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March 16, 2010
Tournament Preview
Midwest Musings

by Bradford Doolittle


Ever since Greg Gumbel finished contriving 33 different ways of announcing tournament matchups on Sunday night, talking heads and pontificating bloggers have been debating the question of who got the sweet draw--and who didn't. There has been a certain amount of indignation in Lawrence, Kan., where in between Gregorian chants, Jayhawk fanatics have been blasting the selection committee for giving Kansas the most difficult road to glory since Odysseus. Well, that's just a segment of the KU fandom. There is the other segment--a significant one--that feels Kansas would roll through this tournament if the '96 Chicago Bulls were slotted for St. Louis. And you know what? KU fans have good reason to feel that way about their squad this season.

Certainly the road for Kansas is not without potential pitfalls. A potential second round matchup with Northern Iowa seems like an unusually difficult second-round test for the team anointed the top overall seed in the bracket. Also, a potential Sweet 16 matchup with Michigan State is a little scary because of what we know about Tom Izzo's ability to push the Spartans forward in the NCAA Tournament. And don't forget about the other side of the bracket which includes the best player in the country (Ohio State's Evan Turner), the team that traversed the nation's most-difficult schedule (Georgetown) and the two teams that beat Kansas in the regular season (Oklahoma State and Tennessee). Wow. Come to think of it, that does sound pretty tough. How do the mighty formulas of Ken Pomeroy see the bracket unfolding?

                 Rd2    Sweet16   Elite8   Final4   Final     Champ
1  Kansas        98.4     83.8     64.8     48.0     35.9     23.3
2  Ohio St.      95.4     68.9     44.0     18.8     11.0      5.3
3  Georgetown    88.5     60.4     30.5     11.2      5.8      2.4
4  Maryland      86.3     57.5     19.5     10.2      5.4      2.3
5  Michigan St.  85.8     36.9      9.0      3.6      1.5      0.5
10 Georgia Tech  59.6     20.0      9.0      2.4      0.9      0.3
6  Tennessee     52.5     20.0      6.8      1.6      0.6      0.2
9  Northern Iowa 53.5      9.0      3.6      1.3      0.5      0.1
11 San Diego St. 47.5     17.1      5.5      1.2      0.4      0.1
8  UNLV          46.5      7.1      2.6      0.9      0.3      0.07
7  Oklahoma St.  40.4     10.6      3.8      0.8      0.2      0.05
13 Houston       13.7      3.7      0.3      0.05     0.008    0.001
14 Ohio          11.5      2.5      0.3      0.03     0.003    0.0003
12 New Mex. St.  14.2      1.8      0.1      0.01     0.001    0.00009
15 UCSB           4.6      0.5      0.05     0.002    0.0001   0.000007
16 Lehigh         1.6      0.1      0.009    0.0005   0.00003  0.000001

This is a log5 table, courtesy of Ken Pomeroy. It's explained here.

Relax, Jayhawkers. Only Duke, which actually did get a sweet draw, has a better log5 probability of cutting down the nets in Indianapolis. As far as getting through the Midwest Regional, Kansas' path is semi-favorable. If you assume all seeds hold true (which they won't) and add up the Pythagorean percentages of the four teams each entrant in the tournament would have to beat to get to Indy, only Duke has an easier road. Here's the top 10:

Duke          .739
Kansas        .772
Villanova     .775
West Virginia .789
Syracuse      .791
Kansas State  .791
Ohio State    .799
Kentucky      .810
Pittsburgh    .813
Baylor        .828

I should point out that when I figured these numbers out, I didn't actually use Pomeroy's adjusted Pythagorean numbers exactly. I adjusted the adjusted numbers a little further for end-of-season performance and road/neutral performance. But the story is the same either way. Kansas fans only have Duke to complain about and take it from this reporter--KU fans don't need much of a reason to complain about Duke. As it is, Bill Self won't have to contend with Coach K until national championship night, should it come to that.

(16) Lehigh vs. (1) Kansas (Thursday in Oklahoma City, 8:40)
It's only about 272 miles between Lawrence and Oklahoma City, so it's safe to say that there won't be many patrons at the Ford Center pulling for the Mountain Hawks no matter how close they come to pulling off the upset. Log5 gives Lehigh a 1.6 percent chance of becoming the first 16-seed to beat a top seed. Ain't gonna happen this time, either. Lehigh won the Patriot League, but the closest it came to a quality win was a victory over Quinnipiac early in the season. Quinnipiac is ranked No. 194 in the nation by Pomeroy. Making things worse for the Mountain Hawks is the fact that Kansas just doesn't have any holes to exploit.

