Vaught's Views: ESPN's Lunardi offers insights into NCAA tourney

February 23, 2004|LARRY VAUGHT

With March Madness rapidly approaching, no one becomes a better source of information - and speculation - than Joe Lunardi.

In case you don't know him, he is the resident bracketologist for, ESPN Insider and ESPN Radio.

What he does is produce a weekly NCAA Tournament bracket. He seeds teams and even predicts which sites the team will be sent to by the NCAA Selection Committee. He updates his bracket each Monday at

His predictions are surprisingly accurate. There's no way to ever forecast where every team will be seeded or which site teams will be sent to, but his predictions are never far off.

Lunardi used to edit a NCAA Tournament preview edition for Blue Ribbon, one of the nation's best college basketball yearbooks.

"That required projecting and preparing for the eventual NCAA field as far in advance as possible," Lunardi said. "It turned out our production costs were lower the more accurate I was. How's that for incentive?"

Advertisement ran his projections as part of a cross-promotional arrangement with Blue Ribbon.

"Eventually the projections had a life of their own and two years ago, did a wonderful job of repackaging the entire site. Now, we get about 10 million hits per season, so maybe it is a religious experience! It has become both profitable and fun for me, although I'd probably still do it for nothing."

He doesn't have to, though, because his predictions are priceless to college basketball fans. That's why the Web site has 10 million hits per season.

This year has been a challenge for him. While most of the attention here deals with the ups and downs of Kentucky and Louisville, college basketball in general has been less predictable.

Lunardi says the upper half of the NCAA bracket should stabilize by the end of the regular season.

"With the exception of a few spots near the bubble, the conference tournaments do not produce as much movement as you might think," Lunardi said. "I'll still get all but 10 to 12 teams at or within one line of their eventual seed.

"At this point of the year, I start paying a lot more attention to conference records for teams from the multi-bid leagues. I always look hard at road/neutral performance and non-conference schedule. At the bubble, more recent games come into play, especially head-to-head matchups in late February or in conference tourney early rounds."

What is best possible seed for Cats

So what is the best seed possible for Kentucky?

"I know Kentucky was a No. 1 seed when the (selection) committee met in early February. I had already dropped them below Mississippi State by that time," Lunardi said. "UK could certainly win out and return to a No. 1 seed, but that seems unlikely given road games at the likes of LSU and South Carolina. If the Wildcats play .500 or a little better down the stretch, a No. 2 seed seems their most logical landing place. I don't see them falling below a No. 3."

What about Louisville, once one of the nation's hottest teams and now a struggling team?

"This team is in trouble, not in terms of making the field but with respect to seeding," Lunardi said. "One could have argued for weeks that Louisville had the top profile in the country. Now they have hit the skids. The Cardinals have to reprove themselves to the selection committee. I could see them falling as low as No. 6 (seed)."

Lunardi said its always difficult to predict Final Four sleepers. He does like North Carolina State, which upset Duke last week before losing at Clemson. He also likes LSU, which lost at home to Auburn last week and again Saturday at Vanderbilt. However, key players either did not play or were not at full speed in both LSU losses because of injuries.

"The list of sleeper candidates is a little shorter this year because there isn't much depth in the Pac-10 and Big Ten," Lunardi said. "I'm not sold on Providence, perhaps a one-man team, and Michigan State, whose recovery is a by-product of the league. But Memphis is very intriguing."

Don't like his placement of your favorite team? Then e-mail him at He answers e-mails each week on his Web site and enjoys the interaction with fans, even when they don't agree with his logic that produces a reliable indicator of what the NCAA field will look like in just a few weeks.

Central Kentucky News Articles