Bracket Breakdown

Gonzaga v Wichita State

Wichita State, better when they’re the underdog?

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Wichita State is the latest in a long line of recent Cinderellas that have played their way into the Final Four.

It started with George Mason in 2006, when the Patriots made a run to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed. It continued in 2011, when No. 11 seed VCU reached the Final Four along with No. 8 seed Butler, the second time in as many years that the Bulldogs would reach the national title game.

But the difference with these Shockers is that they’re not a random mid-major program that happened to get hot at the right time.

Wichita State is a good basketball team. They were 15-1 at one point this season. They were ranked as high as 15th at one point this season.

But they don’t like looking at themselves that way

“It’s interesting, our team, the coaching staff, we’ve talked, we’re better all year long when we’re the underdog, when nothing is expected,” Marshall said on today’s Final Four teleconference.

It’s ironic, really. Wichita State has been better when they’re the hunter this season, not when they’re the hunted.

It started at the beginning of the year, when not much was expected out of this team. They had lost their starting five from a season ago and were more-or-less an afterthought in the Missouri Valley, a league Creighton was picked to win.

They were 9-0 and in the top 15 when they lost to Tennessee. They were 23rd when they lost to Evansville in their fourth league game. And right when they were on the precipice of climbing back into the Final Four, they lost again, this time dropping three in a row and five of their last 10 regular season games.

 

“This team has done better when nothing has been expected, when they’re the underdogs, which we’ll clearly be on Saturday,” Marshall said.

Maybe Wichita State has Louisville right where they want them.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

The Crossover: How is Nate Silver’s NCAA bracket doing? (VIDEO)

the crossover
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Nate Silver, writer for the New York Times’ Five Thirty Eight blog and famed numbers guru, visited the set of “The Crossover” to discuss NCAA tournament probabilities as well as the current state of his bracket on Thursday.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Should Josh Pastner get out of Memphis?

Memphis v Michigan State
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If you’re one of those jumpy Memphis fans who wants to get rid of Josh Pastner because he’s failed to live up to the Calipari mythos, I’d counsel patience. If you can’t appreciate the upward trend that’s right in front of your faces, nobody is ever going to make you happy. The Tigers have won more than 20 games in each of Pastner’s four seasons, and each season the number of wins has increased. This year, Memphis was 16-0 in league play and topped 30 wins.

And all that is nice. As power-conference fans will gleefully point out, it’s easier to make it to those milestones in C-USA, and they don’t matter if you can’t win in the NCAA Tournament. I’ll cede that point even though I don’t like the snide tone of the discourse.

So let’s look beyond the numbers and go to the eyeball test. If you watched Memphis lose to Michigan State in the Round of 32, you know what I’m talking about.

I lost count of how many times a blue-clad body hit the floor in pursuit of a loose ball. Memphis’ defense was sloppy, but persistent. D.J. Stephens rising above the rim to block shots will be a recurring theme in the One Shining Moment video. Dudes were jumping out of their shoes half the game.

The Tigers played hard and loose, and never gave up. They were a reflection of their coach, who got so involved in the defensive effort he performed impromptu calesthenics in the coach’s box. Did he look like a hyperactive goofball? Sure, but ask UCLA fans if they’d prefer an energetic goober or a phlegmatic spectator on the bench when the time comes to lay it all on the line.

My colleague Rob Dauster will tell you that Pastner is not a good fit in Memphis, where his clean-cut approach is out-of-sync with the city’s inherent toughness. He’s not wrong. Pastner also has a long way to go before anyone mentions his name and gravitas in the same sentence. Finally, the time has come when his obvious recruiting ability has to be coupled with tactical brilliance, and if Pastner can’t acquire that for himself, he needs to hire it. Think Steve Lavin and Gene Keady, though, you know, with more actual winning.

In the end, Pastner probably must leave Memphis to achieve his true potential. He may have reached his pinnacle at Memphis already. But as the annual rumors of big-time programs pursuing Shaka Smart and Brad Stevens – also straight-arrows – heat up, is it really that far off the mark to imagine that Josh Pastner might be the third guy on that list of phone calls?

