KANSAS, A FAVORITE, OR ANOTHER BILL SELF LETDOWN?
Bill Self is a great coach. He may be an NBA coach in the coming years. But his March record with Kansas as a top seed … let’s just say there have been problems. He’s been a #1 seed six times.
As a #1 seed, Self and Kansas have only reached the Final 4 once.
And this year’s bracket is certainly not easy:
* After that, Iowa State? The Cyclones beat the Jayhawks in Phog in February.
* In the Elite 8, Louisville may loom, and it defeated Kentucky, Indiana (when the Hooisers were good) and Duke this season.
FREE THROWS MATTER
Villanova last year: #2 on FTs according to Ken Pom. Shot 6-for-6 on FTs in the final :45 of the National title game. In the Elite 8 win over Kansas: 18-of-19 FTs. Made their final 10 in the last six minutes to hold on.
This season, Notre Dame is 1st in the country in FTs (79.9%), Villanova is 2nd, Oklahoma State is 5th, Marquette is 7th, Vanderbilt is 9th, Michigan is 10th.
#3 SEEDS HAVE NOT FARED WELL LATELY
In the last four years, five #3 seeds have gone down in the first round. Last year: West Virginia lost to Stephen F. Austin; two years ago, Baylor went down to Georgia State and Iowa State lost to UAB. Hate to break it to you, but the #3 seeds this year are on shaky ground: Baylor is the highest Ken Pom team at 13, followed by Oregon (16), UCLA (18) and Florida State (19).
The Bears, who were once ranked 1st in the country, are the 2nd worst team in the tournament in turnover percentage (311th; only New Orleans at 349 is worse). Oregon lost Chris Boucher to injury (1st on the team in blocks, 2nd in rebounds, and 3rd in scoring). And Florida State, while teeming with pro talent, has frequently played down to its competition, with losses to four non-tourney teams, and three were by double digits.
6-SEEDS CAPABLE OF A FINAL FOUR RUN
The last 6-seed to reach the Final Four was the Fab 5 in 1992. They lost in the title game to Duke. But two 6-seeds this year have favorable draws and could make the run to Phoenix: SMU and Cincinnati.
SMU is the hottest team in the country nobody is talking about. After the Larry Brown disaster, they fell off the radar. But SMU has won 16 in a row and 26 of 27. There’s no discernible weakness except free throw shooting (214th), and non-conference quality wins (none, but lost to Michigan, USC and Boise). They’ve got three players shooting better than 42 percent on 3-pointers including Shake Milton, a Larry Brown recruit who picked SMU over Indiana and Oklahoma.
Cincinnati lost two of three to SMU, beat Iowa State in the non-conference, but lost to Rhode Island and Butler. Like SMU, Cincinnati struggles from the foul line (242nd) but they’re phenomenal defensively (top 15 in four Ken Pom categories). I’m less bullish on the Bearcats, who struggle from deep (198th on 3-pointers).
Obligatory reason to be concerned: An 11 seed has beaten a six each of the last 12 years.
FILL OUT MULTIPLE BRACKETS
Winning a bracket contest is a numbers game. No different than hitting on girls at a bar. Approach one girl, you’ve got one shot at a phone number. Approach 10 girls over the course of the night? Better chance to collect a lot of digits.
You’ve got your safe brackets – the ones that are heavily chalk, with 1-2 seeds going the furthers, with a few upsets sprinkled in. You’ve got a couple chaos brackets – a one seed going down the first weekend, two #2 seeds falling by the Sweet 16 – and then a few mixed bag brackets where you split up the title winners: Gonzaga’s not winning the championship, but one of your brackets should hedge in that case. You’ve got to have one with Louisville, the teams with the best players (Kentucky, UCLA), and a bracket where you pick the teams that the general public is always saying could never get to the Final 4 (Virginia, Rhode Island, Florida State, Wichita State).