There’s no secret formula at work here. The Louisville Cardinals are favored to conquer the Final Four in Atlanta and return the NCAA National Championship trophy to the Bluegrass. As the tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, the Cardinals are exactly where many thought they would be both when the brackets were announced on March 17 and when the NCAA basketball season opened in November. Louisville is talented, deep, and guided by a soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach in Rick Pitino.
Yes, the Cardinals will miss Kevin Ware. But he is with the team in Atlanta, and if the second half of his team’s win over Duke is any indication, there’s more than enough inspiration and motivation for the Cards to complete their journey.
Louisville – Wichita State
That journey begins against Wichita State. Appropriately nicknamed, the Shockers crashed the Final Four after upsetting the top two seeds in the West Region – Gonzaga and Ohio State. Both Louisville and WSU pride themselves on defense. The question is whether the Shockers can handle the relentless pressure imposed by the Cardinals for 40 minutes. Thirty minutes of success isn’t enough. Neither is 35. It’s those five to ten-minute bursts when Louisville excels. Consider this: the Cardinals have won their four NCAA games by an average of 21 points – which includes victories over Colorado State, Oregon, and Duke. Combined, Louisville has scored 333 points and allowed 236.
Does that mean Louisville will beat a very good Wichita State team by 20-plus points? No. But over the course of 40 minutes, the Cardinals’ size, power, and quickness should be enough to push them in the title game on Monday night. It’s very hard to prepare for Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. Much like you can’t simulate VCU’s “havoc” in practice, you can’t simulate the speed and savvy of Smith and Siva.
Syracuse – Michigan
It might be rather bland, but the matchup between Syracuse and Michigan likely comes down to a simple basketball fundamental – which team makes the most shots. If the Wolverines bust three-pointers like they did against Florida, it will stretch the Syracuse zone and create driving lanes for Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson, III. It will also create room around the hoop for Mitch McGary. Likewise, Syracuse needs Michael Carter-Williams, James Southerland, and Brandon Triche to score in half-court situations. Both the Orange and Wolverines excel in transition offense, so let’s consider that a even matchup. Syracuse’s zone has been phenomenal, and there’s no way to replicate it even a week of preparation. While the active zone and the team’s overall size give the Orange a slight advantage, Michigan has been on fire since rallying to beat Kansas in overtime. In a close one, the Wolverines advance to Monday’s title tilt.
Louisville will create enough bursts to beat Michigan and claim the school’s first NCAA Championship since 1986. And in case you’re wondering, the Cardinals will be strong again next March. They will lose Peyton Siva to graduation, and likely Gorgui Dieng to the NBA, but the rest of Cardinals should return and welcome a strong recruiting class to boot.
Enjoy the Final Four!
1 - Florida Gulf Coast: This was an easy choice. No 15-seed had ever made the Sweet 16 at the NCAA tournament until this year. Perhaps the Eagles were underseeded, but that’s not really the point. This is a team that beat Miami early in the season and has captured the Cinderalla spirit with its wide-open pace and fun-loving personalities. Will FGCU continue its run and beat Florida? Collectively, we’ll be watching. And if it’s a close game in the final minutes, anyone in North Texas who’s not a Gators’ fan will take a ride on the Eagles’ wings.
2 – Michigan State vs. Duke: When it comes to March, it’s hard to ignore a matchup between Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski - two of the NCAA tournament’s Goliaths. It will also be a contract in styles. MSU will try to use it’s size and bulk to pound the glass and score in the paint. Duke will counter with its quickness, guard play, and Ryan Kelly’s ability to stretch the floor. Whichever team establishes its style and makes the other adjust likely wins.
3 – A 1987 Flashback: Indiana fans well remember Keith Smart’s shot to beat Syracuse in the 1987 National Championship game. While Bob Knight has long since departed the IU sideline, Jim Boeheim remains at Syracuse. In an ESPN Radio interview this week, Boeheim said that Smart’s game winner still resonates. At various times this season, both the Hoosiers and Orange were ranked in the Top 5. This is a Final four type matchup with a lot at stake. Indiana was a preseason favorite to cut down the nets in Atlanta.
4 – Oregon Ducks: When the brackets were released on March 17, one of the biggest surprises was finding Oregon as a 12-seed. While the Ducks did not boast a high number of marquee wins, they went 12-6 in the Pac 12 regular season (with point guard Dominic Artis missing significant time), and won the conference tournament. Since, they’ve won two NCAA tournament games by an average of 15 points – beating Oklahoma State and Saint Louis, a team many considered to be a Final Four sleeper. Oregon’s run may end against top-seed Louisville, but the Ducks are peaking at the right time.
5 – La Salle Explorers: While Gonzaga had its doubters, there probably weren’t many brackets that matched Wichita State and La Salle together in Los Angeles. A First Four participant, La Salle already has three NCAA wins – more than any other team in the Sweet 16. It harkens memories of 2011 when 11-seed VCU made its run from the First Four to the Final Four. Now a victory over the ninth-seeded Shockers is all that stands between the Explorers and the Elite 8.