Keep an eye on the coaching carousel, is all I can say.

To follow along with the 2013 Coaching Carousel, click here.

Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.

Does the first round score really matter?

Gonzaga v Southern
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I think Rob Neyer did a quick study like this not too long ago — and I’m sure many others have as well. But, well, you certainly know the famous story about writing a long letter, a story that has been attributed to many people. Somebody wrote a very long letter. “If I had more time,” Benjamin Franklin or Blaine Pascal or Woodrow Wilson or Mark Twain or someone else ended that letter, “I would have made it shorter.”

Well, if I had more time I would have looked up the other studies. Instead, I just tried to answer it myself.

The question is: Does it MATTER how much a No. 1 seed wins by in the first round* of the NCAA Tournament?

*And, oh yes, I will continue to call the Round of 64 the “first round” — let the NCAA sanction me if they want. Calling those play-in games the first round is, well, it’s certainly not the MOST ridiculous thing the NCAA has done in recent months, or even in the Top 100, but it’s plenty ridiculous and I won’t be a party to it. What, we’re now supposed to believe that SIXTY TEAMS get a bye in the first round? Dear NCAA: Stop it right now.

I started thinking about this again when Gonzaga beat Southern by only six points on Thursday. I wondered, “Does this mean anything at all?” Then I watched Kansas play a brutal game against a spirited Western Kentucky and win by only seven IN KANSAS CITY, a virtual home game. And I thought: This HAS to mean something.

Let’s go to the spreadsheet.

OK, so here’s the deal: Coming into this year, there have been 112 No. 1 seeds since the tournament expanded to 64 teams (and beyond). You’ve probably seen the lists, but since I have them right in front of me I’ll show you the teams that have been No. 1 seeds multiple times:

12 times: Duke
11 times: North Carolina
10 times: Kansas
9 times: Kentucky
5 times: Arizona; Connecticut; Michigan State; Oklahoma.
4 times: Ohio State
3 times: Georgetown; Illinois; Purdue; Stanford; UCLA; UNLV
2 times: Arkansas; Indiana; Memphis; Michigan; Pittsburgh; St. John’s; Syracuse

OK, in total there are 112 No. 1 seeds. And, as you know, they all won their first game — No. 1 seeds, including this tournament, are now 116-0 against No. 16 seeds.

What happened from there? Well, 48 of those No. 1 seeds won their region and went as far as the Final Four. That’s about 43%. Here’s the complete breakdown.

No. 1 seeds: 112
Lost in the round of 32: 13 (11%)
Lost in the Sweet 16: 20 (18%)
Lost in the Elite 8: 31 (28%)
Lost in the Final Four: 21 (19%)
Lost in national championship: 10 (9%)
Won championship: 17 (15%)

That probably lines up with you what you were expecting. Only 29% of the teams fail to reach at least the Elite 8. It’s a pretty nice setup, being a No. 1 seed. And it should be.

But, to get back to the point — does that first round score matter? Does it matter if you win by 50? By 30? By 2? Well, let’s break it down — remember, in total, No. 1 seeds reach the Final Four about 43% of the time and one out of seven win the national title.

No. 1 seeds that won by 40 or more points:

There have been 16 of these teams. Eight of them — exactly half — have reached the Final Four, and three have won a national championship. Only one of these teams — the stunned 1998 Kansas team — lost in the round of 32.

No. 1 seeds that have won by 30 to 39 points:

There have been 23 of these teams. Thirteen of them have reached the Final Four, so that’s almost 57% — even higher than the 40-plus group. Four have become national champions. Two of these teams — 2002 Cincinnati and 1992 Kansas — lost in the round of 32. At quick glance, it does not appear there’s much difference between winning that first game by 35 or 55, which shouldn’t be surprising.

No. 1 seeds that have won by 20 to 29 points:

There have been 37 of these teams. Eighteen of them — just a touch under half — have reached the FInal Four. Seven of these teams have won the national championship, and six have lost in the round of 32. So, again, not seeing much difference. But that’s about to change.

