March 14, 2011
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See also: Bracket Flames
This time of year, assumption is a powerful form of persuasion. Too often, amateur bracket managers advance top seeds hastily, disregarding a team’s particular strengths and weaknesses against current and future opponents. Exercising such imprudence can lead to unwanted side effects – dejection, woe, unsightly red slashes.
Put your faith behind Notre Dame, and a busted bracket is sure to follow…
For decades, Irish basketball has played second fiddle. South Bend, after all, is a town synonymous with gridiron legends Montana, Bleir and Ruettiger. Still, this a school with a rich hoops tradition. Several notable players, including Laphonso Ellis, Bill Laimbeer and the ‘Gody have showcased their skills at the Joyce Center over the years. It may sound unbelievable, but venerated statistician Jeff Sagarin rated the Irish the 12th-best program all-time, sandwiched between Louisville and Michigan. Though it has made only one Final Four appearance in school history (1978), ND is a respected hoops institution which has become a perennial Big East contender and NCAA participant under Mike Brey. Based on how the football program has underachieved in recent years, the Touchdown Jesus should seriously consider trading in his cleats for a sweet pair of green Adidas Superbeasts.
Not since 1980 has Notre Dame basketball received this much attention. Boasting only its second No. 2 seed in 30 years, the offensive juggernaut has rolled through opponents leaving shamrocks and pastel-colored marshmallows in its wake. Ridiculously efficient scoring the rock, they are a fundamentally sound club that shares the sugar, squeezes the orange and is deadly accurate from three – Big East POY Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis have collectively drilled 43.5 percent of their attempts from downtown. They also execute well at the free-throw line, crash the glass effectively and play above average interior defense. On the year, they raked 11 RPI top-50 wins, the most in the country.
So why the hate?
Defensive efficiency is the best predictor of tournament success. Since 2003, a stunning 89.2 percent of single-digit seeds with D-efficiency rankings above 60 have failed to reach the Sweet 16. In fact, only one, Marquette in ’03, has advanced to the Elite Eight. It makes sense. Teams that steadfastly challenge shots are always in a position to win, even on nights when bricks are laid.
Entering the second season, Notre Dame ranks 63rd nationally in defensive efficiency. Forcing few turnovers and horrendous containing the perimeter (208th in 3PT% D), its spectacular offense has masked obvious defensive flaws. When the iron has been unkind or the tempo forced, the Irish have gone down in flames. In their six losses, they averaged a lowly 0.91 points per possession, losing by 14.3 points per game. Depth is a concern, too. Bottom line: ND is one bad shooting night away from elimination.
Notre Dame’s tourney demise could be identical to Washington’s in 2005. Juxtapose profiles, and there are few differences. That season, the Huskies, a one seed led by future NBAers Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson, were ousted in the Sweet 16 by Louisville, an outstanding defensive team. Run into fellow Hoosiers Purdue, and the Irish will suffer a similar fate.
Is Notre Dame capable of a deep run? Sure. Is it likely? About as much as Brey burning his fine collection of mock turtlenecks.
Remember, projecting the Big Dance, like fantasy football, is based almost entirely on matchups. Scenarios need to be thought out. Never judge a book by its cover. Based on the formidable opponents in their bracket and shortcomings on defense, the Irish could experience a post-St. Patrick’s hangover.
Prediction: Sweet 16 loss to Purdue
Here are five more favorites that are bound to fail:
PITTSBURGH PANTHERS – 26-9, 1-seed - Southeast, Vs. RPI top-50: 9-5, SOS: 29
Why they bomb: Two years ago Jamie Dixon finally guided the Panthers to a long overdue Elite Eight appearance, but the Final Four has remained elusive. Only once in the school’s storied basketball history has it reached the Mecca of college hoops. And that was in 1941. The Big East giant has a legitimate shot of reaching the final weekend, but it must generate more turnovers and cash in on opportunities at the free-throw line. On the season, Pitt has swished just 67.2 percent from the charity stripe (235th nationally). This is a street-tough team that typically batters foes on the offensive glass and on defense. But it's important to keep in mind, no team that's lost its first conference tournament game has won the national championship. Ashton Gibbs has been phenomenal, however, several teams in the Panthers' region, namely Old Dominion, St. John's and Kansas St., have the defensive might and bodies down low necessary to dash Dixon's Final Four dreams.
