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A little bracket busting

Jeremy Evans

While the NCAA Tournament is the most exciting three weeks in sports, mostly because no other sporting event lasts exactly this amount of time, it’s a shame that it always has to start off like this. Experts fawning over big-name teams rather than the best teams, pumping up some brackets while belittling others.

When dissecting brackets and judging regions, it’s important to focus on the facts, not the hype. Since the tournament was expanded to 64 teams in 1985, only seven of the 80 Final Four participants have been lower than a No. 5 seed.

A bracket must be judged by its top 5 teams. It’s the only way, because while nice stories emerge, such as No. 10 Nevada advancing to Sweet 16 last year and No. 8 Wisconsin making the Final Four in 2000, all the stragglers are usually gone after the Elite 8.



So let’s go bracket by bracket, starting with the most difficult.

ALBUQUERQUE



This is the toughest region by a slim margin. The top five seeds – Washington, Wake Forest, Gonzaga, Louisville and Georgia Tech – have a total Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 59, or an individual team average of just under 12. Also, the Demon Deacons and Cardinals have legitimate arguments for being No. 1 seeds.

Four of the five seeds are ranked among the top 10 in the national polls, while the top four teams in the region combined for five out of a possible eight regular season and/or tournament championships. Even though Georgia Tech’s RPI of 30 hurts the bracket’s overall complexion, the Yellow Jackets do return all of their starters from last year’s team that advanced to the national championship. This experience factor gives it a slight edge over the next-toughest region.

Look for Wake Forest to advance to St. Louis.

CHICAGO

The ‘experts’ have dubbed this the weakest of the four regions. But this shows how much they have invested in hype and not reality. While the lower-seeded teams don’t have the potential for a deep run as compared to the other regions, the feel-good story aspect means little because history has proven these teams won’t make the Final Four.

However, the region’s top four seeds are easily the best among the four brackets. While Illinois, Oklahoma State, Arizona and Boston College aren’t media darlings, they were all challenging for No. 1 seeds in the last three weeks of the season. No other region can say that.

Meanwhile, the combined RPI of the top five seeded teams is a tournament-best 44, and three of the top ten ranked teams in the country are in this bracket, including the nation’s best in Illinois. Then when you consider the top three teams in the bracket won a combined four out of a possible six regular season and/or tournament championships, I almost gave the nod to this region. But surging Georgia Tech makes Albuquerque a better top heavy bracket than Chicago with Alabama as its No. 5 seed.

Illinois’ favorable travel schedule and the fact is has been the best team all season, means it will make it to St. Louis.

SYRACUSE

Pundits are claiming this to be by far the toughest region. Name recognition and typical media favorites can be the only way. It’s surely not based on substance. Look at the facts.

The combined RPI of North Carolina, Connecticut, Kansas, Florida and Villanova is 63, and only the Tar Heels are ranked in the top 10 in this week’s polls. For some reason the second-seeded Huskies are a trendy pick, yet its RPI of 17 should have seeded them closer to a No. 4 seed. The combined regular season and/or tournament championships of the top five teams in this region is a whopping total of two, which could make it the weakest region. But the Austin bracket has numbers that simply I can’t ignore.

No. 3 Kansas will move on.

AUSTIN

Even though Duke is its No. 1 seed and comes from the nation’s toughest conference, this remains the weakest bracket because of its top five teams’ RPI rating and it has only two teams ranked in the top 10 in the national polls.

The top five seeds of Duke, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Syracuse and Michigan State have a combined RPI of 78. Although the Blue Devils and Orange combined for two tournament championships, and Oklahoma and Kentucky each earned a share of their conference’s regular season titles, the low combined RPI is too much to overlook. After Duke (No. 5) and Kentucky (No. 10), the next three teams drop off in terms of RPI and potential for advancing to the Final Four.

Kentucky’s defense and weak lower half of the bracket make it the favorite for St. Louis.

ST. LOUIS

Now that brackets have been dissected, it’s time to pick a champion. When picking a team to win the Final Four, it’s important to remember that 17 of the past 20 champions have been a No. 3 seed or higher. That trend will continue this season and hopefully by next season the idiot pundits will stop their current trend.

Illinois is the closest thing to a dominant team this field has. Take the Illini, then take this piece of paper and throw it in the garbage with everyone else’s opinion.

Jeremy Evans is a sportswriter for Tahoe Daily Tribune. He can be reached at 542-8008 or by email at jevans@tahoedailytribune.com.


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