Saturday, March 23, 2013

March Madness: 1st Round Bracket Post-Mortem

What a great first round of games (it will always be the first round to me). Sure, there were blowouts, but I was impressed by how hard the teams competed, and believe the gap between the Big 6 conferences and the "Mid Majors" gets more narrow each year. For this year, that meant my picking more mid majors to go far than I have ever had. Sure, I like teams like Duke, Kansas, and Indiana. But some part of me said: this year, why not go outside of the box and mess with basketball hierarchy a little? Why not pick the Saint Louis Billikens to make it all the way to the title game? So that's the bias I filled my bracket out with, and after the First Round, here is the post-mortem on how it went.

I can't say my bracket is terrible. I went 24/32 in the first round, but went to two games at Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City and managed to jinx both of the teams I saw. I had no business picking Belmont to beat Arizona, but I thought that New Mexico had a legitimate shot at the Final Four. Now my bracket has a legitimate hole in the Final Four spot from the West region. Any takers? I'm looking at you Ohio State. Then again, as long as that region is going down in flames, I might as well go big pick some Cinderella like Iowa or Wichita, right? So let's start in the West region, my worst, and see where it all went wrong.


Gonzaga over Southern: What a game. I loved the confidence the Jaguars came out against, and they had a real chance against Gonzaga, itself no heavyweight. One thing to note: every year, there are Final Four teams that have tough games throughout (VCU last year, anyone)? Every year, there are teams that blow some patsy out in the first or even second round, and later, lose a close game against a team with composure.What I'm saying is: don't place too much importance on the first round games. that said, I think that this game is a real thing. In fact, I think the Zags could have real trouble against...
Wichita State over Pitt: I read this analysis driven by data in the Wall Street Journal the day before making the picks, where some guy ran all the teams through a 10,000 game Monte Carlo, and found that Pitt was the safest of all the major teams. He theorized that their defense and rebounding would allow their superior talent to shine, and I agreed. The conclusion? Never trust simulations. There are so many assumptions that go into models that it becomes impossible to weight the formula correctly (just like bank stress tests, which are next to useless). Anyway, what the simulation couldn't foresee was the Wichita State was actually the better team. Pitt's offense disappeared, and the Shockers made the Panthers advantage on the boards a non-factor. As for the game against Gonzaga? I think Wichita State wins and will be rooting for them regardless.
Mississippi over Wisconsin: I didn't trust Bo Ryan at all, which is why I had Wisconsin winning only one game. Turns out I should have trusted them to win none. The problem with Ryan's slow-down defensive philosophy, like I mentioned in my initial analysis, is that in a game of so few possessions, one fluke play can do you in. Slowing fast teams down gives you a chance against better talent because sometimes the talent can't execute int he half court. I think slowing it down can sometimes be a detriment in games you should win, and that's exactly what happened when Mississippi got hot from downtown.
La Salle over Kansas State: Another mid major that wasn't afraid at all, despite this game being played in the Wildcats backyard. What happened? Kansas State's offense became an abomination down the stretch with missed shots, free throws, everything. And the last play to Angel Rodriguez was disgusting. Here's a tip, kids: when down two at the end of the game, ALWAYS, shoot for three. Why? Let's say you are a 50% from two and 30% from three (let's say that fouls aren't an issue, because whistles often go silent in high leverage situations). Let's say you make the deuce: now you have a shot at OT, which is also a ~50/50 proposition. Guess what? Combine the probabilities and you win ~50% of the time. Can a three (~30%), and the game is usually over. But I digress. the La Salle Explorers came out with confidence, played great defense, and did just enough of the boards (though KSU did have 13 offense ones). And the next game? Screw it, let's go Explorers, beat the Bulldogs.
Arizona over Belmont: I picked Belmont off the strength of that 70-71 loss to Duke in the tourney a few years ago. Other than that? I had no business picking the Bruins. I went to this game, and Arizona was just too athletic and too long inside for Belmont to really have a chance. There was one sequence when Belmont made it close: down 17 in the second half, Kerron Johnson (#3), a fantastic lefty point guard, got into the lane for the 10,000th time that night and dished for a three. Then the Belmont press forced a turnover, and J.J. Mann (#14), their long-haired designated shooter, took the ball to the corner and canned a three of his own. The stadium exploded. Here was their run, to get the deficit within single digits. Then Arizona's length took over, and they executed well, getting quality shots down the stretch. But I still loved seeing Belmont compete (from 6 rows up, right behind their bench), and I loved Kerron Johnson. He took it to Arizona's defense time after time, hit threes, converted tough layups, and got to the line. He may not sniff the NBA, but if he so chooses, he'll be a fun pro overseas.
Harvard over New Mexico: This one killed me. Not only was I sitting in the UNM family section, I had picked them for the Final Four. New Mexico had a big size advantage against Harvard, but that made it also difficult to guard the smaller Harvard wings. #0, Laurent Rivard, especially was a tough cover at 4: New Mexico had Cameron Bairstow (#41), a legit PF from Australia (who gave us the tickets), covering him, and it was an fascinating chess battle on both ends. Bair could easily get position inside, and he, alongside the Lobos center, Alex Kirk, would constantly get easy shots at the rim. However, in the first half, these attempts just wouldn't land, and missing free throws didn't help either. As the game wore on, Rivard started getting hot from downtown. Harvard's penetration sucked the UNM bigs into the paint, and Rivard got too many wide open looks. In the second half, New Mexico's Tony Snell (#21), a silky-smooth 6'7" combo guard started taking over, and I thought the Lobos would have it. Snell reminds me of a Shaun Livingston, a point guard that grew. He had a great handle, was always in control, kind of how Chris Paul uses pace and little pauses and shakes to get into the lane. But he was fun to watch in person but just didn't get enough attempts as UNM tried to pound Harvard inside. I know UNM got here on the strength of the inside game but I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if they pulled one of their bigs and played through Snell. Ultimately, however, the Lobos were let down by their defense, as Harvard hit big shot after big shot and constantly penetrated the lane. At the end, UNM had a chance with their press, but the officials blew a sideline out of bounds call (Harvard inbounder stepped into the court), and that was that.
Iowa State over Notre Dame: The Irish couldn't guard the three point line, and as you can surmise from my twitter posts, I was loving ISU post Georges Niang's game. He finishes over the shoulder, he plays great help defense, enough to contain and then get back to his man and contest, and he competed against a bigger ND senior in the paint. He's only a freshman, and will only get better. I think he makes the big league one day.
Ohio State over Iona: I didn't watch this game. Did you? I think ISU will give OSU a big test in the next round though. I think the Buckeyes win, but am ~55% confident about it. In other words, I have no clue.


