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Picking The Tournament

Lou Pickney
March 12, 2002

The NCAA Men's Basketball tournament is a curious thing. Take 64 (or now 65) qualified teams, throw them into neutral site situations, and watch the craziness unfold. There's nothing in sports that can compare. Nothing.

And for all the sports knowledge and prep work in the work, there's a high degree of luck that goes into picking the tournament. That's why you have plenty of cases where the office secretary shows up all the boys and takes the payday. Or like when I was in high school one year, when a girl who admitted to knowing nothing about sports won the whole damn thing. You can know Pepperdine's complete roster, or you can think Pepperdine has a kinda cool name, and you can do about the same on a year-in, year-out basis. The tournament is kinda crazy like that.

So armed with my limited knowledge of contemporary college basketball, I've made my picks for the tournament. These are the picks I'm using in the WSAZ pool. Granted, I left WSAZ almost a year ago, but they still let alumni in the tournament. It's like guys who get the lifetime exemption in the PGA majors. It also probably helps that I didn't win a damn cent in my two attempts in Huntington. But anyway, there are maybe 100 or so people in the WSAZ pick 'em, and so I can't puss out and pick all favorites. I picked the winner last year, but I finished I think at #11. Sometimes you have to go out on a limb. So Duke stays out of my championship this year, and instead I'm taking a chance on a non-#1 seed.

With the influx of web-based tournament selections, it's possible to enter a bunch and then when one does well show it off to show your brilliance in sports prognostication. Of course, no one cares, but bragger's rights can lead to alot of mouthing off. But not here, not this year. One sheet counts; the others, like in the league Lance Wilkerson set up on Yahoo, are for fun. But not bragging. Unless I pick the whole thing right, in which case I'll destroy this file and ramble endlessly about my success (just kidding.... I think).

Let me take time now to say this: quit screwing the mid-majors! Missouri and Utah making it over Bowling Green and Ball State is a joke. I wish Butler would've made it, too (replacing maybe Ole Miss), but you can't lose in the first round of your conference tourney like they did. Besides, I won't be tempted to pick Butler this year this way. Two years ago I took Butler in an upset over Florida in the first round. And that 1999-2000 Butler team was damn tough, and should've beaten the Gators. The game went to double overtime, with Florida winning by one on a last second runner in the paint (after Butler missed a free throw, I might add). Then UF went all the way to the finals. And with all the Billy Donovan fans from his Marshall days taking Florida in the WSAZ pool, I was toast that year. Those are the breaks.

Anyway, without further ado, here's my WSAZ pick list. And if anyone else in the WSAZ tourney is reading this, stop now. No fair cheating off my picks...

South Regional

First Round
1. Duke over 16. Winthrop
8. Notre Dame over 9. Charlotte
5. Indiana over 12. Utah
4. USC over 13. UNCW
11. Penn over 6. Cal
3. Pitt over 14. Cent. Conn.
10. Kent St. over 7. Oklahoma St.
2. Alabama over 15. Fla. Atlantic

How cool would a Charlotte-UNCW Sweet 16 matchup be? Sorry, but that won't happen. Kent State gives the Big XII a solid kick to the junk, while Penn sets up an interstate matchup with Pittsburgh. Reason #36,314 to love the tournament.. those possibilities for regional showdowns, made especially nice when it's two schools as different as Penn and Pitt.

Second Round
1. Duke over 8. Notre Dame
4. USC over 5. Indiana
3. Pitt over 11. Penn
2. Alabama over 10. Kent St.

Those of you chanting "boring", knock it off! Can't get too crazy too fast with this. Yes, there will be upsets, but if you're gonna guess you'd better hit. If this were an Evansville based pick 'em, I might take Indiana over USC to cover my bases against the regional bias factor. But there I go being too analytical with this. Instead I'll say I like the idea of the Blue Devils meeting the Trojans on the hardwood. Hardy har har.

Sweet 16
1. Duke over 4. USC
3. Pitt over 2. Alabama

I picked Pitt over Alabama even without being sure that Pitt guard Brandin Knight would be healthy for the tournament. That takes moxy!

South Regional Finals
1. Duke over 3. Pitt

Generally, betting against a #1 seed Duke team making the Final Four isn't the wisest idea.

West Regional

First Round
1. Cincinnati over 16. Boston Univ.
8. Ole Miss over 9. UCLA
5. Miami, FL over 12. Missouri
4. Ohio St. over 13. Davidson
6. Gonzaga over 11. Wyoming
3. Arizona over 14. UCSB
10. Hawaii over 7. Xavier
2. Oklahoma over 15. Ill. Chicago

See my above comments about picking upsets. It's funny, at work on Monday morning, my friend Scott Massey commented on how UCLA could run the table in that bracket. I responded by telling him that I had Mississippi knocking them off in the first round. Of course, Scott actually follows college b-ball closely, while I would be hard pressed to name 10 college players off the top of my head.

