2020 March Madness Simulation Starts Final Four on Saturday

After 8 days of simulation, we reached the conclusion of our Elite Eight, and starting Saturday evening, we will play out our Final Four, with the national championship on Monday night. How did we get here? And who is going home with the title? Let’s find out. 

South Region – 3. Duke

Duke’s road to the Final Four was made possible by a series of upsets in the top half of the bracket that took out many of their top challengers. Between #1 overall seed Kansas, 2019 Final Four member Auburn, and a strong Maryland squad, it didn’t appear to be a favorable road for Duke. However, courtesy of 13th-seeded Vermont and 9th-seeded Wichita State, all three of those teams were gone by the Sweet 16 making Duke the favorite. 

The Blue Devils had no issues in their opener, opening up a 14-point lead on Northern Kentucky and never saw that lead dip below twelve in the final twenty minutes, winning 76-54. Their Round of 32 battle was much more challenging, as Ohio State looked primed to pull off the upset. The #6 Buckeyes led by 10 with five minute to go, but a late Duke charge forced overtime, where the Blue Devils took over, holding Ohio State to four overtime points and winning 107-102. 

In the Sweet 16, Duke was matched up against second-seeded San Diego State. The Aztecs were the higher seed, but the Blue Devils were the betting favorite, and they showed why, opening up a nine point lead at halftime and gradually squeezing out their mid-major opponent. San Diego State came within three at one point, but Duke stayed ahead and pulled away, winning 83-72. 

The Elite Eight rolled around and Duke got a very unexpected opponent in 13. Vermont. The Catamounts came brutally close to an upset last year of Florida State, and this year, helped along by Wichita’s upset of Kansas, they had rampaged through the top half of the bracket. They did the same to Duke in the early going, leading 50-37 at halftime and 62-50 with 12 minutes to play. The Blue Devils’ offense picked up, cutting the deficit to six with 8 minutes to play, and then five with four to go. With 2:54 to go, Trae Jones hit the first of his clutch shots, draining a triple to tie the score at 76-76. At 80-80, Duke got the ball with 33 seconds to go and the shot clock off. The Blue Devils let the clock drain before getting the ball to Jones who knocked down the game winner with a buttery step-back jumper. It wasn’t over, as Vermont connected on a full court pass and was fouled on the layup, but they hit just one of two free throws, and Duke survived 82-81 to advance to the Final Four. 

West Region – 1. Kentucky

Kentucky looked nothing like a Final Four team for much of their tournament, as they have truly embodied the ‘survive and advance’ method. Even in the first round, against #16 Siena, the Wildcats only opened up a 6-point halftime advantage, and Siena was as close as four in the second half before Kentucky pulled away to win 87-70. In the Round of 32, the Wildcats looked dead in the water, down twelve to Arizona at half and being outplayed for much of the game. But Arizona never pulled away, and Kentucky pulled back to force overtime, and then Immanuel Quickley hit a runner at the buzzer and Kentucky advanced, 86-85. 

Kentucky got what should have been a welcome gift in the Sweet 16, getting to face #12 Eastern Tennessee State instead of defending national champion Virginia or powerhouse Villanova. However, the game was anything but easy for the Wildcats, who tussled back and forth before hitting another buzzer-beater, this one courtesy of Tyrese Maxes, in a 78-76 win. Their Elite Eight contest was actually probably Kentucky’s best game, or at least their best half, as after trailing Seton Hall by three at half, the Wildcats stormed back to take a 12-point lead. After the Pirates cut it to six, Kentucky held Myles Powell’s squad to just one layup in the final four minutes, winning 80-71 to earn a match-up with Duke in the Final Four.

East Region – 1. Dayton

Dayton had to deal with a lot of pressure as a first time one-seed and our #2 overall seed, but the Flyers handled it admirably, cruising through most of their opening weekend. Obi Toppin was held somewhat quiet by #16 NC Central in the first round, but it was all they could do to silence the AP Player of the Year, and virtually everyone else was open for Dayton, who cruised 77-55. In the Round of 32, Toppin scored 24, and Dayton led wire-to-wire and ended the surprising run of #9 Notre Dame, who made the tournament by virtue of a Cinderella run through the ACC Tournament.

 Dayton trailed for the first time in the Sweet 16, down by two at halftime to a massive underdog in #12 New Mexico State. Both offenses exploded in a thrilling second half, but Dayton couldn’t surge ahead, and the game went to overtime at 80-80. There, however, the Flyers claimed ten of the first eleven points in the period to seize control and take down the Aggies, 93-86. 

