Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Big March Madness Preview

For those of us who don't pay attention to the play-in game, the kickoff for the 2006 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is just over 12 hours away. One of the most exciting three week stretches of the sporting year, the 2006 tournament promises to deliver yet another round of excitement, intrigue, and heavy gambling losses.

Here are my picks for the tournament. Screenshots of the brackets are courtesy of Yahoo! Fantasy Sports. These are my actual picks, which should be of interest to Andy, Sacamano, and any others who are in our pool.

In the past, I've always been burned by picking Duke, Gonzaga, and Big East teams to go deep. Have I learned from my mistakes? We'll see.

I spend hours attempting to devise a formula which I felt could accurately predict the result of each game. It went something like this:

[{All-Americans + # of Coach's Tournament Appearances*(# of Juniors and Seniors/White Guys)}^Wins Over Top 25 Teams]/
RPI Ranking

After working this out, I decided it would be easier to just use my instincts and guess the winners, instead of inputting these stats for 64 teams. If I do particularly bad with my predictions this time out, that might motivate me for 2007.

So without any further ado, the picks, region by region.


This bracket is home to the overall Number One seed, the Duke Blue Devils. They have been at or near the top of the polls all year, and have a few other characteristics of a championship team:

• Senior Leadership
• Strong Guard Play
• Good Shooters

However, they've showed a remarkable lack of killer instinct to put good teams away in recent weeks, and if they want to win the tournament, at least 4 of their 6 games figure to be against very good teams.

The loss to FSU on the road could have been seen as an aberration, but the loss at home to UNC - on Senior Night no less! - and the struggle to beat Boston College in the ACC Final at Greensboro (in what was basically a home game) are definite causes for concern. I'm not sure that they can win 6 games in a row on neutral court, especially if J.J. Redick goes cold. Nonetheless, they should be a lock for the Sweet 16, especially since George Washington is without their top scorer.

In the next pairing, Texas A&M is a popular pick to pull the upset over Syracuse, but I see a little more magic left in Coach Boeheim and Senior Guard Gerry McNamara. After losing in the first round to Vermont last year, the 'Cuse should have a chip on their shoulder too.

However, that's not to say that they'll get any further than the second round. They figure to match up against a very talented LSU team, who I see as a sleeper in this region. They're led by Glen Davis, the SEC Player of the Year, and Tyrus Thomas, the SEC Freshman of the Year and Co-Defensive Player of the Year. I toyed with picking them to pull the upset over Duke, but I just don't see it happening. It will be close, though.

In the bottom half of the bracket, West Virginia should be a force to be reckoned with. Last year, they were looking at a berth in the Final Four, before they collapsed in the second half of the Regional Final and allowed Louisville to come back. Much of last year's team returns, and their experience will be a big asset in this bracket. They match up well with, and should take care of Big Ten tournament champion Iowa in the Sweet 16 round.

In the last pairing, I'm going with NC State over Cal, since the Wolfpack play in a much deeper conference, and Texas over the Ivy League Champion Penn Quakers. I'll be rooting hard for Pennsy to pull off the upset, but I can't see it happening.

In the Regional Semi, I have to go with Texas holding off a feisty West Virginia squad, though this was one of the toughest games for me to call.

In the final, it's Duke all the way. I'd worry about them against West Virginia, but they blew out the Longhorns earlier in the year, and I can't see why the result would be different this time around.

Winner: Duke
Biggest Upset: It would be a tie between NC State beating Cal, and West Virginia beating Iowa, though I don't consider either of those to be upsets.
Sleepers: LSU and West Virginia. I wouldn't be surprised to see one or both of them make the Elite Eight.


Memphis is the weakest of the four Number One seeds, but they should be safe through two rounds, having to face Oral Roberts University, then either an Arkansas team that's been pretty toothless since Scotty Thurman graduated, or the Patriot League Champs, Bucknell. The Bison upset Kansas last year, so I'm picking them to win here. They'll give Memphis a battle, but will come up short.

I have much ambivalence towards Pittsburgh; I still have no idea how they made the Big East Final. Their run ended against Syracuse, and it's not picking up here. Kent State shoots the ball well, and will upset the Panthers. They're not getting any further though, since they'll have to match up against Big 12 Tournament Champion Kansas. The Jayhawks, though young, look good to me, and I see them making the Sweet 16 with ease, then taking out the top seed to advance to the Regional Final.

The bottom half of the bracket is much more interesting. Indiana should take care of San Diego State, but after this it gets interesting.

I disagreed with a lot of the rankings for this tournament, but none to me are more egregious than Gonzaga getting handed a Number 3 seed. This is a team that's been ranked in the Top 10 all year, they've played and beaten Top 25 teams, and somehow are ranked lower than the University of Tennessee? Even in this region, they have 3 less losses than #2 seed UCLA, and there isn't much difference this year between the Pac-10 and the WCC.

Now, if that wasn't enough, the 14 seed that the 'Zags get matched up against is 9 loss Xavier, the Atlantic 10 tournament champs. The A-10 is a pretty decent conference; they almost sent St. Joe's to the final four two years ago. How Xavier is anything lower than an 11 seed is beyond me.

In any case, it's a long road for the 'Zags, but I think they get by Xavier, and squeak one out over the Hoosiers.

