IBI March Madness: The Zajac Bracket
With March Madness set to get underway, remember to join the IBI Bracket Challenge that can win you some great prizes. This article will analyze every matchup and dig deep into my bracket, predicting the field all the way through the National Championship. Being there’s 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 different ways you can fill out your bracket, good luck to everyone who participates. Generally, I’m ready to rip up my bracket by the Sweet Sixteen.
Round of 64
(1) Gonzaga over (16) Southern: There’s never been a number sixteen seed who has won against a number one seed and this will be no different. Gonzaga has size and athleticism which will overmatch Southern.
(8) Pittsburgh over (9) Wichita State: This is an interesting game. Pittsburgh SHOULD be able to handle Wichita State, but Wichita State has the size to give Pittsburgh some concern. Wichita State has six players over 6’8” and are rarely out-rebounded. However, Pittsburgh 7-footer Steven Adams is well known for his rebounding abilities and also shot blocking. The Panthers only allow 55.4 points per game and senior Tray Woodall has a knack for finding the basket. Pittsburgh rolls on.
(5) Wisconsin over (12) Ole Miss: The Badgers are among the top defensive teams in the country, rating third in defensive efficiency. Wisconsin makes you play their style of basketball and keeps you from getting clean looks, offensive rebounds and free throw attempts. The Badgers are also fifth in the nation in turnover percentage, giving the ball up on only 15 percent of possessions. Mississippi is average offensively and combine that with the fact Wisconsin's defense is very good, the chances of upset here appear to be slim.
(4) Kansas State over (13) Boise State/La Salle: Boise State should be able to take care of La Salle and advance to the second round of the tournament to face Kansas State. Boise State has a fantastic scorer with sophomore Derrick Marks, who can put points on the scoreboard in a hurry. Boise State also shoots the three-ball well, doesn't turn the ball over and generally limits you to one shot per possession. Kansas State, on the other hand, does a nice job on the offensive glass, getting 38.5 percent of its own misses. The Wildcats have a dynamic wing player in Rodney McGruder who can also work the glass. Kansas State’s problem is that they allow too many second shots, which probably won’t catch up with them in this game, but could come back to haunt them in the near future. In almost every part of the game, Kansas State is better than Boise State and will move on.
(3) New Mexico over (14) Harvard: A potential sleeper team in this tournament could be New Mexico. They’re a superior defensive team that set records in the Mountain West. They’re nothing special offensively and don’t shoot the ball particularly well, but only nine teams in the country get to the line more often than the Lobos. Harvard does not rebound the ball well or take care of the ball as well as New Mexico. New Mexico’s defense will carry them into the third round.
(6) Arizona over (11) Belmont: Belmont has an impressive resumé beating Middle Tennessee, South Dakota State, and Ohio during the regular season. The Bruins are the top team in the nation in two-point field goal percentage at 57 percent, and are ranked second in the nation in effective field goal percentage. However, Belmont lacks size and often struggles on the defensive boards. Arizona will expose Belmont on the glass and should have the frontcourt to overcome Belmont's shooting ability.
(7) Notre Dame over (10) Iowa State: This game has the potential to go either way and I would not be surprised if Iowa State upsets Notre Dame. The Irish are bigger and stronger up front than Iowa State, but Iowa State has better shooters who can open things up and hit three-point shots from every spot on the floor. This game will depend largely on Iowa State’s ability to hit the open shot. If Notre Dame can pound the ball in the paint and limit Iowa State’s three-point shots, they can win this game. I’d say there’s a solid 45 percent chance, though, that Iowa State can upset Notre Dame.
(2) Ohio State over (15) Iona: Momo Jones, a transfer from Arizona, will be the player who Ohio State has to guard the most during this game. Iona is one of the top scoring teams in the nation, but are ranked 257th in defense. Iona can’t stop anyone and Ohio State should roll over Iona rather easily.
Round of 32
(1) Gonzaga over (8) Pittsburgh: Gonzaga has the size and depth that should overmatch Pittsburgh. Their defensive strength also should be able to overpower the Panthers. Pittsburgh is physical and makes you get in the paint to beat their bigs, but Gonzaga should be up to the challenge and advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
(5) Wisconsin over (4) Kansas State: A great third round matchup that will turn out to be a close game. As I mentioned, Wisconsin makes you play their style of basketball and ultimately I believe that will help them beat K-State. Wisconsin’s defense will be slightly better than Kansas State’s.
