Bracket advice you can take to the bank — maybe
Bracketology, racketology. It's all about the Hack-a-tology now, an exhaustive, ranting look at the NCAA tournament. Now that the field...
Seattle Times staff columnist
It's all about the Hack-a-tology now, an exhaustive, ranting look at the NCAA tournament. Now that the field of 65 has been set, let's rank the teams according to how likely they are to win the national title, based on both the team's ability and its draw.
(WARNING: If you choose to treat the following as advice and wind up getting creamed in your tournament pool, I will deny I ever made these predictions.)
65. Coppin State. The MEAC champs are the first 20-loss team ever to make the tournament. They won't get past Mount St. Mary's in the play-in game.
64. Mount St. Mary's. The Mountaineers will get past the play-in game, but then North Carolina awaits.
63. Texas-Arlington. The Mavericks won the Southland tournament after finishing seventh in the regular season. They are a great shooting team (47.9 percent, 23rd best in the nation), which might keep them in the game for a half, but Memphis will overwhelm them.
62. Mississippi Valley State. The Delta Devils, who won the SWAC, lost 71-26 to Washington State earlier this season. Now they get UCLA, so I'm predicting a 57-6 final score.
61. American. NCAA tournament newbies, the Eagles won the Patriot League to get here, and their reward is a shootout with Tennessee. Combined, the teams chuck up about 43 three-pointers a game. Tennessee might want to stay away from a shooting contest with American, however. The Eagles ranked third in Division I in three-point percentage at 40.9.
60. UMBC. The University of Maryland-Baltimore County, is a first-timer at the Big Dance. Which means the Retrievers will stand against the wall and watch Georgetown thrill the crowd.
59. Belmont. The Bruins beat two teams from power conferences this season — Cincinnati and Alabama — but they also lost by 41 points to Xavier. This is Belmont's third straight NCAA tournament appearance. This year, they have earned the right to get pummeled by Duke.
58. Portland State. Yet another Big Dance rookie, former Washington assistant Ken Bone won the Big Sky and he has a nice squad that's on a 14-game win streak. The Vikings have to face Kansas in the first round, though.
57. Georgia. The Bulldogs won only four SEC games in the regular season before winning four games in three days to win the conference tournament and earn the automatic bid. Coach Dennis Felton has mostly been a flop at Georgia, but perhaps the past week represents a turning point for his program and probably saved his job. He won't get past Xavier in the first round, though.
56. Austin Peay. During its first two tourney appearances in the early 1970s, fans started the cheer "Let's Go Peay!" (Pronunciation guide: drop the "y.") Bless the Governors, supporters of the sophomoric humor movement. But on the court, they gamble too much on defense and allow teams to shoot 46.6 percent. The Texas guards will shred them.
55. Cornell. The Big Red has won 16 straight games, its last loss coming to Duke on Jan. 6, and flirted with an upset on the road in that game. I have the Big Red ranked this low only because it faces a nightmare matchup in Stanford in the first round. They have only one true big man and figure to struggle mightily against the Lopez twins.
54. Oral Roberts. I really want to pick the Golden Eagles to upset Pittsburgh, but I can't after watching Pitt win the Big East tourney. Expect this first-round game to be a close one.
53. San Diego. Back when everybody was beating up on Kentucky, the Toreros went to Rupp Arena and won 81-72. Then they meandered through the year until the West Coast Conference tournament, upsetting Saint Mary's and Gonzaga to win the thing. But Connecticut might be too athletic for the Toreros.
52. Winthrop. The Eagles are a fun, loose bunch that has rallied around a tragedy this season: guard DeAndre Adams died in a car accident last May, and the team dedicated the season to him.
51. Baylor. Coach Scott Drew inherited a scandalous disaster and molded the Bears into a team that won 20 games for the fourth time in school history. But sorry, they won't get past Purdue.
50. Cal State Fullerton. Josh Akognon, a Washington State transfer, leads the Titans in scoring at 19.9 points per game. He makes you wonder how good the Cougars would be if they had another shooter in the lineup. The Titans are an exciting team, but the Big West champs will have difficulty with Wisconsin's grinding style. An upset is possible if their three-pointers are falling, but the Badgers are too good a defensive team.
49. Boise State. The Broncos' triple-overtime victory over New Mexico State in the WAC championship game was the highlight of the conference tournaments. This is a really gifted offensive team. Boise makes 51.5 percent of its shots, second in Division I. But Louisville, a spectacular defensive team, should limit them.