No. 1 seeds that have won by 10 to 19 points:

Um, well, now comes a big difference. There have been 23 teams that have won their first round games by 10 to 19 points. Only six of the 23 — barely more than a quarter of them — have reached the FInal Four.

The good news is that three of the six teams that DID reach the Final Four — 1994 Arkansas, 2002 Maryland and 2012 Kentucky — went on to win national titles. But the cutoff is pretty glaring. It seems that you want to win that first round game by 20 or more points. And it’s about to get worse.

No. 1 seeds that have won by fewer than 10 points:

Oh boy. Coming into this year, only 13 No. 1 seeds have won their first round games by fewer than 10 points. Truth is, it just doesn’t happen much. But when it does happen, it’s pretty telling. Just three of the 13 reached the Final Four. None won the national title. The closest was 1986 Duke, which finished runner up to Louisville. And that’s a long time ago. Since 1990, seven No. 1 seeds squeaked by their first round game by fewer than 10 points, and only one of these — 1997 North Carolina — even reached the Final Four.

Obviously, we’re not dealing with a huge sample size here … but these seem to be pretty clear results. Twenty points looks like a severe cutoff point. Teams that have won by 20-plus have reached the Final Four a little bit more than half  the time.

Teams that have won by 19 or fewer have reached the Final Four only a quarter of the time. And the less they win by, the less likely they are to reach the Final Four. Indiana and Louisville this year both finished above that 20-point victory line. Kansas and Gonzaga finished well below it. With a tournament as wide open as this one appears to be, I would have to say it’s a bad indicator for Kansas and Gonzaga.

I looked up one more thing. I wanted to see last the time a team — no matter what seed — won its first game by seven or fewer points (like Kansas and Gonzaga) and went on to the win the national title. And I found something pretty cool: It hasn’t happened in almost 25 years. That’s not the cool thing. The cool thing is that in the 1980s is happened ALL THE TIME.

— In 1980, Louisville needed overtime to beat Kansas State by two — and went on to the national title.

— In 1982, North Carolina — that incredibly loaded team with James Worthy and Sam Perkins and the freshman Michael Jordan — beat James Madison by just two points before going on to win the championship.

— In 1983, Jim Valvano’s N.C. State began its improbable run with a two-overtime 69-67 victory over Pepperdine.

— In 1984, Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown — and I guess I forgot this — barely held on to beat Southern Methodist in a 37-36 thriller. Yeah: 37-36. I think you know where this is leading.

— In 1985, Villanova beat Dayton by just two in the opening round of its magical run to the title.

— And in 1989 — this is the last time it has happened — Michigan beat Xavier by five, 92-87, and went on to the title.

I think it’s pretty obvious why this happened so often in the early 1980s: There was no shot clock (and also no three-point line). There is a lot of talk about how much more parity there is in college basketball now than ever before because of the NBA draft and national exposure to so many teams and so on. That’s probably true. But I would argue that THE GAME ITSELF does not cater nearly as much to parity.

Since the shot-clock has been introduced to college hoops, the national champion has won its first game by an average of 25 points.

In the six years leading up to the shot clock, the eventual national champ won its games by 2, 34 (Indiana), 2, 2, 1 and 2.

Just more fun stuff to think about as we head into the round of 32.

Need last minute bracket advice? Well, we’ve got Yahoo’s Jeff Eisenberg here

Big East Basketball Tournament - Villanova v Louisville
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We’ve got some good stuff for you today. Jeff Eisenberg, the man behind The Dagger, was kind enough to join us to chat about his bracket picks in between writing about the biggest player in the tournament and catching up with the folks that wound up on the wrong end of a buzzer-beater. Trust me, you’ll want to see what he has to say:

Rob Dauster: The most interesting part about this year’s tournament, to me, is that after spending five months talking about how wide-open the field is, 90% of the people filling out brackets are picking Louisville to win the national title. I get it. They’ve got a dominant defense. They’ve lost just once since late January. They embarrassed Syracuse in the Big East title game. I’ll admit, I think the Cardinals are probably the best team in the country right now.

