Friday, March 30, 2012

Final Four Preview

Kentucky should grace the Sports Illustrated cover,
like it did in 1998, as NCAA National Champions.

It's no secret I'm a stat-a-holic and rely on numbers the same way I rely on the Bible with my Christian faith.

Typically, the numbers don't lie.

The tempo-free movement has captivated the nation by storm, and rightfully so. Only in a tempo-free world can we judge Wisconsin and North Carolina on the same level.

Below is a table I used in a previous post about the crucial "Four Factors" in this year's Final Four. Focusing on these numbers, it's easy to see why Kentucky is the class of the Final Four. And it's not even close.

Kentucky's adjusted offensive efficiency is 5.1 points per 100 possessions higher than any other team. That's an enormous difference. Defensively, while technically the "worst" of the bunch, the Wildcats' 88.6 adjusted defensive efficiency still is elite, meaning we're splitting hairs with that number.

The Wildcats shoot the best and defend shots the best while turning the ball over the least. Oh, and Kentucky rebounds its offensive misses, which tend to be few and far between, the best, too.

On those rare occasions when a shooting dry spell appears, Kentucky uses its ability - a Final Four-best - to get to the free throw line. When the opposition tries to do the same, Kentucky doesn't allow it with a Final Four-best defensive free throw rate.

In the eight "Four Factor" categories, going with both offense and defense, Kentucky is No. 1 in six. (It's No. 4 in forcing turnovers - which can be credited to not gambling for steals and playing solid man-to-man defense - and No. 3 in defensive rebounding). If it were the "Price is Right," Kentucky might not have won the showcase, but it would be taking home a car and some TV/entertainment center package with those numbers.


The last time I will say there was this much talent at the Final Four was in 2008. That year was a modern-day Armageddon with all four No. 1 seeds reaching the final weekend. Even that year, eventual national champ Kansas wasn't exactly the favorite. In fact, most pundits felt North Carolina and UCLA were the best two teams in that year's Final Four, with Memphis and Kansas battling for third.

Naturally, I went with the numbers filling out my bracket that year. The numbers were heavily in favor of Kansas. The Jayhawks had the best adjusted offensive efficiency and second-best adjusted defensive efficiency. The combination of the numbers rejected the thinking of "experts" and really showed Kansas was the final foursome's best squad.

What happened in 2008? Kansas beat Final Four favorite North Carolina handily, 84-66, while Memphis throttled UCLA, 78-63 in what turned out to be two shockingly boring national semifinals.

Then, of course, Super Mario (and Memphis' free throw woes) bailed Kansas out in the title game where the Jayhawks won, 75-68, in overtime.

"Super" Mario Chalmers' big 3-pointer helped Kansas win the
2008 national championship and back up the numbers (AP).


While all four teams were closer in strength than this year's group, especially when looking at Louisville's how-did-they-get-to-the-Final-Four-with-that-offense numbers, Kansas's offense was far superior to all others. The defense wasn't the best (it was second), but the 83.6 adjusted defensive efficiency would have been tops in this year's Final Four.

It all reiterates my point: Statistics rarely lie, especially ones in the "Four Factors" category that has proved so vital in determining wins and losses.

Kentucky reigns supreme in these vital areas and that is why, unless the 2012 Wildcats turn into the 2008 Wildcats, it would be a monumental upset (think Villanova upsetting Georgetown in 1985) if Kentucky didn't win the title.

Predictions: I'm sensing a little of a 2008 theme in New Orleans this year. There is so much build up for both national semifinals that the world expects two one-possession, buzzer-beater games, right? I picture a pair of "blowouts" disappointing the masses.

  • Kentucky 75, Louisville 59
  • Ohio State 71, Kansas 62

In Monday night's national title bout, the Buckeyes have enough talent to push the Wildcats to the brink on many occasions. The fact remains, however, Kentucky is too good and John Calipari has worked too hard with these young guns on the defensive end to go home with a red, second-place ribbon. It'll be a title game everyone will remember, especially in Lexington.

  • Kentucky 69, Ohio State 62

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Kentucky-Ohio State headlined my Preseason Top 32

Kentucky spoiled Ohio State's season last year. In November, I predicted
the teams to meet for the 2012 title with the Buckeyes avenging the 2011
Sweet 16 loss. The teams appear on a Monday night collision course. (AP)

Long before Deuce2Sports was born, CBSSports's Mack Attack blog featured basic predictions from yours truly.

Unlike most voters, my preseason bracket isn't based off where teams should start the year; Rather, it is where I think teams will finish. Therefore, my Nos. 1-4 are my Final Four, Nos. 5-8 are my other Elite Eight teams, etc.

I, like most, was very high on Kentucky and North Carolina, but had Ohio State as my national champion. I also went out on a limb with Xavier in the Final Four. Honestly, I was between Xavier, Arizona and Baylor, all of whom haven't exactly lived up that that over-the-top billing.

There are always those sleeper 12 or 13 seeds that reach the Sweet 16 and you see some of those projections with the likes of Belmont and Detroit.

My Top 16 features 10 Sweet 16 teams while my Top 8 features five Elite Eight squads. I had all this year's Final Four teams in my Top 11. That's not too bad of a prognostication from November.

With the Final Four set, here's a breakdown of how I did with each team (NCAA Tournament result in parenthesis):

1. Ohio State (Final Four) - The Buckeyes are still alive, and while they've had their ups and downs, few teams can get as hot as Ohio State.

2. Kentucky (Final Four) - The best team in the land. If Big Blue wins the title, having them as the runner-up in the preseason isn't too shabby, right?

3. North Carolina (Elite Eight) - North Carolina's Final Four chances took a huge hit with Kendall Marshall's wrist injury. With him, its no guarantee the Tar Heels beat Kansas, but it would have been much more likely.

4. Xavier (Sweet 16)- This pick was an awesome out-on-a-limb pick pre-brawl. At least the X-men didn't make me look completely foolish by reaching the Sweet 16.

5. Florida (Elite Eight)- The up-and-down Gators might be peaking at the right time. Fresh off a nice win over Marquette, Billy Donovan's team nailed my just-short-of-the-Final-Four prediction with a regional finals loss to Louisville.

6. Arizona (NIT) - Here's the first dud. While the Wildcats were young, I expected them to make some type of charge in the weak Pac-12. All Arizona had to do to reach the NCAA Tournament was beat Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament Final. I do think Arizona would have won at least one game in the tournament if it got there, but we'll never know if I'd be right.

