/ March

Predictability in a Rather Unpredictable Tournament

After a nice, month-long slumber after the Super Bowl (and taking time off for paternity leave!), it is time to wake up for one of the most exciting postseasons in all of sports: MARCH MADNESS!

This can be a very wacky tournament with so many upsets in the first round. The second round could see a good share of upsets as well but typically the upsets become less frequent as we move onto the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight.

If you still haven't viewed the bracket, you can access one here.

So why is there predictability in this smorgasbord of games? We will enumerate the reasons.

  • Expect #1 seeds to go deep. A #1 seed has never lost a Round 1 game and rarely do they lose in Round 2. Occasionally you will see a #4 or 5 seed upend a #1 seed in the Sweet Sixteen and not often will all #1 seeds make the Final Four. However, with strong teams like Villanova (defending champions), Gonzaga (complete team with just one loss), Kansas (perennial Final Four team), and North Carolina (another perennial Final Four team, runner-up last year, and hailing from the ACC or otherwise the most competitive conference in college basketball), expect all of them to be in the Elite Eight.

  • There will be plenty of upsets in Round 1 and most of them will happen on Thursday. I guess the favored teams playing on Friday are put on alert after seeing so many higher seeded teams get embarrassed on national television the day before. Also, it's rare to see a #13 or 14 seed win a Round 1 game but #10, 11, and 12 seeds are usually ripe for pulling off upsets. This can be huge if your pool allows for upset bonus points. By the way, most of the #10, 11, and 12 seeds play on Thursday!

  • So who are these teams we can expect to make the tournament exciting on Day 1? Roll with Princeton, UNC-Wilmington, Middle Tennessee State, Xavier, and Nevada. That's right ... all #12 seeds will win in Round 1!

  • Usually there is at least one double digit seed in the Sweet Sixteen. The best candidate for Cinderella seems to the Wichita State Shockers. They are used to the glass slipper staying on for a while and could prematurely end the Kentucky Wildcats season in Round 2. John Calipari is awfully good at recruiting top flight talent and getting them to the NBA (and thrive there) but he is not that great of a tournament coach (unlike Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall).

  • Not frequently will all #3 seeds make it past Round 2. FSU, UCLA, and Oregon are really strong teams and all will be playing the first two rounds close to home. Baylor, on the other hand, will have to tussle with a strong SMU team. The game will be in Oklahoma so no location advantage really for either team. Baylor has choked in recent tournaments so expect that to happen again.

  • Speaking of location, do not overlook where these teams play. Again, UCLA and Oregon will be playing close to home in the new Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento. Florida and FSU have games in Orlando. The Midwest Regionals will be in Kansas City, MO where the Kansas Jayhawks are the #1 seed. The West Regionals are in San Jose, East in New York City, and South in Memphis. This bodes well for schools like Arizona, Villanova, and North Carolina which all should have a home court feel if they make it to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Elite Eight.

  • A PAC-12 team will finally make the Final Four after a 9 year hiatus. Who will that be? Read on!

  • It's hard to be too critical of the #1 seeds. They all have done well this year. The one you have to be skeptical about though is Gonzaga. They find themselves as a high seed often but have never been to the Final Four. They had an awfully weak schedule with their strength of schedule ranking as 102nd in the country. Arizona has been close to making the Final Four recently and have an RPI of #2 and the 24th toughest schedule in the country. The Wildcats of the Southwest are due.

  • So if U of A is getting to the Final Four in Phoenix (talk about a real home court advantage there!), then who are the other three teams? This won't be the most bold prediction: Villanova, Kansas, and UNC. We tend to have the usual suspects in the Final Four such as schools like Duke, UConn, Kentucky, Florida, Michigan State, and so on. All three #1 seeds sans Gonzaga are your usual suspects this year.

  • Now who plays in the championship game?! Rarely do you have a repeat champion. Even more rare, and has never happened before, is getting a rematch from last year's title game. Well, that is what will happen. UNC will get a chance for redemption by playing the Wildcats of the Northeast. Both come from the strongest conferences in basketball and have played well all year. They have strong rosters and do all of the right things you need to do in the tournament.

  • So who wins it all?! As nice as it would be to have a new champion, we will go with a rarity and pick a repeat champion: Villanova. After all, shouldn't we expect the unexpected during March Madness!

There you have it. Some double digit seeds pull off upsets in Round 1, not many of them get past Round 2, at least one #3 seed will fall early, #1 seeds will do well, and we will have a repeat champion. Just don't get too cute with your bracket by having no #1 seeds in the Final Four or too many double digit seeds advancing to the Sweet Sixteen. When the dust settles, it's the top teams that usually make it far.

Enjoy the next three weeks and good luck with your brackets! I expect a nice gift card or a bottle of my favorite whiskey (Basil Hayden will do!) should you go with my picks and win your pool!