Welcome to the fifth edition of The Buzzer-Beater, my weekly Monday column about college basketball and what’s going on around the country. This week’s column comes to you from Birmingham, AL, where I’ve been taking some time off after a long week working the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament in St. Louis. That’s why there wasn’t a column last week–I had to take some time to make sure all of my affairs were in order before I traveled to the tournament. In St. Louis, Kentucky blew me away. The Wildcats are playing some great basketball right now, and I wouldn’t want to face them in the tournament (more on that below). It’s NCAA Tournament time, the best time of the year, so let’s dive right in to this week’s edition of The Buzzer-Beater.
The bracket is out, and everybody is complaining like they do every year. I’m going to go ahead and put to bed two teams’ complaints right now: Middle Tennessee and St. Mary’s. All day yesterday while on the road, I heard about how the Blue Raiders and the Gaels got hosed. Middle Tennessee is 24-7! They played good teams in the non-conference! St. Mary’s only lost five games! They won at Gonzaga! How could the committee be so cruel?!?!
Please. First off, these teams had their chances. Let’s start with the Blue Raiders, who people say has the biggest gripe with the committee. Some will argue that scheduling Miami, Auburn, and USC should be enough to get them in the field. What? No, winning those games would get you into the field. Those contests were all close
ones in the end, and Middle Tennessee lost them all. Win one of those, and we’re not even having this conversation right now. Just playing good teams isn’t enough, you’ve got to win those games. Otherwise, Texas Southern should’ve been in the mix for an at-large bid. After all, they played Gonzaga, Ohio State, Syracuse, Kansas, Clemson, Oregon, Baylor, and TCU in the non-conference. Sure, they lost all of those games, but they played them, right? So let’s throw them in. If Middle Tennessee wanted to be in the field, they should’ve beaten one of either USC, Miami, or Auburn. They didn’t and then they lost to an awful Southern Miss team in the Conference USA tournament. They didn’t deserve a spot.
St. Mary’s somehow had a worse case. They lost two games in the non-conference to an okay-at-best Georgia team and an AWFUL Washington State squad. Their one victory against a major team before West Coast Conference action was a win over California. And…that’s it. But we should put them in because they were actually able to beat Gonzaga once this season? Right. If St. Mary’s had made the WCC Tournament Finals, I’ll bet they would’ve made the field. But they didn’t, and they couldn’t take advantage of their chances in the non-conference. They didn’t deserve a spot.
The one gripe I understand is Oklahoma State, but only because of who they beat. The Cowboys snagged two wins over Kansas and Oklahoma, plus a road win at West Virginia and Texas Tech. They also beat Texas, who sneaked in as a 10-seed. I get why people wanted them in the field. The problem was, Oklahoma State’s numbers were just awful. Their RPI was 91st and their non-conference strength of schedule was ranked 312th. Those are bad numbers that almost certainly kept the Cowboys out. So I understand why people were upset at the exclusion, but I also get why they’re not in the bracket.
Every year, people talk about the teams being screwed out of the bracket without looking at the bigger picture. There’s always a reason why these teams aren’t dancing. Let’s try not to forget that when we tweet angry things about the committee.
Gray’s Bold Bracket Predictions
The NCAA Tournament is all about taking risks, so here are my bold predictions for how March Madness will shape up. Use these predictions at your own peril.
Kentucky will make the Final Four
I’m a big believer in the Big Blue after watching them for a week in St. Louis. This team is peaking at the right time, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is playing on another level right now. If they can beat Arizona in the second round, you can go ahead and pencil them in for the Final Four. Why? The South Regional games will be played in Atlanta, which has been called CATlanta for a reason. They do not lose in that city. I’m convinced that this Wildcat team is Final Four bound. It won’t be easy, but they’ll make it. And they’ll do so after beating a familiar foe in the Elite Eight, because…
Tennessee will make the Elite Eight
The bottom half of the South Region is considerably weaker than the upper half, and that helps the Vols. I see them cruising into the Sweet Sixteen after beating Loyola-Chicago, which will set up a match against 2-seed Cincinnati. I just don’t really believe in the Bearcats; can they beat a team that will match their physicality and has better overall athletes? I don’t think so. I see a pretty easy path for Rick Barnes’ squad to the Elite Eight, where they’ll fall to Kentucky.
We Will Get UNC-Duke IV in the National Championship Game
As I filled out my bracket, I had no prediction for who would win the title game. Once I set my pen down, I realized the realistic chance of a Duke-North Carolina national championship game. I’ve got Duke coming out of the Midwest, beating Kansas in the Elite Eight. North Carolina will make easy work of Gonzaga in the West. Both teams will win in the Final Four (UNC over Kentucky, Duke over Villanova), which will set up a national championship featuring the bets rivalry in college basketball. That’ll be fun.
Arkansas will beat Purdue in the Second Round
I’ve written multiple times in the past about how I don’t believe in the Big Ten’s ability to win in this NCAA Tournament (I’ve got Ohio State losing to South Dakota State in the first round), and I think this game sets up horribly for Purdue. If Arkansas can get past Butler (and that’s a tall task), the Razorbacks will beat the Boilermakers. Daniel Gafford, the freshman rim protector for Mike Anderson’s squad, will match-up well against the height and size down low for Purdue. Arkansas’ experienced guards like Jaylen Barford will be able to go toe-to-toe with Carson Edwards and Purdue. This is just a gut feeling, but I really like the Razorbacks to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
I hope you enjoyed my Oscar Random Rankings two weeks ago. I had lots of fun watching and writing about those movies, and I hope I get the chance to do it again next year. This week, I’ll focus on the SEC. In my various travels around the South for football, basketball, and softball, I’ve seen lots of campuses in the Southeastern Conference. Here are my Random Rankings of the college campuses in the SEC. *Usual Disclaimer*: once Random Rankings are posted, they aren’t changing. If you’re school isn’t on this list, then I either didn’t like my stay or I haven’t been there yet. I’m keeping Alabama off the board, because the Capstone of Higher Education has an unfair advantage.
- University of Georgia
- Texas A&M University
- Louisiana State University
- University of Mississippi
- Mississippi State University
W2W4 This Week
Obviously, you should watch every second of the NCAA Tournament. But here are the three games I don’t think you should miss on Thursday or Friday:
9 Alabama vs. 8 Virginia Tech–8:20 p.m. CT on TNT
11 Loyola-Chicago vs. 6 Miami–2:10 p.m. CT on TruTV
12 Davidson vs. 5 Kentucky–6:10 p.m. CT on CBS
10 Providence vs. 7 Texas A&M–11:15 a.m. CT on CBS
9 Florida State vs. 8 Missouri–8:50 p.m. CT on TBS
12 New Mexico State vs. 5 Clemson–8:57 p.m. CT on TruTV
That’s all this week, folks! I’ll be in Auburn this weekend calling softball and watching basketball. Enjoy March Madness, because it really is the best time of the year.