This is the first of a weekly series of projecting the Final Four.
I’m using the brackets from the most accurate bracketologists by projection performance I’ve found on the web. They can be found at bracketology101.blogspot.com.
The current bracket.
Also, based on my own observation, I will be using a benchmark I call the 4-1 rule. This states that at least four teams rated as a six-seed or lower must make the Sweet 16, and that at least one of these teams must make the Elite Eight.
Key Developments from Last Week
Tuesday: Purdue wins at Michigan State, showing they have a chance to make major noise in March with an effective Robbie Hummel.
Wednesday: FSU beats Miami. They continue to mature into a team capable of making the Sweet 16 if put in the right matchups.
Illinois cemented themselves as the most overrated team in the field after putting up a pathetic 33 points against Penn State.
Thursday: Xavier continues to falter down the stretch run as they lose to Charlotte, a below .500 team.
UCLA beats Washington, showing both their ability when everyone plays well and Washington’s learning curve in big games.
Saturday: The UCLA that has been playing for most of the year shows up and gives up 82 to Washington State in a one-point loss.
Texas barely beats an OU team without Blake Griffin for most of the game.
Washington shows it can progress on its learning curve by coming back and beating the Trojans.
Saint Mary’s beats Utah State in perhaps the most important game of the weekend for evaluation purposes. The Gaels are having role players step up now in the absence of Olympian PG Patty Mills. If they can continue to develop and Mills returns, this team is more than capable of winning multiple games in the Big Dance.
As for Utah State, it’s more confirmation they can’t do anything away from home.
Sunday: Duke puts up 101 against Wake Forest, showing their offense has plenty of firepower against a good defense when everything clicks.
As for Wake Forest, they are coming down to earth.
Arizona State was able to hold on against Arizona in a measuring stick game. The Sun Devils have enough balance to deal with almost any type of lineup and were able to withstand Arizona. Arizona showed in the loss that they aren’t quite up to their potential yet.
Monday: Georgetown’s season is officially over.
First Round winners: Pitt, Utah, Washington, Purdue, Cal, Memphis, Tennessee, Clemson
Intriguing Matchup: (5) Washington v. (4) Purdue
This is one of the most unpredictable matchups in the field.
Purdue may or may not have Robbie Hummel. With him, they took the Sooners to OT on a neutral court. But they’ve struggled at times against teams who pride themselves on their defense (Illinois has swept them).
Washington is a young team with a learning curve. They lost to Kansas and Florida at the beginning of the year. They lost to Cal in their first real game in the Pac-10.
Then they bounced back. They beat USC and UCLA at home. Then they hit a bump in the road at Arizona. Then they went to Arizona State and won.
Later they lost at Cal and at UCLA but have since rebounded from the UCLA loss by beating USC.
The Huskies are a team that will take hits but then gets back up. They don’t have this luxury during the Big Dance. One fall and they’re gone.
Ultimately I’ll need to see more out of the fully equipped Purdue as they make their way into the Big Ten tournament. If they are all together, they should win this game.
If not, expect the versatility of Washington’s starting lineup to make the difference.
So for right now, I’ll take the Huskies.
Second Round winners: Pitt, Washington, Memphis, Clemson
Sweet 16 winners: Pitt, Memphis
Every team in this year’s tournament has a type of team which can spell doom. For Pitt, it’s a team which can match and in essence trump their overall athleticism across the starting lineup.
That team is Memphis.
The Tigers can put Antonio Anderson and Tyreke Evans against Levance Fields and Jermaine Dixon. Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart have the athleticism and grit to take on DeJuan Blair and Sam Young. And Memphis can go to players on the bench who are just as capable defensively, especially against Fields.
Pitt relies on its frontcourt for most of their offense. If Young is neutralized, I don’t feel Blair can have the kind of game he had against UConn against Dozier, who is a physical presence and prides himself on his defense. Fields will struggle to find good looks against a rotation of defenders.
