If I’ve learned one thing this weekend, it’s hard to pick against coaches with a track record of recent success in the NCAA Tournament.
Example A: Tom Izzo
According to kenpom.com, Virginia is/was the fifth-best team in the country and boasted the second-best adjusted defensive efficiency in the country. This is the same team that went 30-3 in the regular season and won the ACC regular-season title. That is a REALLY good team.
But facing the Wahoos was Michigan State, a team probably with lesser talent but extremely well coached. Stop me if you’ve heard this story before. I think everyone can agree Tom Izzo is a great tournament coach. He consistently gets the most out of his teams and has to be a nightmare to coach against in the postseason (unless you’re Roy Williams). Izzo’s team has made the tournament every year since 1997 and has now reached the Sweet 16 four years in a row.
These Spartans don’t have a Mateen Cleaves on the roster, and they may have had an 11-loss season, but they’re still not bad. KenPom ranks MSU 15th as it is, so it’s not like some huge upset.
Michigan State put on a really impressive performance Sunday. The star of the morning was clearly senior guard Travis Trice, who finished with 23 points. He hit four big threes to keep extending the lead every time Virginia got close. Most importantly, he went 5-6 from the line, a bastion of success on a team that shot 61 percent from the charity stripe.
I picked against Tom Izzo in my bracket. I should’ve known better.
Example B: Gregg Marshall
Wichita State had to scratch and claw its way to a win over Indiana but may have found an easier game against two-seed Kansas. Maybe there was an extra pep in their step trying to beat big bad Kansas, the flagship of the state.
This Shockers team has many of the familiar names that made it to the Final Four two years ago and posted a 35-1 record last year. I’m talking about Fred VanVleet, the steady point guard; Ron Baker, the sharpshooting two guard; and Tekele Cotton, another tough guard.
To beat Kansas, the Shockers used an incredibly balanced attack. Cotton led the team with 19 points, VanVleet had 17 and Baker had 12. The other two starters also had double-digit points. Freshman Zach Brown came off the bench to hit two big threes.
Meanwhile, Kansas couldn’t get its role players going. Perry Ellis got his, as did Frank Mason, but Wayne Selden and Brannen Green combined for a whopping zero points.
After Wichita State started to take over later in the first half, it never relinquished that control. It kept attacking the rim and pressuring the Jayhawks on defense. Let’s give some credit to Gregg Marshall, who has the Shockers in the tournament for the fourth year in a row. He seems like a thorny guy, but he’s a darn good coach.
When I looked at the bracket, I believed in Wichita State. Marshall has shown he prepares his teams well, and they have three dynamite guards. The moral of the story: When it comes to March Madness, no one can totally predict what will happen. Shaka Smart couldn’t get past his first game, but I don’t know many people who would say he’s a bad coach. Past tournaments can be a helpful tool though, so in the future when I’m making my picks, I’ll give an extra look at the well-coached teams.