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How’s Your Bracket?

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The NCAA tourney is almost here.  Let’s hope they can pull it off.  I will be sporting my orange I hat and orange garb when I am out and about.  Not a lot of Illinois fans in Vegas but we can convert them.

I will miss seeing it in various parts of the country and being an Illinois kid I am a bit envious that the games are all being played in Indiana.  Illinois kicks Indiana’s butt when it comes to schoolboy hoops.  I know those are fighting words for some people but that’s okay.  High school basketball in Illinois is higher quality than Indiana.   It might not have been that way in the 40s-60s.  But, from the 1970s on it has been.  If Illinois coach Brad Underwood gets all the great indigenous players to stay home like Henson did, they will win a lot of championships.

Another surprise to me is how Pac 12 basketball just isn’t like it used to be.  I don’t know the reason for it.  UCLA, Arizona, and Oregon State were always pretty good.  The ACC was down this year but it will be back.  I think because Kentucky had a rough year, the SEC was underrated.  It’s a good conference and Alabama will be a tough out.

Anyway, it used to be that we’d have all kinds of pools in offices.  We had some huge pools on the trading floor back in the day.  I am in a couple of small pools now.

As an Illini fan, it was nice to see Illinois grab a #1 seed.  The Illini should be competing for a number one seed every year.  They are playing well right now and let’s hope they can keep it up until the end.  In 1989, they probably had the best team in the US and got upset by Michigan in the Final Four.  Alas, the one rebound Kenny Battle didn’t grab the whole season…..In 2005, North Carolina manhandled the Illini in the paint.  As an Illini fan, I feel like the officiating was pretty biased and took the Illini big men out of the game.  I am sure Tar Heel fans would disagree but Illini players did better in the NBA than the NC players.

This year, the best team in the tourney is Gonzaga.  Anyone that beats them will have to play a great game.  I don’t think Gonzaga is as good as other teams that won it all in the past but they are built for the type of game that is being played today.  In big games, I think defense wins.  If Illinois plays the lockdown defense they played the last time they played Michigan in Ann Arbor during the whole tournament, they could win it all.

I think Covid will have an effect on the tourney even though it is in its last stages. To not have crowds in the stadium will make a difference.  When upsets start to happen, crowds get into it and back the underdog.  Pressure mounts on the favorite.  I predict fewer upsets in this tournament.

Each of the Big 10 teams will be a tough out this year.  It was head and shoulders the best conference in America.  If there is one weakness for Gonzaga, it’s night in and night out they didn’t have to play a gauntlet of good teams.  They could take breathers in between tough games.  That won’t be true in the NCAA.  In Illinois last week before the Big Ten tournament they beat Michigan on the road, and then had to beat Ohio State on the road.  That was after beating Wisconsin at home.  The week before they lost to Michigan State on the road, and then beat Nebraska.  Then they had to beat Iowa and OSU again back to back to win the Big 10.  All but Nebraska are in the tournament and Michigan, OSU and Iowa are a #1 or #2 seed.

Illinois has a true aircraft carrier inside with Kofi Cockburn.  He’s rough to handle down low and will be a very good NBA player.  But, while big guys have an influence, I think this tourney will be won by the guards and wing players.  Ayo will have to play lights out, and so will the other guys on the perimeter.

I always look at turnovers to see how a team respects the ball.  Of the number one seeds, Illinois has almost 13 turnovers per game.  That’s at worst 26 points they gave up, and potentially give to other teams.  Michigan only turns it over 11 times and Baylor is similar.  Gonzaga is at 12.  It might not seem like a lot, but turnovers can change momentum.  Illinois’ weakness is turning the ball over, and not checking out on the boards.  They let teams get too many offensive rebounds.

No team is bulletproof this year.  Gonzaga is as close as you will see and Baylor is awfully good. The Big 12 is no slouch of a conference.  Baylor had to beat some really good teams, Kansas, Texas, West Virginia and OK State.  OK State might have the best player in the tournament, Cade Cunningham.  The other guy that is fun to watch is Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs.  He’s smooth.

In close games, free throws matter.  Michigan shoots 78% from the charity stripe as a team.  That’s excellent. Gonzaga shoots 72%.  Both Illinois and Baylor are under 70%, Baylor shooting 69%.  Illinois is atrocious from the stripe but Cockburn shoots a lot of free throws and hits at a 55% clip.  The “Hack a Shaq” strategy will work with him if you have fouls to give.

My friend Sam sent me this.  I realize it is the NBA but the college game is no different.  If a team is hitting threes, they are hard to beat.  Gonzaga shoots 36% as a team.  Kispert launches most of their threes, and shoots 44%.  That’s pretty good.  All of Illinois players that shoot the three a lot average less than 40%.  Baylor hits at a 40% clip as a team which is really good.  Michigan is an excellent three-point shooting team.

But if you have an off night, which you can in a big arena under pressure, teams that live and die by the three will have a tough time.  I know the game has changed, but I still believe defense still wins championships.

I am thinking of hitting up a sportsbook in Vegas and watching a few games to take the action in.

Who do you have in your Final Four and who do you have winning it all?

The post How’s Your Bracket? first appeared on Points and Figures.


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