7. Baylor (Elite Eight) - The Bears got to the Elite Eight, making this prediction look solid. Despite losing eight games on the year (three to Missouri and two to Kansas), Baylor is still a very talented team. I was close to making Baylor (and not Xavier) the last team in my preseason Final Four. There is nothing wrong suffering a season-ending loss to Kentucky.

8. Gonzaga (Round of 32) - Another solid year for the Zags ended in a great Round of 32 game against Ohio State. This was a stretch pick that was all based on a favorable draw.

9. Duke (Round of 64) - Count me as one of the few who wasn't shocked with Duke's loss to Lehigh in the Round of 64; The Mountain Hawks are a solid mid-major squad. That said, Duke overachieved this season and just got outplayed in March. I wanted to keep Duke out of the Sweet 16 in the preseason but I honestly couldn't think of other teams that would be better suited.

10. Louisville (Final Four) - With a big win over Michigan State, the Cardinals were surprisingly one win away from a Final Four. The comeback against Florida sent Louisville to New Orleans. Maybe we shouldn't be shocked that a Big East Tournament Champion is making another deep tournament run.

11. Kansas (Final Four) - Another solid year makes putting Kansas in the Top 16 easy every fall. Surprisingly, No. 11 was way to low.

12. Syracuse (Elite Eight) - The Orange were one Buckeye team from rolling into their first Final Four since 2003. I underestimated this team, especially Fab Melo. Though, I'll pat myself on the back that Syracuse has survived some major scares in its first three games to UNC-Asheville, Kansas State and Wisconsin.

13. Belmont (Round of 64) - We could call this another dud. Despite being a popular upset pick, Belmont couldn't handle a Georgetown team that overachieved all year.

14. Michigan State (Sweet 16) - I'll take credit for predicting a Sweet 16 year in what most felt was a barely-slip-into-the-tournament season. That said, I didn't see a No. 1 seed, nor did I see a Sweet 16 loss being a huge disappointment.

15. Michigan (Round of 64) - The team the Wolverines lost to in the Round of 64 - Ohio - made the Sweet 16, so I was on to something, right? Michigan played well all year. Had it played to its No. 4 seed, the Sweet 16 would have been an expected destination.

16. Detroit (Round of 64) - This was a flier that didn't quite pay off. While the Titans got hot late to win the Horizon League Tournament, getting a No. 15 seed felt worse when Kansas was the opponent.

17-32: Pittsburgh, UConn, Vanderbilt, Memphis, Georgetown, Alabama, Temple, Washington, Wisconsin, Purdue, Marquette, New Mexico, Drexel, Florida State, BYU, California.

I didn't fare great with that next group of "win one and go home" teams, but I correctly pegged Vanderbilt, Memphis, Georgetown, Purdue, New Mexico and Florida State in this section while many others had those squads much higher or lower.

SLEEPER TEAMS: Indiana, Oregon, NC State, Georgia Tech, Long Beach St.

I said these teams would make the NCAA Tournament (3/5) and could win a game (Indiana and NC State in the Sweet 16). That's not too shabby.

All in all, my preseason predictions, while not perfect, didn't mirror the masses and still proved to be better than the norm.

Final Four Preview: 4 Factors Favor Kentucky

Kentucky has all the pieces to win the title; Louisville
should feel lucky to be at the big boys' party. (AP)

This year's Final Four doesn't have many surprises. 

Kentucky and Ohio State were the two teams Las Vegas penned in the Finals before the tournament, as did many stat gurus. A North Carolina-Kansas regional final was expected to be a 50/50 game, so it's not much of a surprise - especially with Kendall Marshall's injury - that the Jayhawks will be spending time in New Orleans.

Louisville? Now, that's the big surprise. It isn't that the Cardinals are a bad team (you don't win the Big East Tournament, garner a No. 4 seed, and reach the Final Four if you are), it's that Louisville was, in reality, the at-best fourth-best team in the West Region. Michigan State and Missouri both had phenomenal seasons, capped off with Conference Tournament Championships. Marquette, despite losing to Louisville twice during the season including a loss in the Big East Tournament Quarterfinals, still had better matchups in the tournament as well as a more well-rounded team. 

Heck, some would argue No. 7 seed Florida, No. 8 seed Memphis and No. 9 seed St. Louis were all biggest threats to reach the Final Four than Louisville. That would be the exact case if you put a high emphasis on Ken Pomeroy's rankings. In the West Region. Here are the West Region's KenPom rankings: Michigan State (3rd), Memphis (8th), Missouri (10th), Florida (12th), St. Louis (14th). Louisville comes in 15th -- and that rankings likely has been inflated with the team's Final Four run. Marquette (18th) and New Mexico (19th) were also in the Top 20. Needless to say, expecting Louisville to come out of the region would have been a shocker in every since of the word. Nevertheless, the Cardinals played superb basketball the past two weekends and now have a date with the Wildcats at the Superdome.

In projecting what might happen, one of the best tools is a list of a team's "Four Factors," which include a team's shooting percentage, turnover percentage, rebounding percentage and free throw rate. Typically, a team that wins the majority of those "Four Factors" in a game wins. And, in using a team's season-long data, it is easier to decipher who has the edge.

Take a look at a table with this year's final foursome, compliments of Ken Pomeroy's rankings

  • AdjO - The adjusted offensive measurement of a team's efficiency. It's how many points per 100 possessions a team scores. (Anything 100+ is good; 110+ is very efficient; 120+ is historically elite).
  • AdjD - The adjsuted defense, so opposite of AdjO. (Anything 95- is good, 90- is very efficient, 85- is elite.
  • eFG% - This is an altered version of field goal percentage that gives extra weight to 3-pointers (just like the scoreboard). So, eFG% gives 50 percent extra weight to a 3-point attempt than a 2-point attempt, just like the scoreboard does.
  • TO% - The percentage of possessions a team turns the ball over. (With TO D%, how often a team turns its opponent over). Because teams play at different tempos, turnovers per game is an extremely misleading statistic.
  • FT Rate - This is free-throw rate, as in how often a team is going to the foul line, how many points they are scoring there in relation to the opposition. 

Taking it a step further, this table not only look at a team's "Four Factors" on offense, but also calculates those same numbers on the defensive end. Ignoring the first four columns for a second, it should be pretty clear why the Wildcats are overwhelming favorites: Kentucky has the best numbers in six of the eight "Four Factor" categories. Ohio State takes the prize in one while Louisville takes the blue ribbon in the other. Kansas is more well-rounded than most teams, but in this foursome it tends to be second or third in every category.

