With the tourney in swing, drop by and ask John Gasaway of BasketballProspectus.com your questions about brackets, matchups, and potential upsets.
John Gasaway: Let Madness reign supreme. Talk to me!
Swango (Indianapolis): I'm picking No. 9 Butler to make it to the Final Four. This will require an upset of No. 1 UNC.
Your study of the field is pretty extensive. I'd like your opinion on my chances of having successfully selected a Cinderella team.
Thanks, and keep up the good work.
John Gasaway: I have developed a stat specifically for a potential North Carolina-Butler game that I call my Projected Baseline measure, or “PB” for short. Here’s what I’m seeing….
All bets are off if Ty Lawson can’t play (effectively or at all) for the Heels. I saw both their games in the ACC tournament and without Lawson they could barely squeak by Virginia Tech in the quarters (before going on to lose to Florida State in the semis). It’s just not the same explosive team without their starting point guard. And the good news for any potential opponent, including Butler, is that unlike past years UNC is not particularly stout on D this season. The absence of Marcus Ginyard may have something to do with that.
How about that? PB rules, dude!
lagronem (Newark DE): Hey John,
My wife said to me this weekend, "hey, it's 'Choosy Sunday'!" I suggest that this moniker replace Selection Sunday. She's Canadian, so forgive her. Anyhoo, should I be worried about OU's opening round game vs. Morgan St? You have complimented T. Bozeman in the past. Thanks!
John Gasaway: Well, tell your better half I’d probably mangle the name of some hockey something so it evens out. No, no worries. Ken did a “Todd Bozeman is good” piece last year but the Sooners should be OK (har!) nine out of every ten times they play this game.
Sansterre (Wilmington, DE): This is kind of naive, but is there any chance the selection committee can be dissuaded from using RPI? It's not bad overall, but it's ignorance of MoV, and its reliance on record to determine quality of opponent both seem kind of antiquated, like ranking the best baseball team by using batting average.
John Gasaway: RPI will always be in the mix, which is fine. It shows you at a glance what a team has done and how tough it’s been for them to do it. I think sportswriters have actually used RPI as a crutch (see record vs. top 50 RPI) as much as the committee has. I need to expend some shoe-leather finding out exactly how much tempo-free anything made it into the committee’s conference room this year. The correct answer is either “zero” or “microscopically little,” but my sense is that will change with each passing season. For one thing there was way more tempo-free discussion in the MSM this March. A corner has been turned. Yay.
Brian (Detroit): Is it just me, or are there a number of good (but not great) teams in the South? For me, that bracket is wide open, because I don't think UNC is strong enough if Lawson is not 100%.
John Gasaway: As you say, it depends on Lawson. If he’s healthy and whole, UNC is a solid though not commanding favorite in that region. If not, it’s an opportunity for Gonzaga, among others.
luis (NYC but my heart is in Durham): No question, just wanted to say thanks for looking up that bit about the other shoe dropping- I've always wanted to know, and now I do...
John Gasaway: For anyone just tuning in, yesterday's Unfiltered post tackled the vexing question: we all say "waiting for the other shoe to drop" but where does that come from exactly? My next quest: what does "cute as a button" mean? If anyone here knows, feel free to pipe up.
ashitaka (long beach, ca): Do you think any of the teams at 12 or below can advance to the second round? I have a weird feeling about Portland St...
John Gasaway: Well, Wisconsin and Arizona aren't plucky mid-majors or anything but they are 12-seeds and the Badgers, by our lights here at Prospectus, should actually be very slight favorites against Florida State. Elsewhere Mississippi State's a pretty trendy pick against Washington. (The Huskies do give me pause. Much like Michigan State they just don't shoot that well.) ND State could have a chance against Kansas. Put it this way, the Bison are the older team. And I was on the record the other day as thinking Cleveland State won't be shaking in their boots to face Wake Forest.
Mark (DC): Ok, so you like Memphis. I think they're a good team and all, and based on performance metrics they look almost as good as last year's team. But based on actual results, there nowhere near as good as last year. For instance, last year they beat eventual Big East Champ Georgetown, UConn, Oklahoma, and a few other good teams from power conferences in the pre-conference season. This year they beat Gonzaga (a team with the same big fish in a small conference problem as themselves) and Tennessee - an SEC also-ran. They lost to Georgetown, Xavier, and Syracuse and didn't really play anyone else from a power conference. Do these actual game results not give you a little pause?
