February 2006

Basketball picksFebruary 1, 2006


Wunderdog's 2006 NCAA Tournament Preview
Bracket Predictions and Recommendations

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Bracketology by the Numbers

Everyone knows that the tournament started with 65 teams, but few people have probably done the math to figure out how many possible brackets could be created without duplication. I have done such math work (as I am sure you are interested) and found this number to be 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 possible brackets.

That being said, the 65 vs 64 game has already been played, so the number decreases to 9,223,372,036,775,808 possible brackets. If you are in one of those "win an ungodly amount of money by picking a perfect bracket" contests, good luck – you'll NEVER do that. Moving on, I am going to try to provide some information to narrow down to fewer choices to help you select the best possible bracket to win your pool.

As you work through each of these brackets, you will see that it is very hard to find a clear cut #1 team (although Duke and UConn could be argued) and for that reason people are talking about the number of possible upsets they will see this year compared to brackets in the past. I disagree with such a statement. While I do feel there will be upsets as there are every year, I think there is a group of 8-12 teams that have a chance to win this year's Big Dance and most of them will make it to the sweet 16 and elite 8.

How bold do you want to be? Matchups #1 vs. #16 and #2 vs. #15
To start with, fill in your #1 seeds to the next round. There has never been a 16 seed that has won since the bracket moved to 64 teams in 1985. The 15 seeds are just 4-80 since 1985 which means you are pretty safe putting the #2 seeds through. But, there are certainly question marks with one of the #2 seeds this year – Tennessee. If you want to be very bold, give Winthrop the nod. If they can pull off the huge upset, you'd have a big leg up on your competition. In the end, I am going with Tennessee as the 4-80 mark reminds me how hard it is to unseat a #2 seed.

90% is a pretty big percentage: Matchups: #3 vs. #14 and #4 vs. #13
Ok, moving on past the #1 and #2 seeds, you now have two directions to move in. One way to go is to pick a few upsets with the best chance of turning Cinderella and hope they pan out. Or you pick every upset so you are able to brag to your friends that you selected the upsets in the early rounds and let them laugh at you when you have no one left come the Final 4 (where the points add up). I am taking the approach that it is best to have a few teams in mind and not to go over-board on upsets; particularly this year. For this reason, I would now like you to fill in the 3 and 4 seeds to win their games. The reason for this is that the #1, #2, #3 and #4 seeds have totaled 301 wins and just 35 losses (that means these teams have won about 90% of the time) since 1985. As I have said, there is a good chance one of these teams will lose in the first round but since that is so hard to predict, the odds are in your favor to have them all move on after the first round. By moving all these teams to the next round, the possible number of brackets drops all the way down to just 140,737,425,855,328. This is clearly a high number but significantly lower than the original number we started with.

Upset territory: Matchups: #5 vs. #12, #6 vs. #11, #7 vs. #10 and #8 vs #9
These pairings are the hardest to call. The most upsets come within these ranges and here's where your bracket is made or broken. The #5 vs. #12 has historically provided some of the greatest and most consistent upsets in the tournament. The 5 seeds have gone just 11-9 vs the 12 seeds in the past 5 years of the bracket. These numbers show that a 12 seed should be moving on (at least one), but don't go crazy this year with your 12 seed upsets. Pitt is the most likely 5 seed to move on past Kent State.

Michigan St is one of the best teams ranked as a 6 seed in quite some time. They have the ability to play with some of the best teams in the league, but at the same time, they have had some major losses that make you scratch your head and wonder if that was the same Michigan St. team you saw earlier in the season. Unfortunately for Michigan St, they will not have much time to validate their season, because they will be playing a strong UNC team in round two and do not have enough skilled players to compete with the young and athletic UNC team. West Virginia and Pittsnogle will be too much for Southern Illinois to handle and they will also march on to the second round. That leave us two potential upsets. Indiana has played some wonderful team basketball after their coach said it will be his final year, but that mind-set can only last so long. When you look at a team like San Diego St who is "battle tested" and played well on the road all year, you see a team that has the chance to upset Indiana. The Hoosiers shoot the 3 point shot too much and if they have an off night from down-town, as San Diego St's defense will work hard to insure, an upset is very likely. Both Oklahoma and Wis-Milwaukee have an equivalent front and back-court and play similar styles of half court offense. UW-Milwaukee plays wonderful defense with a plus 8.5 ppg margin of victory and holding their opponent to under 32% from 3-point range; a perfect setup for UW-Milwaukee to upset a #6 seed.

