It’s March Madness time, and that means it’s time to fill out your bracket. Since I am the stats nerd around here, I like to analyze every matchup by looking at statistics. I take net rating, all of the field goal percentages, strength of schedule, and some other stats to come up with who I think will win. I’ve done a decent job the past couple of years, typically finishing around the top five every year. This year’s bracket was tough. While there are some strong teams, no one blew me away this year. I’ll go quickly through how I got to my Final Four and ultimate winner, Gonzaga.
Memphis over Purdue (Second Round)- Hear me out … Memphis has just about the same strength of schedule as Purdue, yet scores more and is more efficient. Purdue has struggled this year with the three-pointer, shooting 32.6% from downtown, which is good for 268th in the country.
UConn over Kansas (Sweet 16) – UConn’s season was a rollercoaster starting 14-0 while smacking around now #1 seed Alabama. Then, they followed that up with a 2-6 stretch but ultimately finished 25-8. While many have Kanas winning the whole tournament, UConn has size on them, something that Kansas has had trouble with all year.
Arizona over Alabama (Elite 8) – While I’m a big stats guy, you have to remember the human aspect of the game. Simply put, there are many off-court issues with the Alabama team, and I can see that distraction knocking Alabama’s focus off whack. Also worth noting, Arizona is one of the best shooting teams in the country, shooting an impressive 49.6% from the field, good for 3rd in the country.
Michigan State over Duke (Elite 8) – This one was an easy pick for me. Michigan State can shoot the heck out of the three ball. They’re second in the country in three-point percentage at 39.5% as a team. It wasn’t like they were going against chumps all year, either, with a 19th-rated strength of schedule.
Now down to my Final Four. I have Arizona over Michigan State and Gonzaga beating Xavier. As you can tell, I knocked out all of the number one seeds, and it wasn’t on purpose. This has happened twice since the tournament’s inception and not long ago. The first was in 2006, with the Flordia Gators led by Joakim Noah and Al Horford, and the second was in 2011 when Kemba Walker led UConn to the championship over Butler. Here’s why I picked Gonzaga.
As some of you may remember, back in 2022, I picked the Gonzaga Bulldogs to win. While the team is different this year, I genuinely believe the Zags are destined for greatness. Despite having a few early losses, they continued to work hard and improve their game. They faced some tough competition, including Saint Mary’s, who actually won the regular season championship. However, the Bulldogs didn’t give up and ultimately defeated Saint Mary’s in the WCC tournament final on March 7th, 77-51. They’ve been on a roll ever since, winning nine games in a row and earning the No. 3 seed in the West region of the tournament.
When you look at this year’s Gonzaga squad, they may seem familiar. They’ve got that same potent offense that we’ve come to know and love, running like a well-oiled machine on the court. And sure, they may be playing at a slightly slower tempo than in years past, but make no mistake – they’re still a force to be reckoned with. Led by center Drew Timme, who’s been averaging between 18 and 21 points per game for the past three years, this team knows how to score. And in case you’re wondering, Timme just became the all-time leading scorer for a program that’s had some great scorers over the years.
Gonzaga may not be a three-point shooting team, but when they decide to take a shot from beyond the arc, they make it count. With a team shooting percentage of 38.4%, they know how to make it rain. And with guys like Julian Strawther and a trio of guards (Rasir Bolton, Malachi Smith, and Nolan Hickman) doing most of the damage, they’re a tough team to defend against.
They’ve got Timme giving coach Mark Few the goods for a full four years, and their rotation is all about that sweet, sweet continuity. I mean, the only regular player who wasn’t on the squad last year is Smith, and he came from Chattanooga after leading the Mocs to a tourney bid. That’s the kind of plug-and-play attitude that Few’s systems are about. Whether they’re bringing in freshman megastars like Holmgren and Suggs (who both went on to become NBA lottery picks), or transfers from all over, the Zags have always found a way to make it work.
But this year’s team is different. They’re used to playing with each other and are damn good at it. No wonder they’re back to the top spot in adjusted offensive efficiency, a position they held for three straight years before dropping down to number three out of 358 teams last season. It’s like they never skipped a beat. These Zags are for real, and I look for them to winning it all in March!