(3) New Mexico over (6) Arizona: This game has the potential to get ugly real fast. If New Mexico unleashes their top notch defense, Arizona will be out of this game rather quickly and that’s exactly what I expect to happen.
(2) Ohio State over (7) Notre Dame: If the Buckeyes are able to score the ball as well as they have been of late, they shouldn’t have much problem with Notre Dame, even if their tournament uniform’s are putrid. Deshaun Thomas will be a big key to this game.
(1) Gonzaga over (5) Wisconsin: For a few moments, I thought about advancing Wisconsin. This game will be about defense, defense, defense. Wisconsin is a very good defensive team, but that being said, Gonzaga is slightly better. Elias Harris or Mike Hartcan should be able to guard Wisconsin’s Ryan Evans. Wisconsin forward Jared Berggren is the real key in this game and it will be interesting to see whether Kelly Olynyk can guard him. When push comes to shove, I don't believe that Wisconsin has any one guy that can keep Olynyk in check.
(2) Ohio State over (3) New Mexico: These teams are rather equal in most faces of the game. It’s going to come down to who can shoot the ball better. Ohio State can score with greater ease than New Mexico and Ohio State will advance.
(2) Ohio State over (1) Gonzaga: Each team matches up well with each other. If the Zags can force Deshaun Thomas to take tough, contested two-point shots rather than open three-point shots, they could have a chance. However, Ohio State’s defense led by Aaron Craft will take over this game and advance them to the Final Four in an extremely close game.
Round of 64
(1) Indiana over (16) LIU Brooklyn/James Madison: Indiana is too good of an offensive team to be the first number one seed to lose to a sixteen seed. It’s just not going to happen.
(8) NC State over (9) Temple: The Wolfpack make close to half of their shots, but also allow more than 70 points per game, making almost every contest an unnecessary nail-biter. Typically, turnovers end up costing N.C. State victories, but led by C.J. Leslie, the Wolfpack will win this game in a close one.
(5) UNLV over (12) California: The Rebels play a fast, quick tempo offense and have one of the top 15 defenses in the nation. UNLV doesn’t force a ton of turnovers, but will block a fair number of shots. The Rebels are not a great offensive team and are very average across the board, combined with the fact they turn the ball over once every five possessions. They won’t wow you, but UNLV knows how to win games. Cal has a great player in Allen Crabbe, who can get you 30 in a game, but the Bears have little to no momentum heading into the tournament, losing to Stanford and Utah in their final two games.
(4) Syracuse over (13) Montana: If Montana were facing another four seed, I’d put that four seed on upset alert. Montana shouldn’t be underestimated and are a solid team. Unfortunately for them, they drew a team that is hot and confident after their recent games in Madison Square Garden. Syracuse rolls on.
(3) Marquette over (14) Davidson: This has the potential to be an upset. Davidson has lost to teams like Cincinnati, Wisconsin Green Bay and Butler, but are an experienced bunch and very good offensively. The question is whether Marquette can use their size to punch the ball into the lane. I have Marquette advancing, but I’m giving Davidson a 30 percent chance of upsetting Marquette.
(6) Butler over (11) Bucknell: With wins over Gonzaga, Indiana and UNC, Butler is still relevant and can still compete with the big boys. Rotnei Clarke has big time range, and Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall both have deep tournament experience. The Bulldogs don’t have huge size, but they know how to hit the glass. They will advance.
(7) Illinois over (10) Colorado: This is a game that I went back and forth on. A few times I had Colorado winning this game and ultimately I chose Illinois. Colorado is certainly the better defensive team and the Illini can be a streaky team. A key guy is Illinois point guard Tracy Abrams, who can control the ball and still score. Illinois will have a tough time on the glass with Colorado, but Illinois should advance to the next round. The odds of Colorado upsetting Illinois I’ll place at a strong 50 percent.
(2) Miami over (15) Pacific: Miami is playing their best basketball of the year and I see slim to no chance of an upset here.
Round of 32
(1) Indiana over (8) NC State: The Hoosiers match up well at every spot with the Wolfpack. The only matchup of concern will be Indiana’s freshman point guard going against Lorenzo Brown. Indiana has to take NC State out of its transition game to win and should be able to do that.
(4) Syracuse over (5) UNLV: The Orange zone will be too much for UNLV. Syracuse can recover late to UNLV's shooters because the Rebels shoot 32.7 percent on 3s, 227th in the nation. Syracuse has its confidence back after a great Big East tournament and should beat UNLV.
(6) Butler over (3) Marquette: The Bulldogs beat Marquette in November in Maui on a last-second heave by Rotnei Clarke at the buzzer. While Marquette is a much better team today than they were in November, I still believe in Butler and they’ll win another close one. This one could go either way.