Now, including the adjusted offensive efficiency (AdjO) and adjusted defensive efficiency (ADJD), you can see how Kentucky's offense is super efficient while Louisville's defense is disgustingly sick. While there are some differences in the defensive efficiencies one thing should be noted: all four teams are very, very good defensively.

The same can't be said for the offensive end.

Louisville's offense is pathetic for a Final Four team. Comparing the Cardinals to other teams this season, the numbers are similar to Alabama and Seton Hall. Most would agree the Crimson Tide and Pirates have been described over and over again as "struggling offensive teams" this season. Louisville is in that group. With it's superior defense, the Cardinals haven't needed great offense in the tournament. That, however, doesn't mean they should expect that trend to continue against Kentucky.

If I had to choose two columns to focus on, it would be the eFG% and eFGD%. Because 3-pointers are worth more than 2-pointers (and harder to make), the eFG% help adjust for those numbers. Kentucky takes the top spot in both, with an eFG% of nearly 54 percent and an eFGD% of just more than 42 percent. That 12 percent is significant, especially when compared to the other teams that range from less than 5 percent (Louisville) to 6 percent (Ohio State) to 9 percent (Kansas).

When they need to score, the Wildcats score.

When they need a defensive stop, the Wildcats get a stop. 

When they need to get John Calipari his first NCAA Championship... The Wildcats have all the skills (and numbers) necessary to make it happen.

Now go prove me right.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The perfect hire for Illinois: Gregg Marshall

If given the chance, Gregg Marshall would be cutting down nets at Illinois (AP).

If new Illinois AD Mike Thomas ever makes a decision and stops chasing coaches who know Illinois isn't the great job he thinks it is, the Fighting Illini might eventually have a coach for next season.

Since firing Bruce Weber earlier this month, the Illinois coaching search has been nothing short of a circus, led by Thomas playing the role as the ultimate ringleader.

Butler's Brad Stevens said, twice, that he's wasn't interested. VCU's Shaka Smart said the same thing.

Now the arrow is pointing at Ohio's John Groce, who wouldn't be a bad hire, but would be one of those you-might-be-sorry-because-you-just-hired-me-after-one-solid-NCAA-Tournament-run selections. Groce has a great pedigree, coaching under Thad Matta and flexing his recruiting muscle while at Ohio State (he was instrumental in recruiting Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., and Dequan Cook, among others) as well as at Ohio (D.J. Cooper anyone?).

The Chicago Tribune is citing sources saying Groce will be taking the job. It's not a bad move, just not the best one.

Nevertheless, if I'm a big-time school looking for a coach who has been able to build and sustain success at multiple mid-majors and would probably jump at the chance to coach in the Big Ten, Groce isn't exactly the guy.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the best fit for Illinois: Gregg Marshall.

The guy is a great coach and his system would give Illini faithful flashbacks to the Flyin' Illini days. Check out Marshall's track record at Winthrop and Wichita State. The numbers are the definition of a guy who can flat out coach and would be a long-term home run for Illinois.

The one knock would be that Marshall's teams are 1-7 in the NCAA Tournament. The truth is that only this year's Wichita State team received a "favored" seed while Winthrop's highest seed was a No. 11. That isn't to say Winthrop never could have swiped the 15-over-2 or 14-over-3 upset that others can make, but expecting that to happen is a little much. The one year Winthrop got an No. 11 seed it knocked out Notre Dame in the first round.

This is also the perfect time for Marshall to bolt. The top five scorers from this year's 27-6 Wichita State team are all graduating.

In comparison, the only seniors on Illinois' team are Sam Maniscalco, who transferred from Bradley using the my-school-doesn't-offer-this-masters-program loophole, and Jean Selus, who most people have never heard of.

If Marshall took the Illinois job and convinced Meyers Leonard of the obvious - he needs another year or two in the college game if he really wants a memorable NBA career - Illinois would join Indiana in the 2012-13 Big Ten Championship discussion. Marshall is that good of a coach who will undoubtedly get the best out of the underclassmen as well as seniors-to-be Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson.

Marhsall just turned 49, so he has plenty of successful years of coaching ahead of him. This isn't a stretch hire. This is the right move that only a stupid athletic director with a coaching vacancy wouldn't make.

Your move, Mike Thomas. It's time to end the circus.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Defensive Score Sheets: MSU vs. LIU Brooklyn & St. Louis

During its first two NCAA Tournament victories this year, the Spartans didn't win with defense. MSU defeated LIU Brooklyn 89-67 (69 possessions) in the Round of 64 and St. Louis 65-61 (60 possessions) in the Round of 32.

***See the bottom of the post for a description of what these numbers mean***

The one thing that should alarm MSU fans is how Brandan Kearney hasn't been able to guard anybody - especially 3-point shooters.

On the bright side, Adreian Payne is playing as if every MSU opponent these days is Ohio State. Not only is Payne controlling the paint on the offensive end, but he's altering and blocking shots on the defensive end.

As the Spartans prepare for Louisville tonight, defense should be the No.1 focus. Louisville struggles to score, dropping on just 104.3 PPP on the season (111th nationally via KenPom). For reference, Long Island was at 107.2 (72nd) while St. Louis was 110.9 (36th). It will be key for the wings (Brandon Wood, Kearney, Thornton and Byrd) to rebound like crazy on the defensive end. Louisville's best offense tends to be the offensive rebound turned into a kick out 3-pointer.

Offensively, MSU should expect various zone defenses (mostly a 2-3 zone) throughout the game. Louisville might mix in some man when pressing, but the Spartans will have to make some outside shots to move on to the Elite Eight.

***Defensive Score Sheet Explanation***

There is an in-depth explanation in this post, but here is a cliff notes version:
  • Min - Minutes played
  • DREB - Defensive Rebounds
  • FM - Forced field goal miss (includes blocks)
  • FTO - Forced Turnover (steals, charges taken)
  • FFTA - Forced missed Free Throw Attempt
  • DFGM - Allowed Defensive Field Goal Made
  • DFTM - Allowed Free Throw Made
  • DRtg - Defensive Rating (Gives players credit for stops and scoring possessions)
*The DRtg is most important part of a defensive score sheet as it is the analog of an offensive rating. If a player was on the floor for 100 of his team's defensive possessions, theDRtgcalculates the number of points the opposition would score.