On the flip side, Memphis could face similar troubles when they’re on offense. That’s a bigger problem for them, as they rely on their athleticism to create easy baskets. They aren’t a good shooting team by any means, and Pitt should be able to force them into plenty of jump shots.
The other knock on Memphis is their schedule. They get a few months off before the tournament, and it’s unknown whether they have a different gear to kick into. Last year they found it and should’ve cut down the nets.
The only other team Pitt has played that had the depth and athleticism to defend them across the board was Louisville. They went there and lost by six.
There are two key factors to this game. With the physical play inside, foul trouble will be key. If Dozier and Taggart are in foul trouble, which does happen, then Blair or Young should have a much easier day. If Blair is on the bench, the Panthers are in trouble.
The other wildcard is freshman Tyreke Evans. He could pull a Derrick Rose and elevate this team to another level. It took some time for the Tigers to adjust to his play, but they have done well of late, as showcased by their thrashing of Gonzaga. He is the one person who should be able to do as he wishes whenever he needs to in this game.
In the end, I love what Pitt has done this year, but I think this is a case of the perfect team to take them down. Memphis hasn’t played its best ball this year, and I think we’ve seen the best Pitt has to offer. If both play their best, Memphis should prevail in the final moments.
East region winner: Memphis
First Round winners: UNC, Florida, Gonzaga, Villanova, UCLA, Missouri, Syracuse, Michigan State
Intriguing Matchups: (5) Gonzaga v. (4) Villanova, (7) Syracuse v. (2) Michigan State
Gonzaga against Villanova is interesting on a couple of fronts.
The Bulldogs finally have a group of players that could net them a trip to the Final Four. Their problem is that with the exception of one of their wins against Tennessee, they’ve lost to every team with great team athleticism (Arizona, UConn, and Memphis). Villanova aren’t exactly slouches.
These Wildcats have found an interior presence in Dante Cunningham. His emergence has opened up things for their four-guard lineup to prosper as someone can clean up the glass. They create all kinds of matchup problems for teams that play a traditional lineup.
Gonzaga would have a huge edge inside in this one if everyone shows up. Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt should have a field day if they can stay on the floor. They have the guard play to ward off Villanova. For what it’s worth, they also have the best FG percentage defense in the country.
The problem is their level of competition in conference and the fact that their terrific defense hasn’t fazed the high quality teams they’ve faced out of conference. For that reason, I’ll begrudgingly take Villanova.
Syracuse v. Michigan State is all about which teams show up.
Syracuse at the top of its game should have the players to beat Michigan State because the key matchups are in their favor. Arinze Onuaku should handle the Spartans' inside game, while Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf pick the Spartans apart from outside.
However, there’s no denying the Spartans have played better so far this year. The issue with them is their losses to Maryland and UNC out of conference, coupled with wins against Texas and Kansas. They beat some of these quality teams, and they lost to some. The way they were handled at Purdue extenuates this point.
In the end, I feel compelled to roll the dice on the Orange, as their superior depth should ultimately get them through. They’ve been handled by offensively gifted teams, and I’m not sure if the Spartans have shown enough firepower to give Syracuse enough to deal with.
Second Round winners: UNC, Villanova, Missouri, Syracuse
Sweet 16 winners: UNC, Missouri
If the real North Carolina stands up, they win this by double digits. However, they’ve had defensive lapses this year (as shown by their loss at Maryland), which could get them into trouble against a well-balanced and battle-tested Tigers team.
Missouri are game in the Big XII as they’ve beaten Kansas and won at Texas. If they run through the rest of their schedule (Kansas State, @ Kansas, Oklahoma, @ Texas A&M) and run the table, they can legitimately defeat the Tar Heels. The game against OU is particularly important if Blake Griffin is playing because it gives a good indicator of how these Tigers would fare against Tyler Hansbrough.
