By David J. Cohen
It’s the greatest journey in all of sports. It’s a time when George Mason’s can be made and Duke’s can be broken. A time when buzzer-beaters become cooler talk. A time when that sure-fire team leaves you scratching your head as the secretary wins the office pool for the 10th year in a row.
March Madness is here. It’s a long journey, so you’ll need a good map. I’ll be your guide for what lies ahead.
This is a place full of intrigue, from beginning to end.
First Round Summary
Florida, Arizona, Maryland, and Oregon advance easily.
Old Dominion v. Butler – People love Butler because of their early season success, beating Notre Dame, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, and Gonzaga back-to-back-to-back. They are 7th in the nation in scoring defense, 35th in FG % defense, 6th in free-throw %, and turn the ball over just 9 times a game, the fewest in the country. Despite these numbers, Butler is the most overrated team in the tournament. They are 190th in shooting %, 224th in rebounding, 243rd in assists, 200th in fouls per game, 300th in blocked shots, and 300th in steals (out of 325 ranked D1 teams). Basically, they are a good defensive team which can’t take advantage of it and can’t come from behind. Old Dominion also can’t shoot. They are 201st in shooting % and 158th in 3-PT shooting. But they are good in a lot of other areas. They are 36th in scoring defense, 58th in FG % defense, 50th in rebounding, 71st in assists, 82nd in steals, and 34th in turnovers per game. They can move the ball around to try and create opportunities and will take advantage of Butler’s bad shooting by dominating the glass. In a game where neither team can shoot, 2nd chance opportunities will be crucial. Butler’s offense revolves around making enough 3’s, where they are 21st in 3’s made but 100th in 3-PT %. Old Dominion should be able to contain Butler behind the arc. That gives any doubt left to ODU.
Winthrop v. Notre Dame – For the 2nd straight year, a capable mid-major gets shafted in a 6-11 match-up. Last year it was Pacific, and now it’s Winthrop. They would beat any of the other 6 seeds in the tournament. However, they draw Notre Dame, the best team in the tourney ranked 4th or lower. Winthrop is a solid team: 27th in FG %, 42nd in FG % defense, 35th in 3’s per game, 13th in rebounding, 20th in assists, 48th in steals, and 67th in turnovers per game. Their only problem is making free-throws. They’re 307th in the country. Notre Dame also has some impressive numbers: 8th in scoring, 15th in 3’s per game, 20th in 3-PT %, 18th in free-throw %, 48th in rebounding, 9th in assists, 34th in steals, and 64th in turnovers per game. The Irish don’t have a weakness, just areas where they are just above average: 78th in FG %, 76th in FG % defense, and 104th in blocks. They are 150th in scoring defense but that is more an indicator of their fast-tempo style of play. Notre Dame wins this game for 2 reasons. They will make more 3’s than Winthrop, who can get pulled into a 3-PT shooting contest. Also, this Winthrop team against upper-echelon teams has folded in the final minutes. They couldn’t close the deal against UNC, Maryland, or Wisconsin. This is mainly the same unit which choked in the final minutes against Tennessee in last year’s tournament. Notre Dame has shown great improvement in finishing close games after losing just about all of them in overtime last year. It will be tied in the final minutes before the Irish sneak by. This is the best game for the entire region, and will have a Sweet 16 or even Elite 8 feel.
Georgia Tech v. UNLV – Georgia Tech has the talent and ability to beat anyone, but makes way too many mistakes. They’re 12th in shooting %, 60th in 3-PT %, 21st in rebounding, 48th in assists, and 6th in steals. However, where they’re not good, they’re horrible: 194th in scoring defense, 191st in FG % defense, 184th in FT %, 250th in turnovers per game, and 284th in fouls per game. Other teams get many open looks, trips to the line, and easy baskets in transition against the Yellow Jackets. If they could make these numbers respectable, they’re an Elite 8 team. But it hasn’t happened yet. UNLV is one of those teams that won’t blow you away but will hang around. They are average on both ends of the floor and are 205th in rebounding. What gives them a chance is the fact that they can exploit Georgia Tech’s weaknesses: 18th in blocks, 54th in steals, and 10th in turnovers per game. UNLV should have a huge edge in turnovers. They can knock down FT’s, ranking 94th in the nation. If they have a great day at the line, they could steal this game. However, they don’t have the athleticism to hang with the Yellow Jackets. If they were solid on either end of the floor they would move on.
