Tag Archives: March Madness

Takeaways and observations from the opening weekend of March Madness

The madness is under way and it is as awesome as ever. Nine lower seeded teams won in the first (technically the second) round. Four more upsets occurred en route to the Sweet Sixteen. Here are some takeaways, observations, facts, and figures about the first three rounds of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament:

  • A No. 12 seed has defeated a No. 5 seed in 11 of the past 12 seasons and in 22 of the past 24 years. 2013 was no exception; in fact, it was even more extreme than normal. Three No. 12 seeds (Oregon, California, and Ole Miss) pulled off an upset against a No. 5 seed (Oklahoma State, UNLV, and Wisconsin).
  • For the first time ever, a No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 seed in the same region lost in the round of 64. New Mexico, Kansas State, and Wisconsin were defeated in the West Region.
  • The Mountain West, which was the toughest conference in the country in the regular season according to RPI, has been completely eliminated from the tournament after a 2-5 showing for its five teams that made the tourney.
  • The Pac-12 may have been under-seeded and is getting hot at the right time. Two Pac-12 teams with No. 12 seeds (California and Oregon) defeated No. 5 seeds and the conference put two teams (Arizona and Oregon) in the Sweet Sixteen. Arizona defeated No. 11 seed Belmont by 17 points and No. 14 seed Harvard by 23. Oregon topped No. 5 seed Oklahoma State by 13 points and No. 4 seed Saint Louis by 17.
  • Teams from the state of Florida are 6-0 and all three (No. 2 seed Miami, No. 3 seed Florida, and No. 15 seed Florida Gulf Coast) are in the Sweet Sixteen. Florida and Florida Gulf Coast will face each other on Friday.
  • Big Ten Tournament Champion Wisconsin is the only Big Ten team that did not win a game in the tournament. The conference is 10-3 and has a team in the Sweet Sixteen in each region.
  • For the third year in a row, there was a matchup between a No. 12 seed and No. 13 seed in the round of 32. No. 12 seed Ole Miss and No. 13 seed La Salle faced off in the West Region. Last year it was No. 12 South Florida and No. 13 Ohio that matched up in the Midwest Region and two years ago No. 12 seed Richmond and No. 13 seed Morehead State played in the Southwest Region.
  • No. 13 seed La Salle is doing its best to model itself after 2011 Virginia Commonwealth, who was a No. 11 seed. The Rams played in the First Four before making a Final Four run, where they lost to No. 8 seed Butler. The La Salle Explorers finished tied for third in the A-10, then defeated No. 13 seed Boise State, No. 4 seed Kansas State, and No. 12 seed Ole Miss to reach the Sweet Sixteen. They will face No. 9 seed Wichita State on Thursday.
No. 13 seed La Salle will attempt to follow Virginia Commonwealth's footsteps as a First Four team to make the Final Four. (Image courtesy of www.usatoday.com)
No. 13 seed La Salle will attempt to follow Virginia Commonwealth’s footsteps as a First Four team to make the Final Four. (Image courtesy of http://www.usatoday.com)
  • Only two of the four Naismith Award finalists remain in the tournament–Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Michigan’s Trey Burke. Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr. and Creighton’s Doug McDermott did not make it out of the first weekend.
  • The main color of the past nine NCAA Champions was blue. Eight (Duke, La Salle, Arizona, Marquette, Florida Gulf Coast, Florida, Michigan, and Kansas) of the remaining schools have blue as their main color.

Pre-selection show bracketology tips

The biggest moment of the college basketball season—Selection Sunday—is almost here. While basketball analysts argue over the No. 1 seeds and bubble teams in the final hour before the bracket is announced, here are a few tips to help you have success in your March Madness predictions.

  • Don’t go all “chalk”—Only once, in 2008, did all four No. 1 seeds make the Final Four. With all of the attention focused on the top teams and their respective regions, it is very tempting to lean towards going chalk—choosing the better seed—but stay strong and resist the temptation. Only 14 No. 1 seeds have made the Final Four in the past decade and there were no top seeds in both 2006 and 2011.
  • Don’t pick Gonzaga to advance past the Sweet Sixteen—The Bulldogs are a staple for the NCAA Tournament after making it every season since 1999 but they only one Elite Eight appearance in that span. While Gonzaga has never been a No. 1 seed, the Zags lost in the Round of 32 as a No. 2 and No. 3 seed in 2004 and 2005. The Bulldogs have proven that they can make the Sweet Sixteen, with five appearances since ’99, they have struggled to make a deep run in March.
  • Expect Georgetown to be upset—In the past three seasons, the Hoyas are 1-3 in the NCAA Tournament and were eliminated by No. 11 North Carolina State, No. 11 VCU and No. 14 Ohio. While Georgetown will likely by a No. 2 seed, they don’t have a good recent track record in March.
  • Pick at least one No. 12 seed to upset a No. 5 seed—No. 12 seeds upset No. 5 seeds in 34 percent of the matchups and at 12 seed has defeated a 5 seed in 11 of the past 12 years. Keep in mind that No. 12 seeds have a winning record in Round of 32.
  • Don’t overthink the 8/9 and 7/10 matchups—The differences between these middle seeds are small. Flip a coin, choose the team with the longer name or simply go with your gut because anything can happen in these first round matchups.

What If? Wednesday: What if Hank Gathers did not have an irregular heartbeat?

ESPN 30 for 30 is a series of 30 films about 30 different stories, produced by 30 different filmmakers. For Christmas, I received the first and second volume and yesterday afternoon I watched on titled “The Guru of Go.” The film was about basketball coach Paul Westhead, who won the 1980 NBA Championship with the Los Angeles Lakers and after being fired by the Lakers and Chicago Bulls, he was hired at Loyola Marymount University.