And I also have them losing in the Sweet 16 to St. Louis. I went into detail about it already so I won’t elaborate too much here, but talk me off the ledge, Jeff. Why am I wrong about the Billikens?

Jeff Eisenberg: Here’s the thing: You’re not wrong. Saint Louis is a terrible matchup for Louisville. The Cardinals thrive in an up-tempo game in which they can force turnovers and turn those into transition points. The Billikens play at a slow pace and feature eight seniors who rarely get frazzled or turn the ball over. The Cardinals are vulnerable in a half-court game against a team who can force them to rely on their erratic outside shooting. The Billikens are a well-schooled, defense-oriented team capable of executing that game plan.

So why am I still riding with Louisville? In spite of those advantages, Saint Louis isn’t going to have an easy time scoring either. Plus, I’m willing to bet on Rick Pitino with superior talent and five days to prepare a game plan to offset some of those issues. I believe Saint Louis will be the toughest game Louisville sees in the midwest regional — yes, more challenging than Duke or Michigan State in a regional final — but I think the Cardinals will find a way.

Ready for the Madness? Play Yahoo! Sports’ Tournament Pick ‘Em

So, Rob, I see you have Gonzaga in the title game? What has you sold on the Zags?

RD: They have the best front line in the country, in my opinion. The combination of size and versatility for both Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris makes them a matchup nightmare. To get an idea of just how those two have been, think about this: heading into the season, no one was talking about how good Mark Few’s big guys were. They were talking about Kevin Pangos, who averaged 13.6 points as a freshman, and how much better Gary Bell could end up being alongside him. Those two have been good this year, but they’ve been completely overshadowed.

The irony of my Gonzaga pick is that I think they may be the No. 1 seed most susceptible to getting upset in the round of 32. Whether they get matched up with Pitt or Wichita State, they are going to be playing a team with a big, physical front line that can get to the offensive glass. For everything that the Zags do well, blocking out and defending on the interior is not one of those things.

Personally, I think that Wisconsin may be the best matchup for the Zags in that West Regional. Why do you have them losing to the Fighting Bo Ryans?

JE: Fair point on Wisconsin not being the prototypical gives-Gonzaga-fits matchup. The Badgers don’t have elite perimeter athleticism, nor are they unstoppable on the offensive glass (though they are very good on the defensive boards).

Nonetheless, I do think Jared Berggren is a formidable enough defender to eat into Kelly Olynyk’s usual efficiency and I think Wisconsin’s defensive matchups are pretty good everywhere else. Plus, is it just me or is Wisconsin far better than its seed? The Badgers weren’t great early in the season as they were trying to recover from the loss of Josh Gasser, but they finished the season 6-3, made the Big Ten title game and beat Indiana twice, Illinois twice and Ohio State and Minnesota along the way. I think Gonzaga is very capable of winning this game — especially if their fans make Staples Center into Spokane South the way they did Las Vegas last week — but it’s certainly not an easy draw.

So I see you have Florida in the Final Four, yet last I remember you’ve been railing on the Gators’ inability to win a close game for weeks. What gives? You think they’re just going to blow out Georgetown and Kansas?

RD: That was literally the most difficult decision I had when filling out my bracket (and I still might end up changing my mind before I turn in brackets where I have, ahem, my pride on the line). And at the end of the day, I just think Florida is a better basketball team than Georgetown and Kansas.

For starters, I think Will Yeguete is the ideal matchup defensively for Otto Porter. He’s just as mobile and athletic and he doesn’t care at all about anything beyond being a defender and a rebounder. And while I have my doubts about the shot selection of guys like Mike Rosario, Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin, there’s no arguing that they can lock up defensively. Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera have played great, but they’re mostly spot-up shooters at this point. Yeguete makes life difficult for Porter, which means that Starks and DSR don’t get open looks which means that Georgetown can’t score.

Against Kansas, I think that the Gators are good enough defensively to win that game even though I do recognize the stupidity in picking a team that can’t win close games against Bill Self. Here’s my question for you: Does Kansas even make it to the Elite 8? Do they get picked off by UNC or VCU (or Michigan)?

