2014 March Madness Brackets Strategy
by Alan Matthews - 3/19/2014
Let me preface this story by saying that if I had the fail-proof March Madness bracket strategy, I'd most definitely be signing up for that $1 billion tournament bracket sponsored by Warren Buffett. Check that. I will be signing up for it, but I'm guessing I won't get every game right. The odds of that reportedly are about 1 in 128 billion if you are a knowledgeable college basketball fan (like to think I am). To someone not up to date on the sport, the chances are projected at 1 in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808.
My first piece of advice is obviously to be aware of key injuries. The biggest one right now is to Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid, one of the true difference-makers in the sport. Reportedly Embiid will not play in the first two rounds because of a stress fracture in his lower back. Kansas did not look great in the four games that Embiid missed at the end of the season. West Virginia put up 92 points in a win over KU on March 8, Oklahoma State nearly beat KU in the Jayhawks' Big 12 Tournament opener, and then Iowa State scored 94 and shot 54 percent from the field in an 11-point win over Kansas in the Big 12 semifinals. Those WVU and ISU games were two of Kansas' worst defensive efforts of the past five years, according to the Kansas City Star. That's the end of the court where Embiid really does his damage. He averages 8.1 rebounds per game and 2.6 blocks while affecting many other shots he doesn't officially block.
Thus, I would be wary of any team with size against Kansas, and one of those could be waiting in the Round of 32 in New Mexico, which has two very good frontcourt players in 6-foot-9 forward Cameron Bairstow and 7-foot Alex Kirk. Kansas beat New Mexico 80-63 in December, and Embiid had 18 points, six rebounds, four blocks and three steals, so he was a beast. Even if Kansas advances to the Sweet 16, you have to wonder how good of shape Embiid will be in after almost four weeks off. It's not the type of injury where Embiid can keep his conditioning up.
VCU is a No. 5 seed and opens the tournament Friday against a Stephen F. Austin team that has won 28 straight games. The Rams likely will not have guard Melvin Johnson for that one at least. He also missed the Atlantic-10 Tournament Championship Game loss to St. Joseph's with a knee injury that's being called a sprain. If Johnson can't play, that's a problem because VCU is not a good shooting team, and Johnson was the team's best from 3-point range, hitting on 39.5 percent. SFU, meanwhile, is a very good offensive team.
Finally BYU's Matt Collinsworth is out for the tournament with a torn ACL. Collinsworth averaged 8.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists, both team highs, before getting hurt in the WCC title game loss to Gonzaga. Therein lies the major problem: At least if Collinsworth had gotten injured a few games prior, the Cougars would be used to playing without him. Collinsworth played 41 minutes and had 15 points, eight assists and five rebounds in the Cougars' 100-96 overtime loss at Oregon on Dec. 21. The No. 7 Ducks are No. 10 BYU's first-round opponent.
No team has won the National Championship after losing its conference tournament opener. So I guess you can rule out East Region No. 2 Villanova, which was stunned in its Big East opener against Seton Hall. Syracuse and North Carolina also lost their conference tournament openers. Three of the past four National Champions also won their conference tournaments: Louisville (2013), Connecticut (2011) and Duke (2010). Only the 2012 Kentucky team didn't as it was upset in the SEC title game by Vanderbilt after going 16-0 in the conference during the year.
Obviously, there are no true home games in the NCAA Tournament, but that's not to say where the games are played don't matter. South No. 1 Florida gets to play its first two games in Orlando, which is just a short drive from Gainesville. South No. 4 UCLA plays its first two in San Diego, which could be the edge it needs in a potential Round of 32 game against VCU if the Rams get there.
South No. 3 Syracuse plays its first two in its Buffalo backyard. Kansas has its first two in St. Louis. West No. 2 Wisconsin has its first two in Milwaukee, which doesn't bode well for American in the Round of 64 or BYU/Oregon in the third round. Midwest No. 3 Duke plays its first two in Raleigh. Having a boisterous crowd behind you is worth at least a few points.
I also believe the Midwest Region champion will have a slight advantage. Why? The Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games there are at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Thus, the winner of the Midwest will know what it feels like to play in a massive dome, which AT&T Stadium in Dallas, the host of the Final Four, certainly is. The other three regions will be decided in normal arenas.
Check Home/Road/Neutral Splits
Don't overlook how a team fared away from home during the season, because that certainly comes into play in the NCAA Tournament (maybe not so much the teams listed in the category above in their first few games) without having the home crowd to boost a team. Of the top contenders, Wichita State, Duke and Florida all ran the table at home. WSU was also perfect on the road and UF a solid 11-2, with its only losses coming in close games at ranked Wisconsin and UConn.
The Blue Devils, meanwhile, were an ugly 5-8 on the road, including bad losses at Notre Dame and Wake Forest. Duke also lost at neutral sites to Kansas, Arizona and Virginia. The Cavs were 6-0 in neutral-site games this year. Iowa State was 7-0 in neutral sites.
Another reason to potentially like Stephen F. Austin against VCU? The Lumberjacks were an excellent 14-2 on the road, with the only two losses coming at NCAA Tournament team Texas and CollegeInsider.com Tournament team East Tennessee State.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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