This truly is the greatest time of the year. It's when I go from 100% (ok, 95%) rational fan to thinking that instead of Detroit they might as well have given us an NBA team to play in the first round because it would be the same thing. (I was going to use the Pistons, but I wanted an NBA team as my example). That said, I am generally able to be rational about the rest of the bracket, so some brief thoughts:
- The first thing I noticed was that the committee again matched up too many good mid majors against each other in the first round. The most notable of these matchups was definitely Wichita State v. VCU. First off, Wichita getting a 5 is pretty horrendous, but let VCU play a major conference 5 for crying out loud. On the bright side, I will be rid of Shaka Smart early this year.
- John Calipari had a quote saying something to the effect of why didn't they put the Miami Heat in our bracket? Solid sandbagging for the head coach of the team with perhaps the easiest path among 1 seeds.
- A brief thought on Missouri's path to the final four: First, in the link above Luke Winn has some good stuff on all offensive teams' chances at winning titles, but more specifically to Missouri, I am intrigued by their possible Round of 32 matchup with Florida, assuming both win. On one hand, Florida is basically a worse version of Missouri at everything (Florida is ranked 3rd in offense and 119th in defense according to KenPom, whereas Missouri is 1st and 76th). But on the other hand, Missouri has made its living exploiting matchups this year. They won't be able to do that against the Gators, who play a lot of guards and have only one really reliable inside presence. Sound familiar? Plus, Florida has the two best NBA prospects in the game
- The best two double digit seeds by KenPom rank are not only in the Midwest Regional, they're in Kansas's half of the bracket. Purdue has the 6th best offense in the country and lives by shooting the three, which is bad bad news, but they also struggled against every Big 10 team that had a good post presence. As a general rule I'd rather play a power conference team than a mid major because I really do think our players respond to the name on the jersey more often than most teams, but this is one I'd rather stay away from. The other good low seed is Belmont, who has the 12th best offense, but is a bit better from inside the arc, so they probably wouldn't be a bad matchup.
- Michigan State is third in the power rankings, but I am picking them to lose in the second round to Memphis. The Tigers don't rely on threes to score, have a swarming defense, and also don't rely on rebounds to score (or defend really), meaning Michigan State's abilities on the glass won't be as impactful. Of course, they have to get by St. Louis first.
- Remember how big of a deal location is. Kansas has to travel just over 200 miles to Omaha, while Purdue travels about 570, Detroit 730 and St. Mary's a ghastly 1,500+ miles. Get ready for Purdue in the second round assuming we survive Detroit.
- Staying on the location topic, if Kansas advances to the Sweet 16 and beyond, they travel just under 300 miles to St. Louis. Michigan travels roughly 500 miles and UNC and Georgetown are just over 800 miles away each. Playing close to home hasn't always been a slam dunk (hello, Oklahoma City) but it is a big advantage and one we hopefully can take advantage of.
- A potential Kansas State-Syracuse matchup could be the one that causes James Naismith to rise from the dead and say that's enough, and then you all would have to learn to love hockey as much as I do. The Wildcats are 162nd in eFG, with Syracuse 13th in eFG allowed, but Kansas State is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country (7th), while Syracuse is a hilariously bad 341st in defensive rebounding. Kansas State might shoot 30%, grab 55% of their misses and steal a win, as I haven't been high on Syracuse all year. Of course this means you should pencil them into the final four immediately.
- Finally, my picks: Starting in our region, while I do think we have a great shot thanks to location and having two of the best three players in the region, I think North Carolina has too much depth and will make it to the final four. The East is easiest for me to call: I've been on the Ohio State bandwagon all year and don't see a reason to abandon that now as they have an amazingly simple half of the bracket and match up with Syracuse relatively well. In the other two, my upset specials: out West I like Memphis, who have gone from most overrated to most underrated team in the country, and in the South I'm picking Duke. The Blue Devils were my sleeper preseason title pick, so I'm sticking with them to the end.