JE: I don’t see Kansas losing before the Elite Eight. With its new four-guard look, North Carolina can spread the floor the same way Iowa State has to give the Jayhawks fits, but the Tar Heels don’t have an outside-shooting big man to draw Jeff Withey to the perimeter, nor are they good enough defensively to topple Kansas in Kansas City. I don’t like how Michigan finished the season, so that’s a no. And while I think VCU could turn Elijah Johnson over with its swarming defense, I also fear the Jayhawks would score very, very easily on the Rams on possessions where they successfully beat the press.

That brings us to the Elite Eight, where I’m in agreement with you that Kansas sees Florida for many of the same reasons you mentioned. The Gators would have to be awfully careless offensively against Georgetown to blow a game where they match up so well defensively. I worry about Florida’s shot selection and decision making down the stretch in close games, but something tells me the Gators are going to improve in the NCAA tournament in those areas in the same way they did defensively last March. Plus, a team can’t lose in the Elite Eight three straight years … uh, right?

So let’s talk potential first-round upsets. I think the 6-11 games will produce the most surprises this year. You agree?

RD: I do. I like St. Mary’s over Memphis (and I like Middle Tennessee State over Memphis as well) for the same reason that I like Belmont over Arizona: guard play. Both the Gaels and the Bruins run ball-screen heavy offenses with veteran playmakers that have won big games. I’ll ride with the Ian Clarks and Matthew Dellavedovas of the world anyday.

The two 11 seeds I don’t like are Minnesota and Bucknell. I don’t care how good the matchup is, I’m not picking a team that has lost 11 of their last 16 games to win in March. I’m not doing it.

And while I like Bucknell, I have faith in Brad Stevens. I think Andrew Smith is big and tough enough to give Mike Muscala problems, and I trust that Stevens will figure out how to game-plan to win a game in March. Picking against him is heresy.

Am I crazy to think Davidson can beat Marquette?

JE: I’m with you on Belmont. I like the Bruins’ backcourt and I don’t think Arizona will exploit its size advantage inside enough to compensate. Where we differ is in our other 6-11 upset. Give me Minnesota over UCLA for a couple of reasons in spite of the Gophers’ poor finish. 1. Minnesota is an elite offensive rebounding team; Rebounding has been undersized UCLA’s greatest weakness all season. 2. UCLA’s ability to score so many different ways made it tough to beat the past couple months, but the loss of second-leading scorer Jordan Adams makes it easier for teams to focus on blanketing Shabazz Muhammad and keeping Larry Drew out of the lane.

I do worry about the Gophers’ feeding into UCLA’s transition attack with turnovers, but UCLA isn’t a team that will pressure the ball effectively.

I don’t think you’re crazy to like Davidson, especially not with five starters back from last year and one of the best under-the-radar coaches in the nation. If I were going to pick a team seeded 13th or higher to win a game this year, Davidson would get my nod. I expect big things from the Nate Wolters show against Michigan, but I’m not sure he has enough of a supporting cast for South Dakota state to pull that off.

RD: We do agree there. I’m expecting Wolters and Trey Burke to put on a show. Two high-usage, high-efficiency point guards in spread, ball-screen heavy offenses could make for a game that reaches the 80s.

Thanks for joining us, Jeff, and hopefully this will be the boost you need to help you win your office pool.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

March Madness Survival Guide

NCAA Men's Championship Game - Kansas v Kentucky
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Today is the day.

Right up there with St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco De Mayo, The Kentucky Derby, and the Superbowl, the first Thursday of March Madness is one of the best five days on the calendar.

Because today carries such weight, such great importance, we cannot take it lightly. We must be prepared.

Pre-game Instructions:
There are two schools of though regarding Thursday viewing. Both require you to skip work. But you should have already taken care of this.

Seriously, skip work. Fake an illness if you have to. Hell, actually get sick. This is not a day you want to spend to spend at the office.

