The following statistics are completely true pieces of information. Use them at your own risk. Results may vary. As always, follow @StatTardiff on Twitter for more insights.
It’s the best four-day stretch of the sports year, where 48 of the NCAA Tournament’s 67 games are played, and the field is narrowed down to 16 teams when all’s said and done. Need to make sense of the first weekend? Look no further.
Beasts of the East – Can Villanova Repeat?
Excellent rhymes aside, there’s a serious chance the Villanova Wildcats become the first team to repeat as national champions since the Florida Gators in 2007. They were selected as the overall #1 seed and their benefits of being chosen as such end there. Matchups loom against #8 seed Wisconsin (ranked in the top 10 in the preseason), #4 seed Florida or #5 seed Virginia, and #2 seed Duke. If the Wildcats face Wisconsin on Saturday, expect a low-scoring game; both teams allow under 63 points per game, good to be a top-20 defense in the nation.
The Midwest – We’re Not In Kansas (City) Yet
The road to Kansas City goes through Kansas; at least, it does if you’re Purdue, Iowa State, Miami, or Michigan State. The bottom half of the bracket is a gauntlet, featuring #2 seed Louisville, a #7 seed Michigan team that just won the Big 10 Tournament, #3 seed Oregon (ranked in the top-5 of both preseason polls), and #6 Creighton, everyone’s favorite mid-major-in-a-major-conference school. Keep an eye on Frank Mason and Josh Jackson, the Jayhawks’ dynamic duo and the only teammates to be nominated for the Wooden Award, given to the nation’s best player. Jackson’s only downfall – he is a 56% free throw shooter, something teams can exploit in late-game situations.
Best in the West – Not Gonzaga
If Creighton is everyone’s favorite mid-major-in-a-major conference school, then Gonzaga is everyone’s favorite major-in-a-mid-major-conference school – perhaps by default. The Bulldogs’ non-conference schedule was ranked 138th in the nation, according to KenPom.com, and playing in the West Coast Conference doesn’t help their overall SOS. Sure, 32-1 looks nice on paper, but it’s the NCAA Tournament. Everyone is 0-0. No team stands out in the West as the alpha, so we’re keeping an eye on the Arizona Wildcats. They’re 19th in the country hitting 39.8% of their threes, and 12th in the country holding opponents’ shooting to 30.6% from behind the arc.
Region of Doom – The South
#1 North Carolina. #2 Kentucky. #3 UCLA. #4 Butler. If anyone besides these four seeds reaches the Sweet 16, we’ll be surprised. These teams are just better than the rest of the region. When they get to Memphis and play in the second weekend…well, let’s say that will be a fun column to write. For the time being, hone in on #7 Dayton/#10 Wichita State and #5 Minnesota/#12 Middle Tennessee. The Flyers have found their way to a fourth-consecutive NCAA Tournament, and are squaring off against a severely-under-seeded Shocker team that should be a #2 seed, according to Ken Pomeroy. In everyone’s favorite seeding matchup to pick an upset, Middle Tennessee will be a hot pick a year after upsetting Michigan State in the#2/#15 matchup last year. Be wary of not using conference adjustment when looking at the stats, however. The Blue Raiders are fifth in the nation in points per game, first in points per game allowed, first in field goal percentage, third in defensive field goal percentage, fifth in three-point percentage, and third in defensive three-point percentage. The one number independent of all conference metrics – they are second in the nation at 75.6% from the free throw stripe.
Matt Tardiff is the resident stathead at Chin Music Pod and thinks that Thursday/Friday of the first weekend should be national holidays. If you agree, follow him on Twitter @StatTardiff and stay tuned for updates throughout the NCAA Tournament.