By Ryan Goodman
March 24th, 2015
The NCAA Men’s College basketball tournament is the hardest sports tournament to predict in all of sports, and it’s not close.
Math professor Jeff Bergen at De Paul University calculated the odds’, if each game in the field was predicted by a simple coin flip, the odds of having a perfect bracket at the end of the tournament are 1 in 2^63, or one in 9.2 quintillion!
Almost every year, participants in tournament challenges across the web (run by ESPN, Yahoo, CBS, Bleacher report, and other sports media outlets) fail to produce a perfect bracket even past the tournament’s first two rounds.
This year was no different, as there was one flawless bracket left standing… before Ohio State was clobbered by the sizzling Arizona Wildcats… rendering the hopes of a perfect bracket hopeless yet again.
Now, with the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in the books, the last sixteen teams that remain will square off for chances at a regional final berth (Elite 8).
Of the 11.57 million brackets entered in ESPN’s Tournament Challenge, only 14 correctly predicted all sweet sixteen teams, good for 0.000121%. Unfortunately for Charlottesvilians, Virginia is not one of those teams, as Tony Bennett and Co. got a taste of their own medicine from an exceptionally coached Michigan State team that held the Cavs to 54 points and 2-17 from three point range.
Without further ado, here are my predictions for the rest of the tournament. And don’t take them with a grain of salt. Because they are going to be right.
1Kentucky over 7Wichita State
A rematch of last years round of 32 game, which was won by the Wildcats, and so will this one. This is an intriguing matchup on multiple levels, however. First off, both teams are almost in reversed roles, as last season, the Shockers went into this game with an undefeated record of 35-0 and a Sweet Sixteen berth on the line. This time around, its Kentucky who has the perfect slate (36-0), and the Shockers who are nosying for the upset bid. Unfortunately for Wichita State, Kentucky is loads better than either of these teams last year. Although the Shockers can match Kentucky’s perimeter game (they may even have one better), the Wildcats inside game with Karl Towns and Willie Cauley Stein will be too much to handle for the lone serviceable big man on Greg Marshall’s roster, Darius Carter. Wichita would need to be clicking on all cylinders, especially from beyond the arc. I just can’t see a team this good losing in the Sweet Sixteen, it would almost be too massive a disappointment for the sports world to fathom.
7Michigan State over 4Louisville
This was by far the hardest region to predict before the tournament, everyone knew it, and it proved to be true because the top 2 seeds both did not reach the Sweet Sixteen. (cough cough, Virginia, cough, cough). I picked Oklahoma to reach the final four in my bracket pool, but I have doubts about them. Is Buddy Hield going to start shooting better? Is Tashawn Thomas going to be able to keep Branden Dawson off the boards? Who is going to lead this team in crunch time? Unfortunately for me, I don’t think that Oklahoma will be able to stop the Spartans from taking it. So, another doozy between Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo will be the treat. If these two teams faced off, I truly believe it would a toss up (aka, an incredible game). Both feature two elite players (Travis Trice and Branden Dawson for Michigan State, Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell for Louisville), who will get theirs. This game comes down to the x-factors, most notably, Wayne Blackshear, a erratically scoring guard forward hybrid that has the potential to do serious damage as the third option to Rozier and Harrell, and Denzel Valentine for Michigan State. Valentine does just about everything well and he is the absolute perfect player for Tom Izzo’s system. However, the Spartans will barely squeak past Rick Pitino’s undermanned Cardinals.
2Arizona over 1Wisconsin
Easily the most anticipated and almost (set in stone) Elite Eight matchup of the four regions, a rematch of last years Elite Eight game takes center stage at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Two incredible coaching minds square off, both with veteran and young talent on display. Wisconsin, headed by the leading candidate for National Player of the Year in 7’0” center Frank Kaminsky, has only lost one game since January 11th. Coincidentally, the Wildcats also lost on January 11th, and only have one loss since then as well. So both teams are scorching hot right now, coming off conference regular season and tournament crowns. Let’s dig into the matchups, though. Obviously Kaminsky is going to be a nuisance inside, with his virtually endless array of post moves, but center Kaleb Tarczewski was burned terribly last year for 28 points and 11 rebounds, and now, with power forward Brandon Ashley back, the Wildcats are more well equipped to slow down Kaminsky. Arizona also has the x-factor in this one. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a uber athletic 6-7 lefty forward who can basically guard all five positions on the court. Whenever a team has a defensive specialist to this magnitude, it is a humongous luxury and something that can take you deep into tournaments. I think Sean Miller gets his revenge on rival Bo Ryan, and advances to his first final four as head coach.
