Wednesday, March 19, 2014

2014 Schmolik Bracket Analysis

Hello, college basketball fans!

Now that the damage by the Selection Committee has been done, now it's time for my annual Schmolik Bracket Analysis! All I ask is you give me a piece if you win the billion dollars!

I will begin in the South Regional led by Florida.

When I saw Florida and Kansas in the same regional I thought it would be tough. But the #3 seed is a Syracuse team that is clearly not the same team as they were early in the season. They lost home games to Boston College and Georgia Tech and face a somewhat dangerous MAC team in Western Michigan. I could see the Orange being one and done this year. #4 seed UCLA had a great week in the Pac-12 tournament including beating Arizona. But they may have overachieved and they also lost to Wazzou as well. UCLA will be playing in San Diego which is a huge advantage, especially against VCU. Syracuse and Ohio State could potentially meet in the Round of 32. They met in a regional final in 2012.

The big question for Kansas is Joel Embiid's health and status. They have a potential match with New Mexico, arguably the most under seeded team this year. Then again, the Lobos lost to Harvard in their first game last season. 

I think if Embiid plays we can see a great Florida/Kansas final. The Gators have lost in the regional final the last two years, one game away from the Final Four. But I think this is their year.

South Regional Final Pick: Florida over Kansas

Let's go to the East Regional since the East and South regional winners play in the national semifinals.

I am usually big on tournament experience. Look at the top three seeds in the regional. At the top is ACC champion Virginia who didn't even make the tournament last season. While Villanova made the Final Four in 2009 they haven't done much since. And the last time Iowa State made the Sweet 16 their head coach was partying with coeds.

But who is in this regional? Two teams that have won national championships since 2009 in North Carolina and Connecticut plus Michigan State who has made two Final Fours in the same span. I am not big on the two V's. Virginia only played most of the top ACC opponents once during the regular season. I would love to see Villanova win but the Big East was weak and the Wildcats choked in their two games vs. Creighton as well as the Big East tournament opener. Their only real good win this season was over Kansas back in the Bahamas.

I have seen many experts say Michigan State is the favorite in this regional which is extremely rare for a 4 seed. The Spartans have had injury problems all season long. They actually lost a home game to Nebraska this year. But now they are healthy and played well in the Big Ten Tournament beating both Wisconsin and Michigan. I can tell you Harvard is dangerous but we all know that from last year so I'm sure Cincinnati will be ready.

Philadelphia will be excited if St. Joseph's and Villanova meet this Saturday in Buffalo. But I think Connecticut may have something to do with that matchup. Remember that Connecticut was one of only two teams to beat Florida this year and have been playing well lately, making the AAC final. This will be Kevin Ollie's debut in the NCAA Tournament and St. Joseph's will be a dangerous opponent. Iowa State looked impressive in winning the Big 12 Tournament, especially over Kansas. But they have a potential second game against North Carolina and I will respect the Cyclones when they perform in the NCAA Tournament, not just in the regular season.

So I am going upset happy in this regional. I like Connecticut and North Carolina to meet in the Sweet 16 in New York. I also like Michigan State to win the regional. I am not saying Virginia does not deserve a #1 seed but you have to think they are the most vulnerable #1 seed (don't forget Wichita State made the Final Four last year). This year's 16 seeds are pretty weak (if you go by RPI) but if some #16 is going to be the first to go down, it has to be Virginia (even if you think Wichita, remember they get the winner of the play in game involving the two worst teams in the tournament including Cal Poly). I would pick Kentucky and probably Gonzaga or Oklahoma State over Virginia but the odds of Memphis or George Washington beating Virginia is lower IMHO.

East Regional Final Pick: Michigan State over North Carolina

Now we head out west or as I like to call it the regional no one wants to be in. You can usually tell who the weakest #1 seed because it is the one that is in the west. This year is the exception since Arizona is, at least according to the NCAA, the second best team this year.

Since 2000, only one team west of the Mississippi River has won the national championship (Kansas in 2008). If you look at the number of Final Four teams east of the river vs. west, the east dominates. Well only two teams in the West Regional are clearly east of the Mississippi (I'm not sure about Louisiana Lafayette) and the two meet in their first game. I would give the edge to Wisconsin but the regional final is virtually in Arizona's backyard.