Westhead’s coaching career began at Cheltenham High School in Philadelphia. Two of the best college basketball players in the late 1980’s, Eric “Hank” Gathers and Bo Kimble, were Philly natives and won a city championship in 1985 at Dobbins Technical High School. Both Gathers and Kimble were recruited to play at the University of Southern California. After an the Trojans posted an 11-17 record in the 1985-85 season, Head Coach Stan Morrison and Assistant Coach David Spencer were fired and replaced with George Raveling. Raveling revoked the scholarships of the Dobbins Tech teammates and they transferred to Loyola Marymount University.

Westhead specialized in an offense called “the system.” His plan was to have his team take more shots than the opponent and more shot attempts means more shots made. When “the system” was most effective, the game was a track meet and it would wear down opponents both physically and mentally. It is the epitome of the phrase “run and gun.” The guards lead the charge down the center of the court, with a forward streaking down each side of the court and the center trailing the play.

Gathers and Kimble gave Westhead the perfect personnel for “the system” to be effective. In the three-year span of 1988-1990, the Loyola Marymount Lions went 27-3, 20-10 and 23-5. The most impressive part about Westhead’s strategy was the number of points it allowed his teams to score. In the Gathers/Kimble era, the Lions’ average points per game increased each year from 110.3 to 112.5 to the unfathomable 122.4 points per game in 1990 that still stands as the highest average ever in the history of college basketball.

Gathers was the heart and soul of the Lions. In 1989, he became only the second men’s college basketball player to lead the country in scoring (32.7 ppg) and rebounding (13.7 rpg). In the 1990 West Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinals against Portland, Gathers completed an alley-oop and collapsed as he ran back on defense. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital and his autopsy showed that he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is the leading cause of sudden cardiac deaths of young athletes.

Hank Gathers was on top of the world at Loyola Marymount University until his tragic death during a game in 1990. (Image courtesy of http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/celebrities-who-died-young/images/30072059/title/eric-hank-gathers-february-11-1967-march-4-1990-photo)
Hank Gathers was on top of the world at Loyola Marymount University until his tragic death during a game in 1990. (Image courtesy of http://www.fanpop.com/clubs/celebrities-who-died-young/images/30072059/title/eric-hank-gathers-february-11-1967-march-4-1990-photo)

Without Gathers, Loyola Marymount managed to advance to the Elite Eight before losing to the eventual national champion UNLV 131-101. However, Hank Gathers’ death raises the question: what if he did not have the heart condition that eventually led to his death?

For starters, the Loyola Marymount Lions could have been the biggest Cinderella story in the history of March Madness. LMU was riding a six-game win streak and the Lions had won 10 of their last 11 games entering the Elite Eight matchup against UNLV. They won three games in the 1990 NCAA Tournament without Hank Gathers, including the defending national champion Michigan. UNLV’s 1989-90 team had four players, Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Greg Anthony and George Ackles, who were selected in the 1991 NBA Draft, including three in the first 12 picks. Loyola Marymount needed star power against the Runnin’ Rebels more than any other team. Bo Kimble put up a fight in LMU’s 30-point loss with a 42 point, 11 rebound performance but the rest of the team were non-factors. Jeff Fryer, the team’s go-to three-point shooter, was 4-16 from behind the arc and the Lions were out-rebounded by 18 boards. Gathers motivated his teammates, brought intensity to rebounding the basketball and consistently scored 30 points per game for the Lions. If Hank Gathers played against UNLV, Loyola Marymount would have had a legitimate chance to beat the No. 1 seed in the West Region, the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. If LMU made the Final Four, then they would have had more momentum than the three other remaining teams and two consensus Second Team All-Americans leading the charge. As an 11 seed, Paul Westhead and the Loyola Marymount Lions could have been the highest seed to ever win the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship.

After the Loyola Marymount’s success in the NCAA Tournament, Hank Gathers would have been one of the top picks in the 1990 NBA Draft and Bo Kimble’s draft status may have improved if LMU made it past the Elite Eight. Syracuse University forward Derrick Coleman was the number one pick of the 1990 NBA Draft. While Coleman’s 6’10” had three inches on Hank Gathers, Gathers made up for his lack of size at the power forward position with heart and tenacity. Gathers averaged over 20 points per game for three seasons in college while Coleman never averaged more than 18. Gathers’ junior and senior year rebounds per game averages were comparable with those of Coleman, which means that Hank Gathers could potentially have been selected by the New Jersey Nets with the first pick.

It takes a lot of assumptions to predict that Hank Gathers would have been the first pick of the 1990 NBA Draft so it seems more realistic that he would have been selected fourth overall to the Orlando Magic instead of Georgia Tech forward Dennis Scott. Gathers had virtually identical size as Scott but grabbed nearly twice the number of rebounds and made 10 to 15 percent more of his field goal attempts in college (to provide full disclosure, Dennis Scott attempted at least 200 three-pointers in each of his three seasons playing college basketball and made 42 percent of them, while Gathers only had four in his career, which certainly helped his shooting percentages).

With the number one pick in both the 1992 and 1993 NBA Drafts, the Orlando Magic selected center Shaquille O’Neal out of Louisiana State University and forward Chris Webber out of the University of Michigan, respectively. Webber was traded on draft day to the Golden State Warriors for Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and three future first round draft picks. In the 1994-95 season, the Magic signed forward Horace Grant from the Chicago Bulls and Orlando made the 1995 NBA Finals to play the Houston Rockets. With Hank Gathers in his prime, Orlando could have stolen a game or two from Houston but it is unlikely that they would have won the 1995 NBA Championship.