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After all of the references this season—from Norman Dale to Ndamukong Suh, from the Republic of Malta to the Revolutionary War, from Terrell Owens to Orville Redenbacher—we’ve reached the end.
In November, we started with 345 Division I basketball teams, and by the end of Monday night, there will be one left holding the only major sports trophy yet to receive the memo about the value of precious metals over a fine wood grain. And it’s our job to tell you which team should stock up on the Minwax.
(4) Louisville vs. (1) Kentucky
The fourth-seeded Cardinals rolled into the Big Dance as Big East Tournament champions, came out on the happy side of three single-digit victories and a loincloth-rattling upset of Michigan State, and listened as senior guard Chris Smith made his hopes for the national semifinals quite evident:
“We want to play Kentucky for revenge,” Smith said, referring to a 69-62 loss Dec. 31. “And they have, what, six or seven pros on their team? If you want to be a pro, you’ve got to beat a pro. Everybody cares, but they’re not going to say it. I’m a senior, and I’m going to say it. If I eat my words, I eat my words, but at the end of the day I want to play Kentucky.”
Well, Smith should rustle up some silverware because according to our projections, the top-seeded Wildcats are going to push aside their intrastate rivals for the second time this season. To put it simply, Kentucky’s offense is a nitroglycerine-powered nuclear steamroller being driven by the Hulk on the tail end of a steroid cycle.
Of the four remaining teams, the Wildcats top all four offensive categories that factor into the MCBR, while the Cardinals trail the rest of the surviving quartet in three of the four. If the underdogs are going to find their way into the title game, it’s going to take a defensive effort as massive as that convoluted steamroller metaphor from a few sentences back.
Louisville forces more turnovers than any of the other semifinalists, and its defensive effective field goal percentage is the third-best in the entire country. The bad news is the top-ranked team in the latter category is Kentucky. To go ahead and put the obvious out there, we’re giving the favorites an 86.11% chance of reaching the championship game and a 57.27% chance of winning the whole thing.
Probabilites of Winning the Championship
(2) Ohio State vs. (2) Kansas
Comparing the last two games of the season to movie endings, if the first one is any Katherine Heigl movie (you would need to be a glue-sniffing MTV viewer who whanged their head on the way into the theater to not see it coming), this one is “The Sixth Sense” (not entirely expected, but after it’s over, you think about it and realize it was kind of obvious).
The reason this one appears to be a toss-up at first blush is the similarities between the two teams. Observe:
Of course, our interests—and abilities—go well beyond statistics as prosaic as points and rebounds per game. And by our count, Kansas has a slight edge in effective field goal percentage on the offensive and defensive ends.
But Ohio State takes care of the ball better, forces more turnovers and controls the boards more effectively. That’s why we’ve pegged the Buckeyes with a 59.83% chance of getting past the semis and the best odds of winning the championship outside of Kentucky at 25.58%.
But, like a Katherine Heigl movie, even if you think you know how things are going to turn out, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching for a couple minutes—on television for free of course—to see if it grabs you. Just don’t expect a big dance number out of Jim Nantz and Clark Kellogg.