March Madness is churned up. Teams representing 35 states – 70 percent of the nation – soon will travel from all over to make their way into arenas to take their shots. But this circus of thrills will open without a team from the state of Missouri. (Sad.) Countless 68-team brackets need to be filled in, and we’re bracing for information overload.

This is the first dance for Longwood and the last dance for Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. The mighty Big Ten conference has nine participants in the tournament, a population that has other conferences seething with envy. Lower your head for a moment and think of the teams that were snubbed and excluded from the best annual sporting event in America. Search for overrated teams that are vulnerable. Be on the lookout for sprightly underdogs and upsets.

For all of the talk about “Last Four In” and “Last Four Out,” those who love this tournament are all-in.

Like a basketball, I’m going to bounce around …

Toughest Region: The East seems like the choice here, but many others have different opinions – which should make this a really good tournament. This will be a difficult spot for Baylor, the most challenged No. 1 seed because of its torn roster. The Bears are missing big man Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua (season-ending knee injury) and top shooter LJ Cryer (foot.) This region also contains Kentucky, the most formidable No. 2 seed in the tournament. No. 3 seed Purdue can take down anybody, and there’s No. 4 seed UCLA which sprinted to the Final Four a year ago. There also four dangerous teams that pose threats: Saint Mary’s, the Gonzaga antagonist at No. 5, North Carolina (No. 8), white-hot Virginia Tech (No. 11) and a 30-win Murray State team on the 7-line. To repeat as national champs, Baylor must survive a treacherous journey.

Duke Shouldn’t Be A No. 2 Seed: You just knew the committee would take care of Krzyzewski who is retiring at the end of the tournament. And sure enough, Duke gets a two seed in a soft-spot area for the region. Duke is rated No. 12 overall nationally by KenPom and in the NET rankings. A blow-out loss to Virginia Tech on Saturday night should have scrubbed the Blue Devils from the 2-line.

Most Egregious Error: Tennessee getting a No. 3 seed is the largest slight that can be found in this bracket. The Vols have won 15 of their last 17, swept through the SEC Tournament and are ranked No. 7 in the NET. How do you come up with Duke as a two-seed, and Tennessee as a three? I don’t know. But the Vols are rated higher than Duke at KenPom and the NET. The Vols have 11 Quad 1 wins to Duke’s six.  And while Tennessee lost no games to opponents outside Quad 1, Duke has lost four such games. This was a ridiculous decision by the committee.

Among No. 1 Seeds, Kansas Has The Easiest Path To The Final Four: This isn’t Bill Self’s most dynamic team at KU, and the Jayhawks are rated No. 6 overall by KenPom and the NET. But they’re good enough and have the steadiness to handle the Midwest Region. KU’s top three challengers (by seeding) in the district are Auburn, Wisconsin and Providence; all three have been off form as of late. The biggest threat to Kansas is a scorching Iowa team – comically seeded 5th – that just captured its first Big Ten tournament championship since 2006. The Hawkeyes are ranked second nationally at KenPom in offensive efficiency.

Don’t Get Too Cute: A common temptation is to go against the grain in your bracketing project by going with upsets of No. 1 seeds. Don’t go too far with that. Here’s why: since the NCAA basketball tournament expanded to a 64-team field, a No. 1 seed has won 23 of the 36 championships, of 63.8 percent. Baylor’s victory over Gonzaga last year was the fourth consecutive title by a No. 1 seed – and 10th in the last 14 seasons. What about the 13 titles that weren’t won by a No. 1 seed? Many were snatched by No. 2 seeds (five) and No. 3 seeds (four.) The other four were taken by No. 4. No. 6, No. 7 and No. 8 seeds.

Let’s Search For Some Upsets. For some help I went to the Washington Post to check the evaluations from Neil Greenberg, who is really good at this. By the way, there is no such thing as an upset when a No. 8 and a No. 9 seed go against each other. Upsets belong to teams seeded from No. 10 through No. 16.

East: No. 10 San Francisco over No. 7 Murray State. Why? The Dons have a Ken Pom “Four Factors” profile that’s similar to the ninth-seeded 2013 Wichita State team that reached the Final Four, and the 2011 eighth-seeded Butler squad that advanced to the title game and lost a close one to Duke. In case you’re wondering, the Four Factors are shooting, turnovers, rebounding and free throws.