I would watch out for Gonzaga as they return to the role of giant killer as opposed to the giant being killed like they were last season. If Marcus Smart lives to preseason expectations, they could give Gonzaga (and Arizona) fits. Don't forget about San Diego State. They beat Kansas in Lawrence this year and will be playing the regional final in Los Angeles. I will say my choice for this year's most likely 12 vs. 5 is North Dakota State beating an overrated Oklahoma team (and the game is in Spokane so I don't expect a lot of either team's fans there).

If Arizona and Wisconsin played closer to Madison, I'd take the Badgers. But Arizona out west is going to be hard to beat by a team East of the river making a long trip.

West Regional Final Pick: Arizona over Wisconsin

Only one regional remains. Have I discussed the defending champion Louisville, runner up Michigan, Final Four participant and undefeated Wichita State, Duke, or Kentucky yet? What? They're all in the same regional? Are you kidding me????

Yes, Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan, and Wichita State all in one regional! I can think of three times in the last four years that one regional is loaded compared to the others. Last year Louisville and Duke were also the top two seeds in the toughest regional. In 2011, you have Ohio State, North Carolina, and Louisville in the same region (for some region Louisville always is in the toughest regional). Last year's Group of Death (to borrow from a soccer term) was in Indianapolis and this year's is as well. You should not be surprised. Indianapolis is a centrally located city close to all five of these schools. I'm sure all five of these schools would want to play here from a geographical standpoint. It just makes the regional that much harder. But what's the alternative? Force Duke or Louisville out west to balance the regionals? I'm not sure Pitino or Coach K would be in favor of that.

Charles Barkley said the Selection Committee stacked the deck against Wichita State but it's not the first time they loaded up a regional and it won't be the last. It's Indy's central location that worked against them. Ironically this would be the year Wichita State would have wanted to be shipped out west (they did make the Final Four out of the west last year), but Arizona blocked it this year.

Still, you have a Kentucky team that shouldn't be an 8 and a Louisville team that shouldn't be a 4 in Wichita State's path. I'm not sure if that was a coincidence. I'm surprised they didn't place New Mexico as a 7 seed in there as well. Now of course both schools can drive to Indianapolis so why wouldn't they be placed in Indy if they had a choice?

If Wichita State switched with Arizona, they'd probably be the favorite to get to Dallas. I'd go as far as to say if they switched with Florida they'd be favored (although Wichita State vs. Kansas will be a tough game). Wichita State did play Louisville tough in last year's Final Four but it looks like Louisville is most people's choice to make it out of the Group of Death. Plus, Rick Pitino and the Cardinals now have a chip on their shoulder and will have extra motivation to win in this regional.

4 seeds are rarely favored to ever win a regional. But I think Louisville and Michigan State are both favorites to win their regionals this year. I would say Michigan State is the bigger favorite as their regional is way weaker than this one. Louisville would likely have to beat Wichita State (or their in state rival in Kentucky) and then either a rematch of last year's championship game vs. Michigan (who has been playing well lately before the final vs. Michigan State) or Duke with Jabari Parker. But after last season, do you want to pick against Louisville? I don't. Yet.

Midwest Regional Final Pick: Louisville over Michigan

So my Final Four is Louisville, Michigan State, Arizona, and Florida. Two #1 seeds and two #4 seeds. I can't remember ever picking a #4 seed to make the Final Four and this year I picked two.

And guess what? I'm going 4's all the way to the final. Florida plays in a lousy SEC where only two other opponents made the tournament (and one, Tennessee, wound up in the play in game). Arizona plays in the Pathetic 12. Michigan State is battle tested and their coach has won it all before. I just think Arizona and Sean Miller in this scenario will have a deer in the headlights moment and will be no match for Louisville. As for Florida and Michigan State, I just think MSU has faced better competition this year.

As for the final, I should pick Louisville. But I (kind of like the Selection Committee) question the level of competition in their conference. I don't think the AAC is as bad as the NCAA's thought but it would never be mistaken for the Big Ten or ACC. I would say the Big Ten has to win a national championship eventually and I think this year's Spartans have a much easier path to the title game and I say they pull it off. I would finally love to silence the SEC and Big 12 fans who think their conference is better than the Big Ten. They have more championships because their best team is better than anyone in the Big Ten. But our second through fifth teams would destroy most of their second through fifth teams.

Championship: Michigan State over Florida.

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