’ll double down on my miserable predictions. Here’s how I see the rest of the tournament playing out.
What Michigan has been able to accomplish since their plane slid off an airport runway, and thankfully didn’t flip over, before the Big Ten tournament has been remarkable. In the wake of that event, the eleven-loss Wolverines’ Big Ten tournament title and first two tournament wins certainly comes as a shock. But what’s not surprising is how well their offense has played, given that they’re 6th in the country in true shooting percentage. That explains how they are also one of the nation’s best three-point shooting teams (29th in 3pt%) as well. Michigan’s elite offense should give Oregon problems, seeing as the Ducks were barely able to beat an eleven-seed, Rhode Island, that couldn’t hit from downtown.
The Jayhawks were tremendous in their blowout win over Michigan State. But their upcoming Big Ten clash against Purdue should be more difficult. The game should be a shootout, seeing that both sides are ranked in the top six in three-point percentage, but I like Kansas to build off their impressive first weekend and march to the Elite Eight.
The ‘Zags looked shaky defensively in the second-half of a six-point win over #8 Northwestern. West Virginia should be able to capitalize offensively, and I like the fact that have forced the most turnovers in the nation this season. Plus, I feel compelled to stick with my sleeper Final Four pick from before the tournament started.
With a few notable exceptions (e.g. VCU in 2011, Syracuse in 2016), double-digit seeds often struggle once they reach the Sweet Sixteen. For that reason, along with the fact that they have a superior defense (Arizona is 41st in defensive efficiency while Xavier is 168th), I’ll take Arizona.
We knew South Carolina was legit on the defensive end. After all, the Gamecocks came into the tournament ranked in the top five in defensive efficiency. However, their 65-point second half against Duke was likely a fluke, seeing as they’re ranked 174th in points per game. I’ll take Baylor in a close one.
Both teams are phenomenal defensively, so points should be hard to come by. But I’ll side with Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes and the Badgers to win late. They seem to resemble those other dangerous lower seeds that have made a run to the Final Four in recent memory (e.g. #7 UConn & #8 Kentucky in 2014, #8 Butler in 2011) on the strength of a couple standout players and a stingy defense.
Sometimes it helps to keep things simple: North Carolina is simply the more talented team than the Horizon-league champs.
I may regret picking against Lonzo Ball and the Bruins, but I think sooner or later their mediocre defense will eventually haunt them. Kentucky is strong on both ends of the floor and, outside of Ball, more talented at every position. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how this epic clash between two storied programs plays out.
I think the eleven-loss Wolverines surprise run will end at some point. Kansas simply looks too strong with Frank Mason and Josh Jackson leading the way.
I said coming into the tournament that West Virginia (ranked 6th in total efficiency) was under-seeded while Arizona (ranked 18th) was over-seeded. I’m hoping that Mountaineers are able to prove that the advanced metrics were not lying.
Experience has to help when tournament games get tight, which is why I’ll take the battle-tested Badgers to beat a Baylor team that often underachieves in big moments.
Speaking of battle-tested, I’ll take the more experienced, more stable Tar Heels to beat Kentucky’s freshmen.
I’m jumping on the Wisconsin bandwagon like everyone else. But I have to imagine that sooner or later, the team that lost five out of six games in late February will be exposed.
Admittedly, Kansas looks like the best team remaining in the field…
…yet I’m sticking with North Carolina, my pick to win before the tournament. Same rationale still holds: The Tar Heels are very good on both ends of the floor, they’re the nation’s best rebounding team, and they have a terrific group of reliable upperclassmen.
But, again, who knows?