The stats indicate this could be a great game. These two teams, coincidentally, are the top two teams in the nation in scoring margin per game. Both shoot the ball really well, but Missouri defends both from the field and from three, while the Tar Heels will let you shoot threes as much as you want if you show an ability to get things done at the rim.
These two teams are also the top two in the nation in assists per game. Both force a lot of turnovers and rely on them to widen their leads.
The areas of the game in which UNC have a huge advantage are from the line, rebounding, and in limiting fouls. In what could be a close contest, the team with the most shots at the hoop is going to prevail.
So for now, UNC survives.
West region winner: UNC
First Round winners: Oklahoma, Dayton, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Butler, Wake Forest, Texas, Louisville
Second Round winners: Oklahoma, Arizona State, Wake Forest, Louisville
Intriguing Matchup: (4) Arizona State v. (1) Oklahoma
Nothing has changed in my eyes in the outcome of this one from 1.0:
It’s a battle of lottery picks as Blake Griffin carries his Sooners against James Harden and the Sun Devils.
The Sooners have done what has been asked of them, but they haven’t won in impressive fashion despite having the best player in the nation. They have looked vulnerable in a handful of games this year.
Arizona State has swept UCLA already this year and matches up well with the Sooners. They have their own big man in Jeff Pendergraph who can at least put a body on Griffin.
Both of these teams emphasize their defense, but Arizona State seems to get the most out of their efforts, while Oklahoma seems to fall asleep at the wheel at times. This lack of concentration could cost them a trip to Detroit.
Right now I’ll take the Sun Devils in this one, as Harden can make his supporting cast a bit better right now.
If anything, the last two performances from the Sooners without Blake Griffin have shown the supporting cast is being suffocated by making Griffin the sole focal point of the game for the Sooners.
Sweet 16 winners: Arizona State, Louisville
My opinion hasn’t changed from last week on this game either. The Cardinals are a more polished and deeper version of the Sun Devils, so they advance.
South Region winner: Louisville
First Round winners: UConn, Arizona, FSU, Kansas, Xavier, Marquette, LSU, Duke
Intriguing Matchups: (9) Arizona v. (1) UConn, (6) Xavier v. (3) Marquette, (7) LSU v. (2) Duke
Thoughts of how the parity of this season of college basketball is going to create craziness in March will culminate in complete chaos right now.
Arizona is to UConn as Memphis is to Pitt. They have the one-on-one matchups to take out the Huskies.
The problem with UConn post-Jerome Dyson is that no one has stepped up in the scoring department in his absence. Right now Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien are the two top scorers and provide about 36 percent of their offense. This is a major issue because neither is really a great offensive player. They get a lot of their points close to the rim and through sheer force on the glass.
This is where Arizona’s frontcourt comes in. Jordan Hill is the type of player to go right at Thabeet and take him right out of the game in the same way DeJuan Blair did earlier in the year. Chase Budinger should be able to shoot right over Adrien and possibly get him into foul trouble along with Thabeet.
If UConn’s frontcourt can’t stay on the floor, Kemba Walker or Craig Austrie will have to step up. They haven’t yet, so I’ll take Arizona.
I’ll give UConn a lot more credit if they sweep the rest of their schedule (@ Marquette, Notre Dame, and @ Pitt). Someone will have to step up and replace Dyson for them to do this.
Xavier and Marquette can both do a lot of the same things offensively, but Xavier is far and away the better defensive team.
Marquette is a bad defensive team, allowing their opponents to shoot 44 percent from the floor. They’re no better against the three. This is partly due to their starting lineup and their focus on scoring.
Xavier has solid players and defends the ball well. They block shots and hit the glass hard, and their combination of defense and rebounding will take Marquette out of their rhythm.
Xavier has struggled in conference of late, but based on their recent success in March, I’d expect their coach to get everything back together. Marquette has a first year coach, and his lack of experience in this spot could further aid the Musketeers.
Right now, I think Xavier’s balance gets them into the Sweet 16 once again.
