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Mackinder’s Bracketography

by Chris Mackinder | November 20th, 2008

Thank goodness the NCAA Tournament field isn’t decided based on November expectations.

If that were the case, teams that fly under the radar (Davidson, West Virginia, etc.) not only wouldn’t get a chance to prove they belong in the Big Dance but that their seed should be higher than expected. It also makes the big-name teams (Duke, Texas, UCLA, etc.) earn a high seed instead of just being handed a nice seed and location come March.

Nevertheless, it is still fun to project where teams will end up four months from now, when a day that is second only to Christmas in some households – Selection Sunday – arrives.

Below will be the projected seeds (with teams winning the automatic bid noted) and a breakdown of which region where each team would be located. After the “bracket” I will offer up some of my early-season thoughts.

SEEDS — EAST (1) — MIDWEST (2) — WEST (3) — SOUTH (4)

1 — North Carolina (ACC), Connecticut (Big East), UCLA (Pac-10), Texas (Big 12)
2 —
Florida (SEC), Duke, Michigan State (Big Ten), Notre Dame
3 —
Pittsburgh, Purdue, Louisville, Gonzaga (WCC)
4 —
Xavier (A-10), Oklahoma, Memphis (C-USA), Tennessee
5 —
Arizona State, USC, Kansas, Wisconsin
6 —
Southern Illinois (MVC), Georgetown, Alabama, Kentucky
7 —
Dayton, Villanova, Wake Forest, UNLV (Mountain West)
8 —
Ohio State, Creighton, VCU (Colonial), Marquette
9 —
Utah, Miami, Baylor, BYU
10 —
Syracuse, Washington, St. Mary’s, Maryland
11 —
Missouri, Mississippi, Davidson (Southern), Arizona
12 —
Northern Iowa, South Alabama (Sun Belt), Tulsa, George Mason
13 —
New Mexico St. (WAC), Wright State (Horizon), Belmont (A-Sun), Siena (MAAC)
14 —
Vermont (A-East), Cornell (Ivy), Western Michigan (MAC), Gardner-Webb (Big South)
15 —
Tenn-Martin (OVC), Cal-State Northridge (Big West), Montana (Big Sky), American (Patriot)
16 —
Alabama State (SWAC)/Morgan State (MEAC), North Dakota State (Summit), Stephen F. Austin (Southland), Mount St. Mary’s (NEC)

Obviously, North Carolina is the Crème de la Crème of teams this season. The Tar Heels are loaded at every position and have heavy expectations – win a title or else – this year. Even if UNC doesn’t win it all, they should be dominant through the regular season and take the top spot in the bracket.

Yes, I’m a Michigan State alum, but that might make my next statement useful to you come March: This is the best Michigan State team in the past eight years. The fact that Michigan State, a team that typically wins those 65-60 slugfests, scored a combined 230 points in a pair of exhibition wins, shows this team will be an offensive juggernaut in 2008-09. (The Spartans also scored 100 points in their season opener in a 100-62 win over Idaho on Sunday). Moreover, when you consider that Tom Izzo’s passion is still defense and rebounding, you know the Spartans won’t lag in that department. Barring something crazy happening this year, I would be shocked if Michigan State wasn’t a No. 1 or No. 2 seed and in the Final Four.

Notre Dame never plays well with major expectations, but this Notre Dame team is better than last year’s squad. Even in the loaded Big East, Notre Dame looks like it can go toe-to-toe with the other big boys (Connecticut and Louisville). This could be the year the Irish make their first Final Four splash since 1978.

If you’re looking for an experienced team that isn’t getting much respect but will do damage in March, look no further than Villanova. The Wildcats, the last team in the 2007-08 field, return all five starters and seem poised to finish near the top of the Big East. Oh, and last year’s team reached the Sweet 16.

As far as the Big Ten goes, the 2008-09 season will mirror much of the 2007-08 campaign. There will be four teams head and shoulders above the rest, and the conference should get a pedestrian four NCAA bids. The only team outside the top four (Michigan State, Purdue, Wisconsin, Ohio State) that has a chance to reach the Big Dance is Minnesota. But, I wouldn’t bet on it for the following reasons: While Minnesota’s surprise season last year caught some by surprise, the fact remained that the Golden Gophers returned all their starters, including a trio of seniors. This year, Tubby Smith loses a lot of experience and is still trying to get his recruits on the floor. Last year’s team didn’t make the NCAA Tournament, so it would be crazy to think this year’s team would.

If forced to predict a Final Four, I would go with North Carolina, Connecticut, Michigan State and Notre Dame. I just think UNC has too much talent for the rest of the country and should win the title. The one thing I do feel comfortable projecting is two teams from the Big East will be in the Final Four. I’ll go with the majority on the title match (North Carolina vs. Connecticut) and I’ll go with the Tar Heels as the national champions. But, as stated above, it wouldn’t be shocking to see an injury or two derail what could be the best UNC team in recent memory.

