Well, at least the bright side to having your bracket totally annihilated is actually being able to enjoy the games.
Following a weekend that saw Dayton, Stanford, Mercer, et al. systematically destroy your Final Four selections, there are only 16 teams remaining in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Among those are a typically wide range of teams.
Three of the four top seeds remain, with only the most predictable (Wichita State) among the elite falling. But also gone are Duke, Kansas, Syracuse and Villanova, each popular Final Four picks in their own right who saw lower seeds take advantage of their shortcomings. Also left at the altar were Dougie McBuckets, Aaron Craft and many others who people outside their metros knew.
If you're only a casual fan and want to have absolutely no clue who anyone is, check out Thursday's Stanford-Dayton game. The most nationally known person on either bench is Cardinal head coach Johnny Dawkins.It's that level of unpredictability that makes March Madness the best single event we have in sports.
It's also the inherent unpredictability that ruined your bracket. And got you into an argument with your best friend about betting losses. And left you destitute on the side of the road asking for bracket advice to get back on top.
Oh, bracket advice, you say? Here's some from a guy who had Duke in his Final Four.
|Thursday, March 27||Spread (Vegas Insider)||Time (ET)||TV||Pick|
|South - No. 10 Stanford vs. No. 11 Dayton||Stanford -3||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Stanford|
|West - No. 2 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Baylor||Wisconsin -2.5||7:47 p.m.||TBS||Baylor|
|South - No. 1 Florida vs. No. 4 UCLA||Florida -5||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Florida|
|West - No. 1 Arizona vs. No. 4 San Diego State||Arizona -6||10:17 p.m.||TBS||Arizona|
|Friday, March 28||Spread (Vegas Insider)||Time (ET)||TV||Pick|
|Midwest - No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 11 Tennessee||Michigan -2||7:15 p.m.||CBS||Michigan|
|East - No. 3 Iowa State vs. No. 7 Connecticut||Iowa State -1||7:27 p.m.||TNT||Iowa State|
|Midwest - No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky||Louisville -5||9:45 p.m.||CBS||Louisville|
|East - No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State||Michigan State -1||9:57 p.m.||TBS||Michigan State|
Sweet 16 Breakdown
Biggest Upset Potential: No. 6 Baylor over No. 2 Wisconsin (West Region)
It's not too often I'd advise taking a No. 6 seed in the Sweet 16. Only 13 of the 39 sixth-seeded teams to make it past the first weekend since 1985 have moved on an extra round, per Bracket Science (subscription required).
The last team to do it was Bruce Pearl's Tennessee team in 2010. Before that, there was a five-year waiting period following the 2005 Wisconsin squad. Then again, few of those advancing No. 6 seeds were playing as well as Baylor.
The Bears won their two tournament matchups by a combined 44 points—and probably could have taken both by more. #Nebrasketball was dead within the first 10 minutes on Friday and a similar story played itself out for Doug McDermott and Creighton a couple days later. All five starters were in double figures against the Bluejays, as Baylor played the type of team basketball you rarely saw during its midseason swoon.
Quietly, the team's only losses since Feb. 12 were to Texas on the road and a scorching Iowa State team in the Big 12 tournament. It should really be no surprise that the two finalists from the nation's best conference tournament are playing into the second weekend. The talent has always been there for Baylor, but its execution is finally starting to come around.
More than anything, though, it's the similar profile of Wisconsin to Creighton that proves promising. The Badgers don't have an individual star capable of being focused on like McDermott, but they're both stylistically offense-first teams capable of defensive breakdowns. Wisconsin allowed 49 first-half points to Oregon before clamping down in the second half and needed consistent mental breakdowns from the Ducks to make a comeback.
Bo Ryan also allows his team to take an inordinate amount of threes, a trait that has undone both Nebraska and Creighton. Utilizing his team's length to implement a difficult zone defense, Baylor opponents have shot a combined 9-of-45 from beyond the arc.
Two games is a nonexistent sample and some of our data is biased because the teams were playing from behind, but after being a poor defensive team throughout the regular season, the Bears have found a system that works.
Consistency is an issue, and Wisconsin will assuredly find open shots off a missed rotation here and there. Those shots didn't fall for either Creighton or Nebraska, but there's no guarantee a third straight team could go cold. If Baylor straps into its zone and continues playing brilliantly on offense, though, it's an excellent pick in any second-week pools.
