By Ron Jumper
(I apologize this thing is really, really long… Like 2,600 words long. It moves fast once you get to the bracket section, I promise.)
The bracket is out and that means one of my favorite times of the year is about to begin. Before I get to my bracket, I thought I would review a couple of things. First, my final Jumpology did pretty well, finishing with 63 of the 65 teams in the field and 52 were projected within 1 seed or closer, including picking the exact seed for 26 schools. For comparison’s sake, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi 64 correct teams in, with 55 within 1 seed or closer and 27 with the exact seed. For the real Bracketology geeks out there, my Paymon score was 293 and Lunardi’s was 300. Again, for all the hype the guy gets, I wasn’t too far off.
Looking back at my final bracket, I had Virginia Tech and Mississippi State over Utah State and Florida. I chose the 10-6 ACC school over the mid-major and picked the wrong at-large SEC school (if you’ll recall, there were three schools from the SEC realistically fighting for one of the last bids).
I still stand by my decisions and here is why: how can you punish Virginia Tech for not playing anyone and then let in Utah State? Who did the Aggies play? They beat BYU (a 7 seed) then lost to St. Mary’s (a 10 seed) and went 1-2 against New Mexico State (a 12 seed), outside of that they lost to Utah (RPI 157), Northeastern (RPI 75), Long Beach State (RPI 111), and Louisiana Tech (RPI 78). Could you imagine if a team from a power conference had those losses on their resume and got in? The Hokies only had one loss outside the RPI top 100 and that was at Boston College. They went 10-6 in the ACC, which has a conference RPI of 3, and beat Clemson, Wake Forest, and Georgia Tech.
Now, here is why I once referred to the RPI as the “Really Pointless Index” and started using the CSI, the “Common Sense Index,” instead. Yes, the Hokies played some cupcakes but, truthfully, everyone did. Utah State had wins over Idaho State (RPI 305), Southern Utah (RPI 328), Utah Valley (RPI 342), and CS-Bakerfield (RPI 317). That is four non-conference wins over teams with an RPI above 300, while the Hokies only had three. How is this okay for them and not okay for Virginia Tech?
I hate to bash a mid-major like this because I’ve always rooted for the little guy but I felt like if you just had to anoint a mid-major why not Rhode Island, Wichita State, or UAB? They had much more compelling resumes in my opinion. Anyways, enough of this, I give up…
As for the other at-large I missed, I can’t argue too much with Florida. It seemed like the SEC would get a fourth team in, whether or not it was Florida, Mississippi State, or Ole Miss was a very slim margin. I just thought Mississippi State proved they were a very good team when they went to overtime with Kentucky for a second time this season. I will say they all three had 9-7 records within the league and Ole Miss had the best non-conference resume with a win over Kansas State. Just food for thought…
Now, as for the seeding, the Big East is a great conference but the seeding got a little ridiculous. Marquette and Notre Dame did not deserve a 6 seed. Georgetown didn’t deserve a 3 seed. Villanova didn’t deserve a 2 seed. It was as if the entire at-large Big East field got bumped up a slot or two.
Also, New Mexico State received a 12 seed after being nowhere near the bubble. On what planet is NMST on the same seed line as Cornell and UTEP, not to mention ahead of Siena? That made no sense.
I’ll leave you with one last thought before I turn the focus to my actual bracket. Does it matter how good the last at-large teams that got in actually do in the NCAA Tournament or was it their resume that justified getting them in the dance and their performance is meaningless? Your first thought is probably yes it matters how good they play, but I want to remind you that we can never know what would have happened had a different team got in instead. Imagine if George Mason had never gotten in, they were a controversial at-large pick at the time. Maybe there have been other “George Masons” over the years that didn’t get the opportunity.
The truth is we can never know. I would even go so far as to say it doesn’t matter how the team that was left out does in the NIT, as the matchups and scenarios would have been completely different. In some cases, after a team is left out, they really just aren’t “up” for the NIT and go out early due to a lack of interest. Thus, regardless of what happens, I find it irrelevant to judge how good a team actually plays in either tournament to decide whether or not they deserved an at-large bid after the fact because who is to the say the team that didn’t get in wouldn’t have done the exact same thing if presented with the same opportunity?
