If you’re a team that plays in a power conference you can survive an average (or even below average) non-conference slate and still earn an at-large bid. Last year’s Purdue team is a good example. The Boilermakers dropped non-conference decisions to Kansas State, North Florida, Vanderbilt, and Gardner-Webb. What Purdue was able to do, however, was win 8 of 9 Big Ten games during a mid-season stretch and finish 12-6 in league play en-route to a 9-seed in the Midwest Region.
If you’re a team from outside the power conferences, non-conference results become much more critical. Opportunities for resume-changing wins are more limited. With that thought in mind, here are five opening weekend games with March in mind … Read more…
If you’re already looking for a couple of mid-majors to keep an eye on next March, consider Valparaiso and Stephen F. Austin. If those names sound familiar, they should. Both the Crusaders and Lumberjacks have been in this position before, and both are heavy favorites to again win their respective leagues. Each team might also be better this go-around. Considering Valpo nearly upset Maryland a year ago, that’s noteworthy.
Valparaiso – Head coach Bryce Drew welcomes back a host of talent, including Horizon League Player-of-the-Year candidate Alec Peters. In all, the Crusaders return nine players who logged significant minutes. Valparaiso is balanced, experienced, and confident. Those traits generally bode well for teams in search of March Magic. Nothing is certain once the ball is tipped, but expect the Crusaders to push for a 30-win season. Valpo has non-conference games against MAAC favorite Iona, improving A-10 power Rhode Island, and Pac-12 teams Oregon and Oregon State. If the Crusaders can win at least two of those they have a chance to bump their seed line and possibly contend for an at-large berth. Read more…
Although not as a media member, I attended open practices on Final Four Friday in Indianapolis. Indy is a great host city. As many have noted, everything surrounding Lucas Oil Stadium is close by; and considering the large crowds (over 25,000 in attendance, per the NCAA), local fans embrace the event.
Here are a few quick notes and takeaways:
- Kentucky has a forest of trees. When all four teams come out to practice – one after another – you notice certain things. UK’s size is one of those things. Duke’s Jahlil Okafor is mammoth, but as an overall team, the Blue Devils aren’t that big
- Tom Izzo loves March Madness. Not only is the Spartans’ head coach wildly successful this time of year, he seems to relish the experience. Michigan State had the most energetic practice, with Izzo directing the fun while smiling and waving to the crowd. He allowed his players to go through a slam dunk event in the final minutes, bringing the crowd to its feet when they finished.
- Bo Ryan of Wisconsin also made it a fun affair; as two sets of Badgers squared off in a half-court shot contest to wind up UW’s session. Each squad made at least five; so if Saturday’s semifinal comes down to a 50-foot heave, you’ve been forewarned.
- Based on the above two notes, Michigan State and Wisconsin appeared to be the most “relaxed” teams at the open practices.
- Duke ran some rather intense full-court drills and has obvious speed on the wings. The Blue Devils will be one of the smaller teams on the floor, so you have to think they will try to speed up the game, score in transition, and create open space for shooters.
- Kentucky kept its practice short. Despite having the largest contingent of fans on Friday, the Wildcats only practiced for about 30 of their allotted 50 minutes, and a good five minutes or so was free-throw rotations. It was a very business-like approach. Maybe that’s what John Calipari believes is best for his team on the verge of history. At 38-0, they are trying to become the first team since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers to complete an undefeated season.
- On an ironic note, unbeaten UNLV arrived in Indianapolis for the 1991 Final Four (at the former Hoosier Dome). That was the year Duke upset the Rebels in the national semifinals
Coaching Power – Sean Miller at Arizona is the young gun among a group of high-profile coaches in the Elite 8. Think about this list … Mike Krzyzewski, Rick Pitino, Tom Izzo, Bo Ryan, John Calipari, Mark Few, Mike Brey, and Miller. If you remove Few, Brey, and Miller, you have a who’s-who list of “elite” coaches – and that’s not to disparage Few’s dominant tenure at Gonzaga or the work that either Brey and Miller has done at Notre Dame or Arizona. Consider these accomplishments:
- Mike Krzyzewski – Four National Championships, 11 Final Four appearances, 31 NCAA tournament bids
- Rick Pitino – Two National Championships, 7 Final Four appearances, 20 NCAA tournament bids
- Tom Izzo – One National Championship, 6 Final Four appearances, 18 NCAA tournament bids (consecutive)
- John Calipari – One National Championship, 5 Final Four appearances, 17 NCAA tournament bids
- Bo Ryan – 1 Final Four appearance, 14 NCAA tournament bids … Note: Won 4 National Championships at Division III Wisconsin-Platteville
However you slice it, those are impressive resumes. We could see four of the five at the Final Four in Indianapolis; and Pitino and Izzo square off for the East Regional final. Read more…
My picks for the 2015 NCAA tournament are posted below. Of course, I went 1-3 while selecting First Four games in Dayton (the Flyers were my only winning pick, and they needed a late-game rally to beat Boise State). In other words, take these picks and run the other direction.
Having watched a lot of college hoops this season, six teams stand out as the most elite: Kentucky, Villanova, Duke, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Virginia. Working through the bracket, my champion was going to come from this group. And I, like most others, settled on Kentucky; not because the Wildcats can’t be beat, rather because they have proven to be the best team.
Here we go – with some early upsets mixed in, including a pick with my head (Texas) and not my heart (Butler) … Read more…
As somewhat an NCAA tournament traditionalist, there’s something grand about the early tip-times on Thursday: the midday games, the unveiling of March Madness. But a few years in tow, the First Four has delivered its moments as well. And once again, that’s where we start our journey on the Road to the Final Four.
For what it’s worth (not much), here are my picks for the First Four games. I’ll share my choices for the 64-team field soon. Let the Madness begin!
First Four picks
- Manhattan over Hampton – As a reward, the Jaspers will have the honor of playing No. 1 seed Kentucky.
- North Florida over Robert Morris – We’ve seen some upsets from Atlantic Sun teams before; this isn’t an upset, but the Ospreys will have a chance to take on Coach K and Company in Charlotte.
- Dayton over Boise State – Why the “host” Flyers were the last at-large team in the Field is unclear. But a home-court advantage is just that; UD moves on to battle Providence.
- BYU over Mississippi – Although I had the Cougars as my “First Team Out” on Sunday night, that doesn’t mean they can’t win a game or two; they can really score the ball. If they continue doing that, BYU will face Xavier.
If I’m 0-4 by Wednesday night, it’ll be predictable. In recent years, it’s been easier to try and project what the Committee will do (UCLA excluded) than figure out what will happen once tournament play begins. And that’s why we can’t wait for another round of Shining Moments.
Although the Selection Committee tossed a bit of a curveball Sunday evening by including UCLA in its Field of 68, I’m pleased with the final results of my 2015 projected bracket. Here are the numbers …
- 66 of 68 teams | 34 of 36 at-large selected correctly
- 44 teams placed on the correct seed line
- 17 teams within one of the actual seed line
- 61 total teams either on or within one of actual seed line
- Bracket Matrix score: 347 – topped 339 score in 2014
After much debate between Temple and BYU for the final spot on Sunday, I stayed with Temple based on its double-digit win over Kansas and slightly better overall record against the Top 100. But I have no problem with BYU’s choice; it was a coin flip, and the Cougars certainly had advantages based on other metrics. Although UCLA was considered, and finished among my First Five OUT, I eliminated the Bruins from final consideration by Saturday night. Read more…