Duke does a lot of things good, but not really anything very well. Sometimes they’re on fire shooting, and sometimes they’re cold. Sometimes they defend, and sometimes they’re an open door to the basket. The same team which put up 101 on Wake Forest put up 47 against Clemson.
LSU needed an adjustment period to get used to new coach Trent Johnson, but it looks like they’ve clicked.
Naysayers will say they haven’t really beaten anyone, and that’s a fair argument. They lost at Texas A&M, at Utah, and to Xavier.
However, since winning at Tennessee the Tigers haven’t lost, and if they can continue to carry their momentum into the Big Dance, they’ll give Duke all it can handle.
The Tigers are one of the most balanced teams in the country in how they can score and defend and rebound and buffer shots out of the paint. They have plenty of length and athleticism to give Duke a ton of trouble.
Duke has struggled against pressure, as they are searching for consistent play at PG. Overall they get worn out by teams with versatility and athleticism across the board, which can play on both ends of the floor. Clemson, Miami, and UNC have exposed this deficiency.
Duke’s win against Wake Forest may be the signal of this team overcoming this issue, but Wake is coming down to earth, so it’s hard to tell if the win is a fluke.
This is one of those games when filling out your bracket where you just have to go with your gut feeling. In my case, that means moving the Tigers on.
Looking at all the other matchups in this round, I need a fourth team as a six seed or below in the Sweet 16, and this is the best spot for it to happen.
Second Round winners: Arizona, Kansas, Xavier, LSU
Sweet 16 winners: Arizona, Xavier (It’s a tough game to call, but Xavier beat LSU in their house earlier this year.)
At this point, we have a final few saw coming. Arizona becomes the Cinderella of the tournament as they try to finish the deal with a trip to Detroit. Ultimately, their size coupled with their team athleticism should allow them to squeak by Xavier.
East Region winner: Arizona
Memphis v. UNC
Last year’s Memphis team beats UNC. This year they aren’t as good, while UNC brings everyone back.
It’s a great first half, but then UNC’s shooting allows them to separate and get to the finals.
Louisville v. Arizona
Once again the lower seeded team is going to run into a brick wall. Louisville is a better and deeper team than the Wildcats and will slowly chip away at them until late in the game, where they will separate for a double-digit victory.
UNC v. Louisville
This is a rematch of the East Regional final last year, which the Tar Heels won 83-73.
Louisville can go man-to-man against North Carolina and force them into committing turnovers.
North Carolina has handled the press well in crucial situations so far this year but will face a tough test here. They have shown lapses in discipline and focus, which could finally cause their undoing.
The wildcard in this game is Louisville freshman Samardo Samuels. If he can rise to the occasion alongside Earl Clark, the Cardinals will shut down Hansbrough and take the heart right out of UNC.
If Samuels fades in the big moment, Hansbrough will have a great chance of putting the team on his back and carrying them up on the ladder to cut down the nets.
In the end though, Louisville is too good defensively man-to-man for the Tar Heels to effectively run their offense. The Cardinals will find the easier shots down the stretch.
The Cardinals are this year’s Memphis with free throw shooting, while UNC is this year’s Kansas without as much drive.
Unlike in 1.0, I’m picking Louisville in this matchup. The play and leadership of Terrence Williams will ultimately allow this team to reach its full potential.
National Champion as of today: Louisville
In this bracket the matchups weren’t there to produce the great first round upsets.
However, the East region is a keg filled with dynamite which, if it shook out this way on Selection Sunday, could produce the wackiest bracket since 2002.
In ’02, a 10, 11, and 12 seed made the Sweet 16. The 12 seed (Missouri) beat an eight seed and the 10 seed (Kent State) beat a three seed to get to the Elite Eight. A five seed (Indiana) went all the way to the finals.
It feels like this could be another year where brackets are just mangled by upsets deep in the tournament. Maybe it’s just me. We’ll find out soon enough.