Izzo still the master of post-timeout buckets?

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, MSU's Tom Izzo was praised for being the best "after timeout" coach in the country, specifically when inbounding under MSU's basket. It seemed that the Spartans scored roughly at an 80-percent clip after Izzo drew up a play in the huddle.

The last five-plus years or so, it doesn't seem as if Izzo's dry eraser marker is creating any magic.

How many times have you seen MSU inbound the ball to the backcourt? I can't remember a time when MSU did that during the Mateen Cleaves or even Marcus Taylor days. Now, it seems that happens more than 50 percent of the time.

The stats might show that is a mirage. Thanks to Synergy Sports Technology's record books, Luke Winn's Power Rankings included a table showing where teams left in the Sweet 16 stand in raw after-timeout efficiency (ATO PPP).

Surprisingly, Izzo's Spartans fare pretty well in ATO situations, ranking 24th nationally. MSU sits fifth out of the remaining Sweet 16 teams.

MSU's Sweet 16 opponent Louisville, however, is dead last. Rick Pitino's team scores a putrid 0.704 PPP after timeouts, which also puts it 277th in the country.

Needless to say, Thursday's battle out west could be won on the coaching clipboard. That would give Izzo and the Spartans a huge edge. With Louisville playing a lot of zone, MSU might want to take advantage of opportunities for quick scores on inbound plays, especially after timeouts.

3000: I'm obviously not calling plays, but if I was, I might suggest a play I called "3000?" Izzo has used this under-the-basket inbound play hundreds of times during his tenure. I even stole it when I coached ninth grade girls basketball at Algonac. (NOTE: I was given a set of out-of-bounds plays to run, but we stunk at them all. The only under-the-hoop play we scored on all year? 3000.)

I'm not sure the actual name, but 3000 is basically a serious of cuts through the lane, meant to confuse the zone defense on the inbound. Counting one-one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand, the third player to slice through the lane is usually open for a split second and a quick pass can result in an easy layup.

0.216: That is the difference between MSU's ATO PPP (0.920) and Louisville's (0.704). It's the largest disparity in all Sweet 16 matchups. In fact, only Ohio State's 0.213 margin against Cincinnati comes close.

9-0: That is Rick Pitino's record in Sweet 16 games throughout his career. That's pretty remarkable. It's on par with Izzo's 17-3 record in the second of back-to-back NCAA Tournament games.

1-7: That is Louisville's record against No. 1 seeds in its last eight games.

64-52: That was the score when MSU and Louisville last met. The stage was the 2009 Elite Eight with Louisville as the tournament No. 1 overall seed. The Spartans controlled the game en route to a title-game loss to North Carolina.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

2012 Bracket Picks

I know people love upsets, but other than a few in the early rounds, the cream of the crop will fill out the Elite Eight and Final Four this season. Sorry Cinderella lovers; there won't be a George Mason, Butler or VCU this season.

In my bracket above, I made a last-minute change which might or might not hurt my chances in my pool. I initially had Michigan State beating Syracuse for the title for a few reasons:

  • While I think the Orange are extremely flawed, I've never seen the second No. 1 seed get so little love. The East bracket isn't that tough as Ohio State has shown its vulnerability many times this season, Florida State is hit-or-miss if the opponent isn't UNC or Duke this year, and does anyone really trust Vanderbilt to make a deep run?
  • No one else would likely have that finals matchup (I was right in that prediction).
Nevertheless, when Fab Melo was ruled academically ineligible for the NCAA Tournament, I had to fix the pick. I went with the Buckeyes to come out of the right side of the bracket beating a vulnerable in the Elite Eight. I think both Vanderbilt and Wisconsin have the kind of teams that match up well with Syracuse so even the Sweet 16 could be the end of the road. That said, let's not forget Syracuse isn't a one-man team and Melo's absence will only hurt so much; it's not like he's Carmelo.

So, that left me with a Big Ten Championship rematch for the national title. It would be the fourth time this year the Spartans and Buckeyes battled, with MSU holding a 2-1 edge in the season series (MSU won at OSU 53-44; OSU won at MSU 72-70; MSU won the Big Ten Tournament Championship over OSU 68-64). The Spartans match up very well with the Buckeyes and, if the matchup happens, will surely give Tom Izzo his second championship.

BEST NON-TITLE GAME TO WATCH: Michigan State vs. Kentucky (Final Four). Based on the way the teams have played all season, this could very well be the title game. I like both teams' abilities to play at various speeds. Kentucky, no doubt, has more talent, but the Spartans have arguably the MVP in all of college basketball in Draymond Green. If there is one player who can will his team to a title, it will be Green. If this Final Four matchup indeed happens, the winner of this game will be your national champion. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Don't get Upset Crazy

Davidson beat Kansas earlier this year. Can the Wildcats upset Louisville on Thursday?

The biggest mistake people make in filling out NCAA Tournament brackets is going nuts picking the double-digit seeds.

We're talking about dousing a salad with ranch dressing, practically killing any healthiness in the dish.

Picking all the No. 13 seeds to beat No. 4 seeds, for example, is stupid. Could New Mexico State beat Indiana? Sure. What about Montana over Wisconsin? Yeah, could happen. Ohio over Michigan? Definitely possible. Davidson over Louisville? The Wildcats beat Kansas earlier this year, so why not?

The point is while each of those could happen, the chances are only one of those teams will pull an upset. That means, percentage-wise, picking all No. 4s to advance would get you 3 out of 4 games correct; going upset crazy and picking all No. 13s would leave you batting 25%. While still higher than Brandon Inge's batting average, that's not good in a March Madness pool.

UPSET ALERTS: The following are games that national pundits believe could be upsets:
  • SOUTH-No. 12 VCU over No. 5 Wichita State
  • SOUTH-No. 13 New Mexico State over No. 4 Indiana
  • SOUTH-No. 14 South Dakota State over No. 3 Baylor
  • SOUTH-No. 15 Lehigh over Duke
  • WEST-No. 12 Long Beach State over No. 5 New Mexico
  • WEST-No. 13 Davidson over No. 4 Louisville
  • WEST-No. 14 Iona over No. 3 Marquette
  • EAST-No. 13 Montana over No. 4 Wisconsin
  • MIDWEST-No.12 California over No. 5 Temple
  • MIDWEST-No. 13 Ohio over No. 4 Michigan
  • MIDWEST-No. 14 Belmont over No. 3 Georgetown
  • MIDWEST-No. 15 Detroit over No. 2 Kansas

Those are 12 potential upsets and I didn't even look at 7-10 or 6-11 games. On the CBS Selection Show, Seth Davis boisterously picked South Dakota State, Ohio and Belmont to win, pegging the Bruins into the Sweet 16. He might have picked more -- it seemed like he picked all the games listed above to be upsets! -- but my point is this: There is no benefit from picking that many crazy upsets. When you FINALLY hit an upset, you'll have missed so many that your excitement level can only be a notch above depressing.