Texas A&M Corpus Christi v. Wisconsin – Corpus Christi is a pretty good team for a 15 seed. They’re 2nd in FG %, 16th in 3-PT %, 17th in rebounding, 5th in assists, and 61st in steals. However, there’s a reason they’re a 15 seed. They’re 153rd in FG % defense, 116th in free-throws, 208th in blocks, 272nd in turnovers per game, and 183rd in fouls per game. Wisconsin was a game away from a top seed. They are solid at certain aspects of the game. They’re 8th in scoring defense, 69th in FG %, 40th in FG% defense, 35th in rebounding, 12th in turnovers per game, and 10th in fouls per game. But for a 2 seed, they have some serious flaws (this is a theme among the 2 seeds). They’re 141st in 3-PT %, 198th in FT %, 146th in assists, 143rd in blocks, and 263rd in steals. This game is an interesting one. Corpus Christi will be in this one for a while, and have a shot of making the upset of the tournament. However, they should fall short because they foul too much, can’t be careful with the ball, and can’t play good defense. Wisconsin can make enough shots to get by and will wear down Corpus Christi as the game goes on. For an upset to happen, Corpus Christi must make 3’s early and often. They have a very high % but don’t use it, ranking 236th in 3’s made per game. If they can keep their high % while taking more shots, this will be an intriguing one down the stretch. Wisconsin will find a way to win, which will also become a theme.
Second Round Summary
Florida destroys Arizona.
Old Dominion v. Maryland – the defensive ODU must now try to stop a far more talented team in Maryland, who made quick work of a Davidson team whose mediocrity was masked by their 29-4 record. The Terps have the ability to go to Atlanta but suffer from fits of inconsistency and mistakes. They’re 33rd in shooting %, 10th in shooting % defense, 42nd in 3-PT %, 13th in assists, 5th in blocks, and 90th in steals. Their inconsistency is summed up by their scoring defense, which is 142nd despite holding opponents to tough, contested shots. They are 140th in rebounding, 247th in turnovers per game, and 135th in fouls per game, which have off-set such great defensive play. If they can cut back on mistakes, they can beat anyone, which they have proved this year. They beat UNC and swept Duke but lost twice to Miami. With Maryland, it’s a matter of which team shows up. In this game, Maryland’s problems will keep ODU in the game, but ODU will lose because they won’t be able to make enough shots to pull off the upset.
Notre Dame v. Oregon – Oregon will get blown out here, but since many have them in the Elite 8 I have to say something here. The Ducks are 139th in shooting %, 174th in FG % defense, 109th in assists, 278th in blocks, 80th in rebounding, and 121st in steals. Both teams like fast tempos, so Oregon will try to get in a shootout. They will get burned badly, as the Irish are just as adept at scoring, are a better shooting team, and play much better defense. Unless Brooks scores 40 the Ducks are getting swamped.
Georgia Tech v. Wisconsin – Georgia Tech is better than Wisconsin at a lot of things. However, their lack of defense and their tendency to foul and commit turnovers hurt them severely against a Badger team which plays solid defense and rarely gives up the ball or gives up points at the line. Wisconsin isn’t a spectacular shooting team, but they are solid enough here. The Yellow Jackets are a far better shooting team, average far more steals, and move the ball much better. If they were just an average defensive team and could contain themselves they would win this. In this game, Georgia Tech beats itself much more than Wisconsin wins the game.
Maryland v. Florida – Florida gets its toughest challenge of the region. They are obviously one of the best teams in the country, but they haven’t played up to their potential for most of the year, especially in SEC play. They were mediocre for most of the SEC season before the conference tournament. Despite this, they have some impressive numbers. They’re the best shooting team for the 2nd straight season and improved by nearly 3% from last year. They’re 30th in FG % defense, 10th in 3-PT %, 7th in rebounding, 37th in assists, 31st in blocks, and 18th in fouls per game. They do have turnovers, ranking 118th in turnovers per game, and are 124th in steals. However, their real problem has been at the line, where they’re 196th in the nation. This has kept teams alive against them. Maryland moves the ball better, rebounds well, and blocks more shots. They are great at contesting shots. But their lack of size and rebounding, along with all their turnovers do them in. But if the Maryland that beat UNC shows up, they’ll give the Gators all they can handle.