Blowout Waiting to Happen: No. 1 Arizona over No. 4 San Diego State (West Region)
Hardcore analysis alert: Some teams are just better. There's no other answer. They're not necessarily better coached or even more prepared for the game. They're just more talented, and the point where reality sets in is typically around the Sweet 16.
San Diego State is not an untalented team. Steve Fisher does a remarkable job of building an aggressive, defensive-minded roster that often surprises major-conference teams by punching them in the mouth. Because of the Fab Five scandal, Fisher's status as one of his generation's best coaches has been unfairly tarnished. He's damn good, and Xavier Thames is the best player in this tournament who no one talks about.
San Diego State is just running into a brick wall here. Arizona plays with the same defensive tenacity, only it does it better and with far superior athletes.
Even without Brandon Ashley, the Wildcats frustrate opposing teams into clogged, bad possessions with their length all over the floor. At 6'1", point guard T.J. McConnell is by far the shortest member of Sean Miller's rotation. Kaleb Tarczewski and Aaron Gordon would be the tallest members of San Diego State's top players by a long shot.
While height and length don't mean everything, those traits can if they're used right. Arizona has been the best defensive team in the country all season, ranking more than 1.5 points better than Florida over 100 possessions. San Diego State is a respectable seventh on the same list, but it doesn't come with the same level of two-way efficiency.
Where the Wildcats are nearly a top-25 offense, the Aztecs can't get inside the top 100. Whenever they aren't generating turnovers to create transition opportunities, San Diego State players can often get stuck in a half-court funk where they throw up bad shots early in the shot clock.
This is a team that runs not only because it's Fisher's style, but because its offense can literally suffocate without an advantage.
No team remaining in the tournament takes a lower percentage of its shots from beyond the arc. One could easily say the same flaws apply to Arizona, which is fair, but ignores that the Wildcats hit their opportunities with a far higher success rate.
San Diego State runs more, yet these two teams are very similar in how they want to beat you. It just so happens Arizona is better in every single one of those facets. This has all the makings of a 69-53 Wildcats win during which their athletes overwhelm the Aztec offense.
Must-Watch Game: No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 4 Michigan State (East Region)
This might be the best game of the entire tournament.
Michigan State was so heavily favored by the oddsmakers in the East Region that it came in second only to Florida in the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino's pre-tournament odds (h/t FoxSports.com) . Somewhere, if you dig deep enough past the strewn-out bodies of teams no longer around, you'll find Virginia at 15-1.
Only Wichita State, a team with plenty of reason for skepticism from a gambling standpoint, was worse among top seeds. Even though the Cavaliers won the ACC regular-season and tournament championships, their lack of big-stage experience seemingly made them a nonstarter.
Right until they played this week and reminded folks that, hey, these dudes are pretty good.
Virginia played the role of the obligatory No. 1 seed that looks like it is going to lose but never does against Coastal Carolina before taking care of business against Memphis. Some of the problems that showed up against Coastal Carolina—namely a lack of elite primary scoring—are indicative of deep-rooted issues, but using an 11-point win as a condemnation of a team is still a compliment when you think about it.
The Spartans were tested by a resilient Harvard team, but mostly look like who we thought they were in the preseason.
If you weren't sold on the effects of having a fully healthy Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson, odds are you are now. Payne went for a career-high 41 points against Delaware and Dawson followed him a round later with a career-high 26 on 12-of-15 shooting.
Michigan State has now won five in a row, while Virginia has lost once since Jan. 13. The teams have a separation of just four spots in Ken Pomeroy's overall Pythagorean rankings, with efficiency rankings that prove who and what they are. The Spartans will need to keep up their run of offensive efficiency to deal with Virginia's stifling defense, while the Cavaliers are going to have to take advantage of every defensive lapse by Michigan State.
Common wisdom says go with Tom Izzo in any tournament scenario, and I'm not about to back off one of my few pre-tournament predictions that could go right. But with Vegas Insider setting the line in favor of Izzo and Co. by only one point, that alone should tell you how impressive Virginia has been thus far.
Either way, the tournament has one heck of a Friday nightcap that should keep bar patrons enthralled almost until closing time.
All advanced metrics are via KenPom.
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