Friday, March 18, 2011

NCAA Pick Logic, Day 1

Notable Picks and Lessons for Pun City's Future Picks:

5 West Virginia vs. 12 Clemson:

Pick: Clemson

Logic: No one really knew what advantage or disadvantage the 12s would have coming off of a Dayton opening round game on Tuesday. This blog's opinion was that it would help Clemson, having played recently, as opposed to West Virginia, who had been eliminated in their first Big East Tournament game. Pun City knew ahead of time that West Virginia is a tough team, but figured that Clemson would be in more of a "game mode" than the Mountaineers, who had played one game in 2 weeks.

Result: West Virginia

Hindsight: Early returns are that the Tuesday opening round game seems to be a disadvantage even for the 12s. Also, it seems like Bob Huggins doesn't have any issues getting his team ready to play first round games. The lesson would be to keep an eye on the other Dayton at-large team (VCU) to see if any team can compete given the short turnaround. Another lesson is that Pun City should probably overlook any anti-West Virginia bias it harbors (at least while picking), and that bias is sizeable.

4 Kentucky vs. 13 Princeton

Pick: Kentucky

Logic: While Princeton came out of a very tough Ivy League, it was unlikely that they'd have the firepower to keep up with Kentucky, who generally smokes their first round opponent, even though Pun City doesn't really think Kentucky is too great this year with the number of freshmen they use.

Result: Kentucky on a last-second shot.

Hindsight: Princeton was underrated, for sure. Without any "name" players, they still were pretty cohesive. While a Princeton pick would have been wrong, it probably would have felt reasonable. Pun City is fairly convinced it had Kentucky rated about right though. We'll have to see in further rounds, but this blog feels like it had this reasonably well-picked, despite not having seen Princeton this year.

6 Cincinnati vs. 11 Missouri

Pick: Cincinnati

Logic: Having seen Missouri only a couple times, and not having been too impressed with them (not to mention they barely made the tournament), Pun City was not ready to jump on their bandwagon. Cincinnati had looked strong in the late season (and Pun City had personally witnessed this with a road win at Marquette as well as a Big East Tournament win), and this blog was fairly confident in their abilities. Missouri's style, while difficult to prepare for, at least had 4 days to get prepared for, instead of 2 in the next round. Added in with Mick Cronin coaching UC, and his experience coaching a good Murray State team through OVC battles, this blog was fairly confident in the pick.

Result: Cincinnati, pulling away late.

Hindsight: This was pegged just about perfectly. We'll see how Cincinnati does in future rounds, but as of now it seems like Pun City had them rated well, and this blog definitely thinks it had Missouri figured out accurately.

7 Temple vs. 10 Penn State

Pick: Temple

Logic: 7-10s are critical in Pun City's pool, as all games are 1 point throughout the tournament. Going 0 for 4 on 7-10s will kill your chances. Fortunately for Pun City, this blog had seen multiple games of each of these schools. Temple looked very strong in the Atlantic 10, only losing consistently to Xavier. Fran Dunphy was very overdue for a win in the tournament, and this was most likely his highest seeded team. Penn State had to make a late run to get in to the tournament, but they were solid. This blog thought that Penn State never really seemed as dominant as Temple had, plus a slight coaching edge was held by Dunphy over Penn State's Ed DeChellis.

Result: Temple on a last-second shot.

Hindsight: Whew. Penn State really had a great shot at this one. Although they generally played from behind most of the game, and only tied it late, Penn State definitely could have pulled this out. To some extent, Pun City was lucky with this one, since it ended up being pretty close. That said, Temple's worst-case scenario was going to overtime if they missed the last shot. This blog would like to think that the "overdue Dunphy" factor is what ultimately won this game for Temple, and that was a huge factor in Pun City's pick, so this blog probably had that about right. The lesson is to keep watching the A-10, and Big Ten teams even if they look like marginal qualifiers.

7 UCLA vs. 10 Michigan State

Pick: UCLA

Logic: Michigan State had looked pretty bad for most of the year. They had been buoyed by a brutal schedule, which kept their RPI up, and a really weak bubble, which essentially locked anyone in that had an RPI above 30. UCLA competed strongly in the Pac-10 all year, and although Pun City didn't really get to see much Pac-10 this year, this blog did know it was a pretty tough conference, so this blog didn't fear calling their number in this game.

Result: UCLA, after just about giving away the game late.

Hindsight: Man, this felt pretty lucky in hindsight. Michigan State was down huge early, but had a +23 run in the second half to cut it to 3 right at the end of the game. Pun City only realized after the game was on TV that UCLA had a fat center, which is generally a big red flag for this blog. That said, this would have been another brutal loss to take, especially if both Princeton and MSU had been chosen.

5 Vanderbilt vs. 12 Richmond

Pick: Vanderbilt

Logic: Vanderbilt had just lost last year to Murray State in the first round. One would think that they'd have learned from that and wouldn't let it happen again. Pun City had seen Richmond about 3-4 times this year on TV, and never did they appear very good. They weren't especially great in the Atlantic 10, falling to 4th for most of the year, before winning the conference tournament to get in to the field. This blog assumed that they were out of wins, and Vanderbilt would be prepared and more talented.

Result: Richmond

Hindsight: Both had pretty equal talent. It's possible that Vanderbilt had not seen the Princeton offense earlier in the year. This actually overlaps well with Kentucky struggling against Princeton. The lesson is that southern teams don't run the Princeton offense much, so they probably will be unprepared to face it come tournament time. Kevin Stallings is such a good coach, this blog is perplexed that he hasn't gotten them to figure it out yet. Maybe Chris Mooney is just that much better of a coach.