MY SUGGESTION: Pick no more than two No. 13 seeds or worse to win a game. If you pick, say, Ohio to beat Michigan and Davidson to beat Louisville, you'll have thrown your darts. If neither happens, no biggie; so what if you went 0-2 on your "upset specials." Even if Harvard upsets Vanderbilt and you didn't pick it, chances are most other brackets didn't have it either. Picking upsets is a lot like living life: You have to pick your battle. Pick too many and the bad far outweighs the good.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"Sweet 16" Tips for Picking a Winning NCAA Bracket

There is no telling what will happen this March. There's a reason it's called March Madness, folks. That said, if you want some advice, here are "Sweet 16" Tips to help you win your pool.

1) The team with the most individual talent does not always win the national championship. In fact, in recent Tournament history, it only seems to happen about half the time. Duke won with teamwork in 2010 despite teams like Kansas and Kentucky having more talent. The Tar Heels were called an "NBA team" by Michigan State's Tom Izzo -- and that was before North Carolina whipped MSU in the title game. Kansas won in '08 with the likes of Cole Aldrich, Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins and Brandon Rush. North Carolina won in ’05 with Sean May, Ray Felton, and Rashad McCants. The Huskies won in ’04, led by Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon, but Syracuse upset Kansas to win in ’03. Two balanced teams made the final in ’02, with Maryland winning the battle with Indiana after the Hoosiers had knocked off a loaded Duke team in the Sweet 16. The Blue Devils won in ’01 behind NBA-level stars Shane Battier, Jayson Williams, and Mike Dunleavy, but Michigan State won behind its teamwork in 2000, while more talented Duke and Arizona made early exits. Last year, Ohio State and Kansas were loaded but it was UConn who won the title thanks to a Kembian performance from Kemba Walker. This year the 1A and 1B teams would be Kentucky and North Carolina.

2) Don’t pick all four #1 seeds to reach the Final Four. 2008 was the only year this has happened in the modern era (since 1985) and history is not likely to repeat itself anytime soon. Advancing all the #1 seeds to the Sweet 16 isn't a bad idea (it's much more of a risky gamble to pick a top seed to be upset by an 8/9 seed than to just pencil the top seeds into the second weekend). Yes, Michigan State might have a tough matchup with Memphis in the third round, but who says Memphis can get through Saint Louis, who plays as if it's rush hour on the court (read: slow, slower, slowest).

3) Historically, 7-10 affairs have been almost as evenly matched as 8-9 games. It isn't uncommon for there to be more #10 seeds in the second, errr, third round than #7 seeds. Notre Dame-Xavier, Saint Mary's-West Virginia are toss-ups (actually, both the No. 10 seeds are favored at the moment).

4) #10 seeds make great sleepers. While everyone else looks for the 5-12 upset, just find the vulnerable #2 seed. That's where your #10 seed can do a lot of damage. In fact, 2006, 2007, and 2009 are the only times since 1996 that at least one #10 seed didn’t reach the Sweet 16. Kent State (2002) and Davidson (2008) have even made the Elite Eight as a #10 in relatively recent memory. Best chances for a #10 sleeper this year is Xavier (a preseason Final Four threat that has a potential third round game against Duke) and Purdue (who has been playing its best ball as of late and might not have to face Kansas in Round 3).

5) It’s not just mid-major Cinderellas that do well with double-digit seeds. Like their little brothers, major-conference schools among the last at-large teams selected also have an uncanny record of winning at least one game in the NCAA Tournament. Examples: Texas A&M 2006, NC State 2005, Auburn 2003, Missouri 2002, Georgetown 2001, to name a few. Villanova and Arizona made nice Sweet 16 runs 2008 and 2009, respectively. Teams that fit the profile in this year’s Tournament could be No. 11 Texas or No. 12 California. Texas has played all the Big XII's best tough, losing most of those games, albeit in very close fashion. California was the Pac-12's best team and plays great defense that its never out of games.

6) Free throw percentages matter. A team like No. 11 Colorado State has the 6th-best FT% in the country (76.8%). That comes into play in a tight game. Teams like UConn (263rd in the country, 66.1%), Purdue (282nd, 65.3%) and Cincinnati (291st, 64.8%) could be brutal in late-game situations.

7) Teams that defend the 3-point shot well can avoid those killer upsets. When you think of great March Madness moments, you usually see those mid-major Cinderella's hitting game-winning triples. Even before it gets to that point, comebacks usually begin with a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers. Georgetown is the best team in the country at defending the trey, allowing makes at just 27%. Teams like Wisconsin (3rd in the country, 27.6%), Alabama (4th, 28%) and Michigan State (8th, 28.5%) are in the best positions to stave off crazy comebacks. Missouri, on the other hand, allows 3-pointers at a 36.5% clip, 278th in the country. A potential third-round game against 3-happy Florida doesn't seem to cut-and-dry, does it?

8) Pick Duke to reach the Sweet 16—at least. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the Blue Devils have made the third round of the Tournament 12 years in the last 14 (though they’ve missed two of the last six). Nevertheless, Coach K is a terrific in-game coach, and Duke's high seed and Greensboro placement makes this an easy "rule." While this goes against Xavier as a potential No. 10 seed that can do some damage, the safe bet is to put Duke into the Sweet 16.

9) Look for teams with clutch players. UConn's Shabazz Napier, Michigan State's Draymond Green, Ohio State's William Buford, Kansas' Thomas Robinson and Duke's Austin Rivers make up my “All-Clutch” Starting Five. And don’t forget that mid-majors can have these guys, too—St. Mary's Matt Dellavedova and Creighton's Doug McDermott are just a pair of mid-major stars who have been unbelievable in late-game situations throughout their careers.