Notre Dame v. Wisconsin – The Irish are solid at many things, but it’s as if Wisconsin is the perfect team to beat them. The Irish 8th ranked offense goes against the Badgers 8th ranked defense. Wisconsin is just as good a shooting team (69th against the Irish 78th ranked shooting) and contest shots better. The Irish are great at the line but the Badgers don’t foul. The Irish are 34th in steals but the Badgers are 10th in turnovers per game. Neither team will get many turnovers. The Irish are a good rebounding team, but they get many rebounds as part of a fast paced offense while the Badgers have a better rebounding margin with far less shots attempted by both teams in their games. The one thing the Irish can do that Wisconsin can’t is shoot the 3. Wisconsin is 234th in 3’s per game and 141st in 3-PT % while Notre Dame is 15th and 20th in those categories. If they can get good looks and knock down 3’s, that’s their trump card. However, the Badgers should be able to shut down some of the 3’s. It all comes down to tempo. If it’s a half-court game, Wisconsin wins. If it’s fast-paced, the Irish advance. Wisconsin should be able to set the pace by going inside early and often. So the Badgers find a way to win yet again.
Regional Final: Wisconsin v. Florida
It might be a 1-2 match-up but it won’t be close. Florida is better in just about everything Wisconsin can do well and is much more adept offensively. They can torch the Badgers in a half-court game. Unless the Gators get in foul trouble and commit 20 turnovers, this should look like the Wisconsin v. Ohio State game in the Big Ten conference final.
The Gators win the region and, like last year, turn it on in the SEC tournament and are only threatened in the Sweet 16.
It’s pretty much a straight road, but there’s a fun surprise along the way.
First Round Summary
Kansas, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Gonzaga and UCLA cruise.
Villanova v. Kentucky – Villanova is all about their guards, and while they can score, they aren’t the great shooters and passers. They’re 227th in shooting %, 151st in 3-PT %, and 214th in assists. Their stagnant and get into long scoring droughts. They’re an above average defensive team, ranking 51st in FG % defense, 43rd in steals, and 34th in rebounding. They’re also the best FT shooting team in the nation, but are 221st in fouls per game, which greatly hurts their advantage in free-throw differential. They are 106th in turnovers per game, which isn’t good for a team with so many guards. Kentucky is a team with some good players, but certainly can’t go far in the tournament. They’re 32nd in shooting %, 48th in FG % defense, 72nd in rebounding, 35th in assists, 33rd in blocks, and 19th in fouls per game. They have some drawbacks. They’re 138th in 3-PT %, 145th in FT %, 235th in steals, and 170th in turnovers per game. As far as this game goes, Kentucky can shoot effectively, get points in the paint, and don’t foul often to let Villanova hang around at the line.
Holy Cross v. Southern Illinois – A game for sore eyes. Unless you’re a shut-down defense fanatic who loves seeing bricks in a half-court game, get CBS March Madness on Demand if this is your game so you have something to watch without wanting to kill yourself. In all honesty, 45 may win this. Holy Cross is 9th in scoring defense, 63rd in FG % defense, 38th in FT %, 49th in rebounding, 81st in blocks, and 11th in steals. On offense, they’re not that good: 256th in scoring, 186th shooting %, 148th in assists, and 215th in turnovers per game. Southern Illinois is also a defensive team and are 3rd in scoring defense. However, their numbers don’t match the ranking: 70th in FG % defense, 119th in rebounding, 140th in blocks, and 181st in steals. On offense, they’re trying to shoot a basketball into a golf hole: 275th scoring offense, 134th shooting %, 163rd in FT %, 269th in assists, and 118th in turnovers per game. This is a “luck of the draw” situation. Holy Cross and Southern Illinois virtually play the same, except Holy Cross can take advantage of their defense by getting more bricks off the rim. The real key will be free-throws. Holy Cross can make them. Southern Illinois is 263rd in fouls per game. Easy points come at a premium. Holy Cross finally gets out of the opening round.
VCU v. Duke – VCU is an interesting team. They’re 82nd in shooting %, 15th in 3-PT %, 60th in FT %, 95th in steals, and 11th in turnovers per game. However, they have several flaws. They’re 224th in FG % defense, 114th in rebounding, 155th in assists, 167th in blocks, and 123rd in fouls per game. Despite the bad defense, they are a respectable 77th in scoring defense, since they don’t turn it over. Duke is still a good team, just not a Duke good team. They’re 30th in scoring defense, 50th in shooting %, 100th in FG % defense, 41st in 3-PT %, 39th in rebounding, 38th in blocks, 102nd in steals, and 87th in fouls per game. Their weaknesses are glaring. They’re 144th in scoring offense, which is well below what they should be. Also, they’re 165th in FT %, 188th in assists, and 225th in turnovers. They clearly have potential but are missing some of the intangibles of past teams. Duke could win this game easily if they don’t make mistakes. They also could be out if they do and VCU can execute. Duke can play defense much better than VCU, which should allow them to advance.
