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 out the Allstate BFF Brackets here
You don't want me in your bracket pool. I bring the heat like a thousand raging fires. I will be the guy that's 30-2 going into Saturday, and already counting your cash. And then I punt the money because some chalk eater I instaclicked to the Final Four bones me over. If I could find a pool where you re-pick after every round, I wouldn't ever need a job. And my specialty is the middle games, the 4-13, 5-12, 6-11 matchups that I hit out of the park like Mark McGwire on a huge cycle. I look like a genius opening weekend... and then flame out spectacularly at Regionals. I really should have played for Jamie Dixon. (ZING!)
College basketball is all about matchups, possessions, and momentum. But the momentum entering the tournament is meaningless; it’s the momentum you’ll generate once the Dance starts that needs to be considered. And that's why I always lose... because someone that was playing well can't sustain it, and someone that wasn't finds their gear. I can find these things game to game, but can't picking three weeks out. But here are a few steadfast rules when you start your bracket hunting.
RULE #1: WALK IT UP.
Especially early in the first game at a tournament site (first round, Sweet 16, Final Four), teams tend to be a little too excited and concede precious points via turnovers early in the contest. Points that come back to haunt you later. Half-court teams with excellent guard play tend to keep things under control early, giving them a chance to be close late. This is the reason why it’s so difficult for teams that play a wide-open style to pull the upset. It does happen (see Eric Maynor at VCU), but not as often as teams that get it done in the half court.
Teams we like that control possessions, and their turnover percentage (% of possessions where they commit a turnover - Division I median is 20.0%):
More rules and ideas after the jump:
RULE #2: GET STOPS.
Everyone that's gotten this far, for the most part, has a way to score the basketball. Whether it's BYU's "Jimmer And Get Out Of The Way" offense, or Wisconsin's Flex, Kentucky's dribble-drive motion, Notre Dame's Burn, or Princeton's Princeton, you don't get here unless you have a way to put the ball in the hoop. But the ability to stop other people from doing so translates no matter whom you play.
The following teams we like are amongst the leaders in points per possession allowed:
RULE #3: REST BEATS RUST.
So you were chalk all season long, only to get bounced out in your first game at the conference tournament? Congratulations! I'm putting my life savings on you. Give me teams that are rested and also very upset about losing their last game. Double down when this applies to mid-majors that get run early (the St. Joseph's team of 2004 that was undefeated until their conference tournament opener is the best example). But this year Villanova and Pittsburgh do as well. And I'm sure the Panthers done nothing but work on pick and roll situations and when to switch in practice all week after they got Kemba'd.
Teams we like that fit the bill here:
RULE #4: THE FOLLOWING CLICHES DON'T APPLY ANYMORE.
- Guards win tournaments. Only 50% of the equation. You need guards AND posts that can rebound. You can’t win without both.
- Teams that press don’t like to be pressed. Just not true anymore. There are so many teams that run Nolan Richardson/Rick Pitino type systems that today's athletes are prepared for it. They've seen run and jump teams since 8th-grade AAU ball.
- Experience matters. Give me talent over experience seven days a week and twice on Sunday. We can all yearn for the days of Milan High, short shorts, and experience mattering, but the truth is the team with the best athletes (that have some discernible basketball skills) is probably going to win most games. And the kids playing in this tournament have logged hundreds upon hundreds of games at the high school and AAU levels. They are all getting close to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours threshold. They are what they are. Exception made for teams that start four or five seniors. Then they're getting close to playing 5,000 hours together. And that matters.
So who do we like?
We LOVE Utah State. Not only for having the best crowd west of the Mississippi, but because they drew Kansas State. If you believe the "regression to the mean" theory, you would think that K-State isn’t nearly as good as their preseason top 5 ranking, nor as bad as when they lost five of seven to open Big XII play, nor as good as they were when they won their last six of the regular season. They are most likely an average tournament team. And Utah State is simply better. They are one of the most efficient teams in America, and can stop people as well (see above). Tai Wesley is a beast on the block (60% FG), and USU doesn't have a player that goes more than 30 minutes a contest, so they're deep and don't wear down.
Kansas State gambles too much on defense, is too physical for NCAA refs that notoriously call tighter games, and Utah State will back cut them to bits. Frank Martin will yell, turn as purple as his teams’ jerseys, and go back to Manhattan after one game. And the inevitable Wisconsin-Utah State game is a half-court basketball junkie's dream. I hope one of them forgets there’s a shot clock and goes four corners. That might happen.
We LOVE Florida State. They play outstanding defense, they got bounced early out of the ACC Tournament, and they’ve had success here before. Leonard Hamilton is a really good coach, and Derwin Kitchen and Chris Singleton are good enough to carry them for stretches. Texas A&M doesn’t jump off the page, and I don’t think Notre Dame will be able to get all those open looks from three that Hansborough and Abromaitis use to put teams away. Painful to admit, but FSU in the Sweet 16.
We’d LOVE Belmont… if they hadn't drawn Wisconsin. That's one team that won’t make mistakes or beat themselves.
We’d LOVE Morehead State… if they weren't getting Louisville. Always sucks when the teams I have penciled as sleepers draw matchups that hurt them. Louisville just wears people down, and as good as Kenneth Faried is, he can’t beat that Cardinal front line alone. If you’re gambling, this is a perfect spot to bet Morehead first half, and UL second half.
And to get to the Final Four, we LOVE San Diego State. They are scary long, super athletic, and 6th in the country in points per game allowed. They have five seniors, start three of them, and all of them can handle the ball. You don’t go 32-2, even in a weak league, unless you’re good. And the only one that beat them was Jimmer, and they avenged those two losses in spectacular fashion in the Mountain West tournament final. We’re riding them all the way to Houston, and they will beat Duke to get there, assuming Kyrie Irving doesn’t come back and totally change the Blue Devils. The Aztecs have no holes. They play hard like the veteran team they are, and they have great chemistry. Plus they don’t just pass the eye test, they 2400 SAT it.
We’ll break down some other matchups later, but our early impression is this is a tournament for the chalk. There isn’t a great team, and there aren’t a lot of very good ones either. But as bad a job as the selection committee did, it was mostly in spots that don’t affect anything. Florida is ridiculous as a #2 seed, but so is UCLA as a #7, so it’ll wash out in the end. Penn State stinks, but so does Temple, so Temple will win, and then get eviscerated by San Diego State. Tennessee will probably beat Michigan, but that’s an 8-9 game, and thus not really an upset.
Final Four (subject to change before Tuesday) is San Diego State, Pittsburgh, Kansas, and North Carolina. That's two #1's and two #2's. That's some chalk eating weaselness right there. And why I'll probably get burned on the way.
So who do you like? Let’s start arguing in the comments.