John Gasaway: I don’t suppose any team in this field is exactly UCLA ‘73 but in my line of work I have to pick someone anyway. I think the Tigers are the best choice. Also note that if I had to guess I’d say Memphis absolutely stomping on Gonzaga at their place in early February this year will be commanding much more respect in about 48 hours here.
OK, I now have visual on Greg Gumbel. The tournament has started.
Brad (MO): What are WVU chances of getting past KU? Elite 8?
John Gasaway: If WVU-KU comes to pass I see no way that game isn't close. Two very good defenses. There is a solid second tier of Big East teams--Mountaineers, Villanova, Syracuse, and Marquette even without Dominic James--who, really can beat just about anyone they come across. Except Memphis, because I picked them. So there.
Andrew (Indiana): Gonzaga burns me time after time, but I can never abandon them. Just how crazy am I to have them in the Championship game this year?
John Gasaway: Somewhat but not totally. They have great size and make it tough for opposing offenses, no doubt. They had Connecticut beat in Seattle before falling in OT. But they lost at home to Portland State.
dianagramr (NYC): A discussion on the origin of "cute as a button"
John Gasaway: Prospectus readers. So diligent. (Sniff.)
Ben A (Raleigh, NC): Non-tourney related question: Would Fran McCaffery be a good fit at UVa if they can't (and probably won't) land tubby smith?
John Gasaway: At first blush, yes. Siena already plays an ACC pace and is very good on offense. Keep in mind, though, that some fairly hefty names could come into play for the UVA gig as well. Capel, maybe, along with the two Perpetual Candidates from distant and inscrutable eastern Washington. Need I even name them?
dianagramr (NYC): I'm diligent, but my workplace is blocking March Madness on Demand ... sigh.
Guess they expect me to work.
Go St. John's (in 2013 perhaps?)
John Gasaway: It's lunchtime. Get thee to a sports bar. Tell your employer John Gasaway says you have to.
Dylan (NYC): What do you think is the scenario that will ultimately result in a 16 beating a 1? Ridiculous 3-point shooting? A key player (Blair) getting in quick foul trouble and playing 8 minutes? A devastating injury in the first 5 minutes to the one's best player? The mundane overseeded 1 vs. underseeded 16 (Purdue/Coastal Carolina)? Tim Donaghy coming out of retirement?
John Gasaway: When we posted the log5 probabilities this week, I received several incredulous emails saying, in effect, how can (insert 1-seed here) be “only” a 94 percent favorite against (16-seed). I confess I don’t understand the incredulity. Being a 94 percent favorite away from your home court means you’re going to win, period.
That being said, even though the 16’s are 0-96 it’s wrong to think of a win for a 16-seed as utterly impossible. It will come to pass, probably sooner than we think. In addition to Princeton’s one-point loss to Georgetown in 1989, let’s not forget that Albany was competitive for much of the game against Connecticut in ’06. One recipe would be: clearly over-seeded one (maybe Oklahoma this year if they had made it to that line) runs into a 16 that combines a funky match-up zone with some torrid outside shooting.
trevor (austin TX): will A&m get past BYU. Thanks
John Gasaway: If they do they will have earned a measure of additional respect from this fan—and I already respect their stretch run. Thing is, BYU is so under-appreciated. Sometimes I wonder if smaller conferences with their own TV deals (“The Mountain”) are shooting themselves in the foot in not getting their teams the exposure that only the WWL can provide. Anyway, the Cougars are tough.
LSU 9, Butler 0. Stevens calls timeout before the Bulldogs can get to the 16:00 TO.
HonusCobb (Wayne, NE): What do you think about Tony Douglas and FSU making a run at the final four?
John Gasaway: The Seminoles are so solid on D but I think Toney could use some help from his teammates on offense. Also note that an FSU-Xavier second-round game, should it come to that, would be a real slugfest. The Musketeers' D, especially in the paint, is excellent.
Sean (Albuquerque): Wisconsin or Xavier in the second round?
