What is the most important stat in NCAA tournament games?

If there was one mistake I made this year with my bracket it was picking the wrong statistic to be my leading indicator for predictions. That was defense.
The result was picking Kentucky to beat Virginia in the title game. Whoops.
As you can see in the top 50 defenses, Virginia and Kentucky are at the top. While Kentucky and Wisconsin made the Final Four with elite defensesFinal Four Indy, Duke was outside the top 100 and Michigan State was outside the top 80.

Think offense is the key stat? Think again. The top 50 is a mixed bag of teams who did well in the tournament and teams who flopped like Davidson and Iowa State.

Three-point shooting? Only two teams in the top 20 of 3-point field-goal percentage even made it to the Sweet 16 in Gonzaga and Utah.

This leaves the stat coaches talk about all the time. Turnovers.

While it’s not overwhelming, the quality of teams in the top 50 is significant. Turnover margin was the key to getting West Virginia to the Sweet 16 and Georgia State’s big upset of Baylor.
Georgia State was plus 15 in turnovers in its upset of Baylor, turning over the Bears 21 times. Baylor’s rebounding and defense was not good enough to make up for it.

West Virginia was plus 5 in turnover margin against Buffalo and was plus 13 vs. Maryland. The problem for WVU is it met Kentucky in the Sweet 16; a team that also forces miscues because of its length and size. The Mountaineers were minus 3 against the Wildcats and that contributed to a 78-39 drumming.

Virginia Commonwealth is known for its pressure and forcing mistakes, but Ohio State was strong in the turnover game too. The result was the Buckeyes winning in overtime as the two squads ended with 11 turnovers each. Having the same number of turnovers as VCU is quite the accomplishment.

Wichita State shot a dreadful 15.4 % from 3 against Indiana but edged out a win thanks to plus six in turnover margin.

The Louisville Cardinals are always good in the turnover game as that’s Rick Pitino’s forte. An upset from UC-Irvine appeared likely but Louisville survived courtesy of a plus five in turnover margin. It was the only team stat the Cardinals clearly controlled. The turnover edge nearly propelled the Cardinals to the Final Four as lost to the Spartans in overtime in the East Regional Final. Louisville was just plus three in that game.

Remember the First Four? BYU came in as an offensive powerhouse and shot an insanely 15 of 29 from 3. Problem though was Ole Miss turning BYU over 15 times to its 7.

It’s also interesting that among the teams with the fewest turnovers per game you’ll find Wisconsin at No. 2. It’s an advantage that might neutralize the defense of Kentucky a tiny bit.

It’s not unanimous, but turnover margin has been a key stat throughout the tournament. Six of the Elite Eight are in the top 75 of the stat with Michigan State being the only true anomaly at No. 215.

Now I wish I could have just reworked the bracket with that in mind.

The Two Sides of Every Hail Mary

A problem of living in the Eastern Time Zone is all the PAC-12 games happen late. Luckily, I’m a night owl and was able to see Twitter explode about a Hail Mary touchdown to propel Arizona to a 49-45 win over California. The Wildcats rallied from a 31-13 deficit at the end of the third quarter to break the hearts of Golden Bears fans everywhere. Three touchdowns came in the final 3 minutes and 30 seconds.


As you can bet, Arizona was excited on social media after the win. Like a comic book geek meeting Stan Lee level of excitement.

Arizona is still unraked but remains one of seven undefeated teams in the PAC-12. This is what the celebration looked like in the locker room. Zona will travel to No. 2 Oregon on Thursday Oct. 2 in a game that will test the team’s resolve even more. But as Coach Rich Rodriguez said, they’ll “enjoy the Hell out of this one.”

That confident crew you saw there is a sharp contrast from the prayer they made before the Hail Mary.

California could only pump out a short final score tweet after the game and rightfully so. It’s easy to say something you shouldn’t after giving up 36 points in a fourth quarter. The Bears did respond brilliantly with this retweet after some breathing time.

It’s a shame too as California was on the brink of tripling its win total from last year. In the competitive PAC-12, the Sensor Scans Golden Bears will need every win to reach bowl eligibility. Colorado comes to Berkely Saturday in what appears to be the easiest game remaining on Cal’s schedule. A rebound against the Buffaloes is a must to avoid a season letdown.

Pirates Own the Tar Heels

It was a surprise when East Carolina defeated Virginia Tech a week ago but the Pirates decided to pummel another ACC school to validate themselves. ECU destroyed North Carolina 70-41 Saturday. SEVENTY!