Louisville over North Carolina A&T: I didn't catch a second. Sorry.
Colorado St. over Missouri: CSU's Dorian Green went off, and that was that. Could he be related to Dorian Gray? Louisville should still win the next one.
Oregon over Oklahoma St.: I though that Oregon's underseeding was a travesty, and though I was nervous about Marcus Smart, he didn't dominate this game.
Saint Louis over New Mexico St.: I caught enough to see Saint Louis playing well, with solid defense. Still confident with them.
Memphis over St. Mary's: Matthew Dellavedova had to carry the Gaels, and the other St. Mary's shooters let him down. Beau Levesque especially looked terrible airballing three straight wide-open threes. And Memphis' D.J. Stephens really controlled the game from the paint, which I didn't expect, but should have. I haven't watched Memphis play this year, so this is on me.
Michigan St. over Valparaiso: Too much talent and execution from MSU, this game wasn't as close as the final 11 point margin. While I think Memphis with Stephens has a shot in the next game, I'm sticking with the Spartans.
Creighton over Cincinnati: Doug McDermott dominated this game like I expected.
Duke over Albany: I loved the way the Albany Great Danes came out. They played with a ton of confidence and hit some huge shots. As a Duke fan, I was happy with the way the Blue Devils played, and also happy that Albany didn't roll over. Duke needs to be tested, and Albany made this a game the whole way. Credit to the Albany shooters who were fearless from range. Gonna be a tough game against McDermott and Creighton.


Kansas over Western Kentucky: WHAT A GAME!!! The Hilltoppers came out to play, and Kansas made so many mistakes. Elijah Johnson showed why he's the most mercurial player in the tournament. He can win or lose games for Kansas by himself. In this game, he made a bevy of mistakes with the ball, and the normally stout Kansas defense couldn't contain Western Kentucky. The game was won when the Hilltoppers went cold at the end of the second half, but wait, their press got them right back into it as Kansas continued to turn the ball over. How many steals is VCU going to have when they play the Jayhawks? Or, perhaps the better question: can Kansas get pats UNC?
UNC over Villanova: UNC had a great first half where everything was going down, making up for the turnovers. That all turned in the second half, though ultimately, the held on to win after blowing a huge lead.
VCU over Akron: I watched enough to see that Havoc is alive and well. So fun to watch their pace.
Michigan over South Dakota St.: I was watching Arizona-Belmont and could only follow on my phone. It looked disappointing as both Wolters and Burke seemed to have off games, with Michigan's talent at the other positions too much. If Wolters struggles against VCU, look out.
Minnesota over UCLA: The Bruins just didn't have enough horses.
Florida over Northwestern St.: Too much talent for the Gators.
San Diego St. over Oklahoma: SDSU guard Jamaal Franklin had an ankle injury that could have been bad, but he came back and had a great game. He does it all.
Florida Gulf Coast University over Georgetown: This wasn't about what Georgetown didn't do. FGCU just ran them out of the gym. The Eagles came out with a ton of confidence, they never backed down, attacking time and time and getting rewarded at the line. And their didn't seem to be a talent gap: they were flat out athletic and ran the Hoyas out of town. I was a little worried about John Thompson III's coaching style, but I never thought it would manifest int he first round.


Indiana over James Madison State: Hoosiers are too balanced and talented at too many spots.
Temple over N.C. State: Temple's Khalif Wyatt came to play, and he was fantastic. The dude is a joy to watch, and has had a college career that I'll remember. N.C. State couldn't get into their offense and run as well as they'd like to, and a huge stretch without a FG killed them.
California over UNLV: Like i mentioned in my preview, this game was completely unfair. Not only have they played, this is a home game for Cal. Allen Crabbe was just a little better than Anthony Bennett. They have to continue to be hot and feed off the crowd against a tough Orange team.
Syracuse over Montana: The Orange are really good and disciplined. Too much for Montana.
Butler over Bucknell: I loved how Bucknell fought in this game. They made it really fun, and had a real chance to win. Both coaches worked hard, and Butler clamped down on defense, holding Bucknell scoreless for more than four minutes late in the second half.
Marquette over Davidson: I picked Davidson, but Marquette had no business winning this game. That turnover with four seconds left was a killer. Davidson was right there and this game was a heartbreaker.
Illinois over Colorado: I actually thought Colorado was better, but that was not the case. Illinois won a grinding game.
Miami over Pacific: This game was never close.

See you in the second round!

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