Midwest: No. 13 South Dakota State over No. 4 Providence. Why? As Greenberg noted, South Dakota state leads the nation with an effective field-goal rate of 60 percent, and that includes the top ranking in three-point shooting at 44%. That three-point marksmanship opens the floor for easy buckets inside. At least one No. 13 seed has won a game in 10 of the last 13 tournaments. The Jackrabbits have the longest winning streak in Division I at 22 games. Their last loss? Dec. 15. Providence probably belongs on any “overrated” list and secured a No. 4 seed despite getting whacked 85-58 by Creighton in the Big East tournament.

South: No. 10 Loyola Chicago over No. 7 Ohio State. Why? Made to order, just like the Ramblers’ obliteration of Illinois early in last year’s tournament. The Ramblers are 42nd nationally in offensive efficiency and 22nd in defensive efficiency. They’re solid across the board in the four-factors categories.

West: No. 13 Vermont over No. 4 Arkansas. A lot of folks are jumping on this one. Why? Vermont is one of the best shooting teams in the nation, ranking third in effective field goal percentage (57%) and third (59%) in two-point shots. The Catamounts deny offensive rebounds – in fact, they’re rated No. 1 nationally in doing so.

One Key To Scoping Upsets: Look for overseeded and underseeded teams. I just gave an example of an overseeded group in Providence, which is a No. 4 seed but ranked only 49th nationally by KenPom. Another example is Wisconsin, a No. 3 seed but only No. 34 in KenPom is another example. And then we have slightly overseeded teams such as Michigan State (No. 7 seed, 40th at KenPom) and USC (No. 7 seed, 42nd KenPom.) And then there are the underseeded teams. Houston is fourth overall in the nation at KenPom but is a No. 5 seed in the tournament. That’s crazy! Others: Loyola Chicago is No. 24 at KenPom but a No. 10 seed in the tournament; Virginia Tech is a No. 11 seed but a very strong 23rd at KenPom. San Francisco is No. 21 at KenPom but only a No. 10 seed. You can find value in wagering on underseeded teams and by understanding that overseeded teams aren’t always what they seem to be.

Worst Snubs: We have to post a “snubs” list, right? There are many to choose from. But I think we overdo the “snubs” grievances and need to be more selective. It should be a short list…not a lengthy one. And I’m not all that worked up over this years Snubbed nominees.

1–Wake Forest: didn’t receive a tournament invitation despite winning 23 games, finishing 13-7 in the conference, and being ranked No. 37 nationally at Ken Pom. But the overall schedule was weak, and getting dumped by Boston College in the ACC Tournament was crushing.

2–Oklahoma. The overall record 18-15 isn’t impressive, but the Sooners are No. 30 at KenPom, No. 40 at NET and played one of the hardest schedules in the nation. They have marquee wins over Baylor, Texas Tech, Arkansas, Iowa State. Too many close losses doomed them.

3–Texas A&M. The Aggies were 23-12, ranked 42 at NET and at KenPom. Marquee wins include Auburn, at Alabama, Arkansas (twice), and Notre Dame. Texas A&M rallied to win eight of its final 10 games – eliminating Florida, Auburn and Arkansas during the SEC tournament run before stalling out against Tennessee in Sunday’s title game.

Worth mentioning: Dayton, Xavier, SMU, BYU.

In Case You Missed It: Here are the historical opening-round winning percentages during the 64-team era:

No. 16 teams are 1-143 against No. 1s.
No. 15 seeds are 9-135 (.062) vs. No. 2s
No. 14 seeds are 22-112 (.153) vs. No. 3s
No. 13 seeds are 31-113 (.215) vs. No. 4s
No. 12 seeds are 51-93 (.354) vs. No. 5s
No. 11 seeds are 54-90 (.375) vs. No. 6s
No. 10 seeds are 57-86 (.399) vs. No. 7s
No. 9 seeds are 73-71 (.507) vs. No. 8s.

Finally, My Picks: 

Final Four: Gonzaga over Kentucky +  Arizona over Kansas.

Championship: Gonzaga over Arizona.

Thanks for reading…


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Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.