Is your bracket busted? If you are like most American’s the answer is probably yes. My bracket was looking positive, all things considered, going into midday Sunday. Then the Madness managed to get the best of me. The Cincinnati Bearcats blew a 22- point lead with 10 minutes remaining against the Nevada Wolfpack, causing my first Final-Four team to be eliminated and to make matters even worse, my National Championship Runner-Up. In some years this might have been a dream killer but the way things have played out this March, I still will win pretty much all leagues with a Duke victory. It goes to show how much insanity the first week provided.
Teams Remaining and initial thoughts I had on them in my first article:
Kentucky- I had them losing first round to Davidson. This isn’t a pick I regret doing but the way things played out, it is going to be one that punishes me. I didn’t dislike Kentucky but just thought Davidson matched up well and provided great upset potential. They kept the game very competitive, just could not quite pull off the victory.
Kansas State- I had them losing first round to Creighton. This shouldn’t have been anything more than an 8 vs. 9 game, with the winner bowing out next round to Virginia, but after UMBC shocked the world and beat Virginia it managed to open things up for Kansas State. I still don’t like this team but that will be another topic for the rest of the tournament breakdown.
Loyola Chicago- This is what I wrote pre-tournament when discussing Loyola Chicago, “Loyola could be this year’s Cinderella team.” They have definitely been one of them and could continue the run next week with an opened up bracket.
Nevada- I was hesitant about Nevada’s injuries and therefore lack of rotation. I gave them a first-round win against Texas but had them losing to Cincinnati. One of my quotes from the article was this; “Nevada is Elite 8 caliber good.” They have proven to be.
Gonzaga- I had Gonzaga in my Final Four the first time around. Will it be the same this time?
Florida State- Florida State has been one of my better calls of this tournament. I took them over Missouri and then took them in the upset over #1 seed Xavier. I am not surprised that they are here.
Michigan- Michigan needed some luck to get into the Sweet 16. I originally had them in my Elite 8 but they are very lucky to still be dancing.
Texas A&M- This is another team I am not surprised is here. “Texas A&M has all the skill in the world. They just can’t seem to put it together for an extended period of time but If they got hot for the tournament it wouldn’t shock me.” I didn’t have enough moxy to take them over UNC but it is not a huge surprise to me that they beat the Tar-heels.
Villanova- Villanova has looked like one of the best teams in their first two games. I had Purdue beating them the first time around in the Elite 8.
West Virginia- I didn’t love a potential match-up against Wichita State but when Wichita State stumbled against Marshall, it opened the draw up for West Virginia.
Texas Tech- Keenan Evans injury scared me and prevented me from advancing them past the Sweet 16 matchup, where I had them losing to Purdue. Now that Evan’s looks healthy will I change my mind on that game?
Purdue- Another Final Four team for me. Purdue is now the team with injury concerns after Center Isaac Haas broke his elbow in Round 1.
Kansas- I wasn’t a huge fan of Kansas. I was just worried the region didn’t have enough to challenge them, which is why they were in my Elite 8. Do I think it is more competitive now?
Clemson- New Mexico State was a big letdown for me. I had them over Clemson and then over Auburn. “If Clemson puts up a tough defensive fight I could see New Mexico State wither away but the upset potential is too great to ignore.” I wish I had ignored it!
Syracuse- When the article was initially written, the play in game between Arizona State and Syracuse had not been played yet. I tentatively picked TCU to advance without knowing who the opponent was. When Syracuse won, I did end up picking Cuse over TCU and eventually had them losing to Michigan State. I am not that surprised by the upset though. Michigan State was one of the best teams in the field to me but Syracuse’s zone defense is very difficult to prepare for in only one day.
Duke- My National Champions! I like the way they have looked but will I change my mind when reassessing it this time?
5. Kentucky vs. 9. Kansas State
Offensively Kansas State is not that good and defensively they are probably just as shaky. The most concerning stat in this game for me is the following:
Kansas State 309th in Defensive Rebounding Percentage.
Kentucky 8th in Offensive Rebounding Percentage.
I think Kentucky will manhandle Kansas State. Kentucky to the Elite 8.
7. Nevada vs. 11. Loyola Chicago
The match-up all of America was anticipating! Nevada has gotten off to a slow start in both of their first two tournament games. If they do it again vs. Loyola I don’t anticipate they will be able to make another comeback. Texas and Cincinnati both have shown struggles to score the basketball at times this season. Yes, Nevada did manage to shoot the lights out in each comeback, but if either one of these two teams didn’t go completely stagnant offensively, I don’t think we would have seen Nevada still alive. Loyola Chicago is strategic and methodical both offensively and defensively. I think Nevada will get down and not be able to fully catch up to Loyola. Loyola Chicago advances and Cinderella is still at the ball.
4. Gonzaga vs. 9. Florida State
Here is my initial write-up, “Florida State might be a battle-tested team but being able to overcome Xavier and Gonzaga will be too much for them. Gonzaga will have a week to prepare for the Seminoles and should handle them quite easily. Gonzaga advances.”
I see no reason why this changes. Gonzaga will advance.
3. Michigan vs. 7. Texas A&M
In a weird way, I think this is a more difficult game for Michigan than UNC would have been. With that being said, Texas A&M isn’t immune to a cold stretch offensively. A lack of offensive rebounding opportunities that they are accustomed to and no extra possessions from creating turnovers will leave Texas A&M coming up short. Michigan to the Elite 8.
1. Villanova vs. 5. West Virginia
Initially, I had Villanova facing off against Wichita State, but this game against West Virginia provides a lot more difficult of a challenge for Villanova. West Virginia will give it their best effort to literally try and steal the game from Villanova but at the end of the day, Villanova won’t fully succumb to the Mountaineers pressure. Nova negates a lot of what West Virginia does well. It isn’t impossible to see West Virginia pull the upset but Give me Villanova to advance.