John Gasaway: Ties in with previous question. At first glance you would think this is one D-heavy bracket with FSU, Wisconsin, and Xavier. But what's funny about the Badgers this year is that actually they're getting it done on offense. No one can tell, though, because they only average about 57 or 58 possessions per game.
Dan (Chicago): John-
Who wins the tournament this year if the only criteria that mattered was the team mascot?
John Gasaway: Wow, a toughie. Guess I'd have to go with the Zips of Akron. Anyone have a better thought? I'm open to persuasion.
Mike (Spokane, WA): If Lawson is injured (or ineffective) for their second round game, who has a better chance of taking them down, Butler or LSU?
John Gasaway: LSU, and I'm not saying that because they're up on Butler 11-3.
Peter (Chicago): Butler down early and turning it over non-stop. Should they be worried?
John Gasaway: If this keeps up, absolutely. Their spurtability is limited. They win by going slow, taking care of the ball, and playing D. (I'd never heard the story of Stevens resolving to go into coaching after he couldn't get a ticket to see the 2000 Final Four. Interesting.)
Goose (Chicago): Is this year's version of the Big 10 the worst conference ever to send 7 teams to the tourney? What a joke...Wisconsin's best win out of conference was VA Tech?
John Gasaway: That's the beauty of this here sport. These questions will be settled on the court.
In other news a scrappy Memphis squad has rallied to pull ahead of Cal State Northridge, 13-11. Bear in mind the Matadors already have more points than any C-USA opponent scored against the Tigers in the conference tournament. I'm exaggerating but not much.
John (Princeton): I see Gonzaga and West Virginia in the Final Four. Am I crazy?
John Gasaway: Not at all: two excellent defenses with some athletes. If on this date in 2006 you were seeing LSU, UCLA, Florida, and George Mason in the Final Four, however, they would have dropped the proverbial butterfly net on you in a heartbeat.
Mark (DC): Only 3 big east teams post defensive efficiencies below one point per possession. An indication of stellar offense or poor D? Should Pittsburg be worried about an early exit?
John Gasaway: Pitt's not Memphis on D or anything but the way they score points they don't need to be. I am not one who subscribes to the theory that you must be in the top 25 in the nation in both offense and defense. As long as you're outscoring the other guys by, say 0.15 per trip, it doesn't matter much to me how you're making that number happen.
BrianK (Boston, MA): We know that teams under-seeded by the committee in terms of their Pomeroy Pythag winning percentage is one of the stronger PASE criterion. UCLA, West Virginia, and Arizona State were all given 6 seeds by the committee despite having top 12 ratings. Which of the most under-seeded teams do you see making a run?
John Gasaway: I just want to revel in that first sentence for a moment. A couple years ago people were looking at me like a space alien for referring to points per possession. We've come a long way, bay-bee!
Oh, right, the question itself. In addition to being good, it also helps to be in a bracket where your opponents are less so. The Bruins were done no favors being shipped to Philly where they'll likely run into Villanova. I like West Virginia's bracket more.
Man, A&M is smoking BYU 26-8 with 12 left in the first half. My statements this week notwithstanding, the Cougars aren't looking particularly underseeded at the moment.
DoubleB (Vermont): Is C-USA really that bad? UAB, Tulsa, and Houston are NIT teams (whether they are in it or not). It's obviously not the Big East or even the Big Ten, but the reality to me is that Memphis is a special team. If it was so easy to win 61 straight conference games why didn't those great UNLV teams do it in the early 90's?
John Gasaway: No C-USA isn't that bad. It's just worse than the SEC so it's off-the-map for a lot of fans.
On the other hand Memphis should probably start getting some separation against CS Northridge if they want to keep that "special" label. 18-17 Tigers, 11 left to play in 1st half.
TheRedSon (Texas): 26-8. Any thoughts?
John Gasaway: Just one: wow. (We're talking Texas A&M vs. BYU, folks.) Oops, 26-13 now.
Will (Washington): North Dakota St Bison would have a run at the mascot matchup.
Was the committee seriously underseeding 6 seeds this year (UCLA, WVU)?
John Gasaway: I'm just glad South Carolina's not a part of this discussion.
No, UCLA dug their own 6-pit losing by ten in the Pac-10 semis to a team (USC) they swept during the season. WVU, conversely, was underappreciated pretty much the whole season.