More Wildcat road-kill here. Kansas and Virginia Tech move on without problems.
Duke v. Pittsburgh – The shaky Duke team faces a Pitt team with plenty of talent and some good credentials. Pitt is 44th in scoring defense, 44th in shooting %, 49th in FG % defense, 59th in 3-PT %, 40th in rebounding, 11th in assists, 18th in turnovers per game and 33rd in fouls per game. The only issues they have at the line and getting steals, where they are 242nd and 288th respectively. Duke has a slight shooting edge from behind the arc, but that’s it. The guard play will easily be the difference as Pitt moves on, unless Duke discovers their potential. Then it comes down to the wire.
Gonzaga v. UCLA – the rematch of last year’s game with Gonzaga’s monumental collapse. Both teams have changed since then, even though UCLA’s seeding hasn’t. Gonzaga has gone back to being out of the spotlight, but their overall play hasn’t, even though you would think it has. They are 15th in scoring offense, 18th in shooting %, 19th in FG % defense, 24th in 3-PT %, 17th in FT %, and 46th in rebounding. They’re just a 10th seed for a reason. They’re 97th in assists, 96th in steals, 124th in turnovers per game, and 210th in fouls per game. The real baffling statistic is the fact that they’re 205th in scoring defense, which makes almost no sense. Teams get points at the line and on easy baskets, but don’t shoot well. Clearly, if Gonzaga plays smart basketball, they can beat most teams. UCLA is a solid team, but, like Wisconsin, not one that blows you away for a 2 seed. They are 24th in scoring defense, 22nd in shooting %, 73rd in 3-PT %, 82nd in rebounding, 85th in assists, 86th in steals, 30th in turnovers per game, and 26th in fouls per game. It’s not all good. Despite the good shooting, they’re 106th in scoring. Also, they’re 124th in FG % defense, 132nd in blocks, and 285th in FT %. UCLA’s record truly doesn’t match the numbers. They’re underachievers on offense because they can’t make free-throws. They’re overachievers on defense because they don’t shut anyone down; they just prevent them from getting breakaway baskets and free-throws. Essentially UCLA can’t take advantage of Gonzaga’s weaknesses. They won’t have a huge turnover edge and won’t take advantage of extra free-throws. Gonzaga can outshoot UCLA, and their defense against shots will have a dramatic difference. Since UCLA can’t take advantage of the easy points Gonzaga allows, they’re in serious trouble. Essentially this is the perfect match-up for Gonzaga. Individually, they will have scoring in the paint and have good match-ups on both ends of the floor with their guards. They also have more depth than the Bruins. Gonzaga gets revenge and destroys tons of brackets in the process.
Kansas continues to coast.
Gonzaga v. Pittsburgh – This is Gonzaga’s to lose. They shoot it better and are better at stopping shots. They shoot 3’s better. They are over 200 ranks better at the line. And as bad as they are at getting steals, Pitt is much worse. Pitt can win this game for 3 reasons: they move the ball around on offense much better, don’t turn the ball over, and don’t commit fouls. Pitt doesn’t get a lot of steals, so if Gonzaga makes smart passes, they won’t turn it over so much. And while Gonzaga fouls a lot, they have the depth in the front court to challenge Pitt’s front court. Gonzaga has to lose this game. They have Pitt outmatched. They’re better at too many things to lose this game. They’ll need an encore performance of last year’s UCLA game to go home in the Sweet 16 again.
Regional Final: Gonzaga v. Kansas
Gonzaga has some solid numbers, but Kansas is clearly at another level. They’re 26th in scoring defense, 14th in shooting %, 4th in FG % defense, 44th in 3-PT %, 6th in rebounding, and 23rd in steals. They haven’t fixed everything from a year ago. They’re 240th in FT %, 118th in turnovers per game, and 168th in fouls per game. If they get in foul trouble, those free points could keep Gonzaga alive. However, Gonzaga can’t take full advantage of Kansas’s turnovers, while Kansas can. Along with everything else, and the ridiculous athleticism they have, Kansas should make the Final Four while barely breaking a sweat.
Kansas goes to Atlanta for the rematch of all rematches.
Half of it’s a sight to behold, and half of it’s a barren wasteland.
North Carolina, Michigan State, Texas, Boston College, and Georgetown have nothing to worry about.
