College Basketball: 2013 Schmolik Bracket Analysis
Hello, college basketball fans!
I will now go from picking who should make the NCAA tournament to picking who should win the NCAA tournament. I might as well. Even President Obama is making picks, so why not?
The usual Schmolik Bracket Analysis tradition is to start with the region that my Illini are in (although three of the last five years Illinois did not make the field). That would be the East Regional.
Illinois received a No. 7 seed in the bracket. They were helped by wins over two No. 1 seeded teams, Gonzaga and Indiana, the latter on a last-second layup by Tyler Griffey.
Illinois has a new head coach in John Groce. When Groce was the head coach at Ohio University, he often saved his best work for the NCAA tournament. In 2010, Ohio finished just 7-9 in conference. But they won the conference tournament and then stunned Georgetown in the first round. Last year, Ohio made the Sweet 16. So don't be surprised to see Illinois make a surprise run in this tournament like Ohio did last year.
Illinois opens against No. 10 seed Colorado. Last year, the Buffaloes won the Pac-12 conference tournament and won their first game as a No. 11 seed, so do not expect Colorado to be an easy opponent.
I was hoping Illinois would play their first games in Philadelphia, my home area. Once I saw Philadelphia come up, I wanted to see the Illini come up. But it was not to be. Two No. 7 seeds were assigned to Philly but Illinois was not one of them. I also thought before the tournament again that maybe they would go to Lexington to play Louisville.
They wound up all the way in Austin. It will be a longer trip but it is in the same time zone and it will probably be warmer than Lexington or Philadelphia.
Yet if I had to choose a No. 2 seed to potentially play in our second game, it would be Miami. This year, the Hurricanes stunned the ACC and most of the college basketball world by winning both the ACC regular season title and tournament championship.
However, Miami has not made the NCAA tournament since 2008 and lost at home to Georgia Tech in March. Besides, would you rather play Miami, Duke or Georgetown?
In addition, the game is in Austin, so there isn't a home-court disadvantage that many opponents of No. 2 seeds see. They usually allow most No. 2 seeds to stay close to home in the first two rounds but there were no sites close to Miami.
I think Illinois's chances of beating Miami are unlikely but not impossible. In fact, I think Colorado would have a decent chance to beat Miami as well.
My East Regional analysis continues in the next slide.
East Regional (Continued)
Also in the East is No. 3 Marquette, who I feel is the most over-seeded team among the 16 top four seeds. They open with a dangerous No. 14 seed in Davidson. Stephen Curry led the 2008 Wildcats all the way to the Elite Eight.
The last two times Butler made the NCAA tournament, they made the championship game. Butler had some struggles this year in the Atlantic 10 and no one is talking about them. But no one thought they would do as well as they did in 2010 and 2011 either. Jim Larranaga did take George Mason to the Final Four, but is there is no coach more successful in the bottom half of the draw than Brad Stevens?
Butler opens against No. 11 seed Bucknell. The Bison are a dangerous opponent. Last year's Patriot League champion, Lehigh, stunned Duke in the NCAA tournament last season (in Duke's backyard in Greensboro, no less). Bucknell is no stranger to upsets, as they beat Kansas in the first round of the 2005 NCAA tournament.
However, I believe most upsets occur when teams overlook their opponent. Butler has frequently upset teams, so they should be aware that upsets happen if the better team doesn't bring their A game. I don't see the upset happening here.
Should Butler and Marquette meet in the third round, remember that Butler beat Marquette (who they could meet in the third round) in Maui this year. However, should Illinois get to play Butler in the Sweet 16, Illinois beat them convincingly in the Maui final.
On the top half is Indiana. In my Schmolik 64, I had the Hoosiers as the top overall seed over Louisville as they won the regular season in the Big Ten, sweeping two Michigan schools and winning at Ohio State.
My other alma mater in the NCAA tournament, Temple, is in Indiana's pod in Dayton. The Owls had a tough season this year. They had some great wins over Syracuse in Madison Square Garden and some ugly home losses to St. Bonaventure and Duquesne.
Unfortunately, Fran Dunphy has a history of early exits in the NCAA tournament, including last year's loss as a No. 5 seed to No. 12 South Florida. They play a North Carolina State team that beat Duke this year. The Owls look to be an underdog there and will have a really hard time beating Indiana.
The last pod in the East is the controversial California-UNLV rematch. They wanted to keep Berkeley in the west (San Jose) rather than send any of the No. 11 seeds that were ranked below Berkeley in the NCAA seed list (Belmont, Bucknell or the St. Mary's/Middle Tennessee winner) all the way to San Jose.
But Oregon was also a No. 12 seed and playing in San Jose. Couldn't they have just swapped them?
