NCAA bracketology

Mar 16, 2010 8:00 PM

The focus of this column has been geared towards the pro game but this week let’s take a break and offer up some thoughts on this season’s NCAA Tournament.

Yes, there will be our usual trio of NBA weekend selections offered up later in this column. But much of what follows will be devoted to the pool of talent that will give us many players who will go on to have solid NBA careers, a number of whom will be toiling on the professional hardwood next season.

But with Bracket Fever breaking out all over the Las Vegas valley and across the nation this is an appropriate time to share some information that might assist you in the filling out of your Tournament Brackets or in making wagers at the betting window on a team to win it all.

There have been 25 seasons of Tournament play since the field was expanded to 64 (or 65) teams in 1985. Nearly 1,600 total games have been played over this quarter century.

The selection committee has done an excellent job over the years in seeding the teams as 60 percent of the Tournaments have been won by a team that was seeded first in its region. Five times the Championship game has involved two teams seeded number 1 including 3 times in the past 5 seasons. A number 1 seed has won each of the last 3 Tournaments, 8 of the last 11 and 13 of the last 18.

A complete breakdown of the 25 years shows that 15 times the winner has been a number 1 seed, 4 times a number 2 seed, 3 times a number 3 seed and one win apiece for a team seeded 4, 6 or 8. Note that the wins by the 8 seed occurred back in 1985 (Villanova) and the 6 seed in 1988 (Kansas).

Thus if you are looking to make a futures play on the team to win it all your focus should be on teams seeded no lower than third.

This season’s matchups involve Butler (5) favored by 2.5 over UTEP (12), Texas A&M (5) also favored by 2.5 over Utah State (12), Temple (5) favored by 4 over Cornell (12) and Michigan State (5) favored by a whopping 13 points over New Mexico State (12). For comparative purposes the 5 seed has historically been favored by an average of 5.1 points per game and the average margin of victory in such matchups has been 9.5 points.

From a pointspread perspective the most significant result has involved the matchup of a 7 vs. 10 seed. The number 7 seed has covered 58 times in 100 games against a 10 seed with 2 games ending in pointspread pushes for a success rate of 59.2 percent, ignoring the pushes. The next highest ATS success rate has been the number 4 seed’s 55-43-2 ATS mark against the number 13 seed.

This season’s 7 vs. 10 matchups have Oklahoma State (7) favored by 1.5 over Georgia Tech (10), BYU (7) favored by 4 over Florida (10), Richmond (7) favored by 1.5 over St. Marys (10) and Clemson (7) favored by 1 over Missouri (10).

Note that in the BYU/Florida matchup BYU is trying to end a streak of 7 straight first round losses dating back to 1995 with their last win in 1993. The Cougars have lost first round games in each of the last 3 seasons and 5 times in the last 7 seasons.

BYU won’t have to wait long to see if they can snap this streak of futility as their game against Florida is scheduled for 9:20 AM Pacific time on Thursday, the first game to tip off the Thursday/Friday action. Interestingly, that game is in Oklahoma City where UNLV will face Northern Iowa later in the day.

As to a prediction on the team to win it all, Kansas has arguably been the team to beat all season. They have the most complete team and is capable of winning games in many ways and at varying tempos. The Jayhawks have lost just twice all season and are the top seeded team in the Tournament, favored to win a second title in three seasons.

In keeping with historical results it is hard to find a team seeded lower than a 3 that has a realistic chance of winning the Tournament. Of teams seeded 4 or lower perhaps Maryland warrants consideration. The Terrapins tied Duke for the regular season ACC title and the program did win the title in 2002 under current coach Gary Williams. Unfortunately they are in the same region as Kansas and would have to get past the Jayhawks in the regional semi finals. If they can somehow pull that upset, however, watch out.

The Midwest region is the toughest of the four as both second seeded Ohio State and third seeded Georgetown each have real chances to advance to the Final Four. A lower seeded team to keep an eye on is sixth seeded Tennessee – the only team to have defeated both Kansas and Kentucky during the regular season.

In the West Syracuse is the deserved favorite and they should reach the Final Four. Their biggest challenge could come from second seeded and Big East rival Pitt in the regional finals. A lower seeded team that could upset things is fifth seeded Butler, making a fourth straight tournament appearance and on a 20 game winning streak. They also have solid non-conference wins over Ohio State and Xavier.

Duke is the top seed in the South and for one of the few times in the past two decades the Blue Devils are not receiving much hype. They’ve had a solid season but could be taken out by the winner of a potential regional semi final matchup of Baylor and Villanova. Duke could also be challenged in the second round by very athletic Louisville, seeded ninth.

Kentucky is the top seed in the East and should have the easiest path of the four number 1 seeds to the Final Four. The winner of the opening round matchup of Cornell and Temple could provide a challenge in the regional semi finals as either is quite capable of getting by Wisconsin in the second round.

The Final Four forecast has Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Villanova surviving the first two weekend and meeting in early April in Indianapolis. Ultimately it should be Kansas defeating Villanova to win the 2010 NCAA Championship.

Next week it’s back to commentary on the NBA but here’s a look at a trio of games to be played this weekend.

Utah at Phoenix (Friday): Currently seeded fourth in the West, Utah has won both meetings this season against sixth seeded Phoenix, including a 116-108 win on this court just a couple of weeks ago. The Jazz’ lead over the Suns in just a game and a half so Phoenix has plenty of motivation to win this game and they enter the week as winners of 7 of their last 10 games. Both teams are coming off of tuneups against lowly Minnesota with Phoenix having an extra day of rest. The Suns are likely to be favored by a bucket or so (they were favored by 2 in that March 4 home loss) and are worth backing as short home favorites. PHOENIX.

Charlotte at Miami (Saturday): These teams start the week tied for the seventh seed in the East with Miami having won and lost one more game than have the Bobcats. Charlotte coach Larry Brown has done yet another masterful job in leading the youthful Bobcats to the verge of the Playoffs and will have to guard against overconfidence against a team he’s 3-0 against this season. Miami has the best player on the court, Dwyane Wade, and the Heat should be motivated to avoid a series sweep. Miami likely comes as a short favorite of no more than a couple of buckets. MIAMI

San Antonio at Atlanta (Sunday): San Antonio won the only prior meeting this season, winning by 15 at home in late January as short 3 point favorites. The Spurs have been pacing themselves all season and are currently seeded seventh in the West where the 8 playoff teams are all but set with only the seedings to be determined. Atlanta’s star Joe Johnson begins the week banged up but the Hawks are still likely to be small favorites in this game on a court on which they are 26-7 this season. They still have a real shot at the fourth seed in the West and can be expected to put forth a good effort against a team that can provide a good measure of how Playoff ready the Spurs are. SAN ANTONIO.