2. Purdue vs. 3. Texas Tech
It is funny how quickly things can change. In my initial write-up, I said this, “I don’t think Keenan Evans can possibly get healthy enough to replicate his early season success he provided Texas Tech. They had a better season than almost anyone saw coming but the road will end here. Purdue wins.”
A week into the tournament Keenan Evans looks like his old explosive self and Purdue is now struggling with an injury to Center Isaac Haas. Haas has a broken elbow and is projected out for the rest of the tournament. While it may look like a perfect spot to change my original prediction, I will not be doing so. I think Matt Haarms is a very suitable backup to Issac Haas and in this particular match-up will be able to hold his own. Purdue loses a little something offensively but defensively will be completely fine. Texas Tech is no stranger to bad offensive ruts and Purdue will take advantage of those moments. Purdue still advances on.
1. Kansas vs. 5. Clemson
If you read my initial article, you will know that I have no love lost for Kansas. I think they are overrated and I think they are very fortunate for the draw they received. Their draw is a little more difficult than I fully anticipated though, with Clemson getting here instead of New Mexico State. This is going to be my first change I will make to a team that I had advancing. Clemson is a great defensive team. Kansas lives and dies by the three and is incapable of getting offensive rebounds. Teams that don’t get offensive rebounds, shoot an excessive amount of threes, and don’t force turnovers always struggle come tournament time. Intensity amplifies and shots don’t go in as easily. I look for Clemson to pull another March Madness surprise and advance to the Elite 8.
2. Duke vs. 11. Syracuse
ACC foes Duke and Syracuse face off with a berth to the Elite 8 on the line. Cuse’s zone defense can catch teams off guard that aren’t used to playing against it but this will not be the case here with both teams fully aware of the others style. Duke won a regular season contest in February 60-44. I see no reason to expect anything different to happen. Duke advances.
5. Kentucky vs. 11. Loyola Chicago
Blueblood Kentucky will take on upset minded Loyola Chicago with a chance to get to another Final Four. It seems highly unlikely John Calipari would be denied a spot in San Antonio from a mid-major team…right? I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions. Loyola Chicago has a lot going from them defensively that can help to contain Kentucky’s offense. Kentucky is not a good shooting team and plays in spurts throughout the game. The Wildcats are young and inexperienced and the moment just may prove to be too big for them. In a tournament filled with madness, number 11 seed Loyola Chicago will get into the Final Four.
3. Michigan vs. 4. Gonzaga
This is my initial write-up that I will be sticking with. “Michigan is the hottest team in America right now, but if I was them, I would worry about the stop and go nature of the tournament and I would even be concerned with the layoff before the tournament has started. At some point, Michigan will probably go cold, and if they do I don’t like their prospects of being able to create second-chance looks. Gonzaga has some flaws in leaving shooters open around the perimeter so if Michigan can stay locked in there is potential for the Wolverines but I don’t think enough shots will drop. I will have their run come to an end here. Gonzaga advances to another Final Four.”
1. Villanova vs. 2. Purdue
First time around I had Purdue taking out Villanova to reach the Final Four. This decision becomes a lot more difficult with Isaac Haas being most likely out. I hope I am wrong and Purdue still finds a way to get to the Final Four but I, unfortunately, will have to change this pick. Villanova is another one of those teams that becomes a little complacent settling for jumpers and is susceptible to slipping up in any game but metrically they do things slightly better than most Villanova teams of past. They are the premier offensive team in the nation, grading out 1st in points per possession and 1st in effective FG%. The loss of Haas will be too much to overcome. Villanova gets the win.
2. Duke vs. 5. Clemson
Another ACC battle for Duke is in-store in this Elite 8 meeting. In February Duke went into Clemson’s arena and came out victorious, 66 to 57. I anticipate a slightly higher scoring game but one that yields a very similar result. Duke runs the gamut of ACC opponents in the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 to reach another Final Four under Coach Krzyzewski.
4. Gonzaga vs. 11. Loyola Chicago
If this is the Final Four contest we get, I don’t love Loyola Chicago’s chances against Gonzaga. I originally had Gonzaga losing to Cincinnati in this game but I think things would be a lot different with these two teams facing off. It is tough to figure out where Loyola Chicago would have an advantage. This, unfortunately, is just a really bad match-up for them and their dream season will come to an end. Gonzaga onto the finals.
1. Villanova vs. 2. Duke
The left side of the bracket may have resulted in chaos but the right side of the draw will pit the best two teams in this tournament against one another with a spot in the finals on the line. Duke’s brute physicality will be matched up against Villanova’s strong shooting. A hot shooting Nova team could shred the Blue Devils zone defense that they implemented this season. While this is an encouraging sign for the Wildcats, they won’t be able to take advantage of the offensive rebounding possibilities that open up from the zone. Villanova may be able to get solid looks but they will still be looking at one and done situations if they miss and will probably be looking to score everything from the perimeter. Stylistically I feel like Duke will be too physical for a Nova team that is either going to shoot themselves in or out of the finals. Don’t get me wrong, the game could go either way and Villanova will have their chance but I will take Duke into the Championship.
2. Duke vs. 4. Gonzaga
The redo of the bracket now has Gonzaga making back-to-back Championship games and will be playing my original National Champion Duke Blue Devils. Honestly, it would be counterintuitive to back off of my Duke pick now so I won’t be doing so. Duke to me is the best team in the nation when they are on. It is March and anything is possible but Coach K seems to have his team clicking on all cylinders at this moment. My pick to win the National Championship is still the Duke Blue Devils.