10) Remember that the East, South and Midwest Regional Finals, as well as the Final Four, are played in massive domes. After playing in traditional college gyms all season, it’s often difficult for players to adjust their depth perception when shooting in a supersized arena that seats 40,000+. The team with the most experience playing in domes might be Syracuse…so if the Orange make it to New Orleans they might have an edge.

11) The Big Ten's Top 5 are really, really good. Just because a team like Indiana finished fifth in its conference doesn't mean it's not a potential Elite Eight or Final Four team. The conference has been able to play at various speeds and should be well equipped to handle all types of opponents. The fact those five teams are all "expected" to reach the Sweet 16 based on seeding tells you all you need to know.

12) Don’t drive yourself crazy picking the early-round games—it’s far more important to get the Final Four correct. In a traditional bracket pool, you’ll earn the same number of points for picking two Final Four members than for predicting all of the first-round games combined. (In the annual Harkins-Mackinder pool, picking the entire Final Four is worth 20 points, compared to 32 for picking the entire second round). Spend most of your time analyzing who’s going to make an extended run rather than obsessing about those pesky 8-9 and 5-12 matchups.

13) Look at your predicted national champion’s schedule to see if it has won six-plus games in a row during the regular season. As an addendum to this rule, I prefer to look at in-conference games only. The only exception would be a team like Baylor who beat Saint Mary's, West Virginia and Mississippi State in succession before winning four straight games to start Big XII play.

14) Defense doesn’t always win championships in college hoops, but it can certainly win you a couple of games. Ohio State, Louisville, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Virginia, Kentucky, Georgetown, Kansas, Alabama and St. Louis are all in the Top 10 of defensive efficiency via

15) The final score of the championship game is often lower than you might expect. Because this is typically a pool tiebreaker you should really think about it. Heck, last year's tiebreaker was 94 thanks to UConn's 53-41 win over Butler.

16) If all else fails, ask your spouse or significant other who he/she would pick. (That is, unless you’re in the same pool.)


This wasn't the weakest bubble ever - it was as weak as it had been the past few years - but there are a lot of average teams that'll be dancing this week.

I said for a few weeks that while North Carolina might have the talent of a No. 1 seed, the Tar Heels' resume and overall body of work is that of a No. 2 seed. Kansas, despite a Big XII semifinals loss, has a better resume than most and should be a No. 1 seed. I had the winner of Michigan State/Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament as the last No. 1 seed, which the Spartans claimed, 68-64 over the Buckeyes.

Missouri, despite a 30-4 record and a Big XII Tournament title, had a terrible nonconference schedule and lost both regular season matchups to Kansas. Why would a conference tournament title (with wins over Texas and Baylor) erase those two games and the rest of the season?

Below is my final projection: We'll see how it stacks up to Joey Brackets and Jerry "I still have Northwestern in the field" Palm.

LAST FOUR IN: BYU, South Florida, Drexel, Seton Hall

FIRST SEVEN OUT: Iona, NC State, Miami, Mississippi State, Washington, Arizona, Northwestern.

NOTES: was pulling for Iona, but when was the last time the MAAC got two bids (especially when the champ usually is no better than No. 13 or No. 14 seed? It just won't happen. I do think Drexel, being left out is a major possibility. But, winning 19-straight games is a tough task and losing to VCU in an underrated conference in the tournament finals is nothing to slouch about.

All things said, this is going to be an awesome March.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

8-Step Blueprint: Beating Kentucky

Using the only example anyone has (Indiana's 73-72 buzzer-beating win against the Wildcats on December 10), here's a 8-step blueprint on how to beat Kentucky.

  • Quick catch-and-shoots are mandatory. One of Kentucky's biggest assets is it's length. That, coupled with the team's athleticism, make executing your offense against the Wildcats in the half court ulcer inducing. By taking quick - but calculated - shots, it helps negate some of Kentucky's closeout length. 
    • Indiana's first two baskets of the December victory came off screen curls. Jordan Hulls and Verdell Jones III each came off screen and, prior to catching a pass, had their feet set ready for a shot.
  • Push the ball at every opportunity, even when one doesn't seem present. Even though Kentucky doesn't mind playing at a mach speed tempo, its biggest defensive strength is getting set defensively in the half court. When Anthony Davis is able to plant himself in the lane, it's nearly impossible to get any sort of easy baskets. However, if your team can outrun Davis down the floor, especially a big, it makes him seem like "just another tall center."
    • After a driving layup by Kentucky, Indiana's Cody Zeller was able to get an easy dunk on the other end of the floor by sprinting past Davis. Buckets didn't come easy against Kentucky, but this was the easiest of them all.
  • Offensive rebounding is crucial. This goes without saying, but if you can beat Kentucky to a rebounding, most Wildcats will be out of position to stop a put-back attempt.
    • Indiana had 12 offensive rebounds compared to just 26 defensive rebounds for Kentucky. That's a 31.6 offensive rebounding percentage, meaning Indiana had a second opportunity one out of every three shots. 
  • Play an inside-out game, and make 3-pointers. It goes without saying that getting hot from 3-point range is a recipe to beat any team, but its' pertinent to beat the nation's best.
    • Indiana went 9-for-15 from 3-point range and most of the shots were fairly open looks. Why? Indiana was able to get the ball into the lane via a Jones, Oladipo or Hulls drive. Zeller finished the game with one assist, but if it were hockey, he'd have more because much of the time he executed the pass to the eventual assister.
  • Get Anthony Davis in foul trouble. Obviously, take out the spine of Kentucky's low-post defense and points in the paint will be easier to attain.
    • Anthony Davis picked up his second foul with 8:03 left in the first half. Those eight minutes were crucial for Indiana to take a 30-29 lead into the half. Davis picked up his third foul just 2:25 into the second half and, after taking a seat on the bench for a while, inexplicably picked up No. 4 with 12:00 to play. Indiana might have gotten a break there because Davis usually doesn't foul 3-point shooters, as he did with Jones, but Indiana's aggressiveness forced Davis to play aggressive as well. It definitely backfired.
  • Force Marquis Teague into jump shots. Sag off Teague. There's no other way to play Kentucky's point guard. He's lethal getting to the basket and that's when he gets teammates easy baskets. On the season, Teague shot 41.2 percent from the field, including 31.2 percent from 3-point range. 
    • While Teague shot 6-for-11 against Indiana, the Hoosiers were most effective when they kept him outside the paint. He single-handedly orchestrated a 5-0 run by driving to the hoop for layups that include an And-1.
  • Put your best on-ball defender on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. While Anthony Davis might go No. 1 in the NBA Draft, it wouldn't be a shock if MKG went No. 2. The kid is the real deal and can take over a game. By blanketing MKG with your best defender (picture Ohio State's Aaron Craft, height disadvantage and all, smothering MKG), he still might get his points, but he likely won't get as many and he'll tire himself out doing so.
    • The season was still young, so Indiana didn't quite know how good MKG was. All he did was score 18 points on 9-for-12 shooting. Much of Indiana's effort was focused on Doron Lamb (19 points on 5-for-14 shooting, including 7 of 11 from the free throw line) and Terrence Jones (4 points on 2-for-3 shooting). That being said, Indiana did have Oladipo guarding MKG, so they obviously knew he was capable of dropping 30 if say, Jordan Hulls was "defending" MKG.
  • Get lucky on the block/charge calls. This is a must for any upset. The way it's being called today (read: idiotically inconsistent) a team just has to hope it's on the right side of a 50/50 split.
    • Indiana caught a few breaks, especially early in the game. There were three first half block/charges that all went against Kentucky. Two were unquestionably the wrong call and the third could be debated either way. Not only does getting lucky keep (or change) momentum, it racks up fouls for the opposition.

