The first annual TPY NCAA tournament preview

17 Mar

I have always loved the NCAA basketball tournament. I would love it almost as much if you couldn’t fill out a bracket. But the bracket is definitely part of the appeal.

The idea of filling out a bracket appeals to every part of me. The first year my parents had internet access for the tournament I must have been a freshman in high school. Or thereabouts. I don’t remember exactly. Having internet access was a pivotal moment in my relationship with the NCAA tournament. Instead of filling out one bracket for a pool at school, I filled out like 20 brackets. I spent a good amount of time on primitive search engines finding every website I could that ran a bracket contest. Instead of filling out the same bracket for every site, I switched them all up. Hedging my bets. I knew this was the best strategy if I wanted to win at least one glorious prize from the internet. I printed out a stack of blank brackets and dutifully filled in my picks for every website. I tacked them all up on a bulletin board in my room. Let me tell you, having twenty brackets on the wall to constantly refer to makes the first weekend a lot of fun. I highlighted correct picks in blue and incorrect picks in yellow. I spent a lot of time poring over my bulletin board. Pulling out that blue highlighter felt so satisfying. And covering the wall in yellow when one of my Final Four picks lost early was unreasonably demoralizing. That was fun.

Over the years I regained a little bit of perspective and dialed things back. Now I only fill out one bracket. I realize that it’s mostly a crapshoot. I don’t even root for my picks necessarily. I cheer for upsets. To me this is so much more fun. I hate the idea of hoping MIddle Tennessee State loses because I picked against them. I try to separate my bracket from my rooting interests. Especially on the first weekend when most of the fun upsets happen.

The high point of my bracket career was 2003. That was the year I picked 3 seed Syracuse to win. I remember sitting in a class with maybe 25 other people on Tuesday before the first round. We were all talking about the tournament. I let everyone know that I thought Syracuse would win. Three weeks later, on the Tuesday after the championship game, everyone was hanging out waiting for class to start. “Hey, remember when I said Syracuse would win?” That’s a great feeling. I followed the logic then that I have used ever since: pick the team with the best player. Carmelo Anthony made it happen and made me look like a genius.

Now, I’m sharing my secrets with you, dear reader. Use this info to win your bracket pool and impress your friends. Or, if you’re in my pool, use this info to tie me for first place. That’s still pretty good.

Disclaimer: This season I have watched almost every Michigan game and almost no other games. This will not prevent me from pretending I know what I’m talking about.

Click to expand and see all of my expert picks

Click to expand and see all of my expert picks

Midwest Region

I’m surprised Duke is a 2 seed. They’ve been #1 in the RPI all season. I hate Duke as much as the next guy, but I think they’ll get through here. I’ll definitely be cheering for Creighton in the second round though. Memphis over Michigan State is my bold upset pick, even though the game’s in Michigan. Big Ten teams are at a big disadvantage in the tournament because the style of play is so different from what they’re used to. They also get saddled with referees who don’t call Big Ten games all season and are willing to enforce the rules as written. That’s a bigger adjustment that most people think. MSU has traditionally been able to overcome this, but Memphis is good. I’d love to see Saint Louis beat Louisville. I think that’s a good upset pick too but I can’t pick all upsets.

West Region

Gonzaga is a pretty soft 1 seed. It’s the first midmajor 1 seed I can think of since St. Joe’s a few years ago. That team had Jameer Nelson and Delonte West and couldn’t make it to the Final Four. I think Gonzaga is in the same camp. Kansas State has some athletes. They’ll blow by Wisconsin unless UW can hit 50% of their threes. I think they also have the advantage over the Zags. New Mexico is a trendy Final Four pick. Let no one say that I am not trendy. UNM has been close to the top of the RPI all season. The RPI loves the Mountain West this year. They have it as the #1 conference overall. That’s wild. Something to keep in mind when considering Mountain West teams. I think the Pac-12 blows so I picked Belmont over Arizona. The Pac-12 and SEC both need to step it way up. They’ve been embarrassing for the last five years or so. That’s a big part of the reason there are so many teams from outside the power conferences in the tournament lately. The only “power conferences” left are the Big Ten and Big East if you ask me. After the Big East splits up next year, I don’t think there’ll be much of a gap between the traditional majors and the next tier (Atlantic 10, Mountain West, Missouri Valley, Big East leftover conference, C-USA)

South Region

It pains me to say it, but I don’t think Michigan will make it to the second weekend. I really hope they will, but unless they learn how to play defense this week I just don’t see it. Georgetown has been on a roll lately. They’d be a 1 seed if they had played a respectable non-conference schedule. Unfortunately for them, their non-conference schedule was pretty embarrassing. It was basically Indiana, UCLA, and a big pile of garbage. I don’t think that’ll hurt them once they get on the court. Minnesota is an interesting team. They have the players, but they lose inexplicably all the time. Honestly I think Minnesota would solve all of their problems if Tubby Smith fired his son Saul from the coaching staff. You might remember him as one of the least likable players in NCAA history. He’s got to be the problem. Unfortunately I doubt Tubby will do that and he’ll probably get fired himself unless they make a run. Good news for Tubby: I think they will. Florida hasn’t played anyone good since December, I think they’ll be surprised by Minnesota’s athleticism. Plus Tubby did win a National Championship once, maybe he’ll recapture some of that magic. Villanova/North Carolina is an uncommonly good 8/9 matchup. Jay Wright has been a great coach for Villanova. I hope he stays there for another 20 years. He has a reputation as ayoung, hip, fashionable guy. Maybe even like a basketball sex symbol, if a college basketball coach can be one. I think that’s part of why he’s so popular on the Main Line. Fun story: The first time I saw Coach Wright on the Villanova campus, he was wearing a t-shirt, mesh shorts, and alligator loafers with no socks.

East Region

I think Indiana will make it through even though I think Cody Zeller will struggle without protection from the officials. I feel sorry for the NBA team that wastes a top-5 pick on him. Victor Oladipo is really good. Good enough to carry the team through the region. This is almost a Duke-level team. Zeller, Jordan Hulls, Will Sheehey; It’s amazing those guys didn’t find their way to Durham and I hate them as much as if they did. I think this is a pretty straightforward region. I have Butler over Marquette, but picking Butler can hardly be controversial at this point, can it?

Final Four

This is where the Best Player Theory comes into play. Otto Porter Jr. is the best player. Therefore Georgetown will win. Simple as that. Victor Oladipo is probably the second-best player and is a beast on defense. That semifinal matchup will be the game of the tournament. I suppose it’s possible that Oladipo shuts down Porter. I don’t know if he has the size to do it. I’ll be fun to watch. Indiana did win their game in the fall, but I think Georgetown has improved a lot since then. I don’t think Indiana has improved much at all. Duke/New Mexico is a boring game in comparison. I like New Mexico striking yet another blow against the power conferences. Maybe they’ll get promoted up like Butler.

Final note: Georgetown will be playing next year in the New Big East. I’d like to remind everyone that that whole conference was my idea, even if they invited Butler so they can’t call it the Eastern Catholic League like I wanted. Although I am glad they got to keep the Big East name. Good for them.

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