Since the brackets were released on Sunday, every college basketball expert has been hounded for their opinions on which teams will dance longer than others.
In the spirit of timeliness and Twitter, it’s easy for experts to give initial reactions, first impressions, or just hastily made picks to appease an audience.
As experts in a public setting, they’re typically “on record” as having chosen one team over another and understandably aren’t keen on backtracking on those picks.
The only thing that upsets fans more (and simultaneously diminishes that expert’s credibility) is inconsistency.
That’s exactly why it’s difficult to find experts, two days after Selection Sunday, who are backtracking on their March Madness picks.
Yet recently there have been a few expert contradictions as well as a few timely reports that could very well impact how you choose your bracket, and most importantly, your champion.
Here's the latest.
When did Louisville become the favorite?
All season long we’ve heard the storyline that there won’t be a favorite come March because there is no singular dominant team.
The rankings supported this as well. Over the last nine weeks of the regular season, five teams occupied the top seed in the AP poll.
Yet, as I articulated yesterday, the majority of experts seem to be choosing Louisville as their champion, with little regard for other upper-echelon teams.
As CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander said on his Tuesday podcast with Seth Davis, “We had all this there is no favorite, there is no favorite, eight to ten teams can win the tournament, that kind of talk.” He went on, “To me, now Louisville is becoming the favorite. This is what we said wasn’t gonna happen.”
SI’s Seth Davis interjected, “What’s interesting is that Louisville’s romp through the Big East [Tournament] coincided with Duke’s fall against Maryland. …I went from a week ago saying I’m gonna pick Duke to win the whole thing and now actually thinking to myself, how am I gonna pick Duke to win the whole thing.”
Keep in mind that Duke beat Louisville earlier this year, 76-71, in the Bahamas on Nov. 24.
What’s more, there seems to be a widespread consensus that Louisville got an extremely unlucky draw in the Midwest Region.
Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn said that the Cards’ quadrant is the most difficult. “It’s not even close,” he wrote Sunday night of the region containing Coach K, Tom Izzo, and everyone’s favorite “sleeper,” Saint Louis.
So what gives?
Duke lost to Maryland with Ryan Kelly in the lineup, ruining its previously unbeaten (18-0) record with the healthy forward. Louisville surged through the Big East Tournament, culminating with a stunning 16-point second-half comeback against Syracuse in the tournament championship.
The Cards have won 10 in a row, while the Blue Devils have won 11 of their last 14. Kansas has won 10 of its last 11, while Gonzaga hasn’t lost since Jan. 19, a run of 14 straight. Not to mention Indiana, which held the No. 1 spot for the majority of the season.
What does all this suggest? Be skeptical of the experts. The media is always looking for narratives, and Louisville’s momentum certainly qualifies. But should Louisville’s dominance in New York lower the odds for teams that had tremendous regular seasons in their own right?
I don't doubt that a nationally televised tournament on ESPN played a hand in shaping the public's perception of Louisville as the favorite but don't forget about the rest of the field.
Jobs on the line in matchup between No. 6 UCLA vs. No. 11 Minnesota?
A recent story from the LA Times’ Bill Plaschke said that UCLA coach Ben Howland’s “job is on the line heading into next week’s NCAA tournament.”
That’s a ton of pressure for Howland, who was already in hot water earlier this year when he freely admitted that his freshman star, Shabazz Muhammad, was as good as gone to the NBA. That admission, as true as it may be, likely made some of the Bruins' boosters cringe.
Plaschke reported, "There is a feeling that only a Sweet 16 appearance could save his job, and even that might not be enough." The report also said that the necessary $2.3 million to buy out Howland’s contract was “already in place."
The No. 6 Bruins will take on a potential upstart No. 11 Minnesota team while missing second-leading scorer Jordan Adams, who averaged 15.3 points per game. Howland will coach without the 6’5’’ freshman guard in the lineup after Adams broke his foot in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal win over Arizona.
Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel wrote of the No. 6 vs. No. 11 matchup: “There appears to be too much turmoil in the Bruins' program to advance in March.” Thamel continued, “Talented Minnesota, which has underachieved this year, has been battle-tested by the Big Ten and won’t be intimidated by UCLA’s talent.”
CBS’ Jeff Goodman put an interesting spin on the matchup when, speaking on a podcast with the Big Lead, said, “I’ve made it no secret on Twitter. I think Tubby Smith is going to be gone. …Even if they beat UCLA and lose the next game, I think Tubby Smith could be gone.”
What to take away from this? Choose whichever team’s coach you think is more desperate.
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon leaving?
The debate among media types over which No. 1 seed is going to fall first has basically been narrowed down to either Kansas or Gonzaga. CBS’ Jeff Goodman has the Jayhawks losing to UNC in the Round of 32, but some, like Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy, put some stock into the Pittsburgh Panthers and their potential second-round matchup against Gonzaga.
DeCourcy wrote: “The Panthers haven’t been consistent enough all year to stack wins, but if they can stand up to Gonzaga’s offensive onslaught, they could make a run towards April.”
While I chose Pittsburgh as a potential sleeper pick as well due to its size, a recent report suggests that the Panthers’ coach Jamie Dixon might be on his way out, of his own accord.
Jason McIntyre of the Big Lead published an unconfirmed report on March 12 that USC, which fired coach Kevin O’Neill in January, has targeted Dixon as its primary candidate.
DeCourcy wrote six months ago that Pitt’s impending move to the ACC could have an impact on recruits who potentially would be less interested in playing games in North Carolina and Florida than they would be in, say, playing games in New York City.
On the same podcast with McIntyre, Goodman said, “You’re dead on on that thing. Jamie Dixon, my gut said he’s gone to USC.” Goodman added, “I’ve been told by a couple people close to Jamie Dixon that that’s the way it looks like it’s headed.”
The No. 8 Panthers take on No. 9 Wichita State. Should they get past the Shockers, they would almost assuredly face Gonzaga.
I’m not going to guess how Dixon’s situation might affect the Panthers in the tournament—just know that the situation doesn’t exactly appear stable.