(9) Northern Iowa vs. (8) UNLV (Thursday in Oklahoma City, 6:10)
It's not unusual for a nine-seed to be better than its first-round opponent and that certainly seems to be the case as the Panthers prepare to take on the Runnin' Rebels. The Panthers rolled up a 28-4 mark in winning both the regular-season Missouri Valley title and its postseason tournament. Both teams are defense-first operations, but veteran Northern Iowa is one of the most consistent teams in the nation. UNLV is battle-tested, however, having defeated BYU (twice), New Mexico and Louisville during the regular season.

(12) New Mexico State vs. (5) Michigan State (Friday in Spokane, 4:20)
New Mexico State is a bubble-bursting squad out of the WAC that falls into the category of "just happy to be there." Now that they are in the Big Dance, the Aggies have an intimidating partner in Michigan State, which rarely lays an egg in the tournament. The Spartans enter the tournament having split its last 10 games, but this is the time of the year that Tom Izzo lives for. The weak-rebounding Aggies may get bounced off the court by the board-loving Spartans.

(13) Houston vs. (4) Maryland (Friday in Spokane, 6:50)
Tom Penders' fast-paced Cougars may have spent themselves with a spirited run in the Conference USA Tournament, which Houston won as a seven-seed. Houston features the nation's leading scorer in Aubrey Coleman and is the country's stingiest team when it comes to committing turnovers. Maryland won its last seven games before getting knocked off by Georgia Tech in its ACC Tournament opener. The Terps also do a great job of protecting the ball, which should foil Penders' scheme of winning the possession battle. Fringe Maryland prospect Greivis Vasquez, a lanky box score-stuffer out the backcourt, will be trying to get himself on the radar of NBA scouts.

(11) San Diego State vs. (6) Tennessee (Thursday in Providence, 9:55)
This is the kind of mid-major vs. BCS conference matchup that Joe Sheehan would love to see more of. With neither team enjoying a geographic advantage, this game is basically a toss-up, one that has the potential to fool many bracket-filler-outers. The Aztecs are better balanced than the Volunteers. Tennessee is defense-intensive and has become even more so since Tyler Smith was suspended. San Diego State is an inside-oriented team that loves to pound the glass, while Tennessee's primary advantage could be a pressure defense that is going against an Aztec offense that tends to be loose with the ball.

(14) Ohio vs. (3) Georgetown (Thursday in Providence, 7:25)
I think we all want to see an Ohio-Ohio State matchup in the Sweet 16, but the Bobcats face an uphill battle against Georgetown. The talented Hoyas lost some games down the stretch of the regular season, but appeared to right the ship during the Big East tournament. Meanwhile, Ohio went 7-9 in the MAC.

(10) Georgia Tech vs. (7) Oklahoma State (Friday in Milwaukee, 6:15)
This is one of five first-round matchups outside of the always-close 8-versus-9 encounters in which the lower seed is a better team than the higher seed, so sayeth the tempo-free stats. On paper, this one shouldn't be close. Georgia Tech is a huge team that dominates in the paint, while Oklahoma State is one of the smallest squads from a power conference, with only two players measuring 6'7" or taller. Georgia Tech's guard play is suspect, particularly in terms of protecting the ball, but OSU doesn't do a good job of forcing turnovers. In Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal of Georgia Tech, plus James Anderson of Oklahoma State, there may be three future NBA first-round picks playing in this game.

(15) UC Santa Barbara vs. (2) Ohio State (Friday in Milwaukee, 8:45)
Ohio State is playing its best basketball of the season at the perfect time, as the Buckeyes are coming off a Big Ten Tournament title. Buckeyes superstar Evan Turner, whose game-winning 30-footer over Michigan in the second round of the Big Ten tourney is the signature moment of March so far, seems to get better with each passing day. That spells doom for the Gauchos who, at 20-9, are ranked as one of the luckiest teams in the nation by Pomeroy's numbers.

Looking Toward the Second Round

The second round could be a scary one for Kansas if they come up against a Northern Iowa squad that is experienced, consistent, and plays outstanding defense. Meanwhile, NBA scouts would be drooling in a possible second-round matchup between Georgia Tech and Ohio State, which could feature two of the first five players taken in the next draft in Evan Turner and Derrick Favors.

Bradford is carrying out a vendetta against Stephen A. Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/@bbdoolittle.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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