Second Round
1. Cincinnati over 8. Ole Miss
4. Ohio St. over 5. Miami, FL
6. Gonzaga over 3. Arizona
2. Oklahoma over 10. Hawaii

Gonzaga being a #6 seed disgusts me, and their placement there is atypical of the NCAA's bias against the mid-majors. And I can't have Ole Miss pulling the second round upset (even given Cincy's second round track record), lest Mr. Massey's predictions come true.

Sweet 16
1. Cincinnati over 4. Ohio St.
2. Oklahoma over 6. Gonzaga

Poor Gonzaga. At least they face overrated Wyoming in the first round, but the breaks stop there. The Battle of Ohio (Cincy/OSU) should be a fine one if it comes to fruition.

West Regional Finals
2. Oklahoma over 1. Cincinnati

I think you have better odds of seeing a #16 seed beat a #1 seed than seeing all four #1 seeds make the Final Four.

East Regional

First Round
1. Maryland over 16. Alcorn State (my projected winner over Siena in the play-in game)
8. Wisconsin over 9. St. John's
5. Marquette over 12. Tulsa
4. Kentucky over 13. Valpo
6. Texas Tech over 11. Southern Illinois
2. Georgia over 15. Murray State
10. Michigan St. over 7. NC State
2. Connecticut over 15. Hampton

I really like Southern Illinois' chances over Texas Tech... but not enough to risk picking it for the pool. Of course, I'll always be biased toward MVC teams, having gone to Evansville and all. Michigan State caught fire late, and NC State may have left it all on the court in the ACC Tourney.

Second Round
1. Maryland over 8. Wisconsin
4. Kentucky over 5. Marquette
6. Texas Tech over 3. Georgia
2. Connecticut over 10. Michigan St.

Bob Knight will do what it takes to get T-Tech past a Georgia team that probably shouldn't be a three seed (Gonzaga deserved that spot). I actually like Marquette over UK, but I'm protecting against the regional bias factor here, as there are plenty of Kentucky fans in the pool.

Sweet 16
1. Maryland over 4. Kentucky
2. Connecticut over 6. Texas Tech

Maryland and UConn are both excellent teams... enough so to earn them a berth in the regional finals, I believe. Hopefully some overanxious UK fans will pick the Wildcats in an upset over a superior Maryland team. I'll take those odds, thank you very much.

East Regional Finals 1. Maryland over 2. Connecticut

Could we see two ACC teams in the Final Four? I say: YES!

Midwest Regional

First Round
1. Kansas over 16. Holy Cross
9. Western Kentucky over 8. Stanford
5. Florida over 12. Creighton
4. Illinois over 13. San Diego St.
6. Texas over 11. Boston College
3. Mississippi State over 14. McNeese State
10. Pepperdine over 7. Wake Forest
2. Oregon over 15. Montana

Western Kentucky is one of the strongest #9 seeds I've seen in quite some time. I think they're even better than the dominant 1998 Illinois State team which earned a #9 seed and beat #8 Tennessee in a memorable overtime thriller. Pepperdine received an at-large bid, and I see them knocking off Wake Forest in what some might call an "upset". I like Creighton, but I learned my lesson in 2000 about betting against Florida in the first round (especially with the Billy Donovan factor).

Second Round
1. Kansas over 9. Western Kentucky
4. Illinois over 5. Florida
3. Mississippi State over 6. Texas
2. Oregon over 10. Pepperdine

I think there will be some upsets in this bracket, with Creighton, Pepperdine and Boston College all possibilities. Of course, I played it pretty safe on the early picks, but if Oregon (not nearly as good away from home) and/or Kansas and/or Florida lose early... lookout.

Sweet 16
1. Kansas over 4. Illinois
3. Mississippi State over 2. Oregon

You don't know how much I'd enjoy MSU giving a solid thumping to the Ducks.

Midwest Regional Finals
3. Mississippi State over 1. Kansas

My brother's school paying back Kansas for beating my alma mater (Evansville) in 1999 (and denying me a dream matchup of Evansville vs. Kentucky). Yeah, I could deal with that.

Final Four

2. Oklahoma over 1. Duke
1. Maryland over 3. Mississippi State

My thought with this? While I'd love to take MSU winning it all, I'd like to keep myself in contention for the win even if they get tripped up. Oklahoma over Duke isn't something I'm thrilled about, but I'm not convinced that I'd even have a good chance of winning with a Duke/Maryland combo (since it's likely many others will pick those two as well). Gotta pull for a Duke upset somewhere in the South...

2002 NCAA Championship

2. Oklahoma over 1. Maryland

Boomer Sooner! Yes, I have Oklahoma, who should've been a one seed, taking the whole thing. If they in fact beat Duke and Maryland respectively, no one will be able to deny that they earned it.

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