It’s easy to make picks when things go as planned. It’s easy to rank teams when everything makes sense; the good teams beat the bad teams and occasionally a really good team loses to another pretty good team on the road and we all shrug our shoulders. Normal stuff.
It’s really damn hard to do rankings after LAST NIGHT’s NCAA Basketball carnage. Down goes #1 Villanova on the road to not-even-close to ranked Marquette. Down goes #2 Kansas by 15 points at West Virginia. Down goes #4 Kentucky at NIT-longshot Tennessee.
So Gonzaga is your new #1, obviously. Right? Right???
To blatantly rip off Lee Corso, “not so fast my friend.” The AP polls will almost certainly elevate Gonzaga by default (though it is possible they bump the winner of Kansas vs. Kentucky on Saturday), but does that really mean Gonzaga is the best team in the country? Would YOU pick them on a neutral floor in March against any of the three above teams? Would you pick them over North Carolina? Ucla? Baylor or Louisville or West Virginia or even… gasp… Duke?
Parity is often mistaken for mediocrity. Don’t make that mistake. Just because one team isn’t clearly THE best doesn’t mean there aren’t a lot of really good teams this season. There just isn’t a “perfect” team. So ranking them is really, really hard.
Naturally, that just makes me want to tackle the challenge.
Here’s this weeks’ Bracketeering Rankings, with a quick tip of the cap to each team’s fatal flaw. And if you are new to the party, these are my rankings of who I’d take in the NCAA Tournament tomorrow, matchup-independent, and not who has “earned” a particular slot. That is for the official polls. And polls (sic.) are for strippers…
BRACKETEERING – JANUARY 25TH, 2017
Sweet Sixteen: Quick acknowledgment. YES, you could put roughly 40 teams in this group of eight and not be a crazy person. I do not “hate” (insert your favorite omitted team here). But of course, feel free to agree/disagree/troll with manners on Twitter @TheMarchManiacs
Baylor, Oregon, Louisville, Virginia, West Virginia, Notre Dame, Purdue, Duke
You can argue most easily for Baylor and Oregon getting a bump up to Elite Eight. They certainly have the resume. I just think Arizona is a notch better now that they have Trier back in the fold. The win at UCLA was one of the five best wins in the country and despite all the injuries and suspensions they are 18-2 and 7-0 in Pac12, giving them the slight lean over Baylor and Oregon. Louisville is also close. They have a few less-than-great losses, but the win over Kentucky and the recent win over Pitt were eye-popping.
Virginia is still brilliant defensively and what they did in South Bend last night was a reminder. That said, Notre Dame has still closed games against good teams as well as any one in the country this season, ergo, they stay in my rankings. Purdue has the best player in the country not many casual fans know in Caleb Swanigan (so anonymous I hear him called “Swan-uh-gun” and “Swahn-ee-gin” equally on television coverage). Dude is dropping 20/20’s in the Big Ten and should be a strong First Team All American consideration.
And lastly yes, I STILL have Duke ranked. NO, I am not a Duke fan. And no, I don’t enjoy having profanity directed at me on Twitter (though it is occasionally kind of funny when used creatively, like “asshat” or some variation of douche-based compound word). I am however a “crazy collection of talent being molded by Hall of Fame coach once he returns” fan, so I am holding out a few more weeks before casting them loose. It is the same reason I have Indiana in the “next cut” category. High ceilings, and a month left to figure it out (not the HOF coach part). Is Butler more deserving? Sure. Are they BETTER built for March? Not sure. Better question: if both teams play well, who is more likely to win four games in March, Duke or (pick team I omitted)? The answer is “Duke.” Sorry.
Next Cut: Butler, South Carolina, Xavier, Wisconsin, Indiana, Cincinnati, Xavier, St. Mary’s, Virginia Tech, Florida, Creighton, SMU, Northwestern, Iowa State, Dayton, VCU, Maryland, Iowa State, Kansas State, poor, poor Creighton and 70 other teams…
North Carolina, Gonzaga, Arizona, Florida State
#8 – Florida State – Top tier talent, good cohesive unit and a good resume. The Noles are legit. They have three straight road games upcoming against non-ranked conference opponents; @GA Tech, @Miami, and @Syracuse. Win those three and they’ll be pushing for Final Four status. Fatal Flaw? They are young and brand new to this level of national prominence. The historical road is littered with early tourney upsets for teams with similar profiles.
#7 – Arizona – Have you seen anything more impressive this season than the Arizona win last weekend in Pauley? Maybe UCLA’s win in Rupp – which in a way makes Arizona’s win EVEN MORE impressive. That’s about it in 2016-2017. Sean Miller deserves National Coach of the Year consideration for holding this team together with Band-Aids to get to 18-2. Now with Trier back? This squad could finally get their talented coach to the Final Four. Fatal Flaw? They are big and athletic, but is Cartwright and their backcourt good enough to beat Kentucky, UCLA, etc.?