Going even further, because head to head doesn’t matter, the resume is weighted heavier than simply evaluating how good a team really is. For example, Ole Miss being swept by Mississippi State didn’t matter in the eyes of the committee because, until the Bulldogs made a run in the SEC tournament, the Rebels were considered to have a better body of work and higher chance of getting into the field. I wonder what would have happened had Ole Miss beat Tennessee in the first round of the SEC tournament because, not only would they have likely gotten in with that big win added to their resume, but it would have given Mississippi State two more wins over a quality opponent (in other words, wins over teams that made it into the field) and greatly strengthened their resume as well in the process.
When filling out your bracket, some teams have what it takes to make a Final Four run and some teams don’t. Over time, I’ve compiled a pretty good checklist that helps guide me in my selections. Here is breakdown of how to evaluate if a team has what it takes or if they just simply are missing some key ingredients.
For the teams that do:
-They probably have a great coach, who maybe has been there before.
-They probably have senior leadership, especially in the backcourt.
-They probably have great 3-point shooting, with multiple guys who can knock shots down.
-They probably have the size and athleticism to defend, since on some nights the shots just aren’t falling.
For the teams that don’t:
-They might have one fatal flaw, whether it be shooting or interior defense.
-They might have overachieved in the regular season and benefited from the schedule.
-They might have a coach who has a history of underachieving in March.
-They might lack solid point guard play to handle whatever tempo is thrown at them.
Official Sports Overload Bracket
1 Kansas over 16 Lehigh
Obvious mismatch against the top overall seed.
9 Northern Iowa over 8 UNLV
The Panthers got a raw deal in where they were seeded, much better than a 9 seed.
5 Michigan State over 12 New Mexico State
Easy pick here, Izzo will have his troops ready for WAC champ.
4 Maryland over 13 Houston
Terps flying under the radar, roll here.
6 Tennessee over 11 San Diego State
Both teams deserve higher seeds than this.
3 Georgetown over 14 Ohio
Easy pick here for the Hoyas.
7 Oklahoma State over 10 Georgia Tech
Cowboys have guards, Yellow Jackets have size. Take James Anderson and the guards.
2 Ohio State over 15 UCSB
Buckeyes win here, but not by as much as you’d expect.
1 Kansas over 9 Northern Iowa
Love UNI, but Kansas is the best team in America.
4 Maryland over 5 Michigan State
One of the tougher picks, great coaches and contrasting styles. Terps survive.
3 Georgetown over 6 Tennessee
Greg Monroe is the difference inside, as Vols have no answer.
7 Oklahoma State over 2 Ohio State
Upset Special! James Anderson dominates Evan Turner and flies up the draft board.
1 Kansas over 4 Maryland
Jayhawks march on with a huge rebounding edge here.
3 Georgetown over 7 Oklahoma State
Cowboys run ends here, with Greg Monroe playing great inside.
1 Kansas over 3 Georgetown
Sheron Collins is the straw that stirs the drink, and he will dictate a quicker tempo than the Hoyas want to play at. If this game gets up into the 70s and 80s, that greatly favors the Jayhawks.
Midwest Region Winner: Kansas
1 Syracuse over 16 Vermont
Easy win here to ‘Cuse.
8 Gonzaga over 9 Florida State
Seminoles very athletic, but lack veteran guard play and outside shooting.
5 Butler over 12 UTEP
Bulldogs outmatched physically, but they survive a close one.
13 Murray State over 4 Vanderbilt
Don’t just assume Vandy rolls here, the Racers are tough.
6 Xavier over 11 Minnesota
Sometimes a team wears itself out just to make it in.
3 Pitt over 14 Oakland
The Panthers should win comfortably, but not a blowout.
7 BYU over 10 Florida
I like the Cougars 3-point shooting abilities to outlast the Gators.
2 Kansas State over 15 North Texas
Mean Green had a good year in the Sun Belt, but they are outmatched.
1 Syracuse over 8 Gonzaga
This game could be closer than the experts think.
5 Butler over 13 Murray State
The veteran Bulldogs outlast the Racers.
6 Xavier over 3 Pitt
Seeding wise this is an upset, but not really in terms of talent.
7 BYU over 2 Kansas State
On the other hand, this is an upset.
1 Syracuse over 5 Butler
I like the Orange, but if one of these good shooting teams catches fire…
7 BYU over 6 Xavier
The Cougars get this game in Salt Lake City, Utah.