Arkansas v. USC – the game of mediocrity. Arkansas is 64th in shooting % and 47th in FG % defense, 59th in assists and 9th in blocks. They’re an average to below-average team everywhere else. The only things worth noting are that they are 153rd in 3-PT % and 222nd in turnovers per game. USC is a surprising 5 seed who is next year’s Texas. They’re 34th in shooting %, 13th in FG % defense, 13th in 3-PT %, and 72nd in blocks. They have their own problems. They’re 201st in rebounding, 216th in assists, 270th in steals, and 175th in turnovers. Both teams turn it over but can’t take full advantage of the other’s weaknesses with the ball. USC can shoot well and has more potential. In a boring game, the Trojans march on.
George Washington v. Vanderbilt – G-Dubb is a strong 11 seed. They’re 67th in scoring defense, 68th in shooting %, 61st in FG % defense, 65th in 3-PT %, 88th in assists, 51st in blocks, and 16th in steals. On the flip-side, they’re 126th in FT %, 145th in rebounding, 94th in turnovers per game, and 185th in fouls per game. Vanderbilt was a surprise in the SEC, since someone had to do something in the conference other than Florida. They’re 36th in scoring, 12th in 3’s made per game, 50th in 3-PT %, 54th in FT %, 16th in assists, 45th in turnovers per game, 88th in steals, and 57th in fouls per game. They have their issues: 87th in shooting %, 181st FG % defense, 254th in rebounding, and 219th in blocks. The Commodores limit their own mistakes and thrive on transition baskets and 3’s. If they aren’t falling, the Commodores are. George Washington will keep Vandy in it by fouling on their drives to the hoop. However, G-Dubb can hold their own in this game offensively and should win the rebounding battle. If they can hit their own 3’s, they move on. They should be able to. Vanderbilt is about to fizzle out.
Oral Roberts v. Washington State – Oral Roberts is a team with tournament experience and is capable of stealing a game. They’re 49th in shooting %, 75th in FG % defense, 42nd in rebounding, and 47th in blocks. However, they’re 99th in FT %, 155th in assists, 195th in steals, 215th in turnovers per game and 113th in fouls per game. Washington State was written off before the year started, but finds itself as a 3 seed. They’re 15th in scoring defense, 62nd in shooting %, 34th in FG % defense, 48th in blocks, 3rd in turnovers per game, and 27th in fouls per game. They have a few chinks in the armor. They’re 108th in FT %, 256th in rebounding, 131st in assists, and 170th in steals. This will be a close game. Oral Roberts has a huge edge on the glass, which will give them 2nd chance points and one-shot possessions on defense. Washington State will get to the line, but making the shots is no guarantee. They can play shut down defense and will frustrate Oral Roberts. It’s a true coin flip, with a buzzer beater a strong possibility. WASU takes care of the ball and plays better defense, so they have a very slight edge.
Texas and Georgetown remain unchallenged.
Michigan State v. North Carolina – Michigan State is the best of the 8-9 seeds in the big dance. They’re 4th in scoring defense, 45th in shooting %, 7th in FG % defense, 64th in 3-PT %, 5th in rebounding, 32nd in assists and 32nd in blocks. They have some impressive numbers grouped with some alarming ones. They’re 109th in FT %, 305th in steals, 205th in turnovers per game, and 147th in fouls per game. The Tar Heels have some impressive numbers of their own. They’re 2nd in scoring, 4th in shooting %, 53rd in FG % defense, 3rd in rebounding, 3rd in assists, 44th in blocks and 38th in steals. UNC has 3 areas where they’re not as polished. They’re 157th in scoring defense, 101st in 3-PT %, 120th in FT %, and 117th in turnovers per game. This game could be the best game pre-final four of the entire tournament. It is a titanic clash. The stellar defense of Michigan State against the great scoring of UNC. UNC will win in a shootout, and MSU will advance in a slugfest. This game will likely end up somewhere in the middle. Michigan State’s problems hurt them in this game because their turnovers will give UNC the easy baskets in transition which they thrive on. Add on foul trouble and the Spartans will come up just short of an upset.
George Washington v. Washington State – Another potential nail-biter. WASU has the edge defensively, but that is somewhat offset by a huge rebounding edge for G-Dubb. Better ball movement will also help G-Dubb. These teams are nearly evenly matched in most aspects of the game. George Washington is great at getting steals, but WASU is elite at holding onto it. They also don’t foul often. G-Dubb turns it over occasionally and fouls a lot. The key to this game is whether WASU can make enough free-throws. They are a slightly better defensive team as well, which gives them another close victory.
Georgetown can’t believe it’s this easy.