The Flyers played a somewhat strange Elite 8 contest against Florida State. They got off to a hot start and led throughout the first half, but the Seminoles narrowed the gap to five points at the break. With 12 to go, Dayton hadn’t surrendered the lead, still up two points. At the Under-4 timeout, Dayton still led by four, and at no point had Florida State so much as tied the game. But at the same time, Dayton didn’t lead by more than five points throughout the half. In the final minutes, the Seminoles came within one point several times, and a game-tying three rimmed out. Trey Landers had 21 and Dayton won an 88-85 game in which they never trailed and never led by more than two possessions in the final 35 minutes. 

Midwest Region – 3. Oregon

After a dicey first game, it’s been largely smooth sailing for Oregon, who did also benefit from the 1-seed in their region falling before the Elite Eight. The Ducks trailed at halftime in the first round to Eastern Washington, but they crawled back to take a small lead, icing the game when Pritchard executed a silky crossover and drilled a jumper for an 86-82 lead with 7 seconds left and the shot clock about to expire. Oregon advanced and got to face #11 Clemson in the Round of 32, but the Tigers never challenged the Ducks, who cruised 78-63, heading into the Sweet 16 with very little second-round drama. 

Against a strong Baylor team whose late-season slide cost them a #1 seed, the Ducks got an early advantage and then clung to a one-point lead at the break. Oregon got up by as many as eleven in the second half, before watching Baylor pull within 69-66 with 1:48 to play. The Bears didn’t score again, and the Ducks went 6-8 at the free throw line to close it out, advancing to the Elite Eight, 75-66. 

Against #4 Louisville, who upset #1 Gonzaga in the Sweet 16, Oregon got off to a horrific start, trailing 25-12 just twelve minutes into the game. However, the Ducks rebounded and ended the half on a 23-12 run to make it a 37-35 halftime deficit. They started the second half on an 8-0 run before the game settled into a tightly-fought battle, with Oregon leading 75-71 with four minutes to play. From there, the Ducks locked down once more, not allowing Louisville a single point in the final four minutes. They recorded two steals, forced two more turnovers, and blocked a shot while ending the game on an 8-0 run to win 83-71, forging on to the Final Four.

25% of our bracket entries still have a champion in the field, with Duke the only team that nobody picked out of the four remaining squads. Who’s bringing home the national title on Monday night?

February 28-March 1: Nathaniel Lapoint’s Weekend Takeaways

The college basketball world continues to get crazier. A streaking Creighton team lost by 20 to one of the worst Power-6 teams in the country; Michigan State went into Maryland beat the Big 10 leaders, Baylor was stunned by TCU, and that was just a few of the headlines. I can’t unpack the whole weekend in a few bullet points, but here’s three of my takeaways. 

Duke needs to figure it out

  • After beating Notre Dame by 34, the Blue Devils were 22-3, and streaking fast, heading towards a possible #1 seed. Fast forward just over two weeks later, and Duke has lost three of four, all to unranked teams on the road. They lost by 22 to NC State, a bubble team at best, to Wake Forest, one of the worst teams in the ACC, and then to Virginia. The UVA loss on its own is not horrible, but Duke has now lost three straight road games, and in their two away games prior, they barely survived BC and UNC, another pair of basement dwellers. Championship teams can win away from home, and Duke is looking more and more incapable of that by the day. 

Dayton is ridiculously good

  • They had two early losses, and the Flyers flew under the radar due to the dominance of traditional mid-major powerhouse Gonzaga and the stunning success of San Diego State. But with both of those squads losing games recently, Dayton has flown into the mix for a #1 seed, and they are most certainly a team to watch as March Madness commences. They’ve won 18 straight and are passing every potential test with flying colors. As for the ‘championship teams win on the road’? Dayton is 8-0 in true road games, and their two losses are neutral court defeats by a combined 8 points to #1 Kansas and Colorado, who has been in and out of the Top 25 this season. Beyond that? Dayton has looked almost flawless; I wouldn’t want to be facing this squad in a couple of weeks. 

Michigan State is peaking at the right time

  • Michigan State has underwhelmed for much of the year, but with their most important basketball yet to be played, the Spartans seem to have found their form at the right time. Michigan State had lost four of five, punctuated by a February 15th loss at home to Maryland. Michigan State got some of their mojo back with a 21-point road win over a hapless Nebraska squad, and then they got a big home win over Luka Garza and the #18 Iowa Hawkeyes. Then came a road date with the Terrapins, just two weeks after their tough home loss, except this time, the Spartans picked up a victory by double-digits. The Spartans are getting lots of scoring outside of star guard Cassius Winston, and they are headed in the right direction with the tournament approaching.