Anyways, some people will choose to spend the day at a sports bar, surrounded by friends, food & drink and dozens of TVs. This is not a bad option for the casual fan. The atmosphere of a sports bar on the first Thursday goes virtually unrivaled, and provides for an exciting day of entertainment and revelry.

But the sports bar is often littered with distractions that could keep you from maximizing your viewing intake. While hanging out with your friends, chowing down on burgers and interacting with the random Northwestern State fan is fun, it’s not the most efficient means of viewing.

The real fan will instead find an abode within local proximity. Maybe it’s your own, maybe it’s your friends’, or perhaps it’s the empty home down the street being remodeled. Just make sure it has a large HDTV screen, comfortable viewing seats, and plenty of space for extra monitors, platters of food and cold beverages. These intimate viewing stations should never exceed five people, and should be located somewhere away from the sun, domesticated animals and significant others.

The Setup:
– Flat screen HDTV w/ surround sound (at least 36″)
– Auxiliary television (preferably 22″ or larger. HD recommended)
– Laptop
– External Monitor
– Smart phone w/ March Madness on Demand app
– iPad or Tablet (not necessary, but recommended)
– La-Z-Boy recliner or similar armchair (large couches will suffice, but only with a maximum capacity of two people)
– Coffee table large enough to hold laptop, large pizza, nacho platter and buffalo wings

Food & Beverage
If you are going to prepare food, make sure it’s ready to go well in advance of the first tip-off (12:15 p.m. est) Personally, I’d recommend ordering food. It’s easy and time-efficient. Yes, your buddies may criticize you if you order sushi, but at least you won’t miss any game time, and that’s the key. You know there’s a guy out there somewhere who missed the Bryce Drew shot because he was checking on his jalapeno poppers. Don’t become this guy.

Adult beverages should be handled with caution. Remember, today is a marathon, not a sprint. Not managing your intake will result in a serious case of “The ‘Itis”. This is not Thanksgiving. This is March Madness. There is no time for a mid-afternoon nap. You can sleep in April.

The Schedule
With Turner’s decision to stagger-start the games throughout the day, there is no real “dead period”. But trust us, this is a good thing. Old tournament formats would subject the viewer to two hours of local news. We want Madness, not weather traffic updates.

But still, the 5-7 p.m. block of time is when the least amount of action takes place, so if you really need to do something important, like say, picking your son up from lacrosse practice, this is probably when you should take care of that. But if there was ever a time to let your kid figure out how to get home by himself, it’s today. Tell him it’s a character-building exercise.

But seriously, there’s not a lot of time to do any non-March Madness activities.

Thursday Schedule:
12:15 p.m. – Valparaiso (14) vs. Michigan State (3) – CBS
12:40 p.m. – Bucknell (11) vs. Butler (6) – Tru TV
1:40 p.m. – Wichita State (9) vs. Pittsburgh (8)- TBS
2:10 p.m. – New Mexico State (13) vs. Saint Louis (4) – TNT
2:45 p.m. – Saint Mary’s (11) vs. Memphis (6) – CBS
3:10 p.m. – Davidson (14) vs. Marquette (3) – tru TV
4:10 p.m. – Southern (16) vs. Gonzaga (1) – TBS
4:40 p.m. – Oregon (12) vs. Oklahoma State (5) – TNT
6:50 p.m. – North Carolina A&T (16) vs. Louisville (1) – TBS
7:15 p.m. – South Dakota State (13) vs. Michigan (4) – CBS
7:20 p.m. – Belmont (11) vs. Arizona (6) – TNT
7:27 p.m. – California (12) vs. UNLV (5) – Tru TV
9:20 p.m. – Missouri (9) vs. VCU (5) – CBS
9:45 p.m. – Akron (12) vs. Virginia Commonwealth (5) – CBS
9:50 p.m. – Harvard (14) vs. New Mexico (3) – TNT
9:57 p.m. – Montana (13) vs. Syracuse (4) – Tru TV

If you find yourself struggling to make it through Day 1, reach out to @TroyMachir on Twitter, and he will provide you with all the necessary on-the-go survival tips.