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.
After a one day break, March Madness officially begins tonight at the First Four in Dayton. (Thursday’s noon game still feels like the actual tip-off). Winners on Tuesday and Wednesday move into the 64-team bracket. Here are some quick picks from the Opening Round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament:
Tuesday – March 19
- Liberty vs. North Carolina A&T – The Flames caught proverbial fire in the Big South tournament and Liberty earned the league’s automatic bid. The Aggies were a seven seed in the MEAC. These were the two lowest rated teams (67-68) on our final seed list. A few days off cools the Flames. Pick: North Carolina A&T
- Middle Tennessee vs. Saint Mary’s – An interesting matchup between two teams with similar profiles. Across the country neither of these teams receive much national exposure. Middle Tennessee challenged itself outside the conference and beat Ole Miss at home. Saint Mary’s lost to Gonzaga three times and beat Creighton at home. The difference? Matthew Dellavedova down the stretch. Pick: Saint Mary’s
Wednesday – March 20
- LIU Brooklyn vs. James Madison – It should be a close game. The Blackbirds have been here before and can score in bunches. Pick: LIU Brooklyn.
- Boise State vs. La Salle – Much like MTSU and SMC, this is a great March matchup against two teams that could give Kansas State a fight in the next round. Both teams have a solid road win. Boise beat Creighton in Omaha. La Salle won at VCU. While the Explorers’ road win is a tad more impressive, gut here says the Broncos sneak out a victory. Pick: Boise State.
More picks sure to go wrong on Wednesday.
Take the top seed line. Indiana remains in control of its current No. 1 seed position. The other three spots still have some wiggle room – although based on Ryan Kelly’s return performance Saturday against Miami-FL, the Duke Blue Devils appear headed for yet another top seed on Selection Sunday. In this update, Gonzaga and Kansas grab the other two No. 1 slots. Miami, Georgetown, Louisville, New Mexico, Michigan State, and Michigan aren’t far behind. Remember, there are only four spots on each seed line. Someone has to be number nine or ten on the seed list (s-curve). And the order could easily change. Throughout the bracket, these final two weeks will help decide the starting position for several teams.
March 4 Bracket Update | 10 p.m. ET
The bottom of the bracket is no less uncertain. This past Saturday, six teams directly on the bubble lost. So in some ways, not a lot changed. The newest addition to the bracket is Boise State. After beating Colorado State, the Broncos resume is tournament worthy with two games to play. As a side note, Boise is a true 11 seed in the bracket but had to be placed on the 12 line because of various conflicts and bracketing principles. It’s not uncommon for this to happen. Many of the teams in the middle of the bracket are tightly bunched and while one or two seed lines may appear to be a big difference, that’s not necessarily true.
The final couple of at-large spots in the Field of 68 could be argued for hours. That’s why this week’s games and those in conference tournament play may prove more important than ever. For now, the final at-large spots belong to Iowa State, Villanova, Virginia, and Tennessee. Those four are paired in the First Four – with winners headed to matchups in the East and West Regions. Kentucky, Baylor, Alabama, Massachusetts, and Arkansas are among the first teams outside the bracket.
Note: The bracket update does not include the Baylor-Texas game on Monday evening. That game will be factored into our next update. Enjoy the ride to Selection Sunday.
Conference tournaments start next week. Championship Week is straight ahead. Heading into action on Saturday, March 2, below are some quick updates and notes for the weekend. Updates to the s-curve (seed list) and bracket will start to become more frequent.
By quick count, we have about 15 bubble games worth tracking on Saturday. There’s another three on Sunday. Given the up-and-down cycle we’ve witnessed for the last month or so, this weekend – and the next two weeks – are likely to be unpredictable. With upsets possible in conference tournaments, teams ultimately headed to the First Four in Dayton may change numerous times. The Selection Committee will be especially challenged if teams like Akron, Middle Tennessee, and even Belmont fail to win their conference tournaments. It would add candidates to the at-large field.
Saturday bracket-tracker games:
Connecticut at Cincinnati, Wichita State at Creighton, Alabama at Florida, Maryland at Wake Forest, Iowa State at Oklahoma, Tennessee at Georgia, Massachusetts at Xavier, Arizona State at USC, Kentucky at Arkansas, Colorado at California, Charlotte at St. Bonaventure, Iowa at Indiana, Colorado at Boise State, St. John’s at Providence, Santa Clara at Saint Mary’s.
Sunday’s bracket-tracker games:
Villanova at Pittsburgh, Florida State at North Carolina, Virginia at Boston College.
As for the No. 1 seed race, it’s still wide open. As many as 10 or 11 teams have a realistic shot for consideration. Not only does the final week provide several huge matchups among the contenders, we’ll see even more during conference tournament play. The Committee may not make final decisions on those top seeds until the Friday or Saturday before Selection Sunday. Typically, there’s only one or two spots open at that point. We’ll see how the next two weeks play out.
Healthy and playing some sugar-sweet basketball, the Miami Hurricanes are the latest team to grab a No. 1 seed in our bracket. Miami sits atop the East Region. Despite a last-second loss at Illinois, Indiana remains the No. 1 overall seed thanks to an impressive road win at Ohio State on Sunday. Michigan and Duke are the other top seeds. Based on recent history, however, the race for the top line is far from over. Arizona, Florida, Gonzaga, and Michigan State are in the mix, too. And it’s not too late for Syracuse to move back up. Then there’s Kansas, which put together an impressive bounce-back against rival Kansas State on Monday.
Bracket rules what they are, there are a few quirks in this edition – such as potential third-round rematches between Illinois and Gonzaga and Kentucky and Duke. While the Selection Committee tries to avoid such rematches in the first two/three rounds, it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. In these cases, other conflicts created the rematch scenarios. In fact, Illinois is one a few teams that moved a seed line to avoid bracket conflicts. A true nine seed (s-curve No. 36), the Illini couldn’t be placed in the top half of any region because of other Big Ten opponents. Such moves are not uncommon.
As for the bottom of the bracket – or the bubble – Baylor, Temple, La Salle, Saint Mary’s, and St. John’s are the last five teams in today. One could make a case for a handful of others. Virginia is a particularly challenging case and is the first team out. The Cavaliers are 6-0 vs. Top 100 RPI teams – including a win at Wisconsin. But they also have several troubling losses – none more than Old Dominion at home. UVA also has a very weak non-conference strength of schedule. It’s hard to be confident in the Cavaliers’ profile given the above scenario.
We have a long way to go. Other teams knocking on the door? Villanova, Arizona State, Massachusetts, Boise State, and Stanford. And that might change by midweek. It’s been one of those seasons. Enjoy another great week of hoops.
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.