1 Syracuse over 7 BYU
Without question, this was the toughest region to pick a winner. I’m not sold on Kansas State or Pitt, as evidenced by me having them bounced early, but I’m not in love with Syracuse either like other people seem to be. It is cause for concern that every team Syracuse faces can really shoot it, which could be tough on that 2-3 matchup zone. In the end, despite BYU getting this game in Salt Lake City, ‘Cuse is the most likely survivor of this strange region.
Region Winner: Syracuse
1 Kentucky over 16 East Tennessee State
No chance of an upset here.
8 Texas over 9 Wake Forest
Tough matchup, as both teams have been up and down all season.
12 Cornell over 5 Temple
The Big Red can shoot it lights out and have size.
4 Wisconsin over 13 Wofford
The Badgers are a safe pick here.
11 Washington over 6 Marquette
The Huskies have been playing and present some matchup problems.
3 New Mexico over 14 Montana
The Lobos are pretty good, don’t expect any trouble here.
10 Missouri over 7 Clemson
Two similar teams, with same style and mascot, but Mizzou advances.
2 West Virginia over 15 Morgan State
No upset here.
1 Kentucky over 8 Texas
Longhorns, on a good day, could make this interesting.
4 Wisconsin over 12 Cornell
Badgers will play good team defense and not give open looks.
11 Washington over 3 New Mexico
I like New Mexico, but this is a bad matchup against a hot Huskies squad.
2 West Virginia over 10 Missouri
Mountaineers have too much size and athleticism, as long as they handle the press well.
1 Kentucky over 4 Wisconsin
Wildcats have too much size and talent to let Badgers hang around.
2 West Virginia over 11 Washington
Huskies don’t have the toughness to bang with WV inside.
1 Kentucky over 2 West Virginia
I like John Wall to be the big difference, as the Mountaineers don’t have a true point guard. Also, while WV has length, they don’t necessarily matchup well with Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins inside. I feel pretty good about this matchup.
1 Duke over 16 Arkansas Pine Bluff
Congrats to UAPB for getting a win, but the run ends here.
9 Louisville over 8 Cal
Cardinals rarely have a size advantage, Samuels should have a good day.
5 Texas A&M over 12 Utah State
Obviously, I wasn’t going to pick the Aggies…
4 Purdue over 13 Siena
JaJuan Johnson will be the difference inside.
6 Notre Dame over 11 Old Dominion
Monarchs are solid, but Luke Harangody will handle Gerald Lee inside.
3 Baylor over 14 Sam Houston State
I pray there is no upset here.
7 Richmond over 10 St. Mary’s
Tough mid-major battle, with both also being capable of challenging Villanova.
2 Villanova over 15 Robert Morris
Scottie Reynolds and co. march on.
1 Duke over 9 Louisville
Blue Devils will handle the press and win easily.
5 Texas A&M over 4 Purdue
Robbie Hummel would have made the difference…
3 Baylor over 6 Notre Dame
Bears just have so much length, with 4 of top 6 scorers between 6’7” and 7’0”.
2 Villanova over 7 Richmond
Wildcats survive a close one against pesky Spiders.
1 Duke over 5 Texas A&M
Tough matchup for Duke, but Jon Scheyer is the difference.
3 Baylor over 2 Villanova
The length and athleticism of Baylor bothers an undersized ‘Nova.
3 Baylor over 1 Duke
Did I mention Baylor had a lot of length and athleticism? With Duke, they always struggle against this kind of team. In addition, Baylor has a really good, veteran backcourt in Tweety Carter and LaceDarius Dunn. I thought I was going out on a limb with this Final Four pick, but it turns out other experts are on the Baylor bandwagon as well. I haven’t decided if this is good or bad, as I love going against the grain.
Region Winner: Baylor
1 Kansas over 1 Syracuse
The Jayhawks are very talented and have great balance. I’m not sure anyone, even Syracuse, can play Kansas in a zone and survive. I see Sheron Collins slicing that zone up, kicking out to shooters, and dumping it off to Cole Aldrich for monster dunks.
1 Kentucky over 3 Baylor
Both teams are extremely athletic, but Kentucky has John Wall. I expect Wall to be that dynamic playmaker down the stretch that makes the difference. For Baylor, I also expect there to be a little bit of complacency since they weren’t expected to reach the Final Four.
1 Kansas over 1 Kentucky
The debate has been experience vs. talent but, wait a second, doesn’t Kansas have both? Sure, they have a diaper dandy in Xavier Henry, but they also have veterans like Collins and Aldrich. I like both teams and expect it to be close, but Kansas should win in the end.
National Champion: Kansas Jayhawks