The first weekend of March Madness is in the books, and in its wake lie millions of busted brackets. Some people might still have all their Final Four teams still alive, while the chaos of the opening rounds has wreaked greater havoc on other predictions. The only real winner, though, is Warren Buffett, who now gets to keep a tight-fisted grip on that billion dollars he put up for grabs.
To gain a better understanding of how early-round attrition has impacted the NCAA Tournament moving forward, I have teamed up with Sports Unbiased writer Chris Markham to discuss the effect of upsets on our original predictions posted last week and to re-evaluate our predictions based on the current bracket.
What busted in your bracket?
Zach: Well, three of my four Final Four picks are still technically alive, so at least I’ve got that going for me. But from the upset by Dayton over Ohio State in Thursday’s first game, I knew that this simply wasn’t destined to be my year of making March Madness picks. The biggest impact in the South Region, though, was not the Buckeyes’ defeat or even VCU’s loss to Stephen F. Austin but rather Stanford’s upset of New Mexico. Instead of going to the Elite Eight as I’d projected, the Lobos instead suffered a second straight upset in their opening game of the Tournament.
The South, though, was not the point of greatest attrition in my bracket. Instead that honor goes to the Midwest Region, where four of my eight picks to advance to the Round of 32 were bounced. The losses were highlighted by Duke’s tumble to Mercer, but that was only the start of the red ink. Saint Louis pulled victory from the jaws of defeat against NC State, the battle of Wildcats went in Kentucky’s favor, and Texas stayed alive for one more round against Arizona State.
And yet, having bombed on 10 of the 32 games in the Round of 64, the only team missing from my Final Four is Creighton. The Bluejays were unceremoniously trounced by Baylor in the Round of 32, falling by an absurd 30-point deficit. It was the worst loss among the seven I incorrectly picked in the 16 weekend games. All I can say is that I hope you didn’t copy my bracket for your office pool.
Chris: Personally, my bracket is in decent shape. If it were not for a last second Aaron Craft miss, the Flyers of Dayton would not have busted my bracket. I feel bad for underestimating Dayton, but even worse for overestimating the Buckeyes. I was on an Aaron Craft high, but a 6’2” point-guard who can’t shoot can only carry you so far. I mistakenly picked Ohio State to reach the Elite Eight, so you can only image my displeasure with my bracket just one game into the weekend.
The bottom half of my South bracket continued to suffer after my high hopes for New Mexico, who had a disappointing Round of 64 loss for the second straight year. Like many, I underestimated Stanford and their ability to play high-quality basketball. In the West region, I am proud to say that I am still perfect (knock on wood).
In the Midwest, UMass let me down hard, as I had them advancing to the Sweet 16. They had all of the tools needed for tournament success but got caught off-guard by a blossoming Tennessee team, who I don’t think anyone saw making it to the second weekend. Mercer and Saint Louis also took a toll on my first-round games. After T.J. Warren’s performance in NC State’s play-in game, I was confident in the ACC’s leading scorer to carry the Wolfpack to the Round of 32, but obviously that didn’t happen.
My East bracket is relatively strong. George Washington, Providence and Cincinnati all let me down, but since I didn’t pick them to move on past the Round of 32, I can’t argue. Sean Kilpatrick and the Bearcats did not turn out to be the tournament force that many thought they could be despite all of the weapons they can throw at you. The only huge surprise thus far in the East is UConn, who I suspected from the beginning was primed for a deep run led by senior Shabazz Napier.
Zach’s Revised Bracket
In the South, my pick to emerge to the Final Four is still alive. Florida looked somewhat shaky in its opener against Albany, righting the ship in the second half after the Great Danes made Billy Donovan’s crew sweat out the first 20 minutes. Dayton has been the revelation of the Tournament so far, knocking off Ohio State and Syracuse, and I see their run continuing to the Elite Eight as they skirt past Stanford. The Cinderella story will almost certainly hear the midnight peal against the Gators, but there’s no shame in losing to the number one overall seed for the Flyers.
They won’t be playing the teams I expected, with Memphis and Villanova already out of the tournament, but I still see Michigan State and Iowa State emerging in the East Region to play one another in the Elite Eight. The Spartans have been tested by both Delaware and Harvard, while the Cyclones narrowly escaped past Roy Williams’ North Carolina squad in the Round of 32. Since getting healthy prior to the Tournament, Tom Izzo’s team has been on fire — and the motivation of keeping Izzo’s streak of getting recruiting classes to the Final Four stays alive another cycle.