Prediction: Third round loss to Old Dominion
FLORIDA GATORS – 26-7, 2-seed - Southeast, Vs. RPI top-50: 11-2, SOS: 5
Why they bomb: Quietly, Billy Donovan has had a sensational year. Despite embarrassing non-conference losses to Central Florida and Jacksonville, the Gators proved resilient logging 11 RPI top-50 wins. Creating and avoiding turnovers and converting free-throws (66.9 FT%) has been problematic in Gainesville, but Vernon Macklin, Chandler Parsons and Alex Tyus have routinely dominated the glass, placing the Gators on the right side of the ledger. However, if forced outside, Florida will meet its maker. Under that circumstance, not even Tim Tebow riding in on a chariot of fire could salvage victory. The Gators have shot just 35.7 percent from three. They completely outmatch undersized opponents, but potential second-round matchup Michigan St., has the muscle and defensive resourcefulness to strangle Florida's inside-out offense. Kansas St. and St. John's, even minus D.J. Kennedy, would also pose problems. Don't expect an '06/'07-like run.
Prediction: Third round loss to Michigan St.
BYU COUGARS – 30-4, 3-seed - Southeast, Vs. RPI top-50: 9-2, SOS: 21
Why they bomb: Rocked by Brandon Davies’ suspension three weeks ago, the Cougars enter the second season with several unanswered questions. It’s hard to imagine how quickly their appearance has changed. With Naismith frontrunner Jimmer Fredette on roster, most pegged BYU to be a title favorite. Now, after underperforming against marginal New Mexico, Wyoming and TCU, they might be lucky to survive the first weekend. The Fightin' Jimmers are stellar offensively and careful with the basketball, two marquee characteristics of a tournament-read team. If the interior play of Davies’ replacement Charles Abouo along with peripheral options Jackson Emery and Noah Hartsock is noteworthy, they could stick around. Fredette, as we’ve seen repeatedly this season, could drop a double-nickle on the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers. He's that good. But coming unglued defensively, BYU will tank against athletic, gritty frontlines (e.g. St. John's). The Jimmer Show is must see TV, but the axe could soon come.
Prediction: Third round loss to St. John's
CONNECTICUT HUSKIES – 26-9, 3-seed West, Vs. RPI Top-50: 12-8, SOS: 4
Why they bomb: This season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Huskies, but, spearheaded by Kemba Walker, UConn took 2010-2011 by storm, grabbing the Maui Invitational crown in November. Unfortunately, the Huskies lost seven of their last 12 regular season games. However, after a spectacular five-game run through the Big East tourney, they enter the NCAAs flying high. Are they running on empty? It’s important to note UConn ranks 185th in two-point and 221st in three-point field-goal percentage. It's possible Mr. Hyde could again rear his ugly head. Walker is a tremendous scorer who has proven he can shoulder the Empire State Building in high-leverage situations, but his Iverson-like complex lends pause. When he’s off, the Huskies don’t mush. When he’s on, they can hang with anyone. Based on their captivating MSG performance, they will be a very trendy pick. But a letdown isn't out of the question. Their opening round opponent, Bucknell, is no pushover. The Bison defend relentlessly and are sharp from three. A possible Sweet 16 matchup against San Diego St. also isn't especially favorable. Tread carefully.
Prediction: Sweet 16 loss to San Diego St.
VANDERBILT COMMODORES – 23-10, 5-seed - Southwest, Vs. RPI Top-50: 6-8, SOS: 18
Why they bomb: Every year it seems the Commodores are gifted an unenviable opening round matchup. Last year it was Murray St. This season, the Richmond Spiders. For Vandy to taste the Sweet 16 it must get mean on the glass. Several times this season, its placed ball-in-basket with considerable efficiency, only to fall short due to a substantial rebound differential. Paint clogs Festus Ezeli and Lance Goulbourne need to step it up, especially against the smallish Spiders who rank 195th nationally in defensive rebound percentage. More discouraging, the A-10 champ's destruction from downtown may wreak havoc. Vandy ranks 76th in defensive efficiency, giving up nearly 0.97 points per possession. Kevin Anderson, Dan Geriot and 6-foot-10 Justin Harper, all swish at least 43 percent behind the arc. On the losing end of four of their last seven, the Vandy vessel is destined to sink quickly. This is a classic 12-over-5 upset.
Prediction: Second round loss to Richmond
• No team that has lost its opening round conference tournament game has won the national title. Pittsburgh, Purdue, Wisconsin and Xavier, who all exited stage left in their respective league tournaments, could continue the trend.
• Excluding 2009, at least one No. 2 seed has been eliminated in Round 2 every year since 2000.
• Thirteen 8/9 seeds have upended a No. 1 since 1985, including Northern Iowa's dismissal of Kansas last year.
• No. 5 seeds have lost 34-percent of its first-round matchups since '85
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