The Redshirt Senior: A Little Help with Bracket Picking

by Evan Griffith | 3/4/19 2:10am

Oh, hi March.

My favorite month of the year has come once again, and I could not be readier. Speaking on a personal level briefly, this week’s column comes right after my group and I submitted our 70-page final design review for our capstone engineering design project. A lot of stress went into this project but I’m very happy with how it turned out. So, I think I’ve earned the right to vent a little. Eric, Emily, Spencer, Lisa and Kylie — even though you’re probably not reading this — this next paragraph is dedicated to you guys.

You know what really grinds my gears?

Syracuse University returned all five of its starters this season and lost to Old Dominion at home. I hate how every time I turn on ESPN I have to hear about what Zion Williamson ate for breakfast today. I miss the old Big East and the rivalries that came with it. The only true regular rivalry game Syracuse has right now is a manufactured one with a blue blood which was thought up partially to sell T-shirts and show off how many people can fit in the Carrier Dome. There’s no air conditioning in that building (ironic for being named after an air conditioning company); I wouldn’t want to be there with 35,500 other people watching players who should be in the NBA drop 30 while the refs make bad calls. I hate myself since I still came to dislike Duke University from this fake rivalry. It’s 2:34 pm as I write this, and Georgetown University still stinks.

Anyway, it’s almost time to make your brackets! This year has been full of stories in the college basketball world. Indiana University was good, until it wasn’t. The University of Nebraska was good, until it wasn’t. Most teams in the Pac-12 were good, until they weren’t. Negativity aside, I’ll do my best to provide some “advanced analytics” to help my readers pick the right teams in their brackets.

So, who are the best teams in the country right now? The AP Poll thinks the best four teams are, in decreasing order; Gonzaga University, the University of Virginia, Duke University and the University of Kentucky. These four teams are predicted to place as 1-seeds in the NCAA Tournament per, a website that aggregates various online brackets together. How have these teams performed this year?

As ESPN would most certainly do, I’ll start with Duke. Duke has lost only four games on the year, and two of those games were to Gonzaga and No. 5-ranked North Carolina, so the Blue Devils are faring pretty well for themselves. The North Carolina loss and another loss to Virginia Tech did come after Zion Williamson injured his knee, so Williamson’s status will be interesting to monitor going forward. The issue I have with Duke right now is that the team is not a good shooting team from beyond the arc. Duke currently shoots 30.7 percent from three, which is among the bottom 30 teams in the country. That number has gone down more in the three games Williamson did not play. If those numbers do not improve, I’d be wary of picking Duke if they have the potential to face a team that excels in defending the three in the tournament. Zion will most likely be back for the tournament and his size will improve Duke’s ability to drive to the bucket, so I won’t count them out right now.

After losing to Duke 84-118 to open their season, Kentucky has slowly climbed back into 1-seed consideration with wins over North Carolina and the University of Kansas and a series split with the University of Tennessee that will surely make the SEC tournament interesting. The SEC will likely come down to these two teams, but be sure to monitor big man and Stanford University transfer Reid Travis’ injury going forward.

Gonzaga looks like the most complete team out of these five, which honestly isn’t surprising anymore considering how well the Bulldogs play as a mid-major. Gonzaga leads the country in offensive efficiency, scoring 127.4 points per 100 possessions; the second-place team, Duke, has an efficiency of 122.4. Gonzaga also does a great job of scoring quickly on offense while forcing opponents to take their time on defense. Gonzaga statistically is not below average in any particular area, so the Bulldogs may be a good pick to win it all.

Then there’s Virginia, the team that was on the wrong end of the first 16-over-1 upset last year. The team has certainly improved their offense this year while keeping the same stifling defense. Here’s where I think Virginia will falter this year: Virginia has only made it past the Sweet Sixteen once since Tony Bennett and his suck-the-life-out-of-you defensive tempo came to town. When you play as slowly as Virginia does, it’s harder to come out of a hole if you’re having an off night offensively. That’s how the UMBC upset happened. Virginia is scoring at a more efficient pace this year, but I’ll believe the Cavaliers are a good tournament team when I see it.

So those are the one-seeds as of today. For some sleeper picks, take a look at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, Virginia Tech and Marquette University — all very effective shooting teams. Happy March!