That being said, UNLV lost to Colorado last year so all signs point to the classic No. 12 vs. No. 5 upset here. I would give Berkeley a chance against Syracuse, but I think Syracuse is too good.
I think the East Regional final will come down to an all-Indiana battle between Indiana and Butler. It is yet another rematch, won by Butler back in December. While you can never count Butler out, I think Indiana has way too much talent and will be out for revenge. I have Indiana going to the Final Four.
We move to the South Regional, led by second overall No. 1 seed Kansas. I can see Louisville ahead of Indiana. But Kansas? They lost to TCU this year and had four losses in a weak Big 12 that Gonzaga went 5-0 against.
The biggest potential storyline in the South is a third-round game between Kansas and No. 8 seed North Carolina. They met last year in the Midwest Regional final, which was won by Kansas. Also Roy Williams was the head coach of Kansas for many years before coming to North Carolina.
North Carolina had a tough start to this year but has been playing well recently. Still, the Tar Heels went 0-4 vs, the top two teams from the ACC (Miami and Duke, both seeded No. 2). They also play No. 9 seed Villanova. Villanova has beaten each of the top four teams from the Big East, although all four games were home games.
Villanova is one of the schools from the Philadelphia area, where I live, but I am also a big fan of North Carolina.
I imagine CBS would really like to see a third-round match between Kansas and North Carolina. Roy Williams is going for his 700th win against Villanova and I think he will get it.
But I think Kansas will end North Carolina's season, as the Jayhawks have looked a lot better recently than the YMCA team they looked like earlier in the season.
In the next pod is No. 4-seeded Michigan, playing in nearby Auburn Hills. They struggled down the stretch, losing a game to Penn State. But they have Trey Burke and played well throughout most of the season in a tough Big Ten.
But also coming to Michigan is Shaka Smart and No. 5 Virginia Commonwealth (VCU). Everyone remembers their improbable run to the Final Four two seasons ago.
VCU opens with No. 12 Akron. I have always said Mid-American Conference (MAC) teams are dangerous in tournaments (Ohio pulled opening game upsets twice in the last three years). But just like Butler, I don't see teams that frequently upset becoming an upset victim.
Should Michigan and VCU meet, it will be a terrific game on Saturday. No one will be surprised if the Rams win, but it is going to be a tall order for VCU to beat Michigan in a virtual home game for the Wolverines.
Georgetown leads the bottom half of the South Regional. They were red hot at the end of the Big East regular season, tying for the regular-season title with Louisville and Marquette before losing to Syracuse in Madison Square Garden.
John Thompson III took Georgetown to the 2007 Final Four, but they were upset in their last four NCAA appearances by double digit seeds (No. 10 Davidson in 2008, No. 14 Ohio in 2010, No. 11 VCU in 2011 and No. 11 North Carolina State in 2012). They also open with a Florida Gulf Coast team that stunned Miami this year.
I doubt No. 7 San Diego State or No. 10 Oklahoma would be able to beat Georgetown if Georgetown gets past FGCU (never thought I would ever say those letters together).
Florida is also in this regional. Billy Donovan led the Gators to the Elite Eight in the last two years and won two back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. The 2006 team was seeded No. 3, the same seed they have this year. But the SEC was very weak this year, and Florida lost four games in conference and the SEC championship game to Mississippi.
Florida should have an easy road to the Sweet 16, though, as No. 6 seed UCLA is without Jordan Adams and No. 11 seed Minnesota has been ice cold the past few weeks (outside of an upset win over Indiana).
I have reasons to doubt each of the top four seeds in this regional. VCU would be a great pick, but they have to play Michigan in Auburn Hills and probably Kansas (who will clearly be out for revenge) in the Sweet 16.
I think the Big Ten is far better than the Big 12, so I like Michigan to upset Kansas in the Sweet 16. As for Georgetown and Florida, I have to go with the Hoyas (stronger competition). I think Georgetown will come from Cowboys Stadium to the Final Four.
We now move to the West (or as I refer to it, the regional almost no one wants to play in as it's too far away from most schools).
Leading the West Regional is No. 1-seeded Gonzaga. They lost two games all year (one on an improbable buzzer-beater at Butler and the other to my Illini).
Mark Few is probably one of the best coaches to have never made the Final Four.
But his second game could be against another candidate for the best coach to have never made the Final Four, Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon. His Panthers lost on a last-second basket to Villanova in the 2009 Elite Eight, and they suffered an early upset in 2011 as a No. 1 seed to Butler.
There is another potential intriguing Round of 32 matchup between No. 4 Kansas State and No. 5 Wisconsin. I feel Kansas State is one of the most overrated teams in the country. They had three chances against Kansas this year and lost all three. If TCU could beat them, why couldn't Kansas State?
