Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The obligatory March Madness post

An ad that appeared in this morning's Washington Post. Despite the ad's immodesty, Virginia Commonwealth just might be able to back it up. Image found here.

I've had nothing to say this season about college basketball, but (thanks/curses to cable in the Meridian household) I've seen a lot of it. It's been a strange season, in my mind, and this bracket--actually, the saner of my two brackets--is a reflection of that strangeness. [UPDATE: There is an entry at that link, but apparently only I can look at it. Or maybe you can. I no longer know. If you you can, great; if you can't, just trust that the remarks below reflect what's on the bracket.]

To spare the uninterested, I've placed some comments on my bracket below the fold. But here are a few teasers:

National champion: Missouri.

I have Kansas being beaten by yet another small school whose name begins with a "B."

I have 9 2-digit seeds upsetting higher seeds in the first round of games; I have two 2-digit seeds in my Final Four.

I know it sounds nuts. It probably is, truth be told. But there really is, this season, a lot of parity in college basketball. Just about anything could happen.

For what it's worth, of this year's teams, I've seen 23 of them play at least one half of a game. And so, as I looked over this year's pairings, I kept thinking how, with very few exceptions, so many of these first-round games will be between teams that, on paper and/or according to my own "eyeball test," are very evenly matched. Case in point: the opening-round game between Wichita State and VCU. Before the announcement of the brackets, I was thinking the hometown team would have a very decent shot at a deep run--they have the sort of team that seems to be able to play any style of basketball; they have good size; they defend pretty well. But when I saw that they would be paired with VCU for their first game, I amended my thinking. VCU is young, but they press relentlessly and they're deep. I am no longer so certain of Wichita State's chances; indeed, I've picked them to lose . . . but they could just as easily win, if they handle the press well. (I have the Shockers winning in my other bracket.) To my mind, game after game is like this, where you'd do pretty well just by flipping a coin.

Of this year's top teams, Kentucky and Syracuse have the better players, and then there's everybody else. But those teams have weaknesses that make them vulnerable if they get matched up with the wrong team. Kentucky, for example, doesn't handle being pressed well; a team like VCU, which presses aggressively, could give Kentucky (or any team) fits. Syracuse, despite its size, doesn't rebound well, and its zone makes it susceptible to perimeter shooting. I don't think either will make it to the Final Four; I have VCU indeed busting brackets again and ending up beating Kentucky in the regional final, and Vanderbilt (who, remember, just beat Kentucky in the SEC Tournament's championship game) beating Syracuse and then being beaten in turn by Florida State.

I think that of the #1 seeds, Michigan State and North Carolina are the best teams, but Michigan State seems susceptible to quickness, while North Carolina is susceptible to teams that play good defense. So, I have Missouri beating Michigan State in the regional finals, and Belmont beating the Tarheels in their regional final.

Now, some comments on Big XII teams:

Kansas and Missouri are 2-seeds. The Jayhawks are an enigma this year: they are talented; but, as anyone who saw their tournament game with Baylor can attest, they have moments when they don't look bad so much as disinterested, which is even worse than bad. If the other team wants it badly enough, KU is vulnerable. I've also noticed that KU isn't especially good in games dominated by half-court play. Finally, given Kansas' recent tournament history against smaller schools whose names begin with a "B" (recall the Jayhawks' defeats at the hands of Bradley and Bucknell), it can't be a good thing that Belmont appears in their sub-regional bracket, especially given that Belmont is an experienced team that almost beat Duke in Cameron this year and plays aggressive defense.

As for Missouri, when they are hitting their shots, they more than compensate for their short height and short bench . . . and of late, they've been hitting their shots. Texas came close to beating them in Austin this year with aggressive perimeter defense, and a good defensive team like Michigan State could beat them. Missouri's quickness, though, should stand them in good stead throughout the tournament . . . assuming they keep shooting lights-out.

Baylor is a 3-seed. I really want to like them in this tournament. They are are the sort of team that should do well--they are all long and rangy; they seem comfortable playing both up-tempo and more deliberately--except for their really lousy zone defense (their length makes them much more effective in man-to-man). But, when they're not good, they're like KU's doppelganger: they always seem interested when they play, but they often just look bad.

Kansas State and Iowa State are both 8-seeds. Both these teams can (and did) beat anybody in the conference this year; K-State in particular has overachieved, beating Missouri twice in the regular season. Iowa State has the misfortune of drawing UConn as its first opponent, though, and the Cyclones' perimeter game will have to be clicking if they want to advance. Meanwhile, though K-State should beat Southern Miss in its first game, they will (most likely) meet Syracuse in their next game. K-State rebounds much better than the Orange, but Syracuse has size and experience on its side.

And then there are my Longhorns, an 11-seed matched up with Cincinnati in the opening round. Texas is a young team--they start a senior, a junior and three freshmen--talented players, but they are still learning how to play together. They show flashes of goodness, if not greatness, on offense; they can defend pretty well, and for once they are hitting free throws more consistently. (I long ago lost count last year of how many games they could have won if not for missed free throws.) A couple of weeks ago, after they blew an 11-point halftime lead to lose to Baylor, coach Rick Barnes publicly said his team doesn't listen to him about in-game situations. Frankly, I'm a little surprised to see them in the tournament. I'm glad for them. But I think their stay will be a short one. I've not seen Cincinnati play, but from what I've read they have been playing pretty well of late.

So. In re-reading all this, I sound like I know a lot more than I actually do. I have a feeling that this year's tournament will make many people look foolish. I'm kinda looking forward to that.


R. Sherman said...

My prayer is that Mizzou and KU meet up in the final. How delicious would that be? Truly epic.


John B. said...

I agree that would be nice to see, for all kinds of narrative reasons that have nothing to do with the tournament. If Kansas plays as well as it is capable of playing, it could very well happen. But Kansas does struggle with mid-majors in the tournament--the aforementioned losses to Bucknell and Bradley; last year's loss to VCU; the loss to Northern Iowa the year before; their near-loss to Davidson en route to the title--and this year it has two really good ones in its sub-regional in Belmont and St. Mary's. KU had a much better team last year and didn't make it to the finals; I don't think this is their year, either.

Anyway. We shall see what we shall see. Good luck to your Tigers.