In Search of 65, Week 1

You didn’t honestly expect us to do a weekly column on college basketball and not include bracket predictions (or a bracketology, as ESPN has conditioned us to call it), did you? My qualifications are as follows: This is, unbelievably to me, the eighth year I’ve tried to predict the field. I started before I knew who Joe Lunardi was and largely because I was sick of losing NCAA Tournament pools to people who didn’t know anything about college basketball. I decided to try to predict the field, which requires a much higher level of NCAA knowledge and is a lot more impressive than it sounds (it comes down to two or three teams a year).

In my seven previous tries, I’ve gotten 64, 64, 63, 62, 63, 64, and 64–which is nice and palindromic and leads me to believe this is the year I break the cycle and nail 65. Add it up and I’m 444/455, or 97.58% accurate. (For the record, yes, I did leave George Mason out in 2006 and I stand by it. Last year it was Arizona.)

Now, the key difference between my bracket and those offered by Lunardi and most everyone else on the Internet right now is that mine is predictive; it is NOT a reflection of what the Tournament would look like if it started today. That’s why my bracket includes teams like Louisville and Marquette–who I expect to get important wins down the stretch–and not someone like Oklahoma State–who I expect to slip in the Big 12. I admit that my knowledge of the lower conferences is sketchy at best; I haven’t seen those teams to play and err on the side of conservatism in choosing who to take from the SWAC and its ilk. Most of those selections are the team that’s currently leading the conference.

I’ve presented the bracket as closely to an S-curve as possible, with Kansas as my overall No. 1. Some teams had to be moved because of conference affiliations and to avoid rematches (the original draft actually had Duke and Belmont rehashing their 2-15 matchup from 2008, but the Committee does its best to avoid those types of rematches, except when it’s Texas A&M and BYU).

Further explanations follow the bracket.

1 Kansas Syracuse Kentucky Villanova
2 Georgetown Purdue Duke Michigan State
3 Wisconsin Kansas State West Virginia Texas
4 Wake Forest Gonzaga Temple Ohio State
5 Pittsburgh BYU Texas A&M Maryland
6 Tennessee Butler Vanderbilt New Mexico
7 Northern Iowa Georgia Tech Baylor Xavier
8 Illinois Missouri Cornell UNLV
9 Siena Mississippi Louisville California
10 UAB Florida Richmond Marquette
11 Charlotte UTEP Saint Mary’s Washington
12 Utah State Virginia Wichita State Dayton
13 Northeastern Old Dominion Murray State Charleston
14 Oakland Kent State Coastal Carolina Sam Houston State
15 Belmont Weber State Morgan State Pacific
16 Arkansas State v. Jackson State Lehigh Vermont Robert Morris

Everyone else does a Last Four In and Out; I’ll give you Five:

Last Five In: Charlotte, Dayton, Wichita State, Virginia, Old Dominion

Last Five Out: Florida State, Connecticut, South Florida, Virginia Tech, Clemson

  • I can’t remember a year where the 1-seeds are so firmly entrenched already. I can’t really see Michigan State, Duke, or Purdue seriously challenging for a top seed the rest of the way. In fact, teams like Duke, Purdue, and Georgetown feel more like 3-seeds than 2s to me.
  • I put Syracuse in the West because they can’t play in the East (it’s at the Carrier Dome) and this set-up makes the most geographic sense.
  • I gave the Pac-10 team a pity at-large team in Washington. If the Tourney started today, everyone knows the conference would only get one team. But I expect either Cal or Washington to take some control of the league (it can start tonight in their matchup in Berkeley), and I don’t expect that team to win the conference tournament.
  • I have Virginia ahead of Florida State, Virginia Tech, and Clemson out of the ACC because I have the most faith that the Cavaliers will get to 10 conference wins and be in the ACC’s top four. At this point, though, I know one of those four teams is going to be in the Tournament; I’d say it’s 35% Virginia, 25% FSU, 25% VT, 15% Clemson.
  • It will be interesting to see how well a lot of the good, non-BCS teams get seeded. The Committee has long given the shaft to Mountain West teams not named Utah (BYU, in particular, seems to draw poor seeds, possibly because their inability to play on a Sunday is a logistical nightmare), so BYU and New Mexico can end up anywhere from 3-seeds down to 8s (UNLV is closer to a true 8-9 team). I expect Temple to get the high seed Xavier has been able to pull out of the A-10 in recent years, and that conference as a whole should be treated as the fifth- or sixth-best in the country this season (ahead of the Pac-10 and maybe the SEC). Northern Iowa, Butler, Cornell, and Siena are all dangerous teams from more traditional one-bid leagues; we’ve seen the Missouri Valley get as high as a 4-seed recently (Southern Illinois in 2007), but it’s down again as a conference overall this season. I have Butler splitting the difference between an unexpectedly high 5-seed in 2007 and an unexpectedly low 7 in 2008. Siena is in the same 9-slot it was in last season (the Saints have had a similar year, dominating the MAAC after not doing much in the non-conference), and I’m guessing with Cornell as an 8. If the Big Red run the table in the Ivy and end up with just three losses (to No. 1 seeds Kansas and Syracuse along with Seton Hall), I’ll be very intrigued how high they can climb (possibly equaling/eclipsing Princeton’s 5-seed in 1998).
  • I’d pick Wichita State and Dayton as 12s out of this bracket.
  • For solely personal reasons, I’d have Northern Iowa knocking off Georgetown in Round 2.
  • I think the 1-8 matchups, particularly Syracuse-Missouri and Kentucky-Cornell, would be very good.
  • My Elite Eight in this bracket: Kansas over Wisconsin, Syracuse over Purdue, West Virginia over Kentucky, Michigan State over Villanova.

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