The West Region is where everything is blown up and rethought anew. Arizona and San Diego State will still play one another, and I still envision the Wildcats emerging from that contest. Instead of Creighton, though, Arizona is likely going to face Wisconsin. The Badgers overcame a 12-point halftime deficit against Oregon in the Round of 32 to claim a spot in the Sweet 16, and Bo Ryan’s crew has the skill and size to keep pace with Baylor. Between the Badgers and the Wildcats in the Elite Eight, I like the Big Ten team to advance; look for Arizona to pull out to a lead only to have it shaved away.
Kentucky ousted Wichita State from the bracket, and thus we are left with an intrastate rivalry to settle one of the Midwest Region’s spots in the Elite Eight. The Wildcats have been a pleasant surprise this season, but the defending champions should prove too much as Rick Pitino keeps his crew on pace for a repeat. In the other Sweet 16 contest in the region, Michigan must prepare for a tough Tennessee team that has emerged from the play-in round to win three games already during March Madness. The Wolverines should emerge for a rematch of last year’s championship game — with similar results.
Chris’ Revised Bracket
Florida matches up well against UCLA with their size and speed. Also, Florida has made the Elite Eight each of the past three years and I don’t see that changing this weekend. Dayton and Stanford are essentially playing for the right to lose the Gators in the Elite Eight, and I think that right will belong to Stanford. Florida cruises into the Final Four.
The Baylor/Wisconsin matchup is by far the best matchup of the Tournament. The Bears are playing as well as anyone and their anchor, Isaiah Austin, is making a late case for player of the year. On the other hand, Wisconsin’s stifling defense can slow down Baylor’s speed. I’m scared of this pick, but since I’m a man of my word, I have to go with Wisconsin to beat Baylor and Arizona (who is also playing extremely well) back-to-back to reach North Texas.
A team of only freshmen can only carry a team so far, especially against an experienced group such as Louisville. To go along with the fact that Rick Pitino is 11-0 in Sweet Sixteen games, Louisville is my pick to advance. Michigan is playing extremely well, too well to lose to a team such as Tennessee. I give the Vols all the credit in the world for making it to Sweet 16 (and ruining my bracket) but experience plays a huge role this time of year, and the Vols simply do not any of it.
Finally, we have the East Region. Virginia silenced a lot of doubters with a dominating win over Memphis on Sunday, but is still considered the underdog. As much as the Wahoo fan in me hates to admit it, the Spartans are destined for a spot in the Final Four. Although they narrowly beat Harvard, they are better-rounded than UVA and a more experienced tournament coach. The Cavaliers will put up a heck of a fight, but I suspect it to be the Spartans who come out on top. Iowa State is banged up and UConn is firing on all cylinders.
Looking Ahead to the Final Four
Zach: On one side of the bracket, we have Florida against Michigan State. On the other, Wisconsin is set to face Louisville. The Gators are finally playing with fire after their scare in the opener, and Donovan’s veteran team should have the firepower to survive a tough Spartans squad. Between the winners of the West and the Midwest Regions, the Badgers have the potential to cause Louisville fits… but does anyone trust Bo Ryan to outwit Pitino in this contest? Ultimately, we’re almost certainly looking at the matchup I predicted from the outset, Florida versus Louisville, the top overall seed versus the defending champions. And, just like my original predictions, I can’t convince myself to go against the repeat.
Chris: The Gators are playing with swagger and will be fresh heading into their potential Final Four matchup against Michigan State, who needs to win two games against really good teams to advance. Because of this, I have the Gators playing for the national championship. Who will they play? Wisconsin is my pick to come out of the West, but the Badgers have a lot to eat on their plate before they make it that far. Beating Baylor and Arizona back-to-back is no easy feat — and if they go against Louisville, as I suspect they will, they won’t have much left in the tank. This leaves us with a Florida-Louisville final. This is such a hard matchup to pick. I had to use an old-fashioned way to choose it: Who would win in a fight? A gator versus a cardinal is no competition, and therefore it will be Billy Donovan and the Gators who will be cutting down the nets in Arlington.