February 18, 2020: NCAA Basketball Power Rankings

One of the raging debates in our Power Rankings is who is better: Kansas or Baylor. Although Baylor, and their road win over Kansas, has the better resume, our ballots reflect a split on who we believe is the more talented team. Those debates could be put to rest when these two powerhouses, undoubtedly the class of the Big 12, square off for one more regular season match-up. For now, our rankings continue to reflect a lot of turmoil, as a tough week from Louisville sent them plummeting, but for the second straight week, four teams got first-place votes. Check out the biggest fallers, risers, and then the full Power Rankings below.

Biggest Risers: Dayton, Maryland

Biggest Faller: Louisville 

Joined the Rankings: Penn State, Kentucky, 

Dropped Out: West Virginia, Seton Hall

Honorable Mention

  • Villanova
  • Penn State
  • Kentucky 

#10 – Louisville Cardinals (Last Week: 4) 

  • The week before, Louisville slid from the #2 slot to #4 after a shaky home win against lowly Wake Forest. A general feeling that the Cardinals were slipping manifested itself in two ugly losses this past week, losing on the road to a bad Georgia Tech team and then being manhandled by an unranked Clemson team that is just 13-12 on the year. The enormous struggles resulted in a 6-spot slip for Louisville, who hosts Syracuse and UNC this week with a chance to regroup. 

#9 – Auburn Tigers (Last Week: 9)

  • Auburn has an amazing ability to win close games, as they demonstrated with yet another overtime victory versus Alabama this week, at the time their third extra-time win in a row. However, the clutch Tigers followed it up with a miserable showing in Missouri, dropping an 85-73 decision that drops Auburn one spot this week. They’re still in second in the ACC and have just three losses, so they stay in the rankings, but they have to watch these blowout road losses. 

#8 – Maryland Terrapins (Last Week: 10)

  • Maryland was a popular pick to be upset by Michigan State last week, but they handled the Spartans en route to their eighth straight victory, leading them to be our co-biggest riser of the week. The Terrapins are cruising, and they could see themselves rising more in the future if they survive a big road test against Ohio State this weekend. 

#7 – Dayton Flyers (Last week: 9)

  • The other biggest riser of the week, Dayton locked down two more wins last week, taking down a shaky UMass team on the road as well as dismantling Rhode Island, the second-place squad in the Atlantic 10, in a game which the Flyers led by double-digits the whole way. That, combined with a couple losses from Top-10 teams boost the Flyers to #7 in this week’s rankings. 

#6 – Florida State Seminoles (Last Week: 7)

  • FSU beat a decent Syracuse team at home, holding off a valiant comeback from the Orange to stay unbeaten on their home court. The Seminoles are pretty much out of the running for a #1 seed, but a home game versus Louisville gives them a chance to prove themselves once more. They rise up one spot this week, largely due to Louisville’s collapse. 

#5 – San Diego State Aztecs (Last Week: 6)

  • This team refuses to lose, and they tacked on two more impressive victories last week, turning a stiff challenge from New Mexico into a 23-point blowout, and visiting Boise State – a 12-1 team at home – and decimating the Broncos 72-55. They’re the standard in the Mountain West, and it’s not close. This team is for real. 

#4 – Duke Blue Devils (Last Week: 5) – 1 First Place Vote

  • After losing a home contest to Louisville, our podcast spent time discussing whether Duke was in trouble. Since then, Duke has won seven straight including a ranked win over Florida State, a rivalry comeback versus UNC, and two 30+ point victories. Duke had just one game since our last Power Rankings and they manhandled Notre Dame, a team whose last seven losses were by a combined 15 points, by a stunning 94-60 score. This team is looking a serious threat to go all the way. 

#3 – Gonzaga Bulldogs (Last Week: 3) – 1 First Place Vote

  • As per usual, Gonzaga gets a first-place vote, but they are unable to gain ground on their Power-6 counterparts atop the rankings. The Bulldogs played just one game last week and cruised past a solid Pepperdine squad on the road. It was a good victory, but Gonzaga won’t be able to truly prove their legitimacy until the NCAA Tournament. 

#2 – Baylor Bears (Last Week: 2) – 1 First Place Vote

  • The Bears, despite their 23-1 record and 22-game winning streak, stay at #2. Our ballots were split, with two putting them above Kansas, and two placing them below. They got one first-place vote, as did their Big 12 rival, and ultimately a razor-thin 1-point margin separated the squads. The gap should be more definitive after they play each other this weekend. 