Phil Steele along with other experts picked North Carolina to win the Coastal Division in the ACC this year. The beatdown was a big black eye for the conference as fellow members Miami, Syracuse and Pittsburgh lost to Big 10 schools too. East Carolina has positioned itself as the best school in the state for recruiting. The only other school that could compete with it is Duke and it’s a basketball school. As for ECU hanging 70 on a team, well it’s been a while since that last occurred.

The American Athletic Conference went 7-1 in non conference play Saturday and is having a great year overall.

Purdue Forgets How to Win

The Boilermakers have had a tough couple of years in football but won its second game of the year against FCS Southern Illinois. The school appears to be out of practice as some newbie in the athletics department hung the “W” flag upside down over Ross-Ade Stadium.

The bright side to all this is how Purdue won’t have to raise another “W” flag this season as the Boilers will be a underdog the rest of the season.Northwestern on November 22, however, will be Purdue’s best chance for a Big 10 win.

Volleyball and the 700 Club

The New Hampshire women’s volleyball team defeated Rhode Island Saturday in five sets (23-25, 25-20, 26-24, 26-28, 15-12). The real story though is it was 700th victory of Coach Jill Hirschinger and the photo-op was on. This tweet shows how the Wildcats used their tall volleyball bodies to spell out 700.

UNH has started the season 6-9 but should do well in conference play as the Wildcats are the defending American East champions.

Minnesota is “Dressed for Kill”

Check out these shirts Minnesota passed out to fans in their game with San Jose State to play with the name of its coach Jerry Kill. The Golden Gophers handled the Spartans 24-7 Saturday to move to 3-1.

Look for Kill and his team to go bowling for a third straight year and perhaps give Wisconsin trouble in the Big Ten West.

Kentucky and Lincoln

Kentucky and Louisville is one of the biggest rivalries in college athletics but the men’s soccer matchup caught my eye this week. The two teams meet tonight and Wildcats are going with a famous historical figure to trash Louisville.

That’s right; Kentucky is saying Abraham Lincoln was a Cats fan. The school will pass out shirts that say exactly that in the soccer game. Fans are encouraged to manufacture a top hat and other 19th century garb to dress up like the 16th president himself.

Better than Vampire Hunter

Better than Vampire Hunter

In a way it’s a cool idea as Lincoln was born in Central Kentucky. Problem is the University of Kentucky was not established until 1865, the year Lincoln was assassinated. Louisville was around when Lincoln was born so I’m sure Cardinal fans are ready to argue. Still, it’s a pretty cool marketing technique connecting sports to history of the Commonwealth in a nerdy way. Hard to beat that. Plus, if Lincoln was born today where he was there is little chance he’ll be pulling for Louisville. You’re on an island Jefferson County.

Popcorn Galore

Every wondered what 200 containers of popcorn looks like? Well East Tennessee State gave away free popcorn to 200 fans at its soccer match this weekend.

That’s 200 reasons why it’s cool to live in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Learning to like Nick Saban

60 Minutes did something I hoped no other media outlet would do. Make people like me stop hating Nick Saban.

College football needs someone who people root against. A Miami Heat, New York Yankees, or Dallas Cowboys if you will. Alabama football fits the bill and then some. It’s personal for me as I’m a Miami Dolphin’s fan. Seven years ago I was quoting the slogans he was uttering to the press. Miami was coming off some really poor seasons and everything Saban did and said seem hopeful and optimistic. Like President Obama talking to voters in Iowa in 2008. But like Obama, Saban couldn’t keep his promises and reflects on that at the eight minute mark.

It says something when a prestigious coach admits a mistake. When he does it makes it harder for me to cheer against him. When he left the Dolphins I wanted to make a dart board out of his face, or a BB gun target. This story though made Saban appear as… gulp… human. I wanted to keep viewing him as a caricature. For about a few minutes Sunday night I saw him as a person for the first time since he left my Dolphins in a trash heap.

I still want Alabama football to falter as I’m tired of the Crimson Tide having a monopoly in the football universe. But there were several things from the interview that I liked.

Talking about his high standards on how it affects team chemistry. If mediocre players don’t like elite players then you can’t have mediocre players on your team. That sounds good but only a handful of schools can score the talent that Alabama can recruit. In a way, Saban was indirectly tooting his own horn and coming across as a humble leader at the same time. Who else can do that? A politician? Clark Kent?

His attention to detail was brought up by how his father raised him. It made me feel sorry for Nick Saban. Wait, did I just type that?

