ESPN's Joe Lunardi is a college basketball prophet, but even he can't see into the future enough so as to correctly predict where all of the 68 teams in the NCAA tournament end up.
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The selection committee can be a fickle beast. We're reminded of what Roddy Piper famously said: "Just when they think they have all the answers, I change the questions."
It's impossible for even the most educated experts to accurately pick all 68 teams that are in and all 34 of the matchups.
Drew Magary painted what's probably an accurate picture of the Lunardi household at the moment:
And somewhere out there, for the tenth straight year, Joe Lunardi sits back in his chair, smiles warmly, and says, "Eh, close enough."— Drew Magary (@drewmagary) March 16, 2014
All things told, the ESPN bracket guru did a pretty good job of accurately predicting at least the entire field and where teams would be seeded. You can view his most recent edition of Bracketology here via ESPN.com.
The biggest difference between Lunardi's and the actual bracket was the fact that he not only had Southern Methodist as a No. 11 seed, but the Mustangs were also in a position to avoid one of the dreaded play-in games.
In actuality, SMU was left out altogether, becoming the first ranked team since 2004 to not make the Big Dance, per Sports Illustrated's Seth Davis:
SMU is first ranked team since Utah State in 2004 not to make the tourney. Surprised but not shocked.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 16, 2014
NCAA Tournament Chairman Ron Wellman said on CBS' selection show broadcast that the Mustangs' non-conference schedule was the biggest reason they're on the outside looking in, per SI College Hoops:
Ron Wellman: "SMU had an outstanding resume ... but their nonconference strength of schedule was in the 300s."— SI College Hoops (@si_ncaabb) March 16, 2014
SI's David Gardner also argued that getting bounced by Houston in the quarterfinals of the AAC tournament didn't help, either:
SMU's early exit from the AAC tournament proved costly. Very surprising that the Mustangs didn't get in.— David Gardner (@DavidGardnerSI) March 16, 2014
Aside from that, Lunardi got the other 67 teams right, per ESPN's Andrew Feldman:
Not bad Mr. Lunardi. @ESPNInsider's Bracketologist hits 67/68 teams.— Andrew Feldman (@AFeldmanESPN) March 16, 2014
The devil was in the details.
Another big surprise was defending champion Louisville getting a No. 4 seed. Lunardi had the right region—Midwest—but listed the Cardinals as a No. 3 seed.
Wellman said during the selection show that Louisville's performance over the entire season dropped it down to fourth, so the early season losses to North Carolina, Kentucky and Memphis proved pivotal toward the postseason:
Wellman on the Cardinals' 4-seed: "Louisville is certainly playing as well as anyone ... but we look at the overall body of work."— SI College Hoops (@si_ncaabb) March 16, 2014
Rick Bozich of WDRB in Louisville thought the selection committee's justification didn't wash:
Looking at the S-curve, that means the committee had Louisville as the 15th best team in the country? That's simply silly.— rickbozich (@rickbozich) March 16, 2014
More than a few fans were surprised that the Cardinals were dropped down to a No. 4 seed, so Lunardi was far from alone in his assumption that they would receive at least a No. 3 seed.
The Midwest region as a whole is loaded, with three of last year's Final Four teams, as Numbers Never Lie points out:
The midwest region has 3 of last year's Final Four teams (Louisville, Michigan and Wichita State).— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) March 16, 2014
Which No. 1 team has the best chance at winning the tournament?
Looking at what Lunardi got right, he nailed all four of the top seeds, including their regions. That was admittedly a bit easier to predict after Virginia's win over Duke in the ACC tournament final. Most anticipated the Cavaliers to get the last No. 1 seed, with Florida, Arizona and Wichita State rounding out the other No. 1s.
Lunardi also accurately predicted the four No. 2 seeds. Putting Kansas there was a bit of a risk, given Joel Embiid's health, but it paid off for the ESPN guru, as the selection committee placed the Jayhawks as a No. 2 in the South.
Trying to predict how the NCAA tournament bracket will unfold is like writing a mock draft. It's a rather futile effort, but you try to make your most educated judgment based on what you know.
Lunardi wasn't perfect, but he did about as well as you'd expect given the volatility of the NCAA selection committee.
Now the attention turns to the action. After the First Four, the round of 64 and round of 32 promise to provide plenty of excitement as the teams trim down. With so much unpredictability and no true top contender, this year's March Madness is sure to live up to its name.