Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Potential Final Four Matchups

Now that there's 16 teams left and most of the pretenders (and even a few "sure things") have been sent packing, we can take a look at some Final Four matchups that are actually, you know, possible. Lots of ways to group these guys.

1. The Cinderella Final Four
By Cinderella, I mean "teams you almost never see anywhere near a Final Four", not just the lowest seed. In the South there's three, but we'll default to the Loyola-Chicago/Nevada winner since K-State has made some Elite 8's. In the East it's got to be Texas Tech, since Purdue and West Virginia have made the Final Four in my lifetime and Tech's not your average "hoops school". The Midwest's entrant has to be Clemson, as 11-seed Syracuse is a traditional powerhouse. And out West, either Florida State or Texas A&M could play Cinderella equally well (in basketball, anyway). So...
Loyola-Chicago vs Texas A&M; Clemson vs Texas Tech

2. The Football Playoff
Just what we need, football infecting college hoops again. Clemson again wins the Midwest. West Virginia takes the East, as they're a more consistently good football program than TTU. In the South, K-State takes a weak bracket (in that regard). And out west, I'll take Florida State just to balance the bracket: two Big-12 teams and two ACC teams.
FSU vs K-State; Clemson vs West Virginia

3. The Bluebloods
A shame three bluebloods are clogging the Midwest region. We can only pick one and that one will be Duke. Villanova is the closest thing to hoops royalty in the East. Down South, you know it's Kentucky. And out west, there's no true hoops blueblood, but Michigan gets my nod over Gonzaga due to longevity - they have been a consistently strong hoops program for decades.
Michigan vs Kentucky; Villanova vs Duke

4. Defensive Showdown (per
This goes by straight-up defensive efficiency rankings in KenPom. Michigan would win the West and Texas Tech the East. Syracuse snags the Midwest, and the South would go to Kansas State. Kansas state, really?
Michigan vs Kansas State; Syracuse vs Texas Tech

5. Offensive Showdown (again per
Personally I'd rather see some scoring. So... Villanova barely ekes out Purdue here, which was only surprising in that they're 1-2! They'd take on Duke, who ekes out Kansas. Nevada blows away the South, and Gonzaga would win out West.
Gonzaga vs Nevada; Villanova vs Duke

6. Geographically True Regional Winners (per a map)
If we're calling the West the West, then Gonzaga is the farthest west so they'd win. The South... well, technically K-State and maybe Nevada are farther south than Kentucky, but Kentucky is a more "southern" state (and they do play in the SOUTHeastern Conference). Villanova rightfully wins the East, and Kansas is certainly the most "midwest" of those teams.
Kansas vs Villanova; Gonzaga vs Kentucky

7. My Gut
Of all of these Final Four combos, my own picks here are probably the least likely to come about. But here goes.
South: Kentucky. It's not novel but they're the best team remaining in this group. They are better than K-State, they won't allow a Nevada comeback, and Loyola hasn't played a team this good and playing this well. Second choice: Nevada.
West: Gonzaga. Not an easy choice. They're not as good as last year, but neither is this region. They ought to handle Florida State, and while Michigan and A&M both would pose defensive challenges I think their experience will see them through. Second choice: Michigan for sure.
Midwest: Duke. The team best able to overcome the Syracuse Zone also has more talent and less likelihood of a meltdown than Kansas. It's just hard to see them losing this weekend. Second choice: Kansas
East: Villanova. Like Duke vs Syracuse, Nova is uniquely suited to counter their opponent's (West Virginia) unique defense. And a battle-tested Nova team will be able to beat a dinged up Purdue team or a "wow, we're in the second weekend" TTU team. Second choice: Purdue

I know, kinda chalky. Even my second choices are the next highest seeds. Not very "gut"sy I admit.  But Kentucky's so much above their region in analytics. I trust Duke over Kansas in crunch time. I trust Villanova's and Gonzaga's experience. And I just think that there are fewer upsets in the second weekend (usually). Talent and coaching wins out and this final four would feature Calipari, K, Wright and Few, some of the greatest coaches of our time. And my "second choices" include Self and Huggins and Bielein, no slouches themselves. Which is why they're here.

Let's see what happens.

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