Ben Allaire (Raleigh, NC): Am I a loser for wanting to quit my job and stay at home to dork around with college basketball statistics all day?
My wife tells me I am, but I figure if you, John Gasaway tell me otherwise I won't feel so bad.
John Gasaway: See, the key word here is "dork." Maybe if you tell your bride you're "crafting bold new paradigms for a mult-billion dollar industry," she'll be more impressed. If so, tell her John Gasaway said it first. Good luck.
Mike (Spokane, WA): I had a moment and picked ND State over Kansas in my bracket, mostly because of Ben Woodside (anyone who beats a ranked Wisconsin as a then-D2 school is good in my book). Did I screw myself or could the Bison pull it off?
John Gasaway: As long as you don't have the Bison getting to Detroit you're probably fine either way. I don't see the winner of that game getting too terribly far, whether it's KU or NDSU.
I worked with someone once who was a Bison graduate. When I asked her where she went to college she said "NDSU" very fast and I literally had no idea what it meant. Look at those Bison now, baby! Fargo is the new tobacco road.
Mike (Lowell (MA)): Teams (BYU) flying east and playing that early game don't usually fair well. What type of team will give Oklahoma the most problems?
John Gasaway: Actually they've come storming back here. 28-24. Stay tuned.
I think the Sooners would have more trouble with an offensively-minded team like, say, Siena, than a D-it-up type from the Big Ten's midsection.
Clint (Chicago): With a healthy Hummel, how do you like Purdue's chances to do some damage (Sweet 16, for example)? I asked this to Joe the other day and he didn't inspire me with much confidence.
John Gasaway: I didn't catch Joe's thoughts but I think UConn was done no favors with this bracket. Right now it looks like the survivor of Texas A&M-BYU will have no fear of the Huskies. Then Jim Calhoun may well run into Purdue, with not only a healthy Hummel but a JaJuan Johnson who looks like he's progressed about three seasons' worth since this time last year. Not to mention Connecticut just hasn't looked all that fearsome since Dyson went down. Yeah, if I were a Purdue fan I'd be paying close attention this March.
Mike W (Chicago): Dude, you said "spurtability." Jay Bilas called, he wants his gimmick back.
John Gasaway: Is that his? I knew it was someone's. Someone besides me, I mean.
Andy ((Big) Eastern U.S.): Just casually picking I ended up with 4 Big East teams in the final four (how did villanova end up in there???), realizing this i went back and made some random changes just to prevent this from happining. Good way to pick a bracket?
John Gasaway: I read a lot of how-to-do-your-bracket pieces this week and the consensus seems to be:
Go with your gut! (Unless your gut sucks!)
Three Big East teams made it to the Final Four once. In any year until 2008, if you got three Final Four teams correct you were doing very well.
Bill (Toronto): Nice run by BYU, did they just take A&M's best shot or do you see a close game until the end?
John Gasaway: Wow, A&M has now pushed it back out to 13 (40-27), three minutes to halftime. Incredible half from the Aggie offense.
Channel 701 on DirecTV is the greatest thing ever. You really can watch multiple games at once and keep track of them all.
jbuofm (Peoria): As a Michigan alum, I am extremely excited about tonight's game. However, do you think John Beilein is capable of building a national championship caliber program, or are his teams destined to be scrappy over-achiever types who might make an occasional final four run, but be out classed once they get that far? Don't get me wrong, at this point I'm excited about anything positive in Michigan basketball.
John Gasaway: You can be a bright guy with a sophisticated offense and still recruit well and get to the Final Four, I dare say. Georgetown in 2007 comes to mind. I say you are right to be extremely excited.
TheRedSon (Texas): So I heard on the radio last night that Baylor's NIT win against Georgetown was their first postseason win since 1950. Any other droughts like that in the BCS leagues?
BYU is shooting much better outside the arc than they are inside. I think 6-9 from outside now and something like 6-20 on 2 pointers.
John Gasaway: Wow, really? Since before the outbreak of the Korean War, huh? Zounds. Did not know that. As far as other droughts you'd have to read up on Northwestern's history with the NIT, for they have none, of course, with the NCAA. (Though they did host a Final Four, right? Or something.)
Good grief, Memphis can't shake CS Northridge. Tigers 33, Matadors 31, final seconds of first half.