8 Butler vs. 9 Old Dominion

Pick: Butler

Logic: Butler was probably one of the top 10 best-known teams for this blog going in. Old Dominion wasn't especially well known, having only seen them win an early season tournament in the Virgin Islands (on TV). Pun City also knew Old Dominion won the CAA tournament, but they hadn't won the regular season, so this blog wasn't overly impressed with them. Butler on the other hand, Pun City had pegged. They struggled early, then collapsed in the middle of the Horizon League conference season, then made a late run. Pun City knew that the Horizon League tournament win in Milwaukee would have been huge, that's a tough place to play with the fired up crowd, which it would have been for the final. That win signalled to Pun City that Butler was firing on all cylinders, so they'd be a tough out in the NCAAs.

Result: Butler, on a last-second shot.

Hindsight: This was classic "high knowledge vs. low knowledge". This blog had high knowledge of Butler and thought they were good, so Pun City picked them. ODU definitely had way better athletes, but that probably happens with about 2/3rds of Butler's opponents. The last-second shot is a little deceptive, since BU goes to OT at worst in that scenario. But, ODU led for a good portion of this game, so they were no slouch. If there's any way to watch more CAA hoops during the year, do it.

4 Louisville vs. 13 Morehead State

Pick: Morehead State

Logic: Morehead State had Kenneth Faried, one of the top 5 or 6 players in the NCAA, and a hugely underrated player. This blog knew he would create huge issues for Louisville, a somewhat undersized team that certainly wouldn't have anyone to contain him. Also, the Ohio Valley Conference had been murder all year, so it wasn't like Morehead State hadn't seen a string of tough games before (Austin Peay and Murray State both provided ample competition for them this year). Even though Morehead hadn't won the conference regular season, they were able to get out of the OVC tournament with a bid. Louisville, while good, was in somewhat of a rebuilding year, that just happened to turn in to a great season. That said, they were young, and relied on two backcourt players to get the bulk of their offense going. They also were down huge to Marquette at home before making an epic comeback to win late, but this if anything turned Pun City off to them, because why are you down that far to Marquette in the first place? Probably the hugest reason this blog picked MSU though, was that both of these schools were from the same state. Any time you see a mid-major playing a high-major from the same state on a neutral court, you know the small school won't be intimidated. This is really their chance, so they'll be salivating. Furthermore, because they're from the same region, all of these guys have been playing their opponents in AAU through middle school and high school. Completely not intimidated.

Result: Morehead State on a last-second shot.

Hindsight: This pick was right, but the logic was bad. Louisville's Preston Knowles was injured in the second half, and missed most of it. Without that, Pun City doubts Morehead State wins. Additionally, this is not at all a misleading last-second shot, because if MSU misses that shot, they lose the game. This blog also came to find out that MSU's head coach Donnie Tyndall went to share notes with Louisville's Rick Pitino in the offseason, so the two programs had pretty good knowledge of each other. Pun City never knows what to make of that situation, it seems like the teacher and the student each win about half of the time. MSU definitely was not intimidated though, they salivated and won this one, so this blog was happy with the result.

5 Kansas State vs. 12 Utah State

Pick: Utah State

Logic: Kansas State started off the season very poorly. They also had dismissed a couple players in mid-year, at which point the team played very well. Utah State had a mystique about it. Stew Morrill won't go to early-season tournaments, or play anyone that doesn't give him a home-and-home, so their strength of schedule is always garbage. The underground opinion was that if Utah State had gotten the chance to play any of these major schools at home (or neutral court), USU would have won. Pun City hadn't actually seen USU play at all. While it did think that KSU was playing very well late, this blog wasn't overly impressed with Frank Martin's coaching, plus it's not often that player dismissals bode well for future results.

Result: Kansas State, near blowout.

Hindsight: Middle-Knowledge vs. Low-Knowledge, and Pun City picked the Low-Knowledge, despite thinking that KSU was playing well. This probably would have been tough either way. USU's going to win one of these eventually, especially with the number of seniors they always seem to have. Ideally in the future this blog would want to at least see a team once if picking them over a team that this blog has been impressed with. Really not a great pick, this blog feels lazy looking back at it.

6 St. John's vs. 11 Gonzaga

Pick: St. John's

Logic: St. John's has a great coaching staff, and two great players, so this blog figured they'd be in good shape playing Gonzaga, who hadn't impressed most of the year, although they played strongly late in the WCC and in the conference tournament. This blog hadn't seen as much Gonzaga as usual though. The Red Storm's DJ Kennedy had gotten injured in the Big East Tournament, but his prognosis wasn't illuminated to this blog until Tuesday night before the NCAA tournament. At this point, Pun City was too lazy to change 6 brackets to take St. John's out. Another factor was that Purdue had lost Hummel late last year, and they still played strongly in the NCAAs, so this blog was wary of switching out in case SJU would use that as inspiration. Also, SJU had a bunch of seniors that hadn't played in the tournament before, so this blog thought they'd be fired up.

Result: Gonzaga in a blowout.

Hindsight: Do what you can to make the switch. SJU's experience was primarily losing experience for the first 3 years. All the coaching in the world couldn't help them in this tournament, and the injury occurred too late for the team to adjust to their new roles. Gonzaga looked extremely strong, and apparently they had been that good late in the regular season and in the WCC tourney. Another tipoff should have been that SJU didn't do particularly great in the Big East Tournament, essentially home games for them, where they barely beat Rutgers.

That's all this blog's got for now. But Future Pun City: Keep these in mind.

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