by Paul West
This year’s March Madness tournament caps off a topsy-turvy NCAA basketball season; not only was the top ranking the proverbial kiss of death, but nobody seemed to want to hang on to a top five ranking either! Nevertheless, we made it, as always: Selection Sunday has come and gone, and the play-in games are tomorrow evening.
Despite the advice of pessimists, you don’t have to close your eyes, tape your bracket to a dart board or pick by color or mascot; you don’t have to just let your most hoops-clueless friend, coworker or family member fill in your bracket. Nor do you have to just “go chalk” and pick all the highest seeds, as some suggest.
I humbly offer, below, my carefully woven combination of numbers-crunching and “eye test” wisdom. I’m not necessarily saying that my analysis is the path to the perfect bracket! I do, however, hope that my modest proposal will help someone, somewhere–maybe even me!–win their pool. The breakdowns will be brief but salient, and each region will be covered in an individual post. In the last Bracketology entry, I broke down the South region. Next up: the West region.
Enjoy, and good luck.
Paul West’s Region-By-Region Bracketology
8 Pitt vs. 9 Wichita State (Salt Lake City): Pitt doesn’t score much, nor do they hit their free throws. Wichita State is a tough, aggressive team with a whole platoon of big men, led by impressive 6’8″ senior Carl Hall. Pick: Wichita State.
5 Wisconsin vs. 12 Mississippi (Kansas City, MO): Wisconsin’s tough and athletic, and they can hassle you into mistakes. Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson is dangerous, but also mercurial–he’ll give you chances, and the aptly named Badgers should take advantage of enough of those chances to win. Pick: Wisconsin.
4 Kansas State vs. 13 Boise State/LaSalle (Kansas City): Boise State and LaSalle are both tough, underrated teams. Kansas State is also tough, and they haven’t yet had a ‘bad loss,’ i.e. losing to a team they were expected to beat. They won’t likely start here. Pick: Kansas St.
6 Arizona vs. 11 Belmont (Salt Lake City, Utah): Arizona finished 5-5 down the stretch, while Belmont won their conference championship. Belmont hasn’t got a ton of size, but they’ve got shooters and they love to keep it moving; the erratic Wildcats would do well to show up for this one. One last thing: Belmont shoots the three well, and Arizona defends it poorly. Pick: Belmont.
New Mexico vs. 14 Harvard (Salt Lake City): New Mexico doesn’t shoot consistently from the floor, but they seem to have a knack for hitting shots at the right time. They also get to the line, scoring a huge percentage of their points via the free throw, and they’re battle tested (no. 3 in Strength of Schedule). Harvard doesn’t rebound especially well, which might land them in foul trouble and play right into New Mexico’s hands. Pick: New Mexico.
7 Notre Dame vs. 10 Iowa State (Dayton, OH): Iowa State is one of the most dangerous sleepers in the tournament; they’ve battled with elite teams, they’re dangerous from beyond the arc and they’re probably hungry to show they belong. Senior PG Korie Lucious has played in the Final Four, and should provide the Cyclones with solid leadership. Pick: Iowa State.
2 Ohio State vs. 15 Iona (Dayton): Iona has an explosive offense, and if they get in rhythm, they could make this interesting. The thing is, they’re also pretty small, and they aren’t used to playing elite teams. The Buckeyes just won their tournament in the toughest conference in the country. Playing in their home state, Ohio State should take this one. Pick: Ohio State.
Round of 16: Gonzaga beats Wisconsin with depth and versatility, and New Mexico beats Ohio State in what could be an epic. Gonzaga gets bast New Mexico to make it to the Final Four.