Ideally, I would have saved this preview for last, but BYU played (and lost) to Ole Miss in the play-in game for the No. 11 seed Tuesday night. Stupid play-in games.
The Favorite: Wisconsin, by a whisker
By most metrics -- from T-Rank, to Kenpom, to the polls, to the eye test -- Wisconsin and Arizona are two of the top three teams in the country. Both teams won outright conference championships, and both teams won their conference tournaments. Both have spent the entire season planted in the top 10 of the polls. It seems a shame that they are in the same region, but that's life on the streets.
The T-Rank simulations favored Wisconsin to advance to the Final Four by the slightest of margins, just 1 percent (36 percent to 35 percent). I'd guess that is within the margin of error, so it's reasonable to treat the teams as co-favorites to face Kentucky in the Final Four. That's a shame, too, because these are probably the two teams most capable of beating Kentucky, and Kentucky will only have to face one of them at most.
Here's every tourney team's record in Tournament Quality Games (Opp. Game Barthag >.8300). Beware OSU, Utah & SMU. pic.twitter.com/yeFpCuFyzJ— Bart Torvik (@totally_t_bomb) March 17, 2015
For a long time, I've had Arizona penciled in as a Final Four team. The Wildcats are 6-0 in Tournament Quality Games -- not a lot of tests, but a perfect record and their scoring margin has been elite (third-best in such games). They dominated the Pac-12 in monumental fashion, after playing only so-so in the non-conference season. They've got talent, they've got pros, they've got seniors, they've got moxie. Most importantly, they're due. Sean Miller has quickly ascended to the throne of "best coach without a Final Four" and I can't imagine he will warm the seat for very long. But maybe just one more year, OK?
We can hope that Arizona gets upset by Baylor or Ohio State, both of which have the horses to give them a game. Or we can just hope for the rematch, with the knowledge that it will be epic, even if its outcome has been foretold:
PREDICTION: Epic 6 OT elite 8 rematch with Arizona ends in heartbreak. (Call it like I see it)— Bart Torvik (@totally_t_bomb) March 15, 2015
The Upset: Ohio State
This is another region where I don't expect much from the double-digit seeds (although such upsets are bound to happen). So we go with the adjusted efficiency darling, Ohio State, which despite its No. 10 seed is in the top 20 or so of all the scoring margin-based systems. The Buckeyes are a curious team -- capable of dominating solid to mediocre teams, but seemingly incapable of beating anyone good, especially away from home. They are a pathetic 1-9 in Tournament Quality Games, and that one win was... at Minnesota in overtime (the home wins against Purdue and Maryland don't quite qualify.)
The opening-round game against VCU certainly does qualify as a Tournament Quality Game, so it is tempting take VCU. But I am going to play the percentages here -- the Buckeyes are actually 3.5-point favorites in Vegas, so this is a good opportunity to pick up a point in your bracket. Also, VCU has struggled on defense since losing its star player (Briante Weber) to an ACL injury and hasn't done much in the tournament since its miracle run to the Final Four in 2011.
Finally, Ohio State has an All-American in D'Angelo Russell. The NCAA tournament tends to be a showcase for guards like him. Just don't get carried away, and don't go with Big Ten pride, in that potential OSU–Arizona matchup.
The Sleeper: BYU / Ole Miss
Ed. note: This was written after Ole Miss defeated BYU on Tuesday. Hence the strikethrough.
OK, so I didn't have the guts to go with BYU as the upset special, that means they fall into the sleeper category. BYU is a pretty decent team. As evidenced by their incredible win at Gonzaga, they can play with the big boys. As usual, they play an up-and-down style and shoot the three well. They've got a very good offense and a mediocre defense. They're fun. They might make a run.
Or they might lose tonight to Ole Miss, which isn't a bad team either. I like to take a flyer on one of the play-in teams to make a run, like VCU in 2011 and Tennessee last year, because it's kind of a 2-for-1.
Second round: Wisconsin, Arizona, Baylor, North Carolina, Arkansas,
BYU/Miss, Ohio State, Oklahoma State
Sweet 16: Wisconsin, Arizona, North Carolina, BYU/Miss.
Elite Eight: Wisconsin, Arizona
Final Four: Aw, screw it -- BADGERS