Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Going with my gut

For last year's NCAA Basketball Tourney, I made my picks based on a series of key stat matchups--free throw and three point shooting, defense, assist:turnover ratios. My reasoning was that in close games, which most late round tourney games are, those factors are the most important in deciding the winner. The approach worked fairly well--I ended up in the 76th percentile of all Yahoo users, and won my family pool. So I'm sticking with the same philosophy, but I'm not carrying it out to the extremes of last year. Because there are a few cases this year where my gut instinct tells me to go against all sound reasoning.

Like my pick of Boston College over Villanova and then Florida. Both 'Nova and Florida are much better shooting teams. But after seeing BC dispatch North Carolina and barely lose to Duke in the ACC Tournament, I couldn't help but think of them as a Final Four team. It's just a feeling I have. So I'm picking them for the Final Four.

I feel the same positive feeling about Kansas. I have them upsetting Memphis in the Sweet 16. Kansas is a team on fire, and they have a critical mass of young players maturing at the right time. I do, however, have them falling to UCLA in the regional final.

I have a good feeling about Michigan State too, although the numbers back me up on this one. Quite simply, they're one of the best-shooting, best-coached teams in the draw. They've basically returned the same squad that went to the Final Four last year. It's hard to pick against them. My initial reaction when I saw the bracket was to put them through to the Elite Eight...then I thought "no way they'll beat North Carolina". But after a few hours, I returned and looked over some stats, and I can't help but shake the feeling that Izzo's crew will make some more noise in March. But can they beat UConn? Probably not.

And believe it or not, I have a good feeling about Duke. Before filling out the bracket, I figured I'd have Duke out in the Sweet 16 or at least Elite 8--I think they've been overrated all year. But...after seeing them prevail over a BC team that was at least its equal, I think Duke may just have the mojo to avoid the upset this year. I wanted to pick Texas over them so badly, but I just couldn't do it.

There are also some agonizing teams--I have no clue what to do with LSU/Syracuse, or Iowa/West Virginia. I ended up going with 'Cuse and WV in my bracket, but frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if any of those 4 teams ended up in Indy. All it takes is one hot streak. And yeah, it was agonizing to take BC over Villanova. I will look like a buffoon if 'Nova goes on to with the title, which a great number of people are predicting.

And yet, after all this, I'm going with the chalk. UConn over Duke in the final. Why UConn? They remind me an awful lot of North Carolina last year. They're experienced, but young enough to be naive. They have a fantastic coach. They are the deepest team in the tourney. They have scorers all over the court. They can beat you at your own game. They're the most talented. I remember agonizing over North Carolina and Illinois in my final bracket last year. I ended up going with Carolina, because they were deeper and more talented. There's no two ways around it. Take a look back at who has won titles--they have been the most talented teams. North Carolina last year, UConn the year before that, Syracuse with Carmelo the year before that. My concern with North Carolina last year was their lack of a go-to scorer down the stretch, but they proved me wrong. UConn doesn't have a go-to guy either, but now I'm realizing that's what makes them so dangerous.

My picks:

UConn over Duke

Duke over UCLA
UConn over Boston College

Duke over Texas
UCLA over Kansas
UConn over Michigan State
Boston College over Florida

Duke over Syracuse
Texas over West Virginia
UCLA over Gonzaga
Kansas over Memphis
UConn over Washington
Michigan State over Tennessee
Boston College over Villanova
Florida over Ohio State

Where are the upsets you say? Yeah, I know. No big upsets, no double digit seeds in the Sweet 16. I'm sure I'll miss one. But seriously, it was impossible for me to decide which upsets to pick beyond the second round. I guess the underdogs just don't appeal to my gut this year.

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