Breaking down the bracket and thoughts on the coaching carousel
Happy Brackets, everyone! I'm sure we're all glad the speculation about bubbles and seeds is over, and we can get down to talking hoops. My own bracket picks are
Also, at the end of my region-by-region Hoop Thoughts, I've weighed in about what I'm hearing regarding the annual offseason coaching carousel which, alas, got another push this week when Virginia parted ways with
Herewith, then, my thoughts on the bracket and the hirings and firings to come. Enjoy the Madness, Hoopheads!
• I agreed wholeheartedly with the committee's decision to make Louisville the No. 1 overall seed, but if you take a magnifying glass to the Cardinals' r�sum�, you see it's not quite as impressive as their seeding would indicate. Yes, they won the Big East regular season, but they did not have to play at UConn or at Pittsburgh. (They split those games at home.) Nor did they have to play either of those teams en route to winning the Big East tournament, where they also got a gassed Syracuse team in the final. Louisville won during the regular season by one point at Villanova and by three at West Virginia. Meanwhile, the Cardinals lost at Notre Dame by a whopping 33 points, they lost at home to UNLV and on neutral courts to Minnesota and Western Kentucky. Again, I'm not saying Louisville isn't a very good team, but they don't look like a juggernaut, either. That, plus the fact that they basically do not have a point guard, is the reason why I took a chance and picked them to lose in the Sweet 16 to Wake Forest. As
• Why do I like Wake to beat Louisville and make the Final Four? Well, the Deacs have shown the type of inconsistency one would expect from such a young team, but my experience tells me that inconsistent teams tend to play to their potential come tourney time. You might get caught sleeping against Maryland in the ACC tournament, but nobody sleeps in the NCAA tournament. If you're going purely by future NBA players, Wake is arguably the most talented team in the country. I've got a hunch it'll maximize that talent, but it's kind of a scary pick considering it's playing a very dangerous Cleveland State team in the first round. But hey, this wouldn't be any fun if I went all chalk, would it?
• I am apparently one of many people who questioned Arizona's inclusion in this tournament. Still, I had the Wildcats as my second team out (behind Penn State), so it's not like I'm screaming high dudgeon on this one. Besides, I like Arizona to beat Utah in the first round because the Wildcats should be able to overwhelm the Utes with their athleticism. The bottom line is,
• The lower half of the Midwest region is the best eight-team grouping in the bracket. If you take out the two Cinderellas, Robert Morris and North Dakota State, then every team bases its game on defense and toughness -- except for Kansas. I'm not saying that the Jayhawks don't play D, but it is not part of their DNA the way it is those other teams. That's why I think it will be very, very hard for Kansas to make the regional final. They would have to win two-straight games against tougher teams, and whoever they play in the Sweet 16 is going to be on some type of offensive role (or else they wouldn't still be in the tournament). The No. 1 sign of toughness is the ability to win on the road, and Kansas' best road win this season was at Oklahoma on a night when the Sooners didn't have
• I argued that UConn deserved a No. 1, and obviously the committee felt the same way. Where we apparently differed, however, is in my belief that the No. 5 overall team in this tournament would be Memphis. Many fans do not realize that the committee ranks the entire field one through 65, but while the NCAA never releases that list (and pooh on them for that), it's clear to me that Memphis was, in fact, seeded behind Michigan State and Duke.
Here's how I can tell. I used to believe in the S-curve myth, too, where the top No. 2 seed is automatically paired with the last No. 1 seed, but it is in fact a myth. After the committee places the four No. 1 seeds in the bracket, it then places the first No. 2 seed in the closest available region. In Memphis' case, it wasn't allowed to go to the South because that regional is being played in Memphis, so the next available spot would have been Indianapolis. But Michigan State went to Indy. Boston is closer to Memphis than Glendale (Ariz.), yet Duke, not Memphis, went there. The committee keeps track of the competitive balance only through the first four lines, but it's more important for them to keep teams as close as possible to home than to hew perfectly to an S-curve. I realize this is getting really deep into the weeds, but this is something most commentators have missed. I wrote last week that Memphis was closer to a three seed than a one, and it turns out that's how it went down.
