Want to know the definition of March Madness? Imagine some guy with a horrible tourney-picking track record making a bracket on the day they come out. Then, imagine that guy losing a Final Four team in the third round (The one that’s actually the second, but whatever. Hey! I know why they call it the third now! When your team loses in that round, you don’t feel as bad. ‘They lost in the third round? Bah, at least it wasn’t the second!’). Then, imagine that guy losing another Final Four team in the Sweet 16 when they get DOMINATED by a three-seed. Then, imagine that guy being in the 98th percentile on Yahoo! and ESPN, with only 38 of 60 total correct picks. Madness, right?
In case you had trouble following that, the official MulchPile NCAA Tournament bracket has done surprisingly well, mainly because everyone else is doing equally poorly. Sure, Gonzaga lost in a “Shocker” (had to do one, sorry), but everyone else in that bracket also lost (thanks, Ohio State!). Yep, Miami got dominated by Marquette, but then Indiana saw a zone defense and looked like this:
For those of you who had Syracuse in the Final Four, great job. You’re smarter than I am. I didn’t buy into the “peaking at the right time” and “apparently no one in college basketball knows how to beat a zone” factors nearly enough. For the three of you who had Wichita State, you’re an idiot, but I like your moxie.
But hey, you know what? The past is the past. Let’s focus on the four teams we have left and do some predictions/analysis, shall we?
Louisville (1) vs. Wichita State (9)
For a nine-seed, Wichita State has had an extraordinarily fortuitous run, haven’t they? They were lucky to draw the Pitt “we’re only an eight-seed because we’re in the Big East” Panthers in the first (second) round. Yes, they beat Gonzaga (gag), but they really shouldn’t have. If the Shockers don’t hit 14 threes, no one in America even knows that Malcolm Armstead or Carl Hall exist. Then they got 13-seeded Lasalle, who they rolled on. The win against Ohio State was very convincing, but keep in mind that the Buckeyes had won their previous two games by three points each, and weren’t exactly setting the world on fire. Don’t get me wrong, to make it this far requires tons of great play and is a tremendous accomplishment, but as far as Final Four berths go, Wichita’s path wasn’t one of the tougher ones.
Honestly though, the same could be said about Louisville’s games. They played a 16, an 8, and a 12 before clashing with the Blue Devils, but after that Duke game, could you really bet against these guys right now? Overcoming Kevin Ware’s sickening injury would be impressive enough, but doing so while beating Duke by 22 is by far the most impressive moment of the tourney so far, and one of the gutsiest performances by a team in tournament history.
When it comes to predicting this game, there’s just no way to pick against Louisville. Russ Smith and Peyton Siva are absolutely disruptive when they’re on the court together, and there’s simply no way to feel comfortable offensively when they’re guarding you. Even if you somehow get in the lane against this team, Gorgui Dieng has developed a terrific feel for challenging shots while still being an effective rebounder and post defender. And it’s not like Louisville is struggling offensively either; Smith and Siva attack at will, Dieng has become a very reliable inside scorer/offensive rebounder, Luke Hancock gives them necessary floor spacing, and Chane Behanan does just enough of everything to be effective. Oh yeah, and throw in the very tangible “win this for Kevin Ware” factor. Good God, the Cards might win by 100 (then again, this is probably exactly how Wichita wants all of us to feel).
Prediction: The first half stays close, then Louisville opens things up in the second and wins by something in the 18-24 range.
Michigan (4) vs. Syracuse (4)
I called Michigan in the Final Four! This is how I feel right now:
In all seriousness though, this Michigan team is so loaded with talent that they really should’ve been playing like this all year. Trey Burke is the best player in the country right now, and absolutely should win Player of the Year (or else). However, it’s the way the rest of Michigan is fitting in around him that is making them so dangerous. Tim Hardaway is embracing his role as a “bombs away” sort of three-point shooter, Glenn Robinson seems like a more aggressive player now than earlier in the year, and Mitch McGary is now a legit college center.
But here’s the problem: Michigan hasn’t run into a great zone team yet, which is why Burke has been able to go bonkers and basically take over games. As I already mentioned, Syracuse made Indiana, one of the best offensive teams in the country, seem lost. Can Michigan figure it out? Can Burke still find ways to attack and get his teammates involved? I’m not so sure.
Furthermore, Michael Carter-Williams has been playing well enough as of late to at least make Trey Burke work a little bit on the defensive end, which could end up being a big deal. If Burke gets fatigued, he’ll be less likely to penetrate the Syracuse zone, and his jumpers won’t have the same juice that they did against Kansas. If I’m Jim Boeheim, I’m going after Burke as much as humanly possible on both ends of the floor.
Prediction: Syracuse wins in a grinding sort of game. Trey Burke looks tired, Tim Hardaway doesn’t shoot well, and the Orange’s back line of the 2-3 is able to neutralize McGary.
Syracuse might be playing well, but they’re not playing well enough to beat Louisville. I considered copying and pasting the previous Louisville love-fest I wrote earlier in this post, but I trust you guys to scroll if you need to refer back.
Prediction: Louisville by 19. People stop watching with 10 minutes left. Doug wins his bracket pool, and spends 100 dollars on fast food in a week.
This is usually the spot where I would remind my readers that I’m always wrong when it comes to March Madness predictions, but um, I’ve actually been somewhat right so far. Not that I’m bragging or anything.