Dexter Fishmore (NYC): I'd argue that "spurtability" - and yes, the trademark belongs to Bilas - has risen above gimmick status. It's actually a pretty useful and descriptive noun.
John Gasaway: I used it. What's more I needed it at the time. Kudos, Bilas.
Kernel (Portland): Shouldn't Butler feel good about being down only 6 at the half given all of the TOs and missed shots.
John Gasaway: Exactly. They should feel like they can win this thing if they just play the last 20 minutes like they usually play.
Halftime across the land. Texas A&M 42, BYU 30. LSU 35, Butler 29. Memphis 34, CS Northridge 31. I can't believe it's halftime already. You all do make the games go quickly here at Prospectus HQ.
fsumatthunter (Tallahassee): If Memphis loses this game I'm never using advanced metrics to pick a bracket again.
John Gasaway: An understandable sentiment, but I'm not sure one needed to be particularly advanced to think Memphis would win. Anyway, they're up three with 20 to play. Had a lot of guys sitting a lot of minutes with two fouls, including Evans. Calipari's just glad he has Roburt Sallie right now.
Dexter Fishmore (NYC): For those of us sans video feeds at the moment, can you please hit us with 25 well-chosen words on what the hell's happening between Memphis and CSUN?
John Gasaway: See above: fouls and turnovers galore from Memphis. Zone D from the underdog. This Matador D is no Matador D. (Har!)
Scrapper (Chicago): OK, I've been reading your work for the last few weeks and you convinced me that Memphis is a powerhouse despite its conference affiliation. Following your advice, I put them in the finals of all of my brackets. They are currently only up by 2 to some ridiculous #15 seed. If they lose in the first round, I want my $20 pool entry fee back, capeche??
John Gasaway: Now everyone just simmer down.
Whoa: Jim Calhoun is in the hospital. He's not going to coach UConn's first-round game. No further information yet.
bmcgehee (Nashville): Don't go banging on my Hokies (your first entry)! What are the Maroon and Orange's chances of winning the Not Invited Tournament?
John Gasaway: Sorry, no idea. My NIT-free streak is now entering its second decade. Anyway, I am contractually prohibited from banging on your Hokies. V. Tech graduate Ken Pomeroy forbids it.
Mike (Spokane, WA): As far as I'm concerned, Big Red of Western Kentucky is the no. 1 mascot. The Sportscenter commercial with it debating over Men's or Women's bathroom is a classic.
John Gasaway: The Geico "number 1 fan" spot with the caveman on the scoreboard at the game is growing on me. It's all about that actor, whoever he is. He just oozes contempt for everything Geico.
Dexter Fishmore (NYC): Are you aware of any sentiment among C-USA teams in favor of getting Memphis out of the conference? The Tigers' C-USA membership clearly has both benefits and costs for the other programs. On the one hand, you enjoy the penumbral prestige of having a hoops superpower in the conference. On the other hand, the superpower gets to whale on you a couple times a year, and you're never going to win the conference while it's around.
John Gasaway: If Memphis keeps playing like they are today, the other C-USA teams will be happy to keep the Tigers.
In all seriousness, I have wondered at times if this level or ridiculous dominance might have an inhibiting effect on other programs in the league. If there were no Memphis programs like UAB and Tulsa would at least have some recent tournament experience under their belts and, who knows, might have won some games.
Geno (Storrs, CT): What's your source for Calhoun? I can't find it online elsewhere... if it's for real I'm on the next plane.
John Gasaway: CBS announced it during their halftime studio show. Straight from Greg Gumbel.
JWR (Chicago): Do you guys play the brackets and pools yourself? How does the size of the pool affect how you pick? I'm always tempted to play semi-long shots (like Gonzaga) to take advantage of the relatively better odds since relatively few people take underdogs to win it all but usually end up going with my top choice.
John Gasaway: I don't and I know Ken was traumatized a couple years ago when he was dragooned into Dan Steinberg's pool at the Washington Post and was nearly beaten by Jenn Sterger.
Yes, multiple pools with your entries varying in their wackiness would be the way to go.
Daniel (Montreal): 2nd half predictions:
1)Memphis never pulls away, but wins by 11.
2) LSU-Butler goes down to the last minute.
