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The Great NCAA Tournament Challenge


E and The Insider go head to head


By Adam Hoff


For the last few years, Iíve been posting my tournament picks here on the site, but the problem is that by the time the games are played, people often forget to go back and note my 100% accuracy.  Okay, that is an egregious lie, but the fact remains that it is always more fun to have an audience.  And a competition.  That is why WIS legend Elliot Schwartz and I have decided to post our respective picks and have a little showdown.  At stake?  The famous brats from his home state of Wisconsin against some Ditka-esque polish sausage from my current home of Chicago.  Five pounds of saturated fat is on the line in this one.  Whatever you do though, do not call this a sausage fest. 


Below you will find a listing of all of our picks, complete with my commentary (usually a snide remark about Eís intelligence).  For Elliotís own words, be sure to check out the accompanying column where he explains his picks and offers thoughts on the field. 


Also note that we are employing a unique scoring system that rewards risky picks by incorporating the seeding of the teams.  It looks like this:


First Round Ė 1 point x Seed #

Second Round Ė 2 points x Seed #

Sweet Sixteen Round Ė 4 points x Seed #

Elite Eight Round Ė 8 points x Seed #

Final Four Round Ė 15 points x Seed #

Final Game - 25 points x Seed #


Picking UConn to win it all, if correct, would result in 25 points (25 points x 1 point for UConnís seed) for the final game, whereas picking Winthrop to win in the second round, if correct, would actually be worth more (30 points, at 2 points x 15 points for Winthropís seed).  This is probably the most extreme scoring system you can have to reward upset picks early, which should work out well, since the opening weekend is the best part of the tournament. 


Letís get going.  Please cue the music that Kramer listens to while making sausages in Jerryís apartment.  I think that will set the mood.


Atlanta Region.  The interesting thing about this little competition is that neither of us discussed these picks.  I made mine last night and E sent his over this morning.  We had plans to ensure variety by approaching this ďPTIĒ style, with me playing the role of Wilbon and making crazy picks (Wilbon is like 0-for-his-last-14 predictions on air, by the way) while Elliot went more with chalk picks.  Ultimately, we just decided to roll with it and see what happens.  This is one bracket where we both made the same bold upset pick, but otherwise couldnít have been further apart.  Check it out. 


(Weíll start with the second round, since you can infer from the teams involved who we picked to win first round games.)


Second round picks:




Duke over UNC-Wilmington

Duke over George Washington

LSU over Texas A&M

LSU over Syracuse

Iowa over West Virginia

West Virginia over Iowa

Texas over NC State

Texas over California


Comments: Even though we have three of the same teams going to the Sweet 16, there is plenty of room for difference in the early going.  In fact, the only matchup that features even the same teams is Iowa-West Virginia, and there we have different winners. 


Sweet 16 and Elite Eight picks:




LSU over Duke

LSU over Duke

Iowa over Texas

Texas over West Virginia

Regional Final

Regional Final

LSU over Iowa

Texas over LSU


Comments: As you can see, we both like LSUís chances to topple Duke on the strength of that bruising front line.  Elliot likes the Tigers chances to do even more than that, taking them out to the Final Four.  Obviously, Texas will play a big role here, as I have them winning two more games than E and going to Indy.  To see how this would work, excluding all other factors in this region, if E correctly tabs LSU to reach the Final Four, he will get 32 points (8 points for the Elite Eight game, multiplied by 4, which is LSUís seed) just for that game.  Whereas if Texas were to beat LSU, that would give me 24 points (8 for the Sweet 16 win and 16 for the Elite Eight victory).  You can see how there will be enormous swings based on key games. 


Oakland Region.  You couldnít get more varied picks here, it just isnít possible.  Maybe if both people drew them out of a hat, but probably not even then.


Second Round:



Memphis over Bucknell

Memphis over Arkansas

Pittsburgh over Kansas

Kansas over Pittsburgh

Gonzaga over San Diego State

Indiana over Gonzaga

UCLA over Marquette

Marquette over UCLA


Comments: Wow.  Other than Memphis (who is about to suffer very different fates in future rounds), we donít have anything even close.  Exact opposite picks on the potential Kansas-Pitt and UCLA-Marquette showdowns and Iíve got Indiana going out to the Sweet 16, while E doesnít even have them holding off the Aztecs in round one.  Good stuff here.  Again, you can get insight into all of Elliotís picks by going to the accompanying column.  I personally donít think Gonzaga has a good enough defense or enough balance to get by the Hoosiers, who are playing loose and passionately in the wake of Mike Davisí decision to resign.  As for Marquette beating UCLA, I just think that the Big East was so much better than the Pac-10 that I could see this happening.  Iím going for the big payday by picking an underdog here. 


Sweet 16 and Regional Final:




Pitt over Memphis

Memphis over Kansas

UCLA over Gonzaga

Indiana over Marquette

Regional Final

Regional Final

UCLA over Pitt

Memphis over Indiana


Comments: Obviously, what happens to UCLA will greatly impact this part of the bracket.  I am riding Memphis to the Final Four because I love their athleticism and I think Darius Washington will be the difference as a Mateen Cleaves type of lightening rod at point guard.  As for Indiana making it to the Elite Eight, I guess I have visions of the 1989 Michigan Wolverines winning it all with an interim coach.  I think college players respond really well to this kind of adversity when they bond together, which is what seems to happening with the Hoosiers.  As for Eís picks, I really like the possibility of his UCLA-Pitt regional final because of the coaching implications.  Ben Howland taking on his old team and protťgť in Jamie Dixon.  Could be epic.  This will be a very fun region to keep an eye on, and frankly, I donít like my chances of outgaining Elliot here.  Oh well. 


