BOZICH | 10 (Plus 6) Thoughts On The NCAA Sweet Sixteen - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | 10 (Plus 6) Thoughts On The NCAA Sweet Sixteen

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Rick Bozich lost seven of his Sweet 16 picks, but all four of his Final Four picks are still playing. Rick Bozich lost seven of his Sweet 16 picks, but all four of his Final Four picks are still playing.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – My NCAA Tournament bracket has been stepped on, kicked, torn and tossed in the discard bin.

That's OK. It's part of the fun of March Madness. We still have 15 games to play. And I still have 10 (Plus 6) Thoughts On the Sweet Sixteen.

1. MATTERS OF MARGIN: There are infinite ways to forecast which teams can and cannot win the tournament. With the first weekend over, make that infinite-plus one:

How you play in your first two games matters. Some say winning close games sends the message that your team is poised. There is also another message: If you're playing close games early, chances are you won't win it all.

Check the recent completed brackets.

Over the last 16 seasons, every NCAA men's champion except one won both of its first two games by 10 points or more. In fact, over the last five seasons, the eventual champion has won its first two by an average of 27.5 (Louisville last season); 15.5 (Kentucky, 2012); 13 (Connecticut, 2011); 22 (Duke, 2010); 28.5 (North Carolina 2009) and 21.5 (Kansas, 2008).

The exception? Florida, which beat Purdue, 74-67, in the second round in 2007, after smoking Jackson State, 112-69, in its opener.

How many teams fit that profile this season?

Five -- Florida (average winning margin 14); UCLA (17); Virginia (14.5); Baylor (22); and Michigan (15.5). All five won their first two games by 10 or more.

2. ROYALTY REMAINS: Take a closer look at your bracket. You'll find at least one coach in every regional who has already won a national title. There is also a coach who won it all as a player.

The Midwest Regional rules with John Calipari of Kentucky and Rick Pitino of Louisville. Steve Fisher won the 1989 championship at Michigan before taking his talents to San Diego State, which plays in the West Regional.

Tom Izzo (Michigan State) will try to join Pitino in the Two-Ring Club through the East Regional, a club that already includes Billy Donovan (Florida) whose team is favored to emerge from the South Regional.

The other guy who has a ring? That would be former Indiana guard, Steve Alford, whose UCLA team is matched against Florida.

3. UNBUCKLING ITS CHINSTRAP: Take a bow, SEC. A long, enthusiastic bow.

You earned it.

There's no doubt which league emerged as the winner from the first weekend – the Southeastern Conference, the only league to proceed unbeaten, winning all seven of its games.

Kentucky delivered the first takedown of a one-seed, by toppling Wichita State. Florida played like a one seed, at least while dominating Pittsburgh. And Tennessee was the only team to win three games, beating Iowa, Massachusetts and Mercer.

4. CRACKS IN TOBACCO ROAD: If it was a great weekend for the SEC, it was an awful, terrible, ugly weekend for the Atlantic Coast Conference. Recruiting Syracuse and Pittsburgh was supposed to restore some of the juice the ACC had lost.

Not exactly. The ACC started with six teams. It's down to one – Virginia. ACC teams played 11 games and lost five of them, two to lower-seeded teams.

5. UPSET SPECIAL, PART I: I asked former Western Kentucky and South Carolina coach Darrin Horn for a Sweet Sixteen upset special. He did not hesitate – Tennessee over Michigan in the opening game of the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis, Friday.

Why?

"They have big, athletic guys on the perimeter," Horn said. "Their big guys can defend ball screens. They're able to switch screens. They have two guys inside they can pound the ball into.

"They can do exactly what Michigan State was able to do (to Michigan) in the Big Ten Tournament final. If they make perimeter shots, they can win."

Imagine two SEC teams (UK and Tennessee) playing for a trip to the Final Four in the city (Indianapolis) that hosted the Big Ten Tournament.

