I was asked by an emailer tonight for advice in picking a bracket. Well, I've given it some thought, and now I'm ready to tell you who I've got.
It took me a while, to be quite honest. This might be the hardest NCAA Tournament bracket I've ever had to pick because so many matchups are so close.
But first, a word of caution. At the Coaches vs. Cancer breakfast yesterday morning, there was a panel of media members from across newspapers, TV and radio that made their Final Four picks.
Almost all of them had some combination of North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA, Texas, Tennesee and Memphis.
I see things rather differently, though. Sure, I could pick you teams from off the top of my head that I think are worthy of the Final Four, but once I actually go through the bracket and look at each matchup I often come up with different answers.
That's what happened this time. I've only got two of the above six teams making it to San Antonio, and the more I do this the more that makes sense to me.
So with that in mind, here's the East Region bracket I've submitted to Hoops Hysteria. Check back for my picks in the other regions.
And feel free to take me on in the Soft Pretzel Logic Challenge group.
1. North Carolina beats 16. Play-In Game in Raleigh, N.C. Unfortunately, Hoops Hysteria doesn't let you pick the play-in game; I'd take Mount St. Mary's.
8. Indiana beats 9. Arkansas in Raleigh. Knowing they're on the big stage, Eric Gordon and D.J. White step up and make a statement despite the turmoil in Bloomington.
5. Notre Dame beats 12. George Mason in Denver, Colo. I like Mason coach Jim Larranaga a lot, and I liked what I saw from the Patriots when they came here a few weeks back to play Drexel. But as good a mid-major-level player as Mason center Folarin Campbell is, he's no match for Fighting Irish big man Luke Harangody.
Mason will give it a good fight, but Kyle McAlarney feeds Harangody enough to make the difference in an entertaining game.
4. Washington State beats 13. Winthrop in Denver. I know a lot of people are taking the Eagles in the upset here, but I don’t buy it. Despite their recent slump, the Cougars are top-50 in two-point, three-point and effective field goal percentage, as well as offensive rebounding, offensive steal percentage and free throw rate at both ends of the floor.
Winthrop is 224th in two-point FG % and 339th out of 341 in free throw percentage (and yes, Memphis is one of the two teams below them). That’s a huge red flag.
11. St. Joseph’s beats 6. Oklahoma in Birmingham, Ala. Ahmad Nivins and Rob Ferguson can match Sooners big men Kyle Griffin and Longar Longar, but the key lies in the rest of the Sooners’ offense. It’s ranked in the mid-to-high 100’s in just about every category, while the Hawks are ranked in the 30s in two-point and three-point FG shooting.
Defensively, Phil Martelli’s teams have long excelled at cutting off opponents’ preferred passing lanes, and this crop of Hawks has been playing great defense lately. St. Joe’s wins it.
3. Louisville beats 14. Boise State in Birmingham. Not much explanation needed there.
7. Butler beats 10. South Alabama in Birmingham. The Jaguars deserved their at-large bid, but the Bulldogs will be disciplined enough to overcome the home-court advantage for “Team USA.”
2. Tennessee beats 15. American in Birmingham. The Eagles make 41.2 percent of their three-pointers, which is the highest percentage of any team in the field, but Bruce Pearl’s offense could literally run AU off the floor.
Tennessee is ranked 15th in tempo and averages 12 more possessions than 324th-ranked Eagles, so look for the Volunteers’ experience and athleticism to win the day against the Big Dance debutants from D.C.
1. North Carolina beats 8. Indiana in Raleigh. A ratings blockbuster, but Carolina wins by three superstars (Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington) to two (Gordon and White). There’s also the small matter of the Tar Heels playing only 4.9 miles from their Chapel Hill campus, the shortest traveling distance of any team in the field.
5. Notre Dame beats 4. Washington State in Denver. This Big East-Pac 10 showdown will feature a great guard matchup between Kyle McAlarney and Derrick Low, but the Cougars have no answer for Harangody. Wazzu ranks 303rd in offensive rebounding percentage, so look for Harangody to swallow up a lot of the Cougars’ missed shots.
3. Louisville beats 11. St. Joseph’s in Birmingham. The Hawks have plenty of experience against Big East teams, and will be just fine playing a slugfest for 40 minutes. But once the fouls start racking up, St. Joe’s has less depth up front. It’ll be close until the end, but I think the Cardinals just edge it. Pitino-Martelli will be the best coaching matchup of the first two rounds.
7. Butler beats 2. Tennessee in Birmingham. Rejoice, upset fans, because here’s one of my big ones. The Volunteers’ high-risk, high-reward style falls on the wrong side of the ledger this time against a Butler offense that has the 8th-lowest turnover percentage in the country. More importantly, the Bulldogs have the Tournament experience to force the Volunteers to play at their 330th-ranked tempo. This could be your classic One Shining Moment-style finish.
Regional Semifinals in Charlotte, N.C.
1. North Carolina beats 5. Notre Dame. A third helping of home-state home cooking gives the Tar Heels the edge, as Hansbrough trumps Harangody because he can score farther away from the basket. Another key stat: the Irish defense is 328th in turnover percentage forced.
3. Louisville beats 7. Butler in Charlotte. Sentimentalists nationwide are in tears at the buzzer as a valiant Bulldogs effort comes up just short. The Cardinals ride a size advantage and a little bit of Rick Pitino luck to a blockbuster Elite Eight game.
Regional Final in Charlotte
1. North Carolina beats 3. Louisville. Big-time coaches, big-money suits and big-money TV ratings. The spotlight will be on Roy Williams’ offense (ranked 3rd in efficiency) and Rick Pitino’s defense (ranked 7th). But the game will be decided by a mismatch at the other end of the floor: the Tar Heels’ 33rd-ranked defense against the Cardinals’ 86th-ranked offense.
Carolina finishes the season 6-0 at Bobcats Arena – Davidson last November, three in the ACC tournament last week and two in the NCAAs.
Stay tuned for the other regions.