48. Siena. The Saints will be a trendy upset pick, mostly because they beat Stanford in November. The neglected part of that story is Brook Lopez didn't play in the game because of academic problems. Siena is athletically impressive, but size is a problem. And Vanderbilt has 6-foot-11 freshman A.J. Ogilvy, who will take advantage of that.
47. Temple. The Owls are back. All-Name Team Alert: Dionte Christmas leads the Owls in scoring at 20.2 points per game.
46. South Alabama. South Alabama deserved the bid after finishing with an RPI of 39. Its reward: Butler, the most under-seeded team in the field.
45. Miami. I do not like this team. All the Hurricanes did this year was beat Mississippi State and Duke and finish 8-8 in an ACC that was having a down season. . Saint Mary's is going to eliminate them in round one.
44. Oklahoma. When we discuss college basketball's outstanding freshman class, we immediately mention Michael Beasley, Kevin Love, Eric Gordon, O.J. Mayo and Derrick Rose. Here is another name that belongs on that list: Blake Griffin. He is a 6-10 brute, and he managed to miss only two games while battling injuries to both knees. He must have the pain threshold of Brett Favre. So, why can't the Sooners advance past Saint Joseph's? They are often offensively inept.
43. Oregon. Not surprised the Ducks got in, but am surprised they received a No. 9 seed. Figured they would be an 11 or 12. Oregon can score, but it won't play enough defense to beat Mississippi State. It should be one of the more entertaining games of the first round, but the teams are only playing for the right to lose to Memphis.
42. Kent State. This Golden Flash team is dangerous, but I think UNLV will get them in the first round.
41. Kansas State. Beasley vs. USC's O.J. Mayo in the first round? The winner gets to go help the Sonics try to keep Denver under 168 points. The Wildcats faded at the end of the season, and USC is playing better team ball now, so the Trojans will win.
40. Clemson. The Tigers beat Duke in the ACC tournament and played a tight game against North Carolina in the final. So, naturally, they will lose to Villanova in the first round. Clemson is the dreaded No. 5 seed, historically the most jinxed of the high seeds.
39. West Virginia. The Mountaineers probably should beat Arizona in the first round, but they won't. They are incredible on offense, but their defense isn't up to the Bob Huggins standard just yet. Arizona will exploit the defensive deficiencies.
38. Texas A&M. When the Aggies beat Washington in the Preseason NIT, they looked like a team that could grow into at least a Sweet 16 contender. Instead, they finished the season with a lousy 9-9 run. New Aggies coach Mark Turgeon will suffer a first-round defeat to BYU.
37. Kentucky. What a strange first year coach Billy Gillispie had with the Wildcats. He went from losing at home to Gardner-Webb and San Diego, from losing seven of his 13 nonconference games, to making the tournament. The Wildcats still have some searching to do. Marquette will knock them out in the first round.
36. Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish is a great regular-season team because Mike Brey is a fantastic bench coach. But Notre Dame is always susceptible to an early exit. The Fighting Irish can't overwhelm the smaller schools with athleticism, and sometimes the teams on their level are just better. I see the Fighting Irish losing to a mid-major — this time, George Mason — in the first round.
35. Arkansas. First-year coach John Pelphrey implemented a new up-tempo system, but it had mixed results. The Razorbacks are just good enough to disappoint you. I like Indiana, the best No. 8 seed in a long, long time, to oust Arkansas.
34. Davidson. Davidson guard Stephen Curry is the best shooter in college basketball. If he were as tall as his dad, former NBA star Dell Curry, he'd be a top-five NBA draft pick this year. But at 6-foot-3, he is two inches shorter than his father and not nearly as strong, so the sophomore will be sticking around college. Picking the Davidson-Gonzaga matchup was the hardest of the opening round. I took Gonzaga, but I fear that was more out of familiarity than logic.
33. Drake. The Bulldogs won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament final by 30 points. They play a confusing zone defense. And they stay together because of the leadership of an overachiever, walk-on-turned-Valley-player-of-the-year Adam Emmenecker. It sure would take, say, a homer rooting for his alma mater, Western Kentucky, to think the Bulldogs could lose in the first round.
ONE WIN AND HIT THE ROAD
32. Villanova. I have seen Villanova play about five times and only been impressed once, when the Wildcats overcame a 21-point deficit to LSU in the final eight minutes. The comeback was riveting, and I keep expecting to see that Villanova team again.
31. George Mason. Do the Patriots have any more magic left? Well, they still have two starters lingering from their 2006 Final Four team, Will Thomas and Folarin Campbell. They still play amazing defense. The affable Jim Larranaga still coaches them. I think that is enough to get them past Notre Dame, but the magic ends there.