If Arizona continues its strong play during the next two months, it’ll be hard for the Selection Committee to keep the Wildcats off the top line out West. That’s where the Wildcats reside in our latest bracket. At No. 4 on the s-curve, Arizona trails Duke, Kansas, and Michigan in the chase for the overall No. 1 seed. Fresh off a win at Louisville on Saturday and Cincinnati at home Monday, Syracuse is an eyelash behind at No. 5. Others on the two-line: Louisville, Indiana, and Florida. When the Gators are good, they are really good.
The bubble remains a mystery. And an ever-changing target. Consider that six of the ten teams just outside the bracket on Saturday morning (s-curve spots 69-78) lost. Then we have a team like Virginia. The up-and-down Cavaliers notched a win over Florida State (editor’s note: this was updated – the earlier post had UVA winning at Florida State; game was at Virginia. My apologies for not catching it sooner), but it’s unrealistic for a team with an RPI in the mid 120s to garner serious at-large consideration. Part of that is a No. 332 non-conference strength of schedule (stats from ESPN’s InsideRPI), and part of it is five losses to teams ranked 100 or lower in the RPI – including a loss to Old Dominion (No. 319). So we have to still go a bit on potential at this point. Thus, Kentucky and Maryland are among the First Four participants.
Big Ten power paid off for Iowa this week. The Hawkeyes represent the eighth Big Ten team in the current Field of 68 after beating Wisconsin and Northwestern. By the time March rolls around, we’ll more likely end up with six or seven Big Ten teams in the dance. Much of that will depend on whether an additional SEC or ACC team steps up to grab an at-large spot. The Mountain West remains strong with six teams in the bracket. But as MWC teams jockey for position, it might limit the number of top five seeds. We’ll have to see how it plays out.
Note: A few teams – including the First Four winners – had to be adjusted a seed line to account for conference conflicts and bracketing principles. This is a common occurrence during the actual bracketing process. For example, Iowa State drops to the 12-line because of related issues with the First Four and finding a spot for Iowa which needed to avoid another Big Ten opponent until a Regional final. While the committee attempts to avoid regular-season rematches in the first two rounds, exceptions can be made; in this case Iowa and Wichita State played but it’s the way the bracket came together.
Enjoy another great week of hoops.
It’s the Christmas Eve edition of our Power 24. Which in this case means merry times for Michigan and Kansas. The Wolverines and Jayhawks have climbed to spots No. 3 and No. 4 on the s-curve; No. 1 seeds if we were updating the bracket. For those keeping track, KU was No. 4 in our preseason rankings. Regular weekly bracket projections begin in two weeks. Here’s to a great two weeks of Holiday hoops.
Duke remains No. 1 overall, and the Blue Devils continue to boast the nation’s best overall resume. If this were Selection Sunday, there’s little doubt Duke would be the top overall seed with a spot atop the East Regional. Louisville comes in at No. 2. The Cardinals’ lone loss was to Duke at the Battle for Atlantis – the game in which center Gorgui Dieng injured his wrist. In his absence, U of L has kept winning, and the Cards will be primed to meet rival Kentucky later in the week.
Arizona and Missouri continue to climb as well. Both are firm two-seeds right now – holding spots No. 6 (Arizona) and No. 7 (Missouri) on the seeding curve. Indiana is fifth after the loss to Butler and Syracuse is No. 8 after falling to Temple in New York. As always, conference play will play a big role from here on out. Most BCS conferences begin league play around New Year’s Day.
No new teams this week. Miami-FL would have slid into the No. 25 spot had they beaten Arizona late Sunday in Hawaii. The Hurricanes were largely overmatched, however, and currently sit at No. 27 on the curve. A full s-curve will be released with our regular brackets this year. A preview of that - including the Top 96 s-curve teams – will be released New Year’s Day.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
Fresh off a Battle for Atlantis title in the Bahamas, Duke has vaulted to No. 1 on the s-curve in our Power 24. It’s hard to argue the Blue Devils’ results: wins over two preseason No. 1 seeds (Kentucky and Louisville on neutral courts), along with quality victories over Minnesota and Virginia Commonwealth (VCU). That’s a pretty impressive slate of early season wins.
Indiana – which opened No. 1 on the s-curve – is at No. 2, and would remain a No. 1 seed in the Midwest if we were putting together a new bracket projection. The Hoosiers are followed by Louisville and Syracuse as projected No. 1 seeds (spots 3 and 4 on the curve).
Power 24 – November 26.
Remember, this year’s Power 24 is a reflection of the current s-curve rankings. As such, the rankings are a little different than traditional polls. That said, it’s worth noting that we still have a small sample size. The s-curve is much more fluid now than it will be in February. By then, we have more complete profile. A quick start doesn’t guarantee success, and a less-than-ideal start isn’t a deal-breaker – especially for power conference teams.
On a quick note: Oklahoma State and Colorado are the most surprising newcomers to the Power 24. And Illinois – with it’s Maui Invitational title – moved from just outside the bracket to No. 26 on the s-curve. Wichita State has also made a big jump, coming in at No. 25, one spot from the Top 24.
Enjoy another great week of hoops!