Texas v. UNC – Speaking of marquis match-ups. Texas is the wild card of the tournament. They’re 5th in scoring, 52nd in scoring defense, 17th in 3’s made per game, 19th in 3-PT %, 52nd in FT %, 85th in rebounding, 16th in blocks, 85th in steals, 32nd in turnovers per game, and 73rd in fouls per game. They don’t have many assists, ranking 129th, which makes perfect sense. However, their other two low ranks don’t. They’re 242nd in scoring defense and 157th in shooting %. They shouldn’t be nearly that bad defensively given the numbers and are remarkably good at putting the ball in the hoop given that shooting %. They are an anomaly in the system. They have Kevin Durant, who exceeds the college game and looks like he’s playing against guys at a YMCA. They are never out of a game because of him. If they can find a way to win this game, the sky’s the limit. UNC is a better scoring team which can shoot the rock. Their scoring defense is equal to Texas. They have a huge rebounding edge and are more in sync on offense. Texas has an edge in the turnover battle and won’t commit as many fouls. They have a huge edge in shooting behind the arc, which could put them past the Tar Heels. The Tar Heels have much more depth and consistency, but Texas is never out of it, and if Durant is hot, they could even pull away. It’s clear if Texas can live up to their potential, Durant could pull a Carmelo Anthony. However, they do breakdown when Durant doesn’t knock shots down, and UNC thrives in a fast tempo game, and this one will be hectic. Based on the teams, UNC is better. Durant will be gunning for 40. Whether he can hit it or not will determine his legacy in this instant classic.
Regional Final: Georgetown v. UNC
Georgetown may have been the 2 seed, but there’s no question the selection committee gave them a break. UNC will have already played two Final Four caliber teams while Georgetown was beating scrubs. The Hoyas are finally back to being one of college basketball’s best. They’re 5th in scoring defense, 3rd in shooting %, 6th in FG % defense, 25th in rebounding, 25th in blocks, and 33rd in fouls per game. Their only blemish is being 299th in steals, partly as a result of the fact that they don’t press and partly because of their old school, grind you out style. They are average in 3-PT shooting and at the line, and commit some turnovers per game. They are 104th in assists but move the ball well in their offense. In this match-up tempo is everything. UNC has to run and get transition buckets. The Hoyas force you to play in a half court game and create shots. The Tar Heel’s advantages are mostly washed out. The Hoyas are a better shooting team and play far better defense. They don’t turn the ball over often enough for UNC to get many fast break buckets and won’t give UNC many free-throws. UNC is a better rebounding team, but they will physically be outmatched inside. Georgetown should be able to establish the inside game and work from there. Neither team is effective from behind the arc. That’s where UNC must make shots to win. They are 241st in 3’s made per game, meaning they don’t rely on them. That will have to change for the Tar Heels to get to Atlanta. Based on the rocky road they had to take to get here as well, beating Georgetown is too much to ask for.
The Hoyas return to national prominence.
Most of it is rolling with tumbleweeds. But the end will leave you speechless.
Ohio State, Xavier, Virginia, Texas A&M, Nevada, and Memphis are warming up.
Long Beach State v. Tennessee – Long Beach State can score. That’s about it. They’re 9th in scoring offense, 78th in 3-PT %, 86th in steals per game, and 79th in fouls per game. As for the other aspects of the game, they’re 279th in scoring defense, 124th in shooting %, 163rd in FG % defense, 138th in FT %, 203rd in rebounding, 108th in assists, 205th in blocks, and 115th in turnovers per game. At this point you’re probably looking back at the picture to make sure this team is really winning a game. Tennessee has a couple good things in its profile. They’re 11th in scoring, 20th in 3’s per game, 49th in assists, and 9th in steals. Now the fun begins. They’re 286th in scoring defense, 165th in shooting %, 243rd FG % defense, 154th in 3-PT %, 271st in FT %, 248th in rebounding, 151st in blocks, 166th in turnovers per game, and 242nd in fouls per game. At this point you’re probably wondering how this team is a 5 seed. Basically both teams score points, can’t shoot, and can’t defend. The Vols are great with getting steals but off-set that with their own turnovers and the fact that they don’t capitalize on their chances. They are also intent on shooting 3’s even though they can’t shoot them effectively. Long Beach State is 27th in 3’s made and makes them much more efficiently. This is a case where Long Beach State is bad, but Tennessee is worse. This game will be chaotic. Long Beach State takes it.