(2) Miami over (7) Illinois: Miami is very good defensively. Durand Scott and Shane Larkin have an advantage over Brandon Paul and Tracy Abrams of Illinois and Miami will move forward.
(1) Indiana over (4) Syracuse: Indiana is a very good shooting team and Indiana will be able to attack the zone from deep, especially with penetration from Victor Oladipo, who will be the key to this game. Syracuse is a streaky shooting team and I don’t trust them in a game like this. Indiana wins a close game.
(2) Miami over (6) Butler: This is where Butler’s run will end. Butler won’t have the size to match up with Miami. Where Miami is vulnerable is if you push the ball into the paint and Butler doesn’t have the size to do it.
(1) Indiana over (2) Miami: It seems as if many people love Miami to advance and I wouldn’t rule it out. Indiana is the better offensive team, but Miami is the more physical team. Between Cody Zeller running the floor and getting offensive rebounds and Victor Oladipo attacking on both ends, Indiana has more offensive power to match against Miami's defense. The other important factor to consider is how tough Indiana’s schedule was and in general how tough the Big Ten conference was. Indiana has proven they can win the close, tough games and that’s another reason why I have Indiana advancing.
Round of 64
(1) Louisville over (16) North Carolina A&T: The Cardinals are the best defensive team in the nation and will overwhelm the No. 16 seed.
(9) Missouri over (8) Colorado State: The Tigers have more talent, but Colorado State has seniors who defend and rebound. Colorado State is the best rebounding team in the country and a very good defensive team. Missouri is a team that on any given night could put up 80 points, thanks in large part to Laurence Bowers, Flip Pressey and four other players who are averaging in double digits on the season. This game could go either way, but I'll take Missouri with the slight upset. I'll give Colorado State a 60 percent chance of upsetting Missouri.
(5) Oklahoma State over (12) Oregon: Big 12 Player of the Year freshman Marcus Smart does it all, averaging 15.4 per game, as well as 5.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists. The supporting cast includes Le'Bryan Nash (14.2 ppg) and Markel Brown (15.6 ppg) who are also dangerous scorers. The Cowboys shoot horribly from three-point range at 31.9 percent, but it shouldn't catch up with them yet.
(4) St. Louis over (12) New Mexico State: Since the start of December, the Billikens are 24-1 in non-overtime games, beating five ranked teams in that span. This isn't the prettiest offense to watch, but they have six capable scorers and they can really defend. Saint Louis also has one of the best turnover margins in Division One. They'll advance.
(3) Michigan State over (13) Valparaiso: Being a student from a Horizon League school, I can tell you first hand it was a tough division. That being said, no division was tougher than the Big Ten and Michigan State will be able to roll over Valpo.
(6) Memphis over (11) Saint Mary's: This is another game in which there's the potential to be an upset. Memphis is an untested team, but they're also athletic and have good rebounding ability. That said, Memphis advances. Placing the odds of an upset here at 15 percent.
(7) Creighton over (10) Cincinnati: Cincinnati has the ability to win this game with their defense and ability to dominate the glass. Creighton can score, led by Doug McDermott, who can drop 40 on any given night. The Bearcats outside the paint can struggle to score at times and are average offensively. Creighton wins this in a close one. The odds of a Cincinnati upset are around 35 percent.
(2) Duke over (15) Albany: Albany is extremely turnover prone and with a healthy Duke team, an upset is unlikely.
Round of 32
(1) Louisville over (9) Missouri: Louisville is one of the hottest, if not the hottest, team in basketball right now. They're too strong and will make quick work of Missouri.
(4) Saint Louis over (5) Oklahoma State: Saint Louis should be able to control the tempo and pace of the game, which will give them a huge advantage, allowing them to move on to the Sweet Sixteen.
(3) Michigan State over (6) Memphis: Memphis has some athleticism that can create mismatches against the Spartans, but the Spartans are too physical and too good in the paint.
(2) Duke over (7) Creighton: Duke has the ability to score at will and there's not much Creighton will be able to do to combat it.
(1) Louisville over (4) Saint Louis: This game will be a lot closer of a game than most people think. Saint Louis matches up very well against Louisville. Saint Louis will be able to slow the game down and are careful with the ball, two things Louisville will try to change. Louisville's guards will be the difference in this game and will win this by single digits.
