Yahoo Sports’ Brad Evans’ 2015 March Madness Bracket Predictions
The last time I spoke with Mr. Brad Evans we were reminiscing over the 2005 Illinois regional final win over Arizona and talking a “life of leisure.” You could argue given Brad’s profession, he’s already living the dream.
Although our Fighting Illini have missed the Big Dance yet again, Evans gets paid to watch college basketball games and talk fantasy football … year round. It’s ridiculous. What’s more ridiculous is how good he is at it.
Last year he correctly predicted Baylor would make a run while Villanova and Kansas would have early exits. Overall, he was about as close to being spot-on as one could be without being a modern-day Nostradamus.
Here’s what he had to share with me leading up to the 2015 tournament.
The surprise pick
Josh: You’ve had 18 hours to figure out your bracket. Anything that surprised you when filling it out? Any team that jumped out at you and you said, ‘wow, I wasn’t expecting this team to go this far.’
Brad: Well there’s a couple of teams. I’ve watched thousands of hours of basketball, so I know these teams like the back of my hand. I’m always intrigued by the 12-5 matchups. Over 40 percent of 12 seeds have beaten fives since 2000. Last year three number twelves advanced on. That is what I always gravitate to.
I have Stephen F. Austin winning two games … That’s a team that’s a hidden gem. They rank top 20 in the country in offensive efficiency. They got a guy in Thomas Walkup who is a monster. He’s a stat-sheet stud, basically.
Another early exit for KU?
Josh: Who will be the first top one or two seed to go out first?
Brad: I think it’s gonna be Kansas… I think they got a really nasty draw… Kansas has serious issues — we don’t know if Cliff Alexander is going to be eligible, given the ties to improprieties… Perry Ellis, their best player, dealing with a knee injury. They’ve been terribly erratic at the guard position — Wayne Selden, who knows who will show up?
You know the history there: Bradley, Bucknell, Iowa — they’ve been beat by mid-major competition early in the tournament before. And I think they’re going to fall to another Missouri Valley team in Wichita State in the second round… That’s just a really bad matchup and a terrible draw for the Jayhawks.
And I think of all the No. 1 seeds, Villanova is the most vulnerable. I actually really like this Villanova team. They’re one of only three teams in the country who are ranked top 15 in offensive and defensive efficiency, and they actually have a post presence. But dude, that region is a murderers row. It’s brutal. They could get LSU-NC State in the 2nd round — if any of those teams play their best game they could beat anyone in the country… If they get past them they could get beat by Northern Iowa.
UVA for real?
Josh: How far can Virginia go without Justin Anderson? He’s back, but he’s not back.
Brad: He obviously had the appendectomy, just two weeks off from that. And then he had the broken hand. He’s just trying to get back into basketball shape. I would say if he’s even 65 percent what he was before, Virginia makes it to the Final Four. They’ve got enough depth and that team is so well oiled — defense, they collapse on the interior and double-team so very well. And they are underrated offensively as well. Watching Virginia basketball is like watching whales beach. It’s just ugly. No one wants to see it. It’s depressing at times. But there’s a beauty in the hideousness and I think that will be on display in the East Region.
Kentucky is not automatic
Josh: Who are people picking consistently that has you shaking your head asking, ‘why are people picking them?!’
Brad: Well, I think consistently you look across the board, I think everyone is on the Kentucky bandwagon, obviously so. They’re undefeated. But when is the last time chalk won the tournament? Been awhile. I don’t think that’s the case for Kentucky this year. Somebody’s gonna beat ’em.
Matching Wisconsin on the left side of the bracket did no favor to Kentucky winning the national championship. They beat Wisconsin last year — Ya, that’s true. But Wisconsin is better than they were last year. They’re going to seek revenge. Wisconsin is that buzzsaw for Kentucky.
And if you wanna win your pick ’em pool. You have to pick what nobody else has. It’s important to go against the grain. Last year we had a 7 and 8 seed in the national title. UConn winning as a 7 seed is ridiculous. Things happen. You should expect the unexpected.
Josh: I was listening to Jay Bilas earlier and he seems to think that this tournament is very top heavy and that it will be all chalk, similar to what we saw in 2011, a very boring tournament…
Brad: All the pundits, particularly at ESPN say that every year. They all take chalk, except for Jason Williams and I respect him for that. He picked Arizona to win it all.
It’s extremely rare all four number one seeds are in the Final Four. It’s only happened one time… that was in 2008. It just ain’t gonna happen. Last year, I think the upset rate was 21 percent and on average, in history, it’s 14 percent. But over the last five years it’s well over 20 percent. So, it’s chalk, because of Kentucky… but there will be upsets. There will be madness. Bank on that.
Josh: So how many upsets do you think there will be this year? Not talking a 9 vs. 8, but legitimate upsets?
Brad: Well let’s see. I have Buffalo. That’s one.
I’ve got — let’s throw Wichita over Kansas in round two. That’d be two.
I’ve got Wofford beating Arkansas.
I have BYU beating Xavier. That’s four.
I’ve got Northern Iowa beating Villanova.
I have Dayton beating Providence.
I have Stephen F. Austin winning twice.
I think upsets will be over 20 percent.
Related: 2015 March Madness Preview
Josh: As far as first round matchups go, which one did you spend the most time debating? Which was a coin flip for you?
Brad: Usually it’s the 8-9 games. I think over the tournament’s history, 9 seeds have won 50.5 percent of the time — practically a coin flip. The one 8-9 game that had me racking my brain was NC State-LSU. NC State… they have some shooters on that team. They can really gun. I like that team. LSU is baffling… they have some marquee wins. They’ve won at Arkansas. But then they’ve lost at Auburn. How does that happen when you’ve got two potential NBA first round picks on that team?
I am going with LSU because I think the Tigers will finally show up. But who the heck knows?
Josh: So who’s your Final Four? Do you have Bo Ryan winning his first championship?
Brad: I do. I’ve got Kentucky playing Wisconsin. I’ve got UVA out of the East playing Iowa State out of the South.
It’s kinda scary. Iowa State is a bit trendy right now. Gonzaga is really good. This is the best team Mark Few has ever had. They’re balanced and they’ll give the Cyclones all they can handle with Karnowski and Sabonis.
I don’t buy into Duke because they’ve got too many defensive inefficiencies. That is something that’s plagued this team. Nobody had a better road record. But they lost to Miami at home. There’s just a bit of a head scratching quality to Duke. If they were to meet Iowa State in the Elite Eight, they could really play into those weaknesses.
I’m going UVA and Wisconsin in a Bennett revival… Low scoring affair, so bet the under in the championship if that happens.
Josh: So what’s your best advice for those filling out brackets this year?
Brad: Do some research. I know a lot of people like to do a mascot strategy or team color strategy or auto-generator strategy. But spend a minute — I would recommend Yahoo Sports obviously. You can go to sites like TeamRankings.com, KenPom.com, a treasure trove of analytics… You can get percentage odds on a team stringing an upset … and I’m always one who pays attention to Vegas lines.
If Vegas has Wofford as a two point underdog against Arkansas, there’s a good chance that Wofford is going to spring up the upset. So if it’s a close line, look at it. If it’s a wide line, then you’re probably better off taking the favorite.
You can check out Brad Evans’ latest here.
Photo Credit: Getty