Monday, March 16, 2009

South Region Breakdown

Most likely 11+ seed to win a game: I'm not a fan of any of these 11+ seeds, but if I have to pick one I'm going with Western Kentucky. For one thing, they know they can win as a 12 seed, and being mentally confident is 95% of the formula for a first round upset. And Illinois is the one Big Ten team that is over-ranked, as they're a stretch as a 5. And if Chester Frazier doesn't play, they're really going to have trouble creating offense. They are going to have to hammer the ball inside and hope that they can just out-big man Western Kentucky. Keep an eye on the injury reports. But if there's one region where you can pick all of the 3, 4, 5 and 6 seeds to get through to the second round, it's probably this one.

Most likely 6+ seed to make the Sweet 16: There are a number of good choices here, but I'm picking Arizona State. First of all, I don't see any way that they lose to Temple in the first round, and it's always good to make sure that a team you're picking to win their second round game will actually be in a second round game. Second of all, I love their match-up against Syracuse. Syracuse is over-rated, as teams always are when they play well in conference tournaments. Historically, there really is very little correlation between conference tournament success and NCAA Tournament success. ESPN was interviewing Gerry McNamara about 12 times a game during the Big East tournament, and they kept comparing this year's run to that miracle run in 2006. What they don't mention is that the run pushed Syracuse from being a Bubble team all the way up to a 5 seed, where they flamed out in the first round against Texas A&M. The previous year they also won the Big East tournament, and also lost in the first round (that time to Vermont). So don't judge Syracuse on that Big East run, judge them on the season as a whole, where they really were more of a 6-8 seed quality than a 3 seed. In fact, the two best predictive computer rankings (Pomeroy and Sagarin's ELO_CHESS) both rank Arizona State as better than Syracuse. Throw in the fact that Arizona State ended up on the most importnat "most likely to overachieve" list, and I think they're a great pick against Syracuse. I'd also note that Michigan, if they can beat Clemson, would have a legitimate shot to take down Oklahoma. But I wouldn't pick it unless you're being heavily rewarded for picking upsets. Go with Arizona State in the Sweet 16.

Most likely 3+ seed to win the region: Honestly, I don't like anybody here. Forget Illinois and Syracuse. I have to choose between Gonzaga and Arizona State here, and in the end I'd go with Arizona State just because Gonzaga has failed to make it past the Sweet 16 since 1999. Three teams in this bracket have likely First Team All-Americans, and Gonzaga is the one team left out. But really, I would say that this is the most likely region to have the 1 and 2 seeds playing each other in the Elite 8.

Conclusions: This is the region where I expect to see the most chalk. The Butler/LSU game is probably the most interesting 8/9 game, but other than that I expect a very boring first round. The only excitement I see in the second round will be a potential upset by Arizona State. The third round is about an interesting potential match-up between North Carolina and Gonzaga, and the fourt round will likely be a match-up between two first team All-Americans. But all in all, it's going to be a boring region. North Carolina got handed a gift of a bracket, and they are the safest Final Four pick. Just take them, and don't get too ambitious when picking this region.

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