The funny thing is, despite adhering to this script, Kentucky's opponent still might lose. The Wildcats are that good.

There are only five teams - Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Kansas and North Carolina - that I see having a chance to beat Kentucky. Here's how:

  • Indiana: Obviously, the Hoosiers have done it, so that's the main reason they're on this list. Cody Zeller, despite being a freshmen, still has the skills to be a force in the paint against Anthony Davis. Couple that with Indiana's 3-point shooters (Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, Matt Roth) and it's offensive efficiency and the Hoosiers could see lightning strike twice.

  • Michigan State: The Spartans are built to play at any tempo - and excel at it. MSU could run Kentucky up and down the floor or it could find holes in Kentucky's half-court defense. It wouldn't be easy, of course, but the key would be to use the tandem of Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne to wear down Davis. Much like the Spartans have done with Ohio State's Jared Sullinger this year, by using two players to act as one center, MSU will be less prone to fatigue than Davis. While not the best 3-point shooting team, the Spartans have had those lights-out nights thanks to Brandon Wood, Travis Trice and even Draymond Green. The entire trio would have to be deadly from long distance.
  • Ohio State: The Buckeyes have athletes that match up well with the Wildcats. Jared Sullinger could body up Davis in the post, Aaron Craft would pester the hell out of whoever he's guarding and Ohio State's 3-point shooters (William Buford, Lenzelle Smith Jr., Deshaun Thomas) all have the ability to stretch defenses. It might be a battle of which big (Sully vs. Davis) can stay out of foul trouble the longest but even if it doesn't come to that, Ohio State is a great 3-point shooting team and that's always a recipe for victory.

  • Kansas: Noticing a trend yet? Teams with significant low-post threats are Kentucky's most likely kryptonite. Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey would both annoy Davis on defense but would, offensively, force him to play different styles of defense. By not allowing Davis to be comfortable in a deja vu role defensively, he'll be more apt to pick up silly fouls. Kansas also has athletes (Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford) who could create their own shots.

  • North Carolina: If the early-December game at Rupp Arena is any indication, these teams might be Nos. 1 and 1A when fully healthy. North Carolina has big bodies in the post - so many that playing a pair gives UNC some type of mismatch on defense since Davis is only one man. Kendall Marshall's playmaking ability makes him dangerous against any team and if the game turns into a run-and-shoot, the Tar Heels will feel like they're in heaven. The one negative is UNC's 3-point shooting. In another 73-72 game (this one Kentucky won), the Tar Heels shot 11 of 18 from beyond the arc. It tied for the most triples in a game for UNC this season and is very much an outlier. Typically, UNC will shoot something like 4 of 11, 5 of 14 or 3 of 9. Yes, North Carolina did have a few solid games (10 of 16 vs. Georgia Tech and 10 of 19 vs. NC State) but there were plenty of awful games like the 1-for-10 showing vs. Virginia and 4-for-19 performance at Wake Forest.

When it's all said and done, while I feel the above five teams could beat Kentucky, it would take a magical game. I just don't see it happening, but at least here's a blueprint worth following.

SEC Tournament Preview

By Kyle Almekinder

Defending Tourney Champion: Kentucky

All-Tournament Team:
F Anthony Davis (MVP)
G Darius Miller
F Arnett Moultrie
G Jeffery Taylor
F Patric Young

Predicted Champion: Kentucky

This year has been a magical run for the Wildcats. Led by freshmen superstars Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, there is no denying that this is the best team in the SEC and arguably the country. This year’s squad has already done what the two previous Kentucky teams did not do by sweeping the SEC slate. They will also be looking to add to what the other teams did do: win the SEC tournament for a third straight year.

Kentucky has the tools to win the tournament with same type of game play that won them 30 games in the regular season: Transition offense that can exploit you with sharp dribble-drive passes and scores. We also know how dominant the defense is (leads the nation in opponents’ effective field goal percentage), but what is becoming most dangerous are the weapons getting hotter and hotter as the season continues.

Sixth man, or as John Calipari states “sixth starter,” Darius Miller has become Kentucky’s go-to guy in clutch situations. In Miller’s last five games, he has shot over 45% from the field (21 for 46) and nearly 43% from the perimeter (12 for 28). Key reserve Kyle Wiltjer has been even deadlier from three point land, shooting a blistering 69% in his last eight games. The 'Cats' 3-point shot becomes crucial if Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, and Co. are unable to score in the paint. Kentucky can morph into any offense it wants; the Wildcats scored zero transition points in their last two games versus Georgia and Florida and won the games by a combined 45 points. Their ability to create half-court sets with a team that is designed around the fast break and passes to the open shooter has become another important tool to use.

I would expect nothing less out of John Calipari’s squad than a back-to-back-to-back SEC Tournament championship.

Possible Darkhorse: Tennessee

Tennessee Head Coach Cuonzo Martin has the Volunteers in the top tier of the SEC in his first year at the helm, a feat many thought would take several years to occur given the recent scandal with former coach Bruce Pearl coupled with many key players leaving. But, to Martin’s credit, he has worked well with the talent in Knoxville. Tennessee accrued several losses early (most notably to Austin Peay) but finished the season strong by winning nine of its last 11 games, leaving the Vols tied for second in the SEC at 10-6.