Stanford v. Louisville – Another case of 2 teams which are weak compared to their counterparts in other regions. Stanford has a couple of areas of prowess: they’re 57th in FG% defense, 24th in rebounding, 70th in assists, and 11th in blocked shots. They’re paltry everywhere else: 122nd in scoring defense, 144th in shooting %, 157th in 3-PT %, 171st in FT %, 312th in steals, 167th in turnovers per game, and 143rd in fouls per game. Louisville is similar in that they are good at a few things and bad at others. They’re 52nd in scoring defense, 24th in FG % defense, 74th in assists, 58th in blocks, and 51st in turnovers per game. Now for the ugly: they’re 207th in shooting %, 229th in 3-PT %, 219th in FT %, 91st in rebounding, 100th in steals, and 259th in fouls per game. At least Louisville can play some defense. Stanford will win the rebounding battle. The Cardinals win by default since they can get the ball in the hoop once every couple minutes.
Ohio State and Texas A&M remain untested.
Long Beach State v. Virginia – Virginia was the surprise of the ACC and nearly won the regular season title. They are like half of the teams in this region in that they have a couple good areas and are lousy everywhere else. They’re 34th in scoring, 46th in FG % defense, 39th in FT %, and 41st in rebounding. Now for where the Cavs hurt. They’re 222nd in scoring defense, 197th in shooting %, 108th in 3-PT %, 203rd in assists, 164th in blocks, 314th in steals, 112th in turnovers, and 258th in fouls per game. The fact that one of these two will make the Sweet 16 proves this region is by far the weakest in the tournament. Either team can win it, but Virginia is the lesser of the 2 evils. They are good in things that matter for this game.
Nevada v. Memphis – Nevada is expected to do something again this year. This time they’re in better shape to deliver. They’re 16th in shooting %, 43rd in FG % defense, 6th in 3-PT %, 16th in FT %, 14th in rebounding, 18th in assists, 62nd in blocks, 68th in turnovers per game, and 41st in fouls per game. The only blemishes are ranking 131st in scoring defense and 270th in steals. The scoring defense is somewhat baffling given the other numbers, in the same way as Gonzaga’s. There isn’t any reason they should allow so many points. Memphis is a quality team with great numbers and a suspect schedule. There only real game in 2 months was a 1 point win at Gonzaga. Memphis is 12th in scoring offense, 41st in scoring defense, 8th in FG % defense, 28th in rebounding, 68th in assists, 13th in blocks, and 8th in steals. They have a couple of ditches and 2 serious pitfalls. They’re 76th in shooting %, 156th in 3-PT %, 315th in FT %, 92nd in turnovers per game, and 239th in fouls per game. Memphis needs turnovers and fast break points to propel their offense. Their defense should be even better than it already is. This game is a case of a perfect type of team to beat someone. Nevada is the blueprint team to knock off Memphis. They can force Memphis into contested shots, fight for the rebounds effectively, pass well enough to prevent most steals, hold onto the ball, knock down open 3’s, and torch you at the line. They counter perfectly what Memphis needs to play well and will burn Memphis for being overly aggressive. Nevada makes up for its lack of athleticism in this match-up. Memphis may have great athletes, but it doesn’t do them much good if they’re on the bench with 4 fouls. Nevada pulls off the upset.
Ohio State murders Cavaliers while wearing LeBron’s sneakers.
Nevada v. Texas A&M – The Aggies are experienced, poised, and prime for a deep run. They’re 16th in scoring defense, 5th in shooting %, 2nd in FG % defense, 3rd in 3-PT %, 66th in FT %, 36th in rebounding, 6th in assists, and 41st in turnovers per game. They’re not completely perfect. They’re 125th in blocks, 155th in steals, and 232nd in fouls per game. Nevada doesn’t foul, and foul trouble for the Aggies up front could be trouble. Nevada is the better rebounding team, makes free-throws much better, and blocks more shots. They are also as good from behind the arc. However, A&M is much better defensively and offensively as far as overall shooting goes. Nevada certainly has a chance here, but Texas A&M should close the deal in the final minutes.
Regional Final: Texas A&M v. Ohio State
The Buckeyes are clearly peaking at the right time. As Mr. Oden has reached full strength so has Ohio State. They’re 20th in scoring defense, 43rd in shooting %, 16th in FG % defense, 43rd in assists, 12th in blocks, 21st in turnovers per game, and 2nd in fouls per game. The Buckeyes certainly have some vulnerable spots. They’re 111th in 3-PT %, 154th in FT %, 83rd in rebounding, and 148th in steals. The rebounding number is especially embarrassing considering Mr. Oden is on your team. It basically means other players aren’t crashing the rim. Evaluating the teams, A&M fouls much more, but is as good if not much better at every other aspect. They’ll get better looks and force Ohio State into tougher ones. Teams at times have been able to shield Oden from getting the ball, and A&M may be able to do the same. They may also face guard him on rebounds. In a game of execution, the Aggies are far and beyond the better team. Ohio State hasn’t beaten the upper-echelon teams this year because they just aren’t quite on that level. This is another example. Oden will shine, but to no avail.