They are coached by Bruce Weber, who was fired by Illinois last year. Wisconsin's Bo Ryan has plenty of experience the last few years coaching against Bruce Weber-led teams. The game is in Kansas City, but there likely will be more Kansas fans.
In the bottom half of the bracket are No. 2 seed Ohio State and No. 3 New Mexico. Both teams won conference tournament championships (Ohio State won the Big Ten and New Mexico won the MWC). I see a potential upset with No. 11 Belmont over No. 6 Arizona, who underachieved in the Pac-12 this year.
Gonzaga will likely have to beat two Big Ten teams to get to the Final Four. It will be a hard task, especially since Illinois, who went 8-10 in the Big Ten, beat them in Spokane this year.
I think Wisconsin and Ohio State will play in the final, with the Buckeyes advancing to their second straight Final Four.
Finally, we get to the blockbuster Midwest Regional, to be played in Indianapolis's Lucas Oil Stadium.
The top three seeds are No. 1 Louisville (rated the overall No. 1 team in the country by the NCAA), No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Michigan State. All three are led by coaches that won national championships (Duke's Mike Krzyzewski has four titles) and they have too many Final Fours between them to count. If there weren't many tickets sold for this regional, there will be if the top three seeds all make it.
Louisville shared the Big East regular-season title and won the conference tournament in Madison Square Garden. I don't see too much trouble in the top half of the bracket with the exception of No. 4 St. Louis. The Billikens won the Atlantic 10 regular-season and tournament championships, going 5-0 versus Butler and VCU.
Also in the top half is Oregon, who many thought was seeded too low at No. 12 after winning the Pac-12 tournament. They drew a tough No. 5 seed in Oklahoma State, the only road team to win in Lawrence, Kansas this year.
Everyone remembers Duke lost last year in their first game against Lehigh. That includes Duke themselves. I doubt the Blue Devils will allow No. 15 Albany to beat them this year.
No. 7 Creighton, led by Doug McDermott, will be a challenge in the third round. Duke looked very impressive beating Miami and North Carolina in Chapel Hill with the return of Ryan Kelly. But they were stunned by Maryland in the ACC tournament.
Which Duke team will show up? They looked like a sure No. 1 seed and a potential threat to win the national championship before losing to Maryland. Was the Maryland loss a fluke or is Duke not that good this year?
Michigan State looms for Duke in one of the best potential Sweet 16 matchups. Memphis is talented as always, but their conference was weak. I think No. 11 St. Mary's will upset them.
I think any of the top three seeds can win this regional, and if you placed them in three different regionals, they would all have a great chance to make the Final Four. But Louisville is the No. 1 seed here for a reason. I pick them to beat Duke in the regional final. Duke beat Louisville earlier in the season in the Bahamas (Battle 4 Atlantis title game). But Louisville was without Gorgui Dieng.
If the Cardinals and Blue Devils meet in the regional final, Pitino and Krzyzewski would coach against each other like they did in the memorable 1992 Christian Laettner regional final game.
Should Michigan State and Louisville meet in the final, it will be the third time in five years they meet in the NCAA tournament. In 2009 (also in Indianapolis), Louisville entered as the No. 1 seed but lost to the Spartans. Last season, Michigan State was the No. 1 seed and lost to Louisville.
So my Final Four is Louisville, Georgetown, Indiana and Ohio State.
None of these teams should come as a surprise. Two of them are from conferences that combined for 15 NCAA tournament teams, including nine teams seeded No. 5 or higher.
The NCAA may disagree, but to me the two best teams in the nation are Indiana and Louisville.
Of course I want to see Illinois or Temple play for the championship, but if I want to see the best game, I want to see the Hoosiers and Cardinals play.
The last Big Ten national championship was in 2000. I know SEC fans look down on the Big Ten because of Kentucky and Florida, even though most of the SEC is lousy.
I know Big 12 fans look down on the Big Ten even though only one school has won a national championship since 1985.
Both of the leagues are better at the top.
But the Big Ten is deeper. Michigan State, Ohio State, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin have all made the Final Four since 2005 (the Spartans and Buckeyes more than once). Michigan was down earlier this century, but it has made the NCAA tournament three years running. Purdue has had some great seasons as well.
The only way the Big Ten can gain the respect of SEC and Big 12 fans is to win the national championship. While I think any of the top five can make the Final Four and possibly win the national championship, I feel the best of the best (Indiana) has the best chance. So, just like President Obama, I am picking the Hoosiers to cut down the nets against another Big East school like they did back in 1987.
Let's hope this game is as good as that game. GO BIG TEN!
Here is my full bracket. Enjoy the tournament!