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Brackets? Who Needs Brackets To Pick 3 #1 Seeds?!?

April 4, 2015

Although in my bracket (long since in the garbage can) I only picked one of the Final Four teams correctly (Kentucky, like almost everyone else did, talk about a “gimme”), from the 10,000 feet perspective, I feel a lot better about how I thought this tournament would play out compared with how it has. Three of my Championship Contenders – Kentucky, Wisconsin and Duke – made it to Indianapolis along with a Darkhorse Michigan State squad that no one should have been surprised by considering a No. 7 seed won it all last year, considering Tom Izzo’s tournament history, and considering how badly the NCAA Tournament Committee selected the East Region (in my opinion). I’m still quite confident one of the Contenders will be atop the podium Monday Night; Some quick thoughts with the games about to start …

(7) Michigan State vs. (1) Duke, East vs. South (3:09pm PST, TBS)With all apologies to whomever may be offended by what follows, this game is clearly the undercard to the Main Event of Kentucky v. Wisconsin, a rematch of a State Farm Champions Classic game November 18 that Duke won by 10 and in which Michigan State never led. Honestly, this is probably the worst or least talented of Tom Izzo’s seven (7!) Final Four teams at Michigan State since 1999, and from what I saw they really should have lost to Louisville in regulation last Sunday. It’s fair to assume that the Spartans were underseeded by a couple of lines, that they should have been closer to a #5 seed given the metrics and how well the Big Ten has shown in this tournament with Wisconsin across the isle. But is it fair to say that Michigan State’s time at the Dance is about to end? I think whichever team controls the tempo will win this game; Duke by far plays the fastest pace (AdjT of 65.8, which is 130 spots ahead of Michigan State in the Pomeroy rankings), so it would likely be a mistake for Michigan State to go uptempo, and although a halfcourt game would appear to favor Michigan State, they had no answer for Jahlil Okafor in November, and I don’t think they have one now. All this talk about Kentucky having nine (9) McDonald’s All-Americans, and Duke actually has eight (8) themselves, so the talent edge to me will bear out. In other words, I don’t think the owner of the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino will be cashing in his 50-1 ticket on Michigan State winning the title. A better bet might be picking what will happen more during this game: Crowd shots of Magic Johnson reacting to the game action, or Jim Nantz, Bill Raftery and Grant Hill referring to Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairns, Jr. by his full name? I’d take the Magic crowd shots straight up.

(1) Wisconsin vs. (1) Kentucky, West vs. Midwest (5:49pm PST, TBS) – Clearly American Sports’ best illustration of the Irresistible Force (Wisconsin’s No. 1 AdjO) versus the Immovable Object (Kentucky’s No. 1 AdjD) since Super Bowl XLVIII. Last year in this very space analyzing last year’s Wisconsin-Kentucky Final Four matchup, I had called Wisconsin’s offense “old school”, saying it looked “ like B-reel from the production of the movie ‘Hoosiers’ …” and breaking down exactly what the “Flex” aims to accomplish with spacing and player movement. After watching their 1985 Villanova-esque second half shooting demonstration – hitting 10 of 12 threes in the Second Half – against Arizona in person last Saturday (with what can only be described as a sense of ennui), and hearing all season in the NBA how important spacing and player movement has become with the success of teams like San Antonio, Atlanta and Golden State, I have to ask: Has the Old School become the New School? In the Ken Pomeroy Era (since 2002, when he started accruing his efficiency data), this year’s Wisconsin is by a wide margin the greatest offense in modern history, with an AdjO of 127.5 points per 100 possessions (having risen almost 3.0 ppp during the NCAA Tournament). Notably, Kentucky right now has the second-best defensive efficiency over the same time period (only John Calipari’s 2009 Memphis team had a lower AdjD). Will it take a repeat performance from last week beyond the 3-point arc for Wisconsin to do what 38 other teams have failed to do this season? In last year’s Final Four barnburner, Wisconsin hit 8-20 from three and lost by 1. Frank Kaminsky, the likely consensus National Player of the Year, is still the toughest individual matchup in the Final Four. All that said, this year’s Kentucky team is deeper and more talented than last year’s, and I think these Wildcats get one step closer to history in another nailbiter.

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