3) BYU comes back to win. Cummard gets hot.
John Gasaway: Alright, Daniel. We have you on the record. (Sounds like you think BYU has spurtability.)
Dexter Fishmore (NYC): The commercial that's not at all growing on me: Bud Light milking humor from a ski slope accident. I realize they filmed it months ago, and you can't necessarily rearrange the world in response to an isolated tragedy, but still.... oy.
John Gasaway: I had the exact same thought. I'm shocked that hasn't occurred to anyone.
Sansterre (Wilmington, DE): It seems like everyone, including myself, missed the fact that Northridge forces lots of 3s, and Memphis shoots 3s much worse than 2s. Is that all this is?
John Gasaway: Well, everyone except Darren Collison and Greg Paulus last year shoots threes worse than twos, of course, but the Tigers were an above-average three-point shooting team this year in C-USA play.
Robert (Chicago): Every year there's at least one 2/15 matchup that's very close at halftime or even until late in the game. But only four times has the 15 seed ever won. I wouldn't get worried yet. Tulsa was close to Memphis in the C-USA final and got rolled in the second half.
John Gasaway: Robert joins my "simmer down" club. You go, Robert.
Mike (Lowell, MA): Butler has to be somewhat happy to be only down 6 here with the way they've shot and turned it over. Refs seem to be calling it tight in all the games. Howards' a beast. Butler down only 4
John Gasaway: Yes, LSU-Butler shows every likelihood of being close to the end.
akachazz (DC): As a baseball prospectus subscriber, I'll out myself right now and say that I don't really enjoy watching basketball, but I do get into the tourney each year. I want to thank you guys at BP for being my sole source of last minute bracketology info. My faith is being severely tempted by this team called "The University of Memphis" that I have winning it all, but I understand how probability works.
Seriously though, they need to not be doing this with my heart right now.
John Gasaway: Hey, no judgments here, bro. I was talking to Aaron (Football Outsiders) Schatz this morning and he outed himself as "the only person in the country" who doesn't watch the tournament. And even HE read something I wrote once. I tell you, there's no evading me! (Insert evil laughter here.)
Bill (Toronto): I've got Radford +25.5, Minnesota +4.5, VCU +6.5 and Western Kentucky +4.5, how do you like my chances? Also, since we've had some light Canada bashing in a previous question I think it's a good time to point out I can and did make those bets legally, so being a Canadian isn't all bad.
John Gasaway: No Canada-bashing! My Banff t-shirt is in my regular rotation. Yarmouth seemed OK. And Victoria is cute as a button. OK, that's all I got.
Not sure about the Minnesota pick.
Dan (Iowa City): Slightly off-topic John, but please assure this Hawkeye fan that going forward Todd Lickliter won't play the role of Dan Monson while Brad Stevens plays the role of Mark Few.
John Gasaway: Well, I'd take issue with the history first of all. If there's a coach who is to Butler what Dan Monson was to Gonzaga it'd be Thad Matta, not Lickliter, who stepped into a program that already had a good foundation. But getting to the Iowa part, Lickliter is tantalizingly close to being perceived as having improved a lot. Your Hawks weren't that much different possession for possession than bubbly Penn State. Todd just needs to find the players that won't give away the ball. (OK, some more D would be good too.)
Sansterre (Wilmington, DE): I make no claims of knowledge regarding CUSA stats, but Pomeroy has the Memphis 3pt rate at 32%, which is 263rd in the NCAA. And when I say worse, i mean in relation to the rest of the leage (263rd 3s, 95th 2s. Unadjusted, but still.)
John Gasaway: What did Emerson say? Eschew the dead past! Anyway, forget calendar 08. In C-USA Memphis hit 36.8 percent from beyond the arc, a robust 0.73 standard deviations better than the league average.
patrickc (nyc): Howard kid can score around the basket, huh? Very cool with the left hand...
John Gasaway: Yes, he has good feet. Butler fun fact: any time Stevens calls a timeout, the ensuing play goes to Howard. Without fail.
Alright, we're reaching the point in the second half of these games where we need to cease chatting and start watching....
John Gasaway: Everyone have fun watching a scrappy Memphis team try to pull the upset here. I'll be back next week, Thursday at noon Eastern. Savor the madness!