30. Saint Joseph's. The Hawks have too explosive of an offense to be ignored. They have beaten Xavier twice in the past two weeks. When they are in a groove, they can be so much fun to watch. But fun only takes you so far. I see St. Joe's losing to Louisville in the second round.
29. Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have a nice inside-outside combo in Jamont Gordon and Charles Rhodes. And the other Hansbrough — Ben, little brother of Tyler — is a solid little player. The problem: They should get Memphis in the second round.
28. Western Kentucky. Yes, I am a proud graduate of this school, but that's not the only reason I have the Hilltoppers upsetting Drake in the first round. The biggest reason: Courtney Lee. The kid can play, and Western is loaded with underrated talent all around him. The Hilltoppers match up well with Drake, but the second round could be burdensome. Connecticut, with all its size and athleticism, looms as the likely opponent.
27. UNLV. You cannot call them the Runnin' Rebels anymore because they barely jog. Lon Kruger plays a brand of basketball that would make Jerry Tarkanian take that towel out of his mouth and use it to cover his eyes, but the grind-it-out style works. Kruger's team should be able to win a game before getting trounced by Kansas.
26. Saint Mary's. The Gaels beat Oregon earlier this season, and they should feast on Miami, which was over-seeded at No. 7. But a potential matchup with Texas in Round Two doesn't look so promising for the Gaels.
25. Arizona. People point to Lute Olson's leave of absence, injuries and the nation's second toughest schedule to defend the Wildcats, but despite those challenges, this team underachieved. I think the Wildcats will get past West Virginia on talent, but then they have Duke. If they somehow get past Duke, the West Regional moves to Phoenix for the second weekend — quite a potential advantage for a No. 10 seed. But who are we kidding? The Wildcats can't beat Duke, right?
24. Marquette. Coach Tom Crean is using a three-guard starting lineup this year, and with Marquette being smaller than usual, they've had some trouble in the toughness department, especially rebounding. Marquette is too small to beat Stanford in Round Two.
23. BYU. I love this team. The Cougars beat Louisville in November and then gave North Carolina a scare the next night. They are a very sound team. They defend. They keep the opponent off the offensive glass. On offense, they do a tremendous job of picking apart their foes. It wouldn't surprise me to see BYU beat Texas A&M and then force UCLA to beat them in the final minute. That's what the Bruins prefer to do anyway.
22. Gonzaga. I will like the Zags better next year than I do now, but they still have enough to advance one round. They have a wonderful mix of young talent. Austin Daye is the next Gonzaga superstar. I really like Steven Gray's game. Leading scorer Matt Bouldin has the talent of a standout and the intangibles of a role player. Jeremy Pargo gets a little out of control at times, but he does a nice job running this team. Gonzaga needs Josh Heytvelt and Micah Downs to play up to their capabilities. I see the Zags lasting long enough to get exposed by Georgetown.
21. Indiana. Have the Hoosiers faded as a result of Kelvin Sampson's sins or was this team headed for a collapse anyway? I thought this team was good enough to win it all, with Eric Gordon on the perimeter and D.J. White in the post. Now, the Hoosiers are headed for a second-round loss to North Carolina.
20. Michigan State. The Spartans were preseason Final Four contenders, but they fell apart at the end of the season. They struggled most on the road, where they lost five of their final six games. Despite their struggles, you cannot count out Tom Izzo this time of year. I have the Spartans losing to Pittsburgh in the second round, but I could see them winning that game and advancing to the Sweet 16.
19. Butler. I was a Bulldogs believer until witnessing them get hosed by the selection committee. Not only are they a No. 7 seed, but they are in the East Region, the toughest of the four. The Bulldogs went to the Sweet 16 last season and are having an even better year this season. Their reward is a likely second-round matchup with Tennessee.
18. Xavier. If the Musketeers keep their mouths shut and play the game with purpose, they have a chance to go far. Their mission for the Dance is obvious: Earn that respect they covet.
17. Wisconsin. This is my least favorite well-regarded team. Something is missing. Bo Ryan is a terrific coach. The players believe in his system. Still, the Badgers have not advanced past the first weekend in the past two tournaments, and I expect that streak to extend to three.
WIN TWO AND YOU'RE THROUGH
16. USC. The Trojans will beat Wisconsin in the second round. O.J. Mayo is starting to become worthy of all the hype. He's sharing the ball, and as a result, forward Taj Gibson is starting to thrive.