Washington Region.  Might as well just call this one the ďUConn Region.Ē  Even the most adventurous bracketeers are going to have a hard time picking anyone else to emerge from this quadrant.  Tennessee is playing awful basketball and is undersized (worst two seed since Iowa State in 2001?), North Carolina is probably too young to win four straight games and beat the Huskies, and both Illinois and UW seem too flawed (one canít score, the other is too small).  Unless Michigan State can finally put the pieces together as the six seed, there doesnít seem to be a single team that can beat UConn.  In fact, the only hope might lie with UAB in a potential second round matchup.  With their guards and ball pressure, they might be able to harass UConn the way Villanova did a few weeks back.  And if it sounds like Iím rooting for UConn to lose, well, I am.  This has the chance to be the most wide open field of all time and only one goliath, UConn, stands to ruin it by just relentlessly marching to the title.  We need the Huskies to go down in order for the tourney to reach its full ďMadnessĒ potential.  Anyway, here are the picks.


Second Round:




UConn over Kentucky

UConn over UAB

Washington over Illinois

Illinois over Utah State

North Carolina over Michigan State

Michigan State over UNC

Seton Hall over Winthrop

Wichita State over Winthrop


Comments: I find it hilarious that we both picked Winthrop to beat Tennessee.  And why not?  The Volunteers have no basketball tradition, they are undersized, and they have been horrible down the stretch.  Even though Bruce Pearl has been on the other side of upsets and will have his team motivated, they are going to have a tough time with Winthrop.  The Wichita State-Seton Hall game will be an interesting one to watch, because we both take the winner to advance another round, we just have different teams doing it.  The key game here is probably UNC-Michigan State.  I like the Spartans to find their way like they did last year and put together a nice run for the tournament.  In 2003 and 2005, MSU came into the tourney as a lackluster team seeded fifth or worse and they reached the Elite Eight and Final Four, respectively.  (Of course, in 2004, they were a seven seed and lost to Nevada in the first round, so I canít get too carried away.)


Sweet 16 and Elite Eight:




UConn over Washington

UConn over Illinois

North Carolina over Seton Hall

Michigan State over Wichita State

Regional Final

Regional Final

UConn over North Carolina

UConn over Michigan State


Comments: The UNC-Michigan State game continues to loom large in this region where points are concerned, but for the first time, we both have the same team going to the Final Four. 


Minneapolis Region.  To me, this is the best region in the tournament.  Villanova is a fun top seed that is trying to revolutionize the game by constantly playing four guards (albeit out of necessity), Ohio State is a tough team on the two line, Florida is extremely dangerous, and Boston College is just a vicious four seed.  In fact, this is the only region, in my opinion, in which any one of the four seeds could reach the Final Four and I wouldnít be surprised.  They all feel like Final Four caliber teams.  And that doesnít even factor in the upset specialist UW-Milwaukee (new coach, same players) or the looming Georgetown Hoyas as the seven seed.  I know most people feel that Dukeís Atlanta region is the toughest bracket and I can accept that, but my vote is for this group.  Onto the picks.


Second Round:




Villanova over Arizona

Villanova over Wisconsin

Boston College over Nevada

Boston College over Nevada

Florida over UW-Milwaukee

Florida over UW-Milwaukee

Ohio State over Georgetown

Georgetown over Ohio State


Comments: We were really on the same page here.  I rolled the dice with Georgetown over Ohio State because I think the Hoyas size can make it tough for Dials inside and keep Sullinger from slashing to the basket, but that could go either way.  The only other difference was in the Wisconsin-Arizona game.


Sweet 16 and Elite Eight:




Boston College over Villanova

Boston College over Villanova

Florida over Ohio State

Florida over Georgetown

Regional Final

Regional Final

Florida over Boston College

Boston College over Florida


Comments: We finally get some separation in the regional final.  A potential Florida-Boston College game could have a lot of sausage riding on it! Personally, I think the Eagles are the best team in this region, but they have a tough road with all these quality teams. 


Final Four.  Normally, this is where brackets are made, but under our format, the early rounds might be more valuable.  Either way, there should be plenty of intrigue considering that we share only UConn as a Final Four team. 


Final Four and Championship:




Memphis over Texas

UConn over Florida

UConn over Boston College

Title Game

Title Game

UConn over UCLA

UConn over Memphis


Comments: I hate to pick the same champion, but I had to do it for a few reasons.  First, UConn is by far the best team in the field.  Second, I need to hedge my interest in the tourney.  I really, really want UConn to lose and see this thing turn into a free-for-all.  However, if they donít get beat and instead just roll to a title, I at least want to be right.  That way, I win either way. 


If you are the type that likes to take note of the seeds, Elliot has nice symmetry with a 1, 2, 3, and 4, while I go 1, 1, 2, 4.  The rule of thumb is that you should never see your four teams add up to less than 7 or more than 15.  E comes in at 10 and Iím sitting on 8, so we both seem okay there.  All that is left is to play the games and see what happens.


Keep a close eye on the first edition of The Great Tournament Challenge.  Someone is going to be getting a lot of processed meat when the dust settles.


Adam Hoff is a columnist for the Webby-winning WhatifSports.com.  He can be reached at wis.insider@gmail.com.  Be sure to follow all the tournament action on the Insider Blog.

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