The 7-10 and 8-9 match ups are pretty much toss ups any way you look at them. Since 1985, 7 seeds have won about 60% of the time and 8 seeds have won about 45% of the time. That being said, it will take more than just picking a "higher seed" to overcome the average fan selecting their bracket winners.

Round 1: Team most likely to move on at each seed
1 seed = UConn
2 seed = Texas
3 seed = UNC
4 seed = BC
5 seed = Pitt
6 seed = Mich. St.
7 seed = G-town
8 seed = Kentucky
9 seed = Bucknell
10 seed = Seton Hall
11 seed = UW-Milwaukee
12 seed = Utah St.
13 seed = Iona
14 seed = Northwestern St.
15 seed = Winthrop
16 seed = Oral Roberts

Middle Rounds
The second round is where less upsets are seen. Duke will have a tough time with GW if Pops is playing healthy, but we still think they get by that game, though it is known that Duke has trouble with quality big men down low. This is the round that 6 games in just over a week can catch up with Syracuse if you put them through in round one. West Virginia shows that they have more quality players than expected and turns the Iowa game into a physical contest. While Iowa is playing great basketball as of late, Pittsnogle will be too much for them and take West VA to play Texas in the next round. Texas has had their moments of disappointment this year, but they have too much talent to exit the tournament early, look for them to handle California without a problem.

Georgetown would be a team to consider to win in round two over Ohio State if the game was not played so close to Ohio St and the stadium wouldn't be filled with so many Buckeye fans. Bucknell is a wonderful team who was ranked in the top 25 earlier this year and has returned all 5 of their starters from last years team (who upset Kansas), but unfortunately for them Memphis is just too large and athletic to select an upset in round two. If George Washington key player Pops was 100%, not only would they be a lock to win over a strong UNC Wilmington team but they would be a toss up to win over Duke (who struggles vs quality post players). Since there is no way of knowing how strong he can play in both games this weekend, the edge has to go to Duke in round two.

While I don't think Memphis has a #1 seed quality team, they have too much talent to lose a game vs Bucknell…look for them to advance into the following round where they will face either Pitt or Kansas and get more than they can handle there. Which brings us to the next match up and people ask who will they be facing, Pitt or Kansas? While Kansas has a young team and they typically do not go far in the tourney, they have a good shot against very physical and quality Pittsburgh team. Gonzaga could have easily been a 2 seed and if they were, they may have gotten more than just two wins. As it is, they will be able to shoot lights-out over San Diego St or Indiana but will run into a brick wall as they face the very talented and team oriented UCLA team in the next round. UCLA should get plenty or rest in their second round match up as Marquette will keep UCLA in a physical game early but just not have the depth to continue playing that way as UCLA pulls away in the second half.

On the other side of the bracket UCONN still with their heads high as they quickly move past Kentucky or UAB. Utah St has a great chance to win over Illinois if they continue shooting at 50%, but Dee Brown will find the open space to make a final shot and put Illinois over the top. UNC is playing great basketball with their young talent and they will be able to most past a Michigan St team who has its ups and downs and will not be able to play back to back quality games against two solid teams. While Tennessee is the only 2 seed in question of losing in the first round, this is a great place to take a possible upset into the next round as everyone needs at least one double digit seed in the sweet 16.

Villanova has all its players practicing together once again, and the eye injury should not be an issue for Allan Ray. This is a team that can go far in the bracket with their excellent guard play and most people may look for them to be upset due to Ray's injury and therefore a team that can get you points when others don't. Boston College looked great against Duke and is playing very physical (an ex-Big East team).

Final Four and National Championship
For my exact thoughts on the bracket, my final four picks and my national championship pick, you can order my filled-out bracket here. This is available to you as a premium subscriber at no additional charge.

Good luck in your brackets!

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