In the other games, Marquette takes care of "Bama and UCLA then takes care of them. In the Regional Semi, I'll go with Gonzaga. UCLA's an underrated team, and a lot of people have them as a sleeper, but I see these two teams being pretty evenly matched. For me, it comes down to who can step up and carry their team to victory. Adam Morrison is the only guy on the court I see being able to do that.

But that's as far as the 'Zags go, I see Kansas pulling the upset and making the trip to Indianapolis. They're a young Jayhawk crew, but Bill Self has them playing well. Gonzaga can only go so far with their brutal road to the Final Four.

Winner: Kansas
Biggest Upset: Kent State over Pittsburgh
Sleepers: Gonzaga and UCLA

Washington, D.C.

The first round of this bracket is very easy for me to call, after that it gets complicated.

In the top half, it's an easy choice picking the top seeds, though I see UAB giving Kentucky a fight.

In the bottom half, Michigan State and North Carolina are always strong tournament teams, so I have them moving on.

Wichita State-Seton Hall is easy to pick. The Pirates haven't been a good team since P.J. Carlesimo was Coaching there, and how can I not pick a team named the Shockers?

Tennessee has no business being a number two seed, so because of that and the garish orange blazers that their Head Coach sweats through on the sidelines, I refuse to pick them to win even one game. So Winthrop it is.

In the second round, Wichita State's an easy pick over Winthrop. I always tend to underestimate the Spartans, and worry that I'm doing it again this year. The Tar Heels are talented, but Michigan State is experienced, though they've underachieved this year. I've gone back and forth on this one countless times, but in the end I have to err on the side of experience. The Spartans take it in a nailbiter.

The Illinois-Washington game is good one. Both teams have experience and talent aplenty. What this comes down to for me is who has the best player on the court. That is clearly Dee Brown, so Illinois takes it. In any other year, UConn-Kentucky would be a marquee matchup. This year, it's a breeze for the Huskies.

Michigan State takes out Wichita easily, while UConn pulls out a close win over the Illini. The Huskies get it together and take care of the Spartans in the Regional Final.

Winner: Connecticut
Biggest Upset: Winthrop over Tennessee
Sleepers: Michigan State, Illinois, Washington


I had Boston College winning. Then I had Florida winning. Then Boston College. Then Florida. In the end, I settled on neither.

The top seeds should make it through in the first round. Arizona and Wisconsin will be a battle, but I like the 'Cats, and you never underestimate Lute Olsen in the tournament. Nevada should cruise to a win, while BC takes care of a talented Pacific squad. In the second round, Villanova outlasts Arizona, and BC takes care of Nevada. BC's a good team, but they'll come up just short against Villanova's four guard combo.

Wisconsin-Milwaukee will pull off the upset over Oklahoma, while Florida, Georgetown, and The Ohio State University will also move on. I see Florida and OSU matching up in the Semi, with the Gators moving on.

In the Regional Final, I have to go with Villanova. I worry about their ability to guard a talented inside scorer, which Joakim Noah could be for Florida. I think the guard play and shooting ability will balance that out, and allow Villanova to win the Minneapolis region.

Winner: Villanova
Biggest Upset: Wisconsin-Milwaukee over Oklahoma
Sleepers: Florida and Boston College

Final Four

Duke has the edge in both talent and experience against Kansas, while UConn matches up favorably against Villanova. The home team won the past two times these teams matched up, but on a neutral court, I have to go with UConn.

In the final, Duke gets great performances from Redick and Lee Melchioni, while Shelden Williams battles Josh Boone to a draw. Rudy Gay doesn's step up, allowing Duke to cruise to an 80-71 win.

Though I have concerns about the Blue Devils, I just don't see a game where I'm comfortable picking them to slip up.

2006 Champion: Duke
Final Four MVP: J.J. Redick
One Shining Moment Video: Awesome, as always.

Three weeks from now, we'll see how accurate I was. I haven't learned from my mistakes in the past, but I can't shake the feeling that Duke is due. Ditto for Gonzaga and Villanova. We'll see if logic or intuition wins this time around.

And with that, let the games begin!


At 9:03 AM, Blogger sacamano said...

I'll post my picks somewhere today so you guys can see what a real bracket looks like.

My all-time One Shining Moment videos were the back to back UNLV-Duke matchups. Fantastic.

I wonder if those are available anywhere.

At 9:24 AM, Blogger sacamano said...

Here's my bracket

At 9:36 AM, Blogger Alex said...

The Ohio State University to win? Wow. That's bold, very bold.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger mike d said...

After watching Duke in person at the ACC tourney, I'd say they will have trouble if Nelson or Dockery get in foul trouble because Paulus can't guard air, let alone a guard with any quickness.

I used to think if Reddick was a bit off, they'd be in trouble, but McRoberts has really stepped it up of late giving them even more presence inside. Still, I think UConn is just too "athletic" and will force Duke out of their game. How's that for cliches?

At 11:42 AM, Blogger Alex said...

McRoberts does have a lot of "upside". His "wingspan" is also pretty impressive.

I'm not sure who on UConn can guard Redick. On the other hand, I like the matchups on Duke's end, and think Paulus will step up.

At 3:48 PM, Blogger sacamano said...

It all comes down to the Big Man. Ohio St. has it.

Sadly, it looks like Montana will be the #12 winner not Texas A&M.


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