Monday Muse

NCAA Tournament bracket tips, hunches and upsets specials.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Only seven teams are qualified to win the national championship. Only three have a better than 10 percent chance.

John Calipari has a shot to overtake Rick Pitino in the University of Kentucky record book. Chris Mack brought an intriguing NCAA Tournament resume at Xavier to Louisville.

If you’ve got an upset special, send it to me at rbozich@wdrb.com before the games begin, if possible.

I also have one for you.

Enough teases. Time for the Monday Muse.

1. The Mack Report

Mack directed Xavier to the NCAA Tournament eight times at Xavier. I found an interesting twist to his record:

Mack made four runs to the Sweet Sixteen, including one to the Elite Eight. All four of those teams were seeded sixth or lower, which means they were expected to disappear the first weekend.

But his two highest-seeded Xavier teams exited the tournament the first weekend. Those were bracket busters.

The Musketeers lost to Florida State as a No. 1 seed in the second round last season and fell to Wisconsin in the second round as a No. 2 seed in 2016.

Mack’s 2017 team did Xavier’s best work, upsetting Maryland (No. 6 seed); Florida State (No. 3 seed) and Arizona (No. 2 seed) before the Musketeers were beaten by No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the regional final.

His overall NCAA record is 11-8.

In games where Mack’s team was the higher seed, he is 6-3. In games where his team was the lower seed, he is an impressive 5-4. He also won a play-in game against North Carolina State in 2014.

2. The Calipari Report

Calipari’s three-season gap between Final Four appearances is his longest during his 10-year run at Kentucky.

But overall, his NCAA Tournament winning percentage is the second best among the Big Five coaches at UK.

Calipari’s teams have won 28 of 35 games — or 80 percent. Only Pitino (22-5, .815) is better. Cal has to go six-for-six in this tournament to eclipse Pitino’s UK tournament winning percentage.

Tubby Smith went 23-9 (.719), Joe B. Hall 20-9 (.690) and Adolph Rupp 30-18 (.625).

As a higher seed, Calipari is 22-4. As a lower seed, his record is 6-3, with four of those wins coming in the Wildcats’ stirring run to the 2014 national championship game.

3. Nothing But Nets

One of the first complaints registered about the NCAA Tournament bracket came from bracketologists who were confused by how the selection committee used its latest computer power ranking formula, called NET.

After decades of relying on the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI), the NCAA junked that formula after last season. They pledged the new formula would feature an improved form of analytics.

Good luck trying to connect the NET formula to the 2019 bracket.

St. John’s ranked No. 73 in the NET, well below the expected cut-off for an at-large team. The Johnnies and Chris Mullin are dancing.

Arizona State finished at No. 63 but was selected for an at-large spot ahead of Toledo (No. 62), Greensboro (No. 60); Indiana (No. 54); Creighton (No. 53); TCU (No. 52); Penn State (No. 50) or several others, especially North Carolina State (No. 33).

Expect a howl or two as soon as St. John’s and Arizona exit the party.

4. Big Ten vs. ACC

The committee left no doubt which league it loved more: the Atlantic Coast Conference over the Big Ten.

The Big Ten earned one more bid than the seven awarded to the ACC, but the ACC put three teams on the top seed line and two more at No. 4.

The Big Ten got shut out from the top seed line, with three teams seeded No. 10 or worse.

Michigan State won the Big Ten Tournament as well as a share of the Big Ten regular season title. The Spartans were rewarded with the worst overall No. 2 seed, dumped in the same regional with Duke.

Michigan did not lose a non-conference game, thumping No. 1 seed North Carolina by 17 and No. 6 seed Villanova by 27, and the Wolverines were dispatched to the West Regional as the No. 2.

Ouch.

Just enough to make you wonder if the Big Ten caused issues for its teams by switching to a 20-game conference schedule.

5. Dual Qualifiers

Determined bracketologists search for every possible edge. Here is a guideline I have followed the last decade while embracing Ken Pomeroy’s fabulous web site:

Only teams that rank in the Top 20 in offensive and defensive efficiency can win the national title.

One team has won the title without being a dual qualifier since 2002. That team was Connecticut, the 2014 version of the Huskies that somehow stumbled to the title with Shabazz Napier and coach Kevin Ollie.

Seven teams qualify in 2019:

  • Gonzaga — first in offensive efficiency, 16th in defense.
  • Virginia — second and fifth.
  • Michigan State — fourth and eighth.
  • Duke — sixth and sixth.
  • North Carolina, — seventh and 10th.
  • Kentucky — 13th and 12th.
  • Michigan — 18th and second.

Sorry, Tennessee and Purdue.

You can thank me by sharing your winnings from your office pool.

6. Another View From Planet Analytics

Nate Silver is another esteemed number-cruncher, a wise observer of current culture who has built his credentials forecasting politics as well as sports. Silver runs the FiveThirtyEight website.

His bracket forecast is another must read.

Here are top picks as well as his predictions for Louisville and Kentucky:

Most likely to win it all: Duke 19 percent; Virginia 17 percent; Gonzaga 15 percent; North Carolina 9 percent; Michigan State 7 percent; Tennessee and Kentucky 5 percent; and Michigan 4 percent.

His analytics put UK’s win probability against Abilene Christian at 97 percent and then at 73 percent for a second-round game with Seton Hall or Wofford.

Silver gives Louisville a 68 percent win probability against Minnesota and 19 percent against Michigan State.

7. Bracket Tips

I do not bet on games. Not at all.

I am, however, fascinated by point spreads and numbers. Somehow, I landed on the e-mail list of pregame.com. On Sunday night, that site shared an interesting string of bracket tips.

Here are three that I consider the most interesting:

  • Do NOT pick two No. 1 seeds to play in the championship game. It’s happened only eight times in 40 years.
  • Advance NO double-digit seeds to the Final Four. The numbers are not good: only 5 of 160 teams.
  • Advance three No. 1 seeds to the Elite Eight. Since 1979, 71 percent of all No. 1 seeds have made the Elite Eight.

8. Upset Special — By Me

It’s unhealthy for bracket pool play to pick too many early upsets. But what’s the joy in picking chalk after chalk?

So here is my totally outrageous first-round call: Old Dominion, No. 14 seed, over Purdue, the No. 3 seed in the South Region.

Matt Painter has done a terrific job with this Boilermakers squad. He’s my candidate for Big Ten coach of the year as well as a candidate for national coach of the year with Tony Bennett of Virginia, Chris Beard of Texas Tech and Rick Barnes of Tennessee.

But, the Boilermakers wobbled to the finish line, losing two of their last three to Minnesota. Carsen Edwards complained of a bad back and missed 13 of 17 shots in the Big Ten Tournament. Purdue was superb in the Big Ten, but beaten by Texas and Notre Dame outside the league.

Old Dominion won the Conference USA tournament and regular season titles. Jeff Jones, the Owensboro native, is an extremely capable coach.

Just a hunch.

9. Upset Specials — New York Times Version

I’m not the only one searching for upsets. Marc Tracey of the New York Times was motivated to forecast six.

The first is one that many are forecasting: Murray State and Ja Morant over Marquette and Markus Howard.

10. Rick Pitino Tweet of the Week

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