Deace's Pieces: The 411 on your 2009 Bracket

Everything you ever needed to know before filling out your NCAA Tournament bracket but were afraid to ask a guy who's never actually won his NCAA Tournament pool - courtesy of Steve Deace.

Who got snubbed?

I'm not sure anybody got snubbed this year.  In fact, I would say the Selection Committee did as good of a job this year as they possibly could've given the unprecedented bid stealers we saw in the conference tournaments, as well as the similarity of resumes for the bubble teams.  However, it is interesting that Penn State ended up with more top 50 RPI wins than either #1 seed North Carolina or #2 seed Memphis and didn't get in.  Nevertheless, the Selection Committee yet again sent a message that who you play in the non-conference does matter, and Penn State played nobody except for Temple and it lost that game.

 How many #1 seeds should I pick to make it to the Final Four?

You should at least pick one, because only twice (1980 & 2006) since seeding began have no number one seeds made the Final Four.  However, you shouldn't pick all number one seeds, either.  The only time that's happened was last year.

 What big name teams will absolutely not win the NCAA Tournament?

In the history of the NCAA Tournament, no team that lost its first conference tournament game has ever won it.  If that trend continues, that means the following top teams won't be cutting down the nets in Detroit on April 6th: Pittsburgh, Connecticut, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

 What's the most amazing fun fact to consider if I want to win my pool?

Here's a stat that will absolutely blow you away.  Since 1962, the Final Four has featured either an ACC team and/or UCLA every year except for five (2003, 1996, 1987, 1985, and 1979).

 What injuries could have an impact on the NCAA Tournament?

Obviously the season-ending injury to Dominic James dramatically altered Marquette's season.  With him in the lineup they were in first place in the rugged Big East, without him they've got one win.  The loss of Jerome Dyson has brought Connecticut back to earth, too.  The Huskies are just 4-3 since perhaps their best slasher went out.  All-ACC point guard Ty Lawson sat out the league tournament with a toe injury, and the Tar Heels showed they're just not the same team without him if he's not 100%.  Illinois is putting on a good face that Chester Frazier will be ready, but he also was in cast at the Big Ten Tournament with a broken hand.  UCLA's Darren Collison could be playing for an NBA payday, but you could see in the Pac-10 Tournament his bruised tailbone limited his explosiveness.

 What conference is the most overrated in the bracket?

The Big East has clearly been the best league in the country this year, and deserves all the accolades it has received, including becoming the first conference to ever have three number one seeds.  However, only one Big East team not named Connecticut or Syracuse has made it to the Final Four in 20 years (Georgetown in 2007).  By the way, Connecticut hasn't won a postseason game since losing to George Mason in the 2006 Elite Eight and this class of Orange haven't been to the NCAA Tournament in three years.

 What team is due for a strong run?

Since winning the 2001 NCAA Tournament, Duke has only been to one Sweet 16 and hasn't beaten a team seeded higher than fifth.  They also haven't made it out of the opening weekend the past two years.  Expect that trend to end since the Blue Devils get to open this year's NCAA Tournament at familiar Greensboro.

 How do I pick those early upsets?

Well, here's what you don't do.  #1 seeds have won 78% of their games all-time in the NCAA Tournament, and #2 seeds have won 70%.  #3 seeds have lost in the first round only 15 times since 1985.  However, #4 (57%) and #5 (53%) seeds have fairly good odds of being upset at least once a tournament.  But the best proposition for upsets are actually the 7/10 matchups in the first round, which have been won by the 10th seed 54% of the time.  

 How much parity really exists in college basketball?

Not as much as you might think.  Three of the last four years two number one seeds have squared off in the national title game, and 14 of the 24 NCAA Tournaments since the field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 have been won by #1 seeds.  The only two NCAA Tournaments not won by a top four seed over that span were 1985 (8th-seeded Villanova) and 1987 (6th seeded-Kansas).

 Any Tournament guarantees?

Here's a few. First of all, Oklahoma has the second-most NCAA Tournament wins all-time (32) without a national title, so if you have the Sooners winning it all you can count on losing your pool.  Also, North Carolina is 25-1 all-time in NCAA Tournament games played in its home state.  So you can go ahead and guarantee the Tar Heels a spot in the Sweet 16.  Finally, don't pick Kansas to repeat.  Since the John Wooden era at UCLA ended in 1975, only two teams have repeated as national champions: Duke in 1991 & 1992 and Florida in 2006 & 2007.  In fact, other than the Gators' recent encore no other defending national champion has gotten past the second round of the next NCAA Tournament in the past six years.

 What are common mistakes everyone makes?

NCAA Tournament history has shown time and time again that just because you're hot coming into the Tournament doesn't mean you'll stay that way, and just because you're not doesn't mean you'll stay that way as well.  For instance, look for teams with proud recent traditions like Arizona and Wisconsin who limp into the field to play with a chip on their shoulders.  In contrast, everyone will be on the bandwagon of recently hot teams like Syracuse and Florida State, but that doesn't mean you should be, too.

 Any "home court advantages?"

Was I the only one to give the Spock single eyebrow raise to the idea of Ohio State playing top overall seed Louisville in the second round in nearby Dayton?  Granted, Louisville isn't far from Dayton, either, but something tells me that would be a veritable Buckeye home game.  In addition, Villanova gets to play the first two rounds in its hometown of Philadelphia.  Then there's the aforementioned Tar Heels and Blue Devils playing in Greensboro.  Several other teams courtesy of the so-called "pod system" have geographical advantages, but these are the biggest ones.

 Are certain types of teams more susceptible to early upsets than others?

Always look for up-tempo teams who consider defense optional or play that "you-got-‘em-zone."  This year, the top seeded teams in the bracket that fit this description would be Wake Forest, Washington, Gonzaga, Villanova, and Florida State.

 Who will win the 2009 NCAA Tournament?

Recent history has shown there are five key things a team needs to complete that magical six game winning streak:

 1.  At least three NBA drafted players or one top lottery pick.

2.  A true and effective point guard.

3.  A good defensive team.

4.  A good three-point shooting team.

5.  A top four seed.

 Now, you don't need to meet this entire criterion to make the Final Four, several teams who were missing key pieces were able to make it that far.  However, if you're going to win it all recent history has shown that you need the complete resume. 

 There are several teams that meet four of these five: Louisville, Michigan State, Connecticut, Memphis, Pittsburgh, Duke, Syracuse, and Oklahoma.  But only twice in the last 20 years (Arizona in 1997 & Kentucky in 1998) has the eventual national champion not met the entire criteria.  This year, there's only one team that meets all five of these characteristics. 

 That team, if Ty Lawson is healthy, is North Carolina.  If, however, Ty Lawson isn't really ready to go, this could be one of the more wide open NCAA Tournaments in recent memory.

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