Kansas v. Florida – The first meeting went to overtime. This one may as well. Both teams have improved their play since then and the talent is teeming on each team. The top shooting Gators go against the 4th best FG % defense. It’s Kansas’s 4th shooting against the Gators 30th the other way. Florida has a big edge in 3-PT shooting, using it much more. Neither team is proficient at the line. They are virtually equal in both rebounding and in turnovers per game. Kansas moves the ball much better and forces far more steals. Florida doesn’t commit fouls, and Kansas is foul prone at times. For the Gators to win, they will have to establish Hortford and Noah inside early and often as the foundation of their offense. If Kansas can disrupt them the Gators could be in trouble. On the flip side Rush must come up big for Kansas to get to the finals. He and Chalmers must be able to penetrate and create. As the teams stand now based on what they did during the year, it’s a toss up, and the game comes down to whether the Gators make free-throws and Lee Humphrey knocks down 3’s. However, Florida hasn’t played its best yet and will likely be better than their numbers by the time the Final Four rolls around. Kansas has played its best and must maintain that level of play. They still don’t have a definitive go-to guy at the end of games and that leads to indecision at crunch time. In a memorable game the Gators avenge their loss from earlier in the year. They move on to defend their title in the title game.
Texas A&M v. Georgetown – The selection committee set up the bracket hoping the Hoyas face the Gators in what may have been the best basketball game (the best moment had to be George Mason) in the tournament last year. This match-up is another locking of the horns. The Aggies 5th best shooting offense against the Hoyas 6th best FG % defense. The Hoyas 3rd best shooting offense against the Aggies 2nd best FG % defense. A&M has a slight edge in free throw shooting while Georgetown has a slight edge on the boards. Texas A&M is much better passing the ball, and the Hoyas are much better at sending a shot into the stands. The Aggies turn it over a little less but commit many more fouls. The Hoyas could be in the final if they shoot above their average at the charity stripe. For A&M, the 3 could make the difference. They have a dramatic advantage in shooting from behind the arc and will likely have to take many in this half-court game without overbearing front court players. However, the Aggies make up for losing to Hibbert and Green upfront with the shooting of their guards and the presence of Law. The unsung hero in this game could be Texas A&M’s Antanas Kavaliauskas, whose shooting touch from the outside could draw Hibbert out of the paint. If that happens, the coast is clear for Law and co. to get to the rack and get to the finals. In another thriller the Aggies continue to impress.
07 NCAA Championship Game: Texas A&M v. Florida
On paper the Gators are too deep for the Aggies. However, the Aggies as a team make up for the lack of individual talent compared to Florida. The Gators shoot better than anyone, but the Aggies are the 2nd best to guard Florida’s shots. The Aggies then have their 5th best shooting attack against the 30th ranked defense. Florida relies on the 3 more than the Aggies, but A&M makes them more efficiently, as the 3rd best shooting them in the nation. The Aggies are good on the boards, but they’re outmatched by Florida. Florida can pass it well, but the Aggies move the ball around with ease. Florida can establish an inside defensive presence, but the Aggies may benefit from more turnovers. Florida will go to the line much more in this game and will need to capitalize to cut down the nets. The Gators will look to go inside from the beginning while A&M will try to force the Gators into contested shots at the end of the shot clock. The entire game comes down to whether Hortford and Noah can dominate inside. If they can the Gators repeat. If not, they’ll be a minute left in a tied game, and at that point, my money’s on Acie Law to put in the dagger. It’s the last game for Law and likely the last time Noah, Hortford, Brewer and Green will play together. This game feels like a game going back and forth until the Gators finally land the knockout blow late. With Florida appearing to start reaching its potential, they will get to the highest level they are capable of. They won it last year and made it look easy when college basketball as a whole was stronger than it is this year. If Florida plays its best basketball, no one will beat them. If they falter, someone will block them from history. Based on what we’ve seen, the Gators are about to shift gears. And that’s trouble for anyone in their path.
Florida wins the title again and carves their place in college basketball lore.