College Sports

Dave Boling: My NCAA Tournament prediction? I will be clueless

Will Gonzaga beat Seton Hall in the NCAA Tournament? ESPN says it’s likely.
Will Gonzaga beat Seton Hall in the NCAA Tournament? ESPN says it’s likely. The Associated Press

Confession: I stopped filling out brackets in the office NCAA Tournament pool long ago when a secretary in the classified ad department did better than I did picking teams based on her affinity for their nicknames.

Silly me, I studied their records and seeding.

It’s easy to say every year that it will be a wildly unpredictable tournament because it so often is, and that’s what makes this first weekend, particularly, so captivating.

But this tournament could take another step in the evolution toward a totally open competition this week.

That makes it tough on predictors, but great for college basketball.

This year, the four top-seeded teams have a combined 23 losses, the most ever. Which means that every team is vulnerable in just about every game.

Kansas comes in as a No. 1 but lost this year to Oklahoma State, which finished 12-20. North Carolina lost to Northern Iowa, which finished fifth in the Missouri Valley, but won its conference tournament and now gets to take on No. 6 seed Texas.

Oregon, another top seed, lost to 15-15 Stanford. The Ducks also split with Oregon State, a team that lost six times in an eight-game stretch but still finished 19-12 and earned a No. 7 seed into its first NCAA Tournament since 1990.

A No. 15 seed has upset a No. 2 in three of the past four tournaments, and 12s now regularly top 5s.

And in the last three tournaments, four teams seeded 7 through 9 have advanced to the Final Four; in 2011, VCU made it as an 11th seed and lost in the national semifinals.

I’m not going to pretend to tell you I know how to pick which ones will pull off the upsets this year. You’ll have to ask the lady in classifieds for that.

But I can speculate on how it got like this.

The one-and-done talents that end up at Blue Blood programs on their way to the NBA have flattened out some of the best teams when it comes to tournament time.

The teams fueled by immensely talented young individuals won’t have the experience. And teams that understand their defensive concepts sometimes can shut down an offense geared toward getting the ball to one or two star players.

In those cases, sometimes, experience can trump talent when the games get so highly pressurized.

We don’t need to look far for an interesting case study.

It’s considered unlikely that Gonzaga would have made it into the tournament without winning the West Coast Conference tournament title. It would have ended the streak of consecutive berths after 17 straight.

But the Zags avoided an at-large snub by defeating Saint Mary’s and receiving a No. 11 seed — their lowest seed since 2011.

In the early days of their run to prominence, the Zags reached the Elite 8 and two Sweet 16s as double-digit seeds. But the last time for that was 2001.

So they’re sent out today against Seton Hall, fresh off victories over No. 5-ranked Xavier and No. 3-ranked Villanova that gave the Pirates the Big East Tournament title.

No chance for unranked Gonzaga, right?

Get this: Las Vegas has the Zags favored by one point.

There’s another indicator that even more strongly favors Gonzaga. ESPN has constructed an analytic device called the Basketball Power Index (BPI), which measures a number of factors.

The BPI claims that the Zags have a 71-percent chance to beat Seton Hall and a 33-percent chance of getting all the way to the Sweet 16.

I’m going to have to check on the details, but I’m assuming none of those calculations factor in the team’s nickname.