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3 Responses to “Mackinder’s Bracketography”  

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  1. John Says:

    @ Chris. Nice to see some different teams(North Dakota State, Stephen F. Austin, Morgan State, Gardner-Webb, Tennessee-Martin) in the field. I also applaud you for giving teams such as Tulsa, George Mason, St. Mary’s and Northern Iowa at-large bids. I also agree with the seeding you gave my team(Florida.) With Calathes and Werner leading the way, I think we can reach the Sweet 16. However, there are a few disagreements I have with your early projections:

    Kentucky is not making the NCAA Tournament. They gave up 111 points to VMI(although that is VMI’s style.) They also were non-competitive at North Carolina in the beginning of that game. Teams will take Patrick Patterson away and i’m not sure you can say Kentucky has another player you can count on to score. The SEC is a guard-oriented league and UK’s guard just don’t measure up.

    UAB should be in the field. This is a team with athleticsm, speed and the ability to shoot as evidenced by their 13 3-pointers at Arizona. Robert Vaden is one of the best players no one knows about. I think you are grossly undervaluing this team.

    San Diego is a team to keep an eye on. With Gyno Pomare leading the way, this is a team that can definitely challenge for a at-large bid, although if they are hosting the conference tournament, they will win it. In the only 2 times the WCC Tournament has been contested at Jenny Craig Pavilion(2003, 2008) they have won it both times. They also beat a solid Nevada team the other night which is a nice win.

    Louisville will make the Final Four. Terrence Williams, Samardo Samuels and Earl Clark is a load in the paint. They need consistent play out of Edgar Sosa and if they get that, they, not Connecticut will be in Detroit.

    Purdue is a Final Four sleeper. Not to insult you or anything, but the Boilermakers are the best team in the Big Ten. Robbie Hummel, Keaton Grant, E’Twuan Moore and Chris Kramer are a solid nucleus. They are tough, physical, and defensive minded. This is a terrific team which will show it in March.

    Arizona will only make the NCAA Tournament because the Pac-10 is weak this year. Outside of Chase Budinger, I was not impressed with the rest of the Wildcats team. Jordan Hill, in my opinion, is vastly overrated. His height is a plus, but he can never stay out of foul trouble. Nic Wise is, to me, an average guard. UCLA, USC and Arizona State will make the NCAA Tournament, but outside of that, the Pac-10 has very little to offer. Washington State will be solid as usual and i’m interested to see Johnny Dawkins as a head coach now at Stanford. The Wildcats will feast on other Pac-10 weaklings and therefore make the Tournament for a 25th straight season.

    On a lighter note, how much of that College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon that ESPN was showing did you see?

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  2. David Mihm Says:

    John,

    Agreed that USD is under the radar despite their first-round upset a year ago…but I think the WCC Tournament is in Vegas this year at Orleans Arena. At least that’s what was announced over the loudspeaker at Saturday night’s Portland-Washington game.

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  3. Christopher Mackinder Says:

    @ John: Thanks for the comments. My wife read them to me on my phone as I drove home. It made for a very interesting and thoughtful drive!

    I’ll answer some of your questions regarding certain teams.

    -Kentucky: Obviously, this was written before the season started and before Kentucky embarrassed itself, again. Right now, I don’t like the Wildcats either, but then again, didn’t we all have the same thoughts last year before Kentucky went 12-4 in the SEC. I do think Jodie Meeks has the ability to take over games when Patterson is shut down. He’s averaging 29 points per game through the first two. Like last season, Kentucky should rebound, though that No. 6 seed might be a bit of a reach. The good news for Wildcat fans is Delaware State comes to town Saturday. That should be Kentucky’s first win of the season.

    -UAB: I remember Robert Vaden when he played at Indiana and he was solid in crimson and cream. I do like UAB, but chose Tulsa as the team with the second C-USA bid. I’m not sure the conference gets three bids. The win over Arizona, in my opinion, highlights the fact Arizona will be a bubble team at best, just like UAB. Obviously, the odd head-to-head win could benefit UAB on Selection Sunday.

    -San Diego: Like C-USA, the WCC is a two-bid league with Gonzaga and St. Mary’s as Nos. 1 and 2. And, like you said, unless the conference tournament is at Jenny Craig Pavilion, I don’t think San Diego makes the field. And, about that win over Nevada – it was at home. If San Diego can record a bunch of good road wins, I’ll be more of a believer, but an at-large team from the WCC has to win away from home.

    -Louisville: The Cardinals are loaded but to be different and not project a UNC, Connecticut, Louisville, UCLA Final Four, I had to leave out a few of those “obvious” picks. I wouldn’t be shocked if Louisville made the Final Four, but I’m a firm believer that Louisville relies so much on the 3-pointer that one cold shooting night will be lethal for Rick Pitino’s team.

    -Purdue: Many people have labeled the Boilermakers the biggest “likely bust” this season. While I wouldn’t go that far, I have a hard time predicting a defensive juggernaut to go deep in the tournament. Purdue reminds me of a more physical Washington State team with slightly more offense (not much more). I think Purdue will finish near the top of the Big Ten (wouldn’t be shocked if Purdue won it) but I don’t think Purdue will match up with about a dozen other teams that will be dancing deep into March.

    -Arizona: I don’t have much to say about Arizona. Like you said, I think the Wildcats make the tournament by default. But, I wouldn’t be shocked if Arizona didn’t make it.

    As far as the College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon, I worked most of the day, so I only caught parts of the Memphis game at midnight and nearly all of the UNC-Kentucky game the next evening. I did see some highlights, but it was tough to get excited to watch UNC-Asheville host Liberty. I’m more excited to watch Southern Illinois-Duke and UCLA-Michigan tonight in the 2K Sports Classic.

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