The On Deck Circle

The unofficial home of Real Talk

Point, Counter-Point: Wilkinson v. Murphy

Posted by Blake Murphy on March 19, 2021

This is normally Pennycook v. Wilkinson, I know. You’re right. It’s strange. It’s awkward. It feels a little uncomfortable. But it’s all of those things in a ‘I’m drunk and willing to try this once’ way. It’s Wilkinson v. Murphy this time around, because Alex is busy preparing for his Podcast appearance this week (and intramural curling championships). I’d like to point out that I’m far more intelligent, knowledgeable, and good looking than Alex, so I should suffice as a one-time substitute. In the words of Barry White, let’s get it on.

Which first round match-up is most likely to produce a huge upset?
Stu: San Diego over Connecticut, book it. San Diego beat some quality teams in the WCC Tournament, and they’re coached by a former Gonzaga assistant. If that’s not a recipe for a first round upset, I don’t know what is. They’re good on defense, have a couple quality offensive players, and are too young to know that they shouldn’t be in the same gym as UConn. The Huskies, on the other hand, have a slew of good players and a giant named Hasheem Thabeet, a better shot-blocker than his Big East counterpart Roy Hibbert but a less talented offensive player. Plus they’re coming off a loss to West Virginia, a team I still think is absolutely no good.

Blake: I don’t like very many upsets in the first round. If you consider 10 over 7 an upset, then Davidson over Gonzaga is as sure a bet as they come. Gonzaga doesn’t have anyone who can stop Stephen Curry and the Bulldogs are heading into the tournament with the added pressure of coach Mark Few having been featured in the highly acclaimed Gary Roberts Wednesdays column recently. If you’re going to make me go 11-over-6 or better, then I’ll take Western Kentucky over Drake, though I’ll qualify that by saying I picked no first round upsets greater than 10-7.

What’s the strongest region?
Blake: I’d like to say the East region, but instead of looking at overall quality I’m judging ‘strongest’ by ‘most wide open’ and using that criteria I’m giving it to the Midwest. From #1 Kansas right down to #7 Gonzaga, every team has a legitimate shot at a run because this region has a lot of teams heading into the tournament hot. Even USC is dangerous as a 6-seed, Georgetown is strong, and Wisconsin is the strongest and hottest 3-seed in the tourney.

Stu: That honor goes to the East region. North Carolina is the best team in the tournament, so that gets the East some points right there. Seeds two through five all boast impressive resumes, with Louisville and Tennessee both being incredibly scary teams for anyone to face late in the Tournament. The region also boasts spoiler candidates like Indiana, Winthrop, Oklahoma, South Alabama, and the very accurately seeded Butler Bulldogs. Obviously every region has some quality at the top, but I think the East matches that quality and then some. Nobody would want to play any of those top five seeds. Nobody.

Whose seed is the most questionable?
Stu: Indiana got hosed! People have ragged on the Big Ten for this whole year, but the bottom line is that it produced four teams worthy of making the Sweet Sixteen. Indiana’s record against those teams (Purdue, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and the Hoosiers, if you’re keeping score at home)? A respectable 3-3. Ken Pomeroy ranks this team in his top twenty, and they got the same seed as the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, who clock in at 53rd? Insanity! On the plus side, an embarrassing second round performance against UNC might keep Eric Gordon in college for one more year.

Blake: Coppin State should not have been in the play-in game. I had them as the top 16-seed on the board, not one of the worst. And Indiana hosed? My highly respected inside source (Trevor Smith went to the Big-10 tournament this past weekend) claims Indiana won’t even get past Arkansas. I agree an 8-seed is low for them, but I was shocked that Butler was just a 7-seed, that’s my biggest hosing for sure. They lost just once in their past 14, were ranked #10 on the final polls, and are a much better team than the 5- and 6-seeds in their own bracket (Notre Dame and Oklahoma). That said, South Alabama may beat them in the first round.

Which match-up is a lock to produce the inevitable 5-12 upset?
Blake: I hate this myth. I’m too lazy to look back at historical stats, but I’m willing to bet the 12-5 upset isn’t even that historically prominent. A big reason this is overrated is because most 13-16 seeds are bunk automatic bids who don’t belong in the NIT. What this means is that only 12-seeds and above have a legitimate chance at winning games, so a 12-5 upset is simply the biggest upset that could realistically go down. I don’t see the overall trend as having any bigger impact than perhaps swaying the Committee to self-fulfill it by making 5-seeds weak (see: Drake). Regardless, no 12-5 upsets this year.

Stu: None of them. Write it down, there won’t be a 5-12 upset this year. The five seeds – Notre Dame, Clemson, Michigan State, and my Drake Bulldogs – are all too solid to fall to this year’s weak crop of twelve seeds. Maybe Scottie Reynolds shoots Villanova to the second round at Clemson’s expense, but I can’t see it. The Tigers are rock solid on the inside and boast one of the country’s best three-point defenses. Also, what’s this George Mason team doing in the 5-12 match-up with Notre Dame? Are they named after a guy from “24?”

Which one of the top seeds will lose first?
Stu: I have UCLA going out in the second round to Texas A&M, a talented but inconsistent team out of the Big XII. The Aggies have a solid frontcourt, some three point shooters, and a legitimate lottery pick in pivot DeAndre Jordan. They’ve proved that they can play with the best teams in the nation with wins over Texas and…well, that’s it. Anyway, UCLA is an incredibly good team, but I think their recent propensity to let inferior teams hang around will finally cost them in the Tournament.

Blake: I really hope you’re joking, Stu. UCLA is taking it all, for the record. I’m weary of Memphis because of their poor free throw shooting, even though Coach Cal claimed on PTI it won’t matter if they’re blowing teams out (great quote from Kyle Norton: “I want Coach Cal to coach my life”). My initial bracket had four #1s making it to the Final Four (I later changed it), so I clearly think highly of all of them. However, I’ve got to knock Memphis for the free throw shooting and because they have a tough path with a red-hot Pitt team and then either Texas or Stanford. They won’t be able to blow those teams out so their free throw deficiencies will come into play.

What was the biggest snub by the selection committee?
Blake: Ball State, Morehead State, Rider, and IUPUI are snubs because of their porno names. Stephen F. Austin is a snub on the grounds it ruined a ton of Stone Cold University jokes. In reality, though, VCU did get screwed a bit. Not sure who I’d eliminate to make room but they belonged in there. According to NIT seeds, Ohio State was the biggest snub, but they got Terrelle Pryor today so screw ‘em.

Stu: I’d love to say my boys from Virginia Commonwealth got a royal screwjob, but that would be completely false. I didn’t think any of the bubble teams had outstanding resumes – whenever Miami’s getting an at-large bid you know there aren’t a lot of quality candidates – but I would have liked to see Illinois State get a bid. One team is not enough from the seventh best conference in the land. Three from the WCC and one from the MVC? Come on!

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