• So if I argued for UConn to be a one seed ahead of Memphis, why am I picking Memphis to make the Final Four? Two reasons. First, I just have a nagging feeling that the loss of
• The one team seeded below the two line in this region that could be dangerous is Washington. The Huskies have a high-octane offense as well as arguably the best defensive rebounder in the country in
• Look, I know picking these games is a silly exercise, and nobody really cares what I say anyway. Still, I put a lot of thought into who I announced as my championship pick on the
• Xavier is another team that was leaking a little bit of oil coming down the stretch. The Musketeers lost at Richmond in their last regular-season game, and then bowed out to Temple in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament. Xavier has never gotten into a groove at the point guard position, and that is a fatal flaw to carry into the NCAA tournament. If, as I expect, the Musketeers draw Florida State in the second round, that is a really bad matchup for them. Not only will the Seminoles have the best guard on the floor in
• UCLA has already found out the NCAA tournament is a little tougher when you're not a one seed. Instead of playing all its games out west, the Bruins now have to travel east to Philadelphia. I picked VCU to beat them in the first round on the Selection Show, and I'm not the only one, so
• You may want to argue that Duke's ACC tournament championship should come with an asterisk since the league's player of the year (
• Why, then, do I think Duke is a great matchup for Pitt? Because it's one thing to be mentally tough, it's another to be physically tough, and that's exactly what Pitt is. Plus, while Duke's half-court offense may be more efficient with Scheyer at the point, the team is getting fewer run-outs and fast-break opportunities with him at quarterback. To beat a team like Pitt, you've got to get a few easy baskets, but Levance Fields is so good at taking care of the ball that it's hard to imagine Duke turning the game into a track meet. That means it would be a grinder, and nobody -- least of all Duke -- is going to out-tough Pitt in a grinder of a game.
• I think it's fair to say
• One thing that has become certain in the tournament: a 12-seed always upsets a five in the first round. The popular choice this year is Arizona over Utah, but I sense that Western Kentucky over Illinois not far behind. It's not just that the Illini, who after all failed to score 40 points twice this season, are without their most important player, point guard
• I was speaking last week with a Big 12 head coach, and I asked him what he thought was wrong with Oklahoma. He answered me in two words: "They're overrated." His main argument that the Sooners are vulnerable when an opponent pressures their guards, especially point guard
We already have four openings at prominent programs: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia and Virginia. What do all of those schools have in common? They're all big state schools. We all know these schools are facing budget crunches, but aside from Arizona, their administrations made the decisions to create these openings. I don't think they would do that unless they were ready to throw out some big money to find replacements.
Taking Arizona out of the mix for the moment, the two biggest names that will be mentioned are Oklahoma's
Virginia, however, is another story. Capel grew up in Virginia, his wife is from Raleigh, and of course he played in the ACC for Duke. Virginia is a first-rate university, it has a brand new arena and an excellent recruiting base. Plus, if you finish third in the ACC, they build you a statue. It will be awfully difficult for Capel to give up the success and job security he has in Oklahoma, but if he does, this would be the kind of situation that could be worth it. So stay tuned.
If Virginia doesn't hire Capel, I think they'll go after
Otherwise, I still believe the Arizona vacancy is
I usually try to avoid speculating on jobs that are not vacant, but unfortunately that is part of the job. That said, I can tell you that all eyes in the college basketball world are on Lexington, Ky. While it may be hard to believe that the school would get rid of
Elsewhere, the three situations that bear watching are Oregon, St. John's and DePaul.
Few, who is an Oregon native and alum, is thought to be the natural replacement here as well, but again, Few is not going to take this job out of affection for Old State U. Oregon is going to have to convince him that it is a better job than Gonzaga, and that will take some doing.
As for DePaul, I know that the school's administration has already said
Finally, from everything I'm hearing, I think