15. Washington State. As a No. 4, the Cougars are over-seeded, but they will back it up. The road to the Sweet 16 will become easier for them because I think they will face two mid-majors (Winthrop and George Mason) to get there. But with North Carolina lurking at the top of the brutal East, the Cougars' dream run is nearing the end.
14. Purdue. The Boilermakers start two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior, so they might have a Big Ten title or two in their future. For now, Purdue is near the top of the list of teams you don't want to play. The Boilermakers beat Wisconsin twice and also beat Michigan State and Louisville. Matt Painter can really coach.
13. Connecticut. All of a sudden, the Huskies finally figured out how to play winning basketball in late January, and they have been formidable ever since. For two years, coach Jim Calhoun has been touting point guard A.J. Price, and now he is playing up to the praise.
12. Pittsburgh. Pitt is the most rugged team in college basketball, overcoming injuries to Mike Cook and Levance Fields to remain among the elite. Traditionally, this has been a hard team to predict. The Panthers persevered through so much and played so outstanding in the Big East tournament, however, and those things should equate to tourney success.
11. Vanderbilt. The Commodores beat Kentucky by 41 last month. They beat Tennessee a day after the Volunteers climbed to No. 1. Shan Foster, the SEC player of the year, is the kind of player who takes over games. Vandy can win two games and give Kansas trouble in the third round.
10. Stanford. I worry about this team against a quicker, more athletic foe. A Sweet 16 matchup with Texas would present an intriguing contrast of styles — and just the kind of opponent capable of embarrassing the Cardinal.
9. Louisville. When Terrence Williams, a Rainier Beach High school grad, is playing his all-around game and David Padgett is leading the offense and defense as a point center, the Cardinals are a Final Four team. When either Williams or Padgett struggles, Louisville has the potential to combust. But the Cards have good depth, and Rick Pitino remains one of the best strategists in the game. I have them losing a close Sweet 16 game to Tennessee, but I wouldn't be surprised if they won that game.
ELITE, BUT UNSATISFIED
8. Duke. If the Blue Devils had one threat in the post, they would be the national-title favorite. But they are a team of skill over girth, a team just begging to be knocked off by a far more physical team. That team could be Purdue in the Sweet 16, but I'm thinking the Blue Devils won't lose until they meet UCLA in the Elite Eight.
7. Georgetown. The Hoyas have all the pieces except for a playmaker, and so John Thompson III's offensive system does much of the creating. The big question about JT3 remains: Can a coach running a Princeton-style offense win a national championship? This isn't Georgetown's time to win it all, but the Hoyas are a solid Elite Eight pick.
6. Texas. D.J. Augustin was the best point guard in America this past season. Memphis' Derrick Rose will be a better pro, but Augustin has made life without Kevin Durant easy for the Longhorns. Quietly, the real key for Texas is forward Damion James, who averages a double-double. Texas doesn't have much size or depth, but it will be in the tournament for a while.
5. North Carolina. Kansas and North Carolina are the most talented teams in the country, but I don't think both will make the Final Four. And although North Carolina is the favorite to win it all, I think the Tar Heels are still vulnerable. They are going to miss Bobby Frasor, their glue guy who tore his ACL in December, when things get tough.
4. Memphis. The Tigers have been inching toward a Final Four in recent years, and now is their time. We like to knock Memphis for its poor free-throw shooting (59.6 percent) and weak conference, but the Tigers are tested. And coach John Calipari seems to be more in tune with this team than his previous ones.
3. Kansas. The Jayhawks have to get to the Final Four this time. They just have to. For the past four years, they've been a Final Four favorite, and that hype has only added up to two first-round exits and two losses in the Elite Eight. The team feeds off its depth, with seven different players capable of carrying the scoring load, but the Jayhawks must get consistent production from Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur if they want to win it all.
2. Tennessee. I just like the mix of talent on this team. The Volunteers have two seniors in the backcourt, Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith, to go with a quintet of talented sophomores. Coach Bruce Pearl challenged this team with tough scheduling, and after receiving the No. 2 seed in the toughest region, the Vols will feel slighted. They're always at their best when they're playing the underdog role.
1. UCLA. The Bruins will win their 12th national championship because they've been to the Final Four the past two seasons, losing to the champion Florida Gators both times, and now their time has arrived. This UCLA team is better than last season's because Kevin Love is in the middle. My only concern with the Bruins is that they may be out of luck after Josh Shipp's over-the-backboard shot against California and the phantom foul against Stanford. Every champion seems to have to escape one close call during the tourney, and the Bruins have already had two seasons' worth of Tyus Edney moments.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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