#6 – Gonzaga – They aren’t my #1 team. They aren’t in my Final Four. But I still REALLY LIKE this team. I just think their ceiling is a little lower than my next five teams, hence they land at #6. Don’t sleep on Williams-Goss at the point. He is one of the three best college point guards in the country (meaning ahead of Denny Smith Jr and Markelle Fultz for COLLEGE TEAM IMPACT only). Fatal Flaw? It seems unfair, but schedule is always going to be the question mark for this WCC giant. They own a win over Arizona, but in fairness, the ‘Cats weren’t the same team then that just beat UCLA last week.
#5 – North Carolina – I agonized over them or Kentucky in this spot. You can make a good case for either. So, by the same slim margin that Malik Monk clipped the Heels, I’ll take UK in the last Final Four spot. North Carolina is the best offensive rebounding team I’ve seen all season, which gives them a wider margin for error than any other top-ranked team. Fatal Flaw? Inconsistency with their shooting. They have athletes, but not elite-level shooters. This is a team that beat NC State by 51 and lost to Georgia Tech by double digits, but I still stand by the fact their incredible offensive rebounding gives them the most margin for error of any team in the country in a pressure-packed game. SO – I know it is odd logic – but even though I do not think they are the top team in the country, they are the team I would most comfortably put a wager on to win the Tournament on January 25th. Georgia Tech loss aside, I think their floor isn’t as low as Kentucky or UCLA on a night when all the shots go awry.
#4 – Kentucky – The fatal flaw for this team is pretty obvious, and all you have to do is catch 35 seconds of any Coach Cal interview to hear all about it; this team is young. As in YOUNG. They start four freshman and a sophomore and the ball is almost always going to be in the hand of their all-frosh backcourt. The plus side is, their All Frosh backcourt is led by a pair of All American candidates in Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. Both are outstanding. Ask North Carolina…
#3 – Villanova – I’m not sure this team has a “fatal flaw” but they do have a fair question mark – do they have the same top-level talent to matchup with the Lottery Picks dotting the Ucla, Kentucky, Kansas and other rosters. Of course, you could have said the same thing about LAST year’s team and all they did was win the whole damn thing…. Villanova took a weird loss last night at Marquette. They are still a near-automatic #1 seed in March and a fair bet to return to the Final Four.
#2 – Kansas – Wow is Josh Jackson good. I know they lost last night at West Virginia, but frankly, you are SUPPOSED to lose at Morgantown. That is far from a reason to drop a team in a rational ranking, plus, the final margin is a little deceptive. Kansas was right in that game until the final few minutes and even stormed back to take a lead halfway through the second half. Josh Jackson showed flashes of brilliance and senior point guard Frank Mason would make my All American team right now. Kansas has talent, size, athleticism, depth, Lottery Pick, senior guards – what else could you ask for? This is a legit National Champ threat, and if you put them #1, I couldn’t argue…
#1 – UCLA – yet I will. And my argument is simply and persistently, “WATCH UCLA PLAY.” It’s exquisite. But, there is the nagging recent view of them getting beat convincingly at home by Arizona. In most years, that would drop them in my rankings. This year? Everyone has a loss and no team is exempt from a tough one. Yes, UCLA’s was at home, but their win AT Kentucky balances the scale.
They don’t deserve to be ranked #1 in the AP Poll and they aren’t a #1 seed on January 25th. But, after watching several hundred games this year, this is the best overall team I have seen play. Can they lay a clunker? Sure. But who hasn’t this year? Their top gear offensively is one no one else in the country can match and Lonzo Ball is the most transcendent player in the country this season.
It’s a tough call over Kansas, Nova, Kentucky and Kansas, but I’ll stick with the Bruins at #1.
As always – let me have it on Twitter @TheMarchManiacs.
And, it wouldn’t be complete without a few picks for tonight to keep our season of winners going strong. We are 23-12—1 ATS this season on The Saturday Edge free picks and if you follow along on Twitter, a nice robust 73-41-2 ATS. So, without further ado, let’s get after it!
Creighton -2 at Georgetown
I feel bad for the Blue Jays. Their dream season was all but ended with the ACL injury to Maurice Watson Jr. and you can certainly cry for them if you want to. But that doesn’t mean I’m throwing money away with the tissues.
Georgetown has been competitive despite a lousy record and tonight they are at home against a team that is a shadow of their former selves and getting points.
I’ll take the Hoyas at home and the two.
MY PICK: Georgetown Hoyas +2
Texas Tech at Baylor -9
Texas Tech is fool’s gold. The record is good, but there isn’t a lot of meat on the bone when you start looking at the true resume. Meanwhile, Baylor, despite my reluctance to ever include them in my loftier portions of the rankings, are still a REALLY good team. They are 18-1 and have tons of good wins.
They are at home and should handle the Red Raiders with relative ease.
MY PICK: Baylor Bears -9