*Note: Hollis-Jefferson just held Ohio State’s freshman phenom D’Angelo Russell (19.3 points per game) to just 9 points on 3-19 from the field! That is incredible. He is obviously locked in right now.
1Duke over 2Gonzaga
The most intriguing matchup that the elite eight offers in my opinion. Duke’s talent versus Zaga’s immense depth and veteran leadership. The point guard matchup is what stands out the most, as both of these squads feature deadly sharpshooters from the perimeter in Quinn Cook (100 made 3s at 40.7%) and Kevin Pangos (80 made at 44.9 % clip). However, if Duke can contain Kyle Wiltjer (16.7 points per game) then they should be able to secure a sixteenth final four bid, and vice versa for the Zags with Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is a sure-fire top two pick in the NBA draft, the unquestioned National Freshman of the Year and maybe even the National Player of the Year as well. Luckily for Gonzaga, they have two legit big men in Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski who can slow down Okafor, but to do this they will have to double team him whenever he touches the ball on the low block. What decisions Okafor thereafter will likely determine the outcome of the game. Can he find find the many deadly shooters on Duke’s roster? Or will the Mark Few’s foreign tandem of big men fluster Okafor into turnover after turnover and pile up fast break points? These are a few questions I can’t wait to find the answer to.
1Kentucky over 2Arizona
I said in my blog earlier in the year that I believed Arizona had the best starting five in the country. Not overall team, but in terms of cohesiveness between the starting unit, Arizona wins that battle. Zona has been playing incredible basketball lately, even better than Kentucky, and much of this is because of senior point guard T.J.McConnell. McConnell is part of a rare breed of defensive minded, pass first, gritty point guards (a la Aaron Craft) who are absolute nuisances to play against. It is also going to be interesting to see who Hollis-Jefferson, Arizona’s defensive ace, is matched up with this one because that will dictate who John Calipari wants to exploit in terms of his offensive game plan. The only problem Arizona is going to have, as every team Kentucky as played this season thus far, is handling the depth Cal can throw out. For one game however, there’s no doubt that Arizona can take down Kentucky, but everyone is going to have to be clicking on all cylinders for it to happen. To beat Kentucky you need to have as close to a perfect game as possible. They are that good. I’m betting on more Aaron Harrison heroics in this one, because it will come down to the last few possessions. This could very well be the best game of the tournament.
1Duke over 7Michigan State
These two teams played earlier in the season, with Duke handling the less talented Spartans in a complete offensive game as four of the Blue Devils starters scored 15+ points. This time around, Tom Izzo has his team playing much better, but I just can’t see Duke letting this one get away. They are simply too talented for a overachieving Michigan State team that doesn’t have a true identity. Duke on the other hand, has proven this season that they can beat anyone, in a multitude of ways. Also, the Blue Devils have played their best in the toughest of environments and situations (Wins on the road at #2 Wisconsin, #6 Louisville, #2 Virginia), so there’s no doubt who the more challenged team is. Coach K earns a spot in his ninth NCAA Championship game.
1Kentucky over 1Duke
My preseason pick for the national title game will finally come into form on April 6th in Indianapolis. Both teams lived up to the hype this season (with Kentucky exceeding it, somehow), and will square off in a excellent coaching matchup between John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski. I have been waiting for these two teams to play all season, and was praying that they would be on opposite sides of the bracket in order for them to meet in an extremely epic and climactic championship game. Duke is the only other team in the country that can come close to matching Kentucky’s talent level (and they are very close), but again, the Wildcats have been in this position before (lost to Connecticut in last years final game), and have Willie-Cauley Stein, maybe the only player in the country that can take Jahlil Okafor one on one. If Kentucky wins this matchup, or Okafor gets into foul trouble, I don’t see any hope for a 5th national championship for Coach K unless they catch fire from deep and hit 12 or more threes (which is actually something Duke teams are known to do). But nonetheless, John Calipari will win his 2nd national title in four seasons at Kentucky, as the Wildcats become the first team since Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers to go an entire season undefeated with winning the Championship.