Looking At The Bracket

Ever wish that more things worked like college brackets? That you could seed everything that way? Top 64 pre-game foods. Top 64 college players. Well, now you can do just that with your friends, with the Allstate BFF Brackets, which takes your 64 top Facebook friends (an algorithm seeds them based on interaction) and seeds them in four regions, exactly like the real tourney. Once the tourney starts, your friends advance with the corresponding seeds – till one is left standing. Check it out.

Now that I've had some time to think about the tournament, here are some thoughts about the bracket. What I like to do, and recommend you do, is write in each team's Pomeroy Rating on the bracket. This is a quick and dirty way to identify good values where seeding suggests a disparity that isn't really there. For example, 11-seed Marquette is 33rd in the ratings, while their opponent, Xavier, is 37th. This is the kind of thing that can get you ahead in your pools.

Southeast

This region features this year's Death Pod. By Pomeroy Rating, of course:

#9 Wisconsin (4-seed) vs. #19 Belmont (13-seed)
#29 Kansas St. (5-seed) vs. #16 Utah State (12-seed)

There are a couple other pods that include three teams in the top 30, but none with four like this deceptively tough group. Pretty much anything could happen here and it could look like typical tournament madness, but really none of the outcomes should come as a shock.

Belmont absolutely destroyed the Atlantic Sun this season and their only losses came to Tennessee (twice), Vanderbilt, and Lipscomb (everybody makes mistakes). They have a couple of solid low-post scorers and some deadly outside shooters, not to mention the nation's leader in steal percentage. This is the kind of matchup that gets stat nerds like me all excited. Belmont's defense turned opponents over 27% of the time this year, which ranks 2nd nationally. Wisconsin's offense was the most ball secure unit in the country (13%).

The notable thing about the other side of the pod is that Utah State is actually the favorite in that game. The Aggies are 6th in defensive efficiency, and they're up against a K-State offense that doesn't shoot particularly well or take care of the basketball. Again it's strength vs. strength: Utah State is a fantastic defensive rebounding team (2nd nationally),  while K-State relies on offensive boards (4th in OR%). Morrill's team wins a lot of games every year, they're used to making the NCAAs, and they have a ton of upperclassmen.

People are going to dismiss Belmont and Utah State because of their seeds and the names on the jerseys, so there's some good value here if you're willing to roll the dice. Bo Ryan has got to be wondering whose dog he ran over.

Elsewhere, the 6-11 game is also deceptive. Gonzaga is eight spots higher in the Pomeroy Ratings than St. John's. I think the bottom half of this bracket is pretty soft in general. I don't like the way BYU is playing since the Brandon Davies suspension, and I'm not a big fan of Billy Donovan's team this year. Pittsburgh gets by Old Dominion, Wisconsin, and Florida to reach the Final Four.

Southwest

Not as much upset potential here, though Richmond is a decent bet to knock off Vanderbilt. While Wisconsin will be struggling with a vicious draw, Louisville should cruise by Morehead State (#96) and the Richmond/Vandy winner. That sets up what could be an epic Kansas-Louisville game. I like the winner of that one to reach Houston--I'm going to take a flyer on Pitino's boys here.

Georgetown...what to do with Georgetown. Chris Wright is expected back for the NCAAs, and if he's his old self, the Hoyas are a threat to beat anybody. It's just that they were terrible in his absence, and if he's not totally healthy, how much can he help?

West

The 11-seeds in this year's tournament are going to be tough outs, and Missouri is no exception. The Tigers have beaten Vanderbilt, Illinois, Old Dominion, and Kansas State this season. Tough draw for Mick Cronin's team. I like Missouri.

I like Texas quite a bit, their faulty play down the stretch notwithstanding. They've got an interesting first round test in Oakland, though. Oakland's offense is legit and they won at Tennessee back in December. They can't defend for shit, however. I watched them score 110 points in a conference tournament game last week (admittedly against a team that plays intramural-quality defense), and they've gone for 90+ in 11 games this year. They play fast and they're worth watching, if not picking.

Kyrie Irving--does he play, as he's suggested he will, and can he make Duke better? He could make this region Duke's in a walk. But I'm going to bet on Texas. 

East

I mentioned Marquette at the top. That's another good value pick. I'm hoping the seeds hold in this region, because Ohio State/Kentucky and Syracuse/UNC could be a great couple of games. The Heels have to worry about Washington first, and I like the Huskies a lot. They're the strongest 7-seed by far and they've got the weakest 10. I expect them to give Carolina a run for their money and I'm going to take Washington here because I just can't help myself. This will be one of the spots I end up regretting, probably.

I feel good about Kentucky, it's just too bad they're going to run into Ohio State.

Final Four

Pitt
Louisville
Ohio State
Texas

OSU over Pittsburgh in the title game. I look forward to crossing many of these out in the coming weeks.

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