We asked readers to send their questions into me, a self-proclaimed college basketball expert, and I was happy to help them out. It's not every day that you have the chance to talk to someone who's won multiple pools in the last 10 years. The key to winning is always to be different, but not outrageous. No one in your pool had the Final Four correctly picked last year, but chances are they had either Kentucky, Connecticut, or both. Those ideas weren't that far-fetched and they capitalized.
Q. I've got an Elite Eight of Kentucky, Baylor, Michigan State, Murray State, North Carolina, Kansas, Ohio State, and Kansas State. My Final Four is Kentucky, Ohio St, Murray St, and UNC. A UNC-Kentucky final with Kentucky taking it all.
But I think the big question on everyone's mind is: How bad does not having Fab Melo hurt Syrause? I had ‘Cuse in the Elite Eight but I think Melo's absence allows Kansas State. to get by ‘Cuse and my upset pick of Harvard in the Sweet 16 to make it there instead. Crazy? And how about Murray St? Also, Xavier could totally beat Duke in the Round of 32, right?
- Tom M.
A. Even though your big question is with Syracuse, I have to start with your Final Four. You're definitely going out on a limb by rolling with Murray State. Sure, you're in good shape if Murray State makes the Final Four. But their odds to make the Final Four are 26-1 (according to Pinnacle). It was a nice story that underdogs made the Final Four last year, but that doesn't generally happen. If I were you, I'd have Murray St. advancing two or three rounds. That way you're differentiating yourself from going with the favorites, but you're not bankrupting yourself on their hopes.
As for Cuse, the Melo injury is a big factor. They were already not great at protecting opponents from getting offensive rebounds (the zone doesn't help) and now it'll get worse. Rodney McGruder is the go-to guy for K-State and between he, Jamar Samuels, and Jordan Henriquez, the Wildcats have the ability to attack the middle of a 2-3 zone (the weakness) and work the offensive glass. It's definitely possible.
Finally, Xavier has the talent, but their heads aren't there. The fight against Cincinnati crippled them mentally. They haven't been the same since and there's no reason to think it'll change against a well-coached Duke team. Duke needs to be defeated with athletic bigs and Xavier doesn't have that. Plus, Kenny Frease is such a waste of height.
Q. What's up with Iona's cheerleaders?
A. The answer is already included in your question: It’s Iona. BYU isn't exactly Alabama, but even their girls looked good by comparison. It’s no wonder Iona didn't look inspired to come out strong in the second half. They knew the groupie quality was poor.
Q. Got a hefty chunk of money in the pot with my boys here. Listen, I f*ckin love Wichita State, man. I've been watching them since their strong run in the NIT. VCU won't beat ‘em even though I hate they had to pair up these two cause I love em both, least this is what I think. How far you think the wheat can go? Thanks
- Chase M.
A. I would've loved Wichita State had they come up against any other No. 12 seed other than VCU. They've got a nice inside-outside game between Joe Ragland and Garrett Stutz. Their KenPom numbers are pretty high in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Greg Marshall is also one of the better mid-major coaches and will soon find his way to a great job. The problem lies in VCU's defensive pressure. Their full-court press is better than last year and has looked amazing in the last two games. Shaka Smart has his guys peaking at the right time. Wichita State also lost to two teams that apply intense defensive pressure -- Alabama and Temple (although Temple has been better historically). Wichita State deserves to be favored in this game; I just don't think you should invest too much with them in a bracket pool. If you're talking about an auction, draft, or future bet, then at least you're covered a little better. Either way, they probably won't get past Kentucky.
Q. What's your take on Florida State? They're getting a lot of hype as a possible Final Four team this year since people aren't too confident in Syracuse. Can you take a team seriously that lost to two Ivy League schools, Clemson, and Boston College?
A. It's a fair point to make that Florida State lost to those lesser schools, but that could be attributed to lack of focus. The good part about the NCAA tournament is that it’s easier to focus because of the light at the end of the tunnel and the increased media attention. Florida State's calling card is defense and that was good enough to bring them to the Sweet 16 last year. Thankfully for them and their fans, the Seminoles' offense this year is significantly better. After beating two victories over both Duke and UNC, they've showed they have the ability to beat anyone.