The odds against filling a perfect March Madness bracket are approximately 128 Billion to 1, the title of my book on the tournament. As in recent years, Warren Buffett offered his 367,000 employees a chance to win $1 million a year for life if they could correctly pick the sixteen teams that would survive the first weekend of play to reach the Sweet Sixteen. The odds against Mr. Buffett having to pay up? Far better than the odds against picking a perfect bracket: about 4.3 billion to 1.
To win the money this year, you would have had to guess that for the first time in 34 years and 136 attempts, a #16 seed (UMBC) would upset a #1 seed (Virginia); that #2 seed Cincinnati would blow a 22 point lead; that 1963 national champion Loyola (Chicago) would oust #3 seed Tennessee after improbably dumping #6 seed Miami in the first round; that we were right in predicting that the Pac 12 teams were overrated (#4 Arizona was embarrassed in round one, UCLA and Arizona State both lost play-in games); and that #5 seed Kentucky would overcome the experts’ predictions of an early exit against Davidson and also dump upstart Buffalo to become the highest remaining seed in its region. And, that’s just the South region picks you’d have had to make.
You’d also have had to follow our advice that Ohio State and Xavier were overrated, and that Auburn was in a tailspin. You’d have had to guess that the defending champion Tarheels would miss the team bus. But perhaps the most daring pick you’d have had to make was that Syracuse, the last team in the field, would make its way from the First Four to the Sweet Sixteen, denying fans a much-anticipated Duke – Michigan State matchup next week. Instead, we’re left with a routine ACC matchup.
Mr. Buffett’s money is safe. We feel pretty good that we picked 9 of the Sweet Sixteen teams and still have our predicted champion alive—Villanova (we didn’t think Duke would survive its encounter with Sparty).
The likeliest Final Four matchups now—according to RPG rankings—are Gonzaga versus Kentucky and Villanova versus Duke. That means it probably won’t happen.
Watch out for Loyola (Chicago) and their chaplain Sister Jean. The Ramblers play the prettiest basketball of any of the remaining teams, preferring to cut and move without the ball rather than setting ball screens, and preferring to pass the ball rather than dribble driving. It’s a throwback approach to a time when basketball was more a ballet than a gymnastics event. We are bored by the repetitious ball screens, pick-and-rolls, dribble drives and isolation plays. Dribble, dribble, dribble, crossover, crossover, crossover. It’s not only boring, it’s unimaginative. It’s not only unimaginative, it’s ugly. It’s not only ugly, it marginalizes basketball skills—passing and shooting, in particular—in favor of athletic skills. It’s not what Dr. James Naismith had in mind. Go Ramblers!
The trend toward dribble penetration appears to be causing a revival of zone defenses. The truth is that college players do a poor job of help, recovery and rotation in man defenses and a very large percentage of points are scored after defenders over help and there’s no weak side rotation. Many coaches play man defense so they can promise recruits that they’re being prepared for the NBA. Jim Boeheim and Coach K feel no pressure to make such promises. In their Sweet Sixteen matchup we’ll see zone against zone, like a game out of the 1950’s. It will be wonderful.