(2) Duke over (3) Michigan State: This could be one of the best games of the tournament and either team can win this game. This was probably the toughest game to predict of the whole bracket. On one hand, Duke has quality wins over Louisville and Miami, and they're also fully healthy again. On the other hand, Michigan State has faced a grueling Big Ten schedule and have proven they're a tougher team than their record indicates. Duke's Ryan Kelly will be the key to this game. The Blue Devils will win a thriller.
(1) Louisville over (2) Duke: Louisville will continue to ride their late surge into the Final Four. Louisville's defense will suffocate Duke's great ability to score.
Round of 64
(1) Kansas over (16) Western Kentucky: The Jayhawks have too much talent to lose here.
(8) North Carolina over (9) Villanova: North Carolina has really improved the second of the season and also the more impressive shooting team. North Carolina should move on.
(5) VCU over (12) Akron: The Rams force the most turnovers and get the most steals of any team in the nation. With a full team and a point guard, Akron would be a good choice to move on, but the Zips are without Alex Abreu and will have too much trouble breaking the press.
(4) Michigan over (13) South Dakota State: With Trey Burke, a candidate for national player of the year, Michigan should have little trouble advancing.
(3) Florida over (14) Northwestern State: The Gators may not show up in the big game, but this is not one of them. Florida will win easily.
(11) Minnesota over (6) UCLA: This seems to be the most popular upset pick and I won't break that trend. UCLA lost key contributor Jordan Adams for the season and thats a big blow to the Bruins. The Gophers are great on the offensive glass and will be a key for them advancing.
(7) San Diego State over (10) Oklahoma: It all starts with Jamaal Franklin, the only player in the country to lead his team in points, rebounds, assists and steals. The Aztecs hold opponents to 39 percent shooting from the field, but are a streaky shooting team themself. They should still advance.
(2) Georgetown over (15) Florida Gulf Coast: Georgetown is a superior defensive team and this game will be over quick.
Round of 32
(1) Kansas over (8) North Carolina: Kansas has the size to overmatch North Carolina and will do just that.
(5) VCU over (4) Michigan: Michigan can be vulnerable to turnovers and VCU is just the team that can expose them. The biggest key to this upset will be knocking down open shots because without that, Michigan advances. I'm confident that VCU can take advantage of their opportunities.
(3) Florida over (11) Minnesota: The Gators are a better team in nearly every aspect of the game and will make quick work of the Gophers.
(2) Georgetown over (7) San Diego State: The key to beating the Hoyas is to force them to turn the ball over and use transition baskets to outscore them. San Diego State is terrible at doing just that (269th in turnover percentage). Georgetown wins.
(1) Kansas over (5) VCU: VCU's Cinderalla finish comes to an end, although it won't be easy for the Jayhawks. This quite possibly could be their worst nightmare because of VCU's speed and suffocating defense. This game will come down to the wire and either team could make the winning basket in the final seconds of the game. I'll go with Kansas.
(2) Georgetown over (3) Florida: A popular Final Four pick by many seams to be Florida. I'm not overly impressed with Florida because of their lack of superstars and win the big game that comes down to the wire. Georgetown's defense will be too much for the Gators.
(2) Georgetown over (1) Kansas: Quite frankly, I don't like how streaky Kansas can shoot the ball. They aren't a great passing team and a good defensive team in Georgetown can force the Jayhawks to turn the ball over. If Georgetown can capitalize on their opponent's mistakes, they'll be taking a trip to Atlanta.
(1) Louisville over (2) Ohio State: The Cardinals will have to work at it to get the Buckeyes to turn over the ball. The Buckeyes are 15th in the nation in offensive turnover percentage, but they've seen few guard tandems as quick as Louisville's. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith will swarm Aaron Craft all game long. Aaron Craft isn't consistent enough offensively to handle that type of pressure. Shannon Scott is too inconsistent to be counted on and we all know what happens when Deshaun Thomas is the only one who the Buckeyes can count on to score.
(1) Indiana over (2) Georgetown: Georgetown's defense could create problems for the Hoosiers, but Indiana's offense will be too explosive to slow down. This won't necessarily be an up-tempo game, so Indiana might have to rely on Cody Zeller down low and that could open up the rest of their offense.
(1) Indiana over (1) Louisville: The Cardinals can go for small spells where they can't shoot the ball particuarly well. They're a solid defensive team, but if they go cold, this could open up the opportunity for Indiana's explosive offense to make a run that could win them the game. This should be a close game throughout and will come down to who can consistently shoot the basketball. If either team, for that matter, goes cold, it could be over.
Final Score: Indiana 61, Louisville 57