17 Mar 2008
The NCAA men's basketball tournament field is set. You should all be filling out your brackets now for the long shot chance at $10,000 from ESPN, or even $5,000,000 from Yahoo, assuming you predict every game correctly.
There are 63 games to predict (not counting the play-in game, which everyone ignores). Based on a rough memory, if you just choose every higher-seeded team to win (and randomly choose the last couple games when 1 seeds are playing each other), you'll get about 37 games right. I think the best I've done in the past is 48 or so on my main bracket - the one I fill out first. There was one recent year where there were very few upsets, so maybe I got into the low 50s with one of my extra brackets. I can't remember all the specifics. To win the big bucks at ESPN, you'll probably need to pick about 57 games correctly.
Here are some things to think about as you ponder how to spend the moolah you won't be winning.
Some Really Good Teams
I haven't been following college basketball that closely this year, but it seems there are some really good teams, followed by a boatload of mediocrity. At the top I'm including North Carolina, Memphis, Kansas, UCLA, Duke, Tennessee, and maybe Texas. Georgetown is a two seed, but they've been very beatable the entire season. I think they could fall early to Davidson or Gonzaga in the second round. If you have Texas making it to the Sweet 16, they'll have the advantage of playing in Houston (against potential opponents Stanford and Memphis), then in San Antonio if you think they'll get to the Final Four. I still think Memphis will be too much to handle for Texas. I have North Carolina as my first pick to win it all, followed by Memphis as a second choice.
Some Enticing Sleepers
As always, there are some teams that could wreak some havoc as sleepers. Winthrop (13 seed in the East) is playing for a teammate who died last May, beat Notre Dame last year in the tourney, and has a bunch of seniors who are making their 4th straight appearance in the "big dance". They should have a lot of motivation to win. Davidson (10 seed in the Midwest) has 3 decently close losses to North Carolina, Duke, and UCLA. And as my alma mater, I'm biased towards BYU in the West. I realize they never seem to rise to the occasion. But earlier this year they beat Louisville and gave North Carolina a run for their money. Plus they're playing in Anaheim, which is practically a home game for them. Of course, they'll probably end up losing by 20 in the first round. Half their players are probably married and care more about their children's pre-school schedules than advancing to the second weekend of the tournament.
Based on no research at all, you should stay away from teams like Georgia and Arizona. Teams that lose that much know a lot about how to lose to good teams. Congratulations to them. I'm tempted to put Kentucky in this mix, but they've seemed hot over the past little while (not just the past week). But then again, Georgia is only playing Xavier, who back in the early 90s was always the token "nobody" team that was ranked 15th in the polls just because they won so many games against East McNeese State. Maybe that's still the case and Georgia will come out with a win. But I hope not. Only for the sake of my predictions.
The opening round game is between Mt. St. Mary's (18-14 record) and Coppin State (16-20). I never pick this game right so don't trust me on this one. Coppin State has some history on its side - they won a game as a 15 seed before, so I'll pick them to win.
Villanova got in. Does that mean if Syracuse had beaten Villanova, they'd be dancing now instead? Somehow I don't think so. The committee loves to ignore Syracuse (full disclosure: they're my favorite team), although this year Syracuse should have had to beat Villanova and then Georgetown (again) to get in. I wish Syracuse hadn't blown three games this year versus Pitt, Georgetown, and UConn.
This year I don't think there should be a lot of complaints about who was left out of the tournament. Mediocrity abounds. And I don't think all four number 1 seeds have ever made the Final Four, but it could happen this year. How about all the 1 and 2 seeds in the Elite Eight? I think we could get 7 of them - all but G-Town.
Don't try to play off your 7th bracket as your main one after the first weekend kills off your top six. But be prepared to explain the injuries, nuances of officiating, and effects of regional play on why you weren't as successful as originally planned. You can be ready with the total points you would have needed to have a perfect bracket ("if Butler had made that 3-pointer at the buzzer and Xavier hadn't made those two free throws... I'm 22 points away from a perfect bracket!"). Or you can just call it all luck. That's easier. These things are tough to predict. I wonder how much insurance Yahoo had to buy against the $5 million dollar prize for a perfect bracket? A buck fifty? 25 cents?
I took all of 5 minutes to make these. I think Davidson will beat Georgetown to get to the Sweet 16, that Purdue will make it in as a 6 seed, and that every other Sweet 16 team will be seeded 1 to 5. My Elite Eight is the top 8 teams except for Wisconsin (a 3 seed, who will beat Davidson). My Final Four is made up of the number 1 seeds except for Duke (a 2 seed, who will beat UCLA). And I think North Carolina will beat Memphis for the title. A pretty boring set of predictions overall. But you should see bracket number 8....