Cleat Geeks

Do We Have Any Cinderellas?

LakersVSwarriorsI am writing this just after Wednesday’s play-in games, prior to Thursday’s 64 team tip-off but you may not read it until Friday. Which is all fine and well because you’ll see that when I tell you not to expect much from your bracket, it will make perfect sense. Predicting winners is not rocket science, but it isn’t science either. When the sample size is large enough it becomes clear that a good team like the Golden State Warriors will beat a poor team like the Lakers. Until they don’t. The Lakers managed to beat the Warriors on March 7th for an epic upset, however, it’s unlikely that they would win again if they were they to play four or five more games. While the chances are high a good team will prevail over a lower quality team we still have to play the game just to be sure. In the Warriors and Lakers we know what we are getting, they have played sixty-plus games each and several against one another.

The Tournament on the other hand often matches up teams that may have never opposed one another. This is why so-called experts like Ken Pomeroy lean so heavily on an index that attempts to make sense of strength of schedule, trying to filter through common opponents and opponent’s opponents to determine real contenders from field-fill. The problem for you is that usually a #12 seed beats a #5 and often we get a #13 over a #4, or even a #14 over #3, and someday a #16 over a #1 (just not this year). Now, you can’t pick all four 12 seeds just to say “I called the upset”. Chances are good that it will happen, but which #12 seed? After a quick perusal of this years bracket four loss Little Rock stands out as a possible giant killer but they did not play a single ranked team this season. There is no reliable way to know how they will perform against a tested but not great major conference Purdue squad. Were UALR to beat Purdue, some ninety percent of brackets will have an early crack in them. Just below this match-up in the Midwest region is #4 Iowa State versus a seasoned #13 Iona, and #6 Seton Hall against perennial deep-run threat #11 Gonzaga and we start to get an idea of what a proverbial minefield the bracket is.Basketball3

By the time the second round is set your bracket is Swiss cheese. The only reason to keep checking it from there on out is you will undoubtedly have all four #1’s still in the hunt as well as most #2’s and #3’s. you’ll still have a good shot at having the future National Champion in the mix. I love the big upsets in this format though, because #14 seeds do not blow out #3’s, they just don’t. When they get the occasional win it’s a GAME. The kind that makes college basketball so darn compelling to watch, when leads vacillate and buzzer-beaters push contests into overtime. It could be two teams we haven’t had an opportunity to watch in the year but in this win or go home atmosphere every game is important, and since we chose one or the other to prove us as sports-idiot-savants we are invested in the outcome.

basketball5While I’m not going to be any help to you making predictions, I am going to share my picks and explain them, but first an observation. The regular season saw the rankings at the top change so often it’s given us a tough bead on who is clearly a best overall team or even two teams. To me this indicates that we have a generally top-heavy field. Most of the teams seeded down to the #5 or #6 spots are strong. When I look at a Baylor at #5 I can easily see them bouncing any of the #1’s on a good night. Good nights happen every day in the NCAA’s. On the other hand, I do not see any true Cinderellas. Some lower seeds and mid-majors are going to advance a round or two, but beyond that the top 25 this year has been so solid that I can’t see a Butler making the championship game like they did two straight years recently.

I do have Wichita State making a bit of a run. Seniors Van Vleet and Baker are leading a veteran squad that is dangerous despite a disappointing regular season and a few bad losses. I don’t know how deep they can be expected to go once they run into some of the bigger, more athletic power conference teams. Iowa State was one of my preseason favorites. They have a veteran squad with plenty of size in Niang, Nader and McKay, who have the talent to take over games. If they get help with good guard play, especially from Morris, they can be dangerous. I don’t want to see another #1 or #2 win it all. I would much prefer someone unexpected to make a drama filled run, maybe a school that has never won a championship. Here’s a list of middle seed teams I believe can win win this year; Oregon, Iowa State, Michigan State, Utah, Seton Hall, USC, maybe Purdue. These teams have all won against top ranked competition, but all have bad losses and a tendency to disappear at times, have lacked solid consistency and a run to the title requires it. Aside from Arizona, I wouldn’t mind seeing any of these schools emerge from the rubble of bracket obliteration to have a surprise champ.

Mar 16, 2016; Providence , RI, USA; UNC- Wilmington practices a day before the first round of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament at Dunkin Donuts Center. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

In my opinion a Cinderella has to be a #10 or lower seed school from a conference outside of the power six of SEC, Pac-12, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, and Big 12. This year’s field doesn’t appear to have any solid candidates. Wichita State might qualify but they’ve been so good in the last few years we kind of expect more from them. The sparkle is off the slipper. So who do we look to to play the spoiler? Hawaii and VCU could be intriguing. Stony Brook looks fun on paper but with no significant wins and a first round meeting with Kentucky have to be written off. Stephen F. Austin won a lot of games but lost badly against any good competition. The same can be said of S. Dakota State. Yale starts off with vulnerable teams in eleven loss Baylor and ten loss Duke. The Ivys can dream but they never get far. I just don’t see a team seeded lower than #10 that inspires much confidence, other than the #11 seeds which are quality teams that would be higher but had to play their way into the field.

So who fails this year? Kentucky lacks the strength they’ve enjoyed in the past. Will get beat. Duke is playing well but has lost too many games to make a six win run. Going down. West Virginia knows how to lose big games with the best of them. Toast. Oklahoma needs Buddy Hield to play great, one bad game and his running mates cannot bridge that gap against better teams. Most vulnerable #1 to me is Virginia. Five losses this year to un-ranked teams may be a bad omen.

Your bracket will soon resemble no-mans land in the aftermath of World War one. It isn’t that you don’t know basketball, it’s that with sixty eight teams of hungry, emotional, mistake prone young athletes anything can happen from tip to buzzer. Enjoy the ride.

Oh, you want my prediction? As much as I hate to do this, I think a #1 seed in North Carolina might have the simplest, not necessarily the easiest but the most straightforward route match-up wise to the title. But I’m pulling for my favorite, Iowa State.

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