#1 – Kansas Jayhawks (Last Week: 1) -1 First Place Vote

  • Once again, the Jayhawks reign supreme in the power rankings. The rankings are based off how good we think the teams are, not necessarily our resume, and, albeit by a tiny margin, our ballots reflect that Kansas is the better team. After a big road win over West Virginia and blowouts versus Oklahoma and Iowa State, the Jayhawks have a chance to back up that belief and improve on their 23-3 record when they visit Baylor this week.

February 4, 2020: NCAA Basketball Power Rankings

We are back with this week’s edition of the NCAA basketball power rankings. Auburn got a huge home win to get back into the conversation, and one other squad climbed back towards the rankings. Two teams dropped out, and while we have the same #1, there was some movement right beneath them. Check out the full rankings here!

Biggest Risers: Dayton, Louisville

Biggest Fallers: Kentucky

Dropped Out: Kentucky, West Virginia

Joined the Rankings: Auburn, Maryland

Honorable Mention

  • Seton Hall
  • Maryland
  • Auburn

The Rankings

#10 – Villanova Wildcats (Last Week: #8)

  • The Wildcats were looking like one of the biggest risers in college basketball, a few games seperated from a 76-61 beatdown of a ranked Butler squad, but then Villanova played an unranked Creighton squad and got throttled by the same score. They stay in the rankings due to how they’ve looked up until that game, but Villanova raised some serious question marks on Saturday. 

#9 – Oregon Ducks (Last Week: #9) 

  • Oregon has stayed at #9 for the past three weeks, and the Ducks had inspired a lot of confidence until their recent slip-up at Stanford. However, one road conference loss can be excused, and the Ducks still appear to be the Pac-12 team to beat. 

#8 – Dayton Flyers (Last Week: #10)

  • Dayton rises two spots after two more victories, surviving one of their toughest road games remaining against Duquesne, a 16-5 team with a previously spotless 9-0 home record. They host dangerous Saint Louis and Rhode Island squads in the next week, so they’ll need to prove themselves to keep rising in the rankings. 

#7- Duke Blue Devils (Last Week: #7)

  • Duke survived a raucous environment to triumph at Syracuse, winning their third straight game since a home loss to Louisville. They have road games versus Boston College and UNC coming up before a home date with Florida State. If they’re looking for a chance to prove they’re one of the country’s elite squads, they’ve got a few opportunities coming up. 

#6 – San Diego State Aztecs (Last Week: #6)

  • In writing about potential trap games for the Aztecs, we identified a tricky-looking road matchup versus New Mexico, who was 13-0 at home prior to the match-up. San Diego State marched into the game and dismantled the Lobos by 28 points, sending yet another notice to the country that they are for real. They survived a potential letdown by pulling away from Utah State. 

#5 – Florida State Seminoles (Last Week: #5)

  • There were mixed reviews among our ballots on how to rank the Seminoles after a close loss to Virginia and tight win over North Carolina, largely because it is difficult to tell exactly how good those teams are. Virginia is starting to round into form and North Carolina just got Cole Anthony back, yet both squads are tournament bubble teams at best. Either way, the Seminoles are still 19-3 and 2nd in the ACC, so they stay at #5 this week. 

#4 – Gonzaga Bulldogs (Last Week: #3) – 1 first place vote

  • Gonzaga deals with questions year-in and year-out about how valid their success is, as they play in the West Coast conference. They didn’t do much to quiet their doubters after needing a go-ahead three-pointer with under five seconds remaining to survive San Francisco. Without signature wins available on the remainder of their schedule, such close calls drop the Bulldogs in the rankings. 

#3 – Kansas Jayhawks (Last Week: #2) 

  • Kansas continues to win, although they’ve had to survive a few stiff challenges. The Jayhawks certainly have a few tough Big 12 games ahead, but there is no doubt they’ve circled the February 22nd rematch with the Baylor Bears. A win there could make Kansas the team to beat.

#2 – Louisville Cardinals (Last Week: #4)

  • One of our biggest risers of the week, the Cardinals continue to win convincingly, having won three straight ACC contests by at least 17 points, including two games on the road. Both BC and NC State gave them a push, but the Cardinals continue to put together full 40-minute efforts. 

#1 – Baylor Bears (Last Week: #1)

  • Baylor raised some eyebrows after escaping Oklahoma at home, but they’ve since made short work of Florida, Iowa State, and TCU, winning all three games by double-digits. They are 20-1 and on a 19-game winning streak, one game shy of the longest winning streak in the history of all Big 12 teams, and they are slowly strengthening their hold on the #1 spot in the rankings.