6. SCORING KINGS: Here are the five leading scorers in the tournament, moving forward:

1. Xavier Thames, San Diego State; Adreian Payne, Michigan State, 26.5 ppg; 3. Shabazz Napier, UConn, 24.5; 4. Jarnell Stokes, Tennessee, 20.3; 5. Jordan Adams, UCLA, 20.

7. COACHES AS PLAYERS: The NCAA does not keep a statistic like this one. But it should.

I can't imagine there has ever been another regional like the South Regional. The four guys coaching in Memphis could entertain the crowds with a rousing game of two-on-two.

As college players, Billy Donovan (Florida), Steve Alford (UCLA), Archie Miller (Dayton) and Johnny Dawkins (Stanford) scored a combined 7,265 points.

Dawkins (2,556 points at Duke) and Alford (2,438, Indiana) were the high-volume shooters. Archie Miller (North Carolina State) scored 943 as a pass-first point guard. Billy Donovan had the marvelous senior season at Providence while finishing his career with 1,328 points.

8. WELCOME TO THE CLUB: Miller, Dawkins, Fred Hoiberg of Iowa State, Kevin Ollie of UConn and Cuonzo Martin of Tennessee are all making their first trips to the Sweet Sixteen. Alford, Tony Bennett (Virginia), Sean Miller (Arizona), Scott Drew (Baylor) and Bo Ryan (Wisconsin) have all made the Sweet Sixteen, but not the Final Four. John Beilein (Michigan) has a Final Four without a title.

9. TOUGHEST ROAD (BY SEEDS): If you're using seeding as a guideline, the toughest bracket remaining is clearly the West.

You have top seed Arizona, two seed Wisconsin, four seed San Diego State and six seed Baylor.

10. TOUGHEST ROAD (BY RANKINGS): If you use Ken Pomeroy's computer rankings, the Midwest bumps the West as the toughest bracket.

All four teams bound for Lucas Oil Stadium are ranked in the Top 11 by Pomeroy – Louisville third, Tennessee sixth, Michigan 10th and Kentucky 11th.

That's a combined ranking of 30, well ahead of the West, which has a combined number of 47 (Arizona 2, Wisconsin 7, San Diego State 17 and Baylor 21).

11. EASIEST ROAD (BY SEEDS): It's nice to be Billy Donovan, if the Gators can beat UCLA, they'll find either 10-seed (Stanford) or an 11 (Dayton) waiting in the regional final. That's usually the kind of bump a team gets on the road to winning a title.

12. EASIEST ROAD (BY RANKINGS): The Pomeroy rankings make it look even better for Donovan. The combined ranking of the four teams in the South is 91 – Florida is first, UCLA 13th, Stanford 34th and Dayton 43rd.

The other combined ranking numbers: Midwest 30, West 47 and East 51.

13. UPSET SPECIAL, PART II: Horn was not done picking on the Big Ten. His second upset special is Baylor over Wisconsin.

"I think Baylor's length will really be a issue," Horn said. "They play a really different style of defense with that funky, sort of matchup 2-3 zone. And when they're on they can really score."

Bo Ryan, you have been warned.

14. WHAT DOES NATE SILVER SAY: When the tournament started last week, Louisville had the best projected percentage of winning the title, according to the data at Nate Silver's 538 blog.

That's no longer the case. Florida is now the favorite.

Silver's blog put Florida at 18 percent, just ahead of U of L and Arizona. Both the Cardinals and Wildcats are at 17 percent. No other teams are listed at 10 percent or higher.

Kentucky? Silver's model ranks the Wildcats' chances of winning four more games at 4 percent. I know, I know. Silver didn't have UK beating Wichita State either.

15. BRACKET ISSUES: My bracket is parked in ICU. Only nine of my teams advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.

I whiffed on UCLA (VCU), Dayton (Syracuse), Stanford (Kansas), UConn (Villanova), Baylor (Nebraska, ouch), UK (Wichita State) and Tennessee (Duke).

16. THE FINAL FOUR, PART II: That's the only good news. All of my Final Four teams are still dribbling, so I'll stay with Florida, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Louisville.

Enjoy. Only 15 games to go.

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