The smartest thing the NCAA ever did for college basketball was going to a 64 team field in 1985. Some (like Bob Knight) have discussed raising the number to 128, so there aren’t quality teams left out of the tourney. Stupid. It’s smart to have a few good teams who don’t make it, as this creates the anxiety that the final selection show has. Also, it isn’t like college football, where many years the best team doesn’t get a chance to play for the National Championship. The best teams get an opportunity and the smaller conference qualifiers get a chance to knock them off.
While the tourney continued to grow in popularity up until the mid-90’s, it wasn’t a national phenomenon. Since then it has reached the point of being the biggest sporting event next to the Super Bowl. Every region of the country has a fanatical pursuit of March Madness, mainly because of office pools. I have generally done really well in these pools, so I will share my strategies on what I look for and who I like in 2008.
The most important thing for a team to have is obviously talent, but the format of the tourney gives some teams a bigger advantage than others. Since the 2nd and 4th round games feature teams who just won 2 days before, there is not a lot of time to prepare for your opponent in these rounds. This favors squads which have a unique style of play. See teams like Tennessee and Drake, which run a version of Tom Davis’ unique system or Georgetown’s Pete Carril-influenced offense. Since most teams have not seen these types of styles in their own conference, it is next-to-impossible to prepare for them in less than 48 hours. Also, I like teams in the tournament who have a physical and deliberate style, since most conferences don’t feature these qualities much either. Oh yeah, it doesn’t hurt to have experienced guard play, as turnovers kill you in March.
While I think the committee did a good job of putting the right 64 teams in the field, the regions were seeded poorly, as the East and Midwest are much tougher overall than the South and especially the West. UCLA has practically been given a bye on their way to the Final 4. Below are my rankings for best team for each seed for 14-1.
14 Georgia (West)
13 Winthrop (East)
12 Villanova (Midwest)
11 St. Joe’s (East)
10 Arizona (West)
9 Arkansas (East)
8 Indiana (East)
7 Butler (East)
6 Marquette (South)
5 Drake (West)
4 Pittsburgh (South)
3 Wisconsin (Midwest)
2 Georgetown (Midwest)
1 UCLA (West)
A few things that jump out at me this year.
- The 11 seeds as a group might be better than the 8-10 seeds. (St. Joe’s, K-State, Baylor, and Kentucky all have a chance to win their match-ups.)
- The 5-12 game traditionally has provided for upsets, but I like the chalk this year, with only Villanova having a chance to prove me wrong.
- The 4th seeds are stronger overall, than the 3rd seeds.
- While the Pac-10 was the best this year, if you include every team in the conference, the Big East is better from 1 to 8.
- The Big 10 is really down this year and their draws aren’t going to help them.
- Outside of the Tar Heels, the ACC is vastly overrated.
UCLA is an easy pick to win the West, as Duke, Xavier, and Connecticut are the weakest 2, 3, and 4 seeds.
The South is the best place for a 4 seed or lower to come out of. Texas is practically playing the regional at home (Houston), but I think Pittsburgh and Marquette have a good chance to get to the elite 8, if not farther.
The Midwest’s Top 3 seeds are the best of any region, but I feel Georgetown’s experience and size will get them past the Badgers and Jayhawks.
A lot has been made of how North Carolina is playing close to home, but Knoxville is as close to Charlotte as Chapel Hill is. I’m following my heart with my pick on the Vols, as Bruce Pearl is the most charismatic guy I’ve ever met. Check out his excellent profile on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel this month on HBO.
UCLA versus Pittsburgh would be a great storyline, as both use the Ben Howland system. While my heart would go with Tennessee, I can’t see how they could stop Hibbert down low, so I have to go with the Hoyas.
Georgetown/UCLA would make for a great championship game, with the 2 best centers in the country going at it. It would be a toss-up, but I like the Hoyas point guard play better, so I guess I lean their way by a basket.