It's that time again. Got your brackets printed and filled out? Good. Rather than try to break it into tiny, easy chunks, I'm going to give you my initial thoughts on Selection Sunday, the field at large, my upset picks and some things to keep an eye on as we move through the week. March Madness is here, you guys, and this year has as many good potential storylines as any in recent memory.
A soft bubble led to minor outrage, at best, among fans of teams like Drexel and Seton Hall, but for the most part, this was one of the more uncontroversial fields we've had in a long time, with Michigan State, UNC, Syracuse and Kentucky all nabbing expected No. 1 seeds, and the No. 2 through No. 5 seeds all pretty set in stone.
While CBS provided some drama by naming N.C. State 68th out of the 68 teams announced, and Colorado nabbed a surprising 11-seed (with Memphis rightfully disappointing at being given an eight), the matchups are compelling and logical.
You can find my storylines and some possible upsets after the jump ...
Don't out-think yourself and forget about Kentucky and UNC. While Michigan State and Syracuse have glaring weaknesses that can definitely be exposed in a tournament setting, UK and the Tar Heels are still the two teams best equipped for March. We've known this all along, and no amount of overanalyzing can refute this. As long as UNC gets Henson back, there isn't anyone on the surface who is able to match up in that region. Same goes for Kentucky, but on an even grander scale. Yes, that region is stacked, but don't get cute and pick UConn over the Wildcats because you like Jeremy Lamb.
The 5-12 games are even better this year than usual, so just embrace them. I'm as upset as anyone else that Wichita State and VCU have to play on day one, knocking a trendy upset pick out of the race off the bat, but to be too grumpy about it would take away some of the enjoyment of the fact that FREAKING VCU PLAYS WICHITA IN THE FIRST (well, "second") ROUND. The Vanderbilt-Harvard game is going to be a hell of a ride and so will New Mexico-Long Beach St. Yeah, your bracket can get completely blown up off the bat if you make the wrong pick here, but too bad. At least you're getting compelling basketball from start to finish this year.
Trust what you've seen all year, and don't get swept up in the hype machine. Case in point, Vanderbilt. Do you really believe after a hot week that the Commodores are Final Four material? Don't forget about the rest of the year. It is a new season, but it's the same players. Teams like Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, Florida, Notre Dame, Baylor, Louisville and Duke have serious problems that didn't just go away now that it's March. If you're rolling with them and get burnt, don't get mad about it. That was your decision.
A No. 1 will go down in the first weekend. All the lower seeds are not going to just jump to the challenge and win over top-ranked opponents, but there is a way to feel it out and make calculated risks. Take the winner of the 8/9 game set to play Michigan State. Yes, the Spartans have Izzo and their first No. 1 seed in quite a long time, but Saint Louis and Memphis are not just good basketball teams, but great ones. In a regular season tournament, it wouldn't be a very big upset. SLU is rated 15th in KenPom, while Memphis comes in at No. 9. Both teams are grossly underseeded, and if any No. 1 seed goes down in the first weekend, it's going to be Sparty.
If you're going to pick a home run upset, be smart about it. You may like Davidson -- and who doesn't -- but they aren't a smart bet over Louisville. Instead, look at a team like Ohio University against Michigan. The Wolverines are extremely efficient on both ends of the floor, but they are mediocre at three-point shooting (35.3 percent) and at rebounding (279th in the country in oREB%). Enter the Bobcats: a ranking of 72 in KenPom doesn't wow you, but a deeper look inside the numbers is at least cause to think about it. OU has a higher defensive efficiency than Michigan, top 20 in three-point defense and is second in the country in forcing turnovers. While they are below average at defending offensive rebounds, they get a lot of second-chance opportunities. This will be a close game. Will the Bobcats win? Maybe not, but it is a lot more likely than something like South Dakota over Baylor, New Mexico St. over Indiana, Montana beating Wisconsin or St. Bonaventure over Florida State.
And pencil me in for Belmont over Georgetown. This one almost isn't fair to the Hoyas. Georgetown is 12th in the KenPom ratings, and Belmont is 23. The Bruins are top 15 in offense and have enough firepower to score points against GU's vaunted defense. Belmont is rated above teams like Purdue, Michigan, Virginia, Cincinnati, Gonzaga, Temple, Iowa State, Murray State and Harvard. If you felt comfortable taking any of those teams to the second round, you should feel good about Belmont's chances.
There will be plenty more March Madness analysis to come, but take a few minutes, think about your picks, use the data that is available -- but if you believe in a team, don't discount that. If you carry a team into the Final Four after a few clicks and don't know why, there's a reason for that. This isn't about pure data or about which team looks the best. It's a combination of the two. And when our brackets are torn up in a week anyway, at least we have a couple weeks of terrific hoops left.
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