Freshman newcomer Jarnell Stokes became eligible in January and has become an offensive power in the paint for the Vols. His highest outing came on February 29 at LSU where he posted an 18 point (on 9-for-10 shooting), 7-rebound game in their five point overtime win. Stokes isn’t Tennessee’s go-to player, but he has became another option for Martin and his staff when high-percentage shots are needed. A sweep of Florida in conference play and a series split with Vanderbilt has Tennessee just as dangerous as a legitimate darkhorse for the SEC title.

Things to Watch for:

  • Does Mississippi State’s 2nd half slides continue?
    • The Bulldogs had high hopes for this season; they returned a veteran point guard in Dee Bost whose floor general skills are almost unmatched in the SEC, a talented yet troublesome-at-times big man in Renardo Sidney and added key transfer Arnett Moultrie from UTEP to fill Jarvis Varnardo's void. A 13-2 start to the season (with a minor slip-up versus Akron) still had Mississippi State in talks of a very high seed come tournament time. But alas, Rick Stansbury’s club has since gone 8-8 in conference, including a five-game losing streak that left the 'Dogs in 6th place in the SEC standings at regular season’s end. Many off-the-court issues have arose in this downward spiral, most notably forward Arnett Moultrie saying the Bulldogs could “probably not” bounce back for a postseason run. Can Mississippi State rebound and be a force in the SEC and NCAA Tournament? The Bulldogs are still more than dangerous to make said run, but the will of the players will dictate what their goals really are.

  • What will take to beat Kentucky for the title?
    • The best way to beat Kentucky is to have #TeamNoSleep on Twitter (several of the Kentucky players coined a term by staying up late) hold true to their word on the night before a game. Indiana found a way to beat Kentucky. The win involved the following: playing in front of one of the most hostile crowds in the nation this season, finding a miracle way to get Anthony Davis into foul trouble, shooting lights out beyond the arc and a buzzer beater to win. Indiana’s recipe blueprinted the best way to beat the Cats by even then they won by one point to beat the clock. Since, Kentucky has regrouped, rattled off a perfect SEC season and improved all areas of their game. Vanderbilt was able to give Kentucky two good games this season and potentially a third in the conference tournament. But in a best-of-one format, anything can happen and thus it is impossible to rule out a potential Kentucky loss. Still, it's a safe bet that Kentucky wins its third straight title.

  • Who gets at-large bids?
    • As of now, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has Kentucky (projected automatic bid winner), Vanderbilt, Florida, Mississippi State and Alabama in the NCAA Tournament. Deuce2Sports' Bracketography has the same five teams in the field but Mississippi State is a precarious No. 12 seed. Depending on how the SEC Tournament plays out, Tennessee might have an outside shot to earn an at-large bid. For now, the four aforementioned teams besides Mississippi State are locks barring any darkhorse tournament winner.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Big XII Tournament Preview

By Matt Ruder

Defending Tourney Champion: Kansas

All Tournament Team:
G Tyshawn Taylor (MVP)
G Phil Pressey
F J’Coven Brown
F Thomas Robinson
F Royce White

Predicted Champion: Kansas

If you asked Kansas players and fans alike if their team would win its eighth straight Big XII title before this year started many would have given a blank stare to question your IQ and rightfully so. A team losing three players to the NBA (the Morris twins and Josh Selby) and several others to graduation (most notably Brady Morningstar) as well as seeing several blue chip recruits disqualified from the 2011-2012 season should not have even been in conference title talks. Yet, if the past seven years have taught us anything, it is that the Big XII title runs through Lawrence and any team brave enough to take that away must present their best shot and then some to be conference champs.

Led by junior National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson and an senior All-American caliber guard Tyshawn Taylor, the Jayhawks now have the longest conference title winning streak in the nation. The previous streak holder was Gonzaga, who saw its 11-year streak of West Coast Conference titles come to an end this year at the hands of Saint Mary’s.

While its dominance has not been a stranglehold as in the regular season, Kansas still has captured over half of the last fourteen tournament titles, including five of the last 6. In this year’s Big XII Tournament, Kansas will try to extend its current streak of tournament crowns to three. Arch rival Missouri Tigers have proven to be the only team worthy enough to hang with the Jayhawks this season. Both games have came down to one possession and it would only be appropriate that a rubber-match in Kansas City would occur between the league’s two best teams.

Possible Darkhorse: Iowa State
After a tough year in 2011, Fred Hoiberg’s ragtag team of transfers has looked very good behind the excellent play of Royce White, who leads the team in just about every statistical category. Scott Christopherson has also proven to have huge games with his deadly perimeter shot. Even Michigan State transfer Chris Allen has been known to get scorching hot from 3-point range. If both White and Christopherson can play to their potentials it is not unreasonable to see Iowa State get revenge on Kansas in the tournament.

Things to Watch for:
  • Can Tyshawn Taylor keep up his All-American play? This Big XII season has been Taylor’s swan song. He averaged 17.8 points per game while dishing out just below five assists per game, numbers that rank with the nation’s best. His play will be critical to the success of Kansas in the Big XII Tournament as well as the NCAA Tournament. As long as Taylor keeps playing with the confidence he has during conference season Kansas will be a very tough out.
  •  How does Missouri respond after losing two of its last four? Missouri had a tough week against the state of Kansas, losing to both Kansas State at home and on the road at Kansas within days. A tough home senior night game versus the pesky Iowa State Cyclones has the Tigers vulnerable. Missouri should rebound well with a few easy games early in Kansas City before battling with the Big XII’s elite.
  • Does Baylor play to its potential at last? This year’s Baylor squad is one of the most talented yet frustrating teams to watch in the Big XII. The Bears horrid zone defense has plagued them all year; a weakness Kansas has shown how to carve them up twice already this season. The Baylor players, with Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III and many others are very athletic but are unable to stop their opponents. As long as Scott Drew insists on playing primarily zone, it is hard to see the Bears making a mark on the Big XII tournament or March Madness.

  • Does Texas play its way into NCAA? While five teams (Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State, Iowa State) are all but locked into March, Texas could use several marquee wins to cement its NCAA bid. A soft bubble this year limits Texas’ ability to keep the committee happy with anything but a ‘good’ loss. To feel safe, the Longhorns should, at the very least, beat Iowa State in the quarterfinals. Ideally, reaching semifinals would be great for Texas’ resume.