At the ll:10 mark Armen Keteyain says “Saban has found the right fit at Alabama” while video shows Saban adjusting his pants. I think he’s still trying to find that right fit if you ask me.

The end of the story is Alabama’s win at Texas A&M. It gave CBS a chance to show off its coverage of the SEC and it even showed Saban being proud of his team. Another human moment.

I still may not like Saban but I am finding it tougher to hate his team. My college football viewing experience is sure to take a hit because of this. Darn you 60 minutes!

Michigan Football and Geometry

How can a team with a top 5 helmet lose to a team with a bottom 5 helmet?

How can a team with a top 5 helmet lose to a team with a bottom 5 helmet?

College football Saturday night was a chain reaction of explosions that rocked the top 25 as multiple unbeaten teams went down. The craziest moments all occurred in a half hour window of two undefeated teams (Stanford and Michigan) while the defending Heisman Trophy winner (Johnny Manziel) left his game due to injury.

Manziel would return as his Texas A&M Aggies survived at Ole Miss. No. 5 Stanford would lose to Utah 27-21 crippling its title hopes. But the best game came at Penn State where Michigan choked away, I mean was defeated for the first time this season in four overtimes 43-30.

Michigan was nursing a 34-27 lead late in the fourth and had a 3rd and 9 at Penn State’s 27 yard line. The Wolverines want to kill clock but also needed to score a field goal to make it a two possession game and put the contest to bed. Michigan took a delay of game penalty pushing it out of field goal range. After a punt Penn State got the ball back with at its 20 with 50 seconds to play only needing a touchdown. The rest is history as Penn State would score to tie it sending the game into the first of its four overtimes. The penalty was not intentional but not snapping the ball before the play clock expires is insane in that situation.

The poor play calling would continue into the overtimes where Michigan was ultraconservative. Twice, Michigan only needed a field goal to win the game but made no effort to advance the ball. All the Wolverines did was run the ball to position the kick in the middle of the field. The first attempt was blocked and the second one was missed. Instead of trying to make the kick shorter the Wolverines focused on the angle like an obsessed Geometry major. The result was over 100,000 Nittany Lions fans leaving the stadium happy.Sensor Scans

I love Michigan’s Coach Brady Hoke, but simple decisions made by him and his staff killed the game. Why make things harder on your kicker intentionally? Why give Penn State the ball back by taking a delay of game penalty?

Way to go Missouri!
Remember how SEC fans thought Missouri had no business being in the conference. Yeah I was one of those. Now Missouri is in the driver seat in the SEC East after winning at the infirmary known as the Georgia Bulldogs. Not to boast but we kind of saw this coming.

The sad state of the AAC
The newly named American Athletic Conference that should really be called the “Zombie Big East” is struggling more than NBC’s ratings. Louisville is the only ranked team and it’s departing to the ACC next year. Houston is undefeated but has played nothing but senior citizens who are decent at Wii Sports. Somehow, South Florida is 2-0 in conference action despite losing to the FCS McNeese State and Sun Belt doormat Florida Atlantic. That means it is still possible South Florida (No. 115 Sagarin Ranking) could make it to a BCS game this year. A win at No. 8 Louisville on Oct. 26 and it just might happen. Happy Halloween everyone!

Pillow fight of the year
UMass got its first win of the year Saturday defeating 0-6 Miami University 17-10. The two teams combined for five turnovers and Miami went and inept 1-11 on third down conversions. Even with the win UMass only moved up to No. 165 in Sagarin with Miami at No. 189. The latter being next to worse among FBS teams.

Twitter fun
Michigan was not the only team to lose in multiple OTs as Murray State dropped a tough one to Southeast Missouri State in FCS action 37-34. Murray State has the resorted itself to the shameless marketing strategy of giving away free food and plugging sponsors to put fans in the seats. Welcome to life in the FCS.

Idaho was humbled at Arkansas State 48-24 Saturday making it tough to tweet anything good for Idaho. So what did the Vandals do? Say you lost to a superior SEC school instead of a crappy Sun Belt team.

Georgia State, the lowest ranked FBS team in Sagarin, played better at home Saturday against Troy State. The Panthers lost 35-28 but gave their fan base hope. When you’re as bad as the Panthers, hope can go to your head, including the athletics’ Twitter account. This tweet in the fourth quarter is our depressing tweet of the week.

Talk about hope for the hopeless. When PR people are tweeting the defense to get a turnover it is pretty much over.