Chat with Jordan Brenner
Brenner, @JordanBrenner, contributes to both ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Insider, covering pro and college basketball for the past decade amd launched Giant Killers in 2006.
ESPN.com's "Giant Killers" blog is Insider's annual metrics-based forecast of NCAA tournament upsets. A Giant Killer is a team that beats a tourney opponent seeded at least five spots higher.
Send your questions now and join Brenner Monday at 2 p.m. ET!
Jordan Brenner (2:02 PM)
Well, Monday Night is (almost) finally here! We've got lots to talk about, and no college hoops topic is off limits. So, let's get started.
Deven (New York, NY)
Who would have thought that we would be having a UConn-Kentucky Championship team?
Jordan Brenner (2:03 PM)
Certainly not I. (I must confess, however, that my 3-year-old son picked UConn to win the title. That said, the rest of his Final Four was Cal Poly, Tulsa and Creighton. But he's still on track to win our family pool.)
Jordan Brenner (2:05 PM)
And here's the thing. If you played this tournament over 100 times, there's almost no chance you'd end up with a UConn-Kentucky final again. There are so many things that had to happen in certain ways just to produce this game. They're both playing great ball, no question. But more than any other sport, this event is all about randomness and luck.
Cory (Omaha, NE)
How bad is Poythress' knee? I saw the pile-up celebration and first thought was "I hope nobody gets hurt in that". He seems to be an x-factor with ability to defend almost anybody and finishing at the rim.
Jordan Brenner (2:07 PM)
I wish I had some insight into the status of his knee, but no one except the people in the UK locker room really knows. That said, I wrote at the beginning of the year that Poythress was far more effective as a stretch 4 than a small forward. We're seeing why now. His performance is a huge reason why the loss of Cauley-Stein hasn't been such a big deal.
Ed (Queens Village)
Has Kentucky been a Giant Killer beating undefeated team, last year champion, last runner-up, and beating a 2 seed? Who is your pick to win tonight?
Jordan Brenner (2:10 PM)
Any team that beats another squad that is seeded five spots a better is considered a Giant Killer in our system. So, as strange as it sounds, UK has been a Giant Killer this year. In fact, the Wildcats have three GK wins (Wichita State, Michigan, Wisconsin.) And that doesn't even count the Louisville game.As far as tonight goes, I guess I think UK will win. But I honestly don't have a strong feeling about it, and I've long since giving up trying to figure out this year's tourney!
what's been the key to uconn's success?
Jordan Brenner (2:14 PM)
Well, the Napier/Boatright backcourt has received a ton of attention, and deservedly so. Before the tourney, I talked about how I though the level of point guard play was way down across the NCAA. So the fact that they have TWO guys that can make plays is huge, particularly late in games. But UConn's defense has been fantastic, especially in the past three games. For a team that had serious interior issues all season, they've figured out how to get enough out of Nolan, Brimah, Olander, etc. to hold their own inside and complement that perimeter strength.
kentucky has to be the favorite in this game, right? they were, afterall, the no. 1 in the preseason .
Jordan Brenner (2:16 PM)
Yup. Vegas has UK as a 2.5-point favorite right now. KenPom has Kentucky winning by a point. And that feels right. Kentucky has a slight edge coming into this game, but would it really surprise anyone if UConn wins? It shouldn't.
So when a giant killer plays a giant killer, does that mean that neither one is actually a giant killer?
Jordan Brenner (2:17 PM)
Correct. In order to be a GK, you actually need to slay a Giant. So if there's no Giant in the game -- a team seeded at least 5 spots better -- there's no GK.
the ncaa tournament has gone through an interesting transition the last 5 years or so. it seems that it is not really geared toward determining the best overall team from the season, but rather, the team that can get hottest at the right time. for most of the early 2000s, it always seemed the best team (or one of a few teams that we all thought were the best) won the tournament. Now it's more of a crapshoot than ever.
Jordan Brenner (2:18 PM)
I could talk about this topic all day. So allow me to dive in deep for a couple of minutes ...
Jordan Brenner (2:20 PM)
First, you're completely right. The NCAA tournament is not a competition designed to identify the "best" team. It's a snapshot -- a combination of who is playing well at a particular point in time, what events transpire to create an easier/tougher road to a championship and a whole lot of luck and randomness ...
Jordan Brenner (2:22 PM)
I don't think this is entirely a recent phenomenon, but I do think a couple of factors have added to the randomness. One, which you hear a lot about, is parity. There are simply more good basketball players to go around. Secondly, early entry (particularly one-and-done) has changed the nature of top teams and, in my opinion, made them even more vulnerable ...
Jordan Brenner (2:23 PM)
Like I said, this goes back much further than the early 2000s, but they key is to appreciate the tourney for what it is: An awesome, fun, dramatic event, but not a definitive way to determine the best team. If we wanted the latter, we'd limit the field and play best-of-7 series.
Nick (NC )
If someone was watching Florida for the first time on Saturday, they would be amazed that they got the No. 1 overall seed. They did not look good at all.....why?
Jordan Brenner (2:25 PM)
Well, I think part of got Florida was what I just talked about -- luck and randomness. They got good looks and went 1-for-10 from 3-point range. That happens every now and then, and it happened at an awful time for them. And Wilbekin really struggled against Napier -- at both ends. I thought Casey Hill would be a huge factor, but he was dreadful. But the biggest surprise was Florida's defense. It was superb all season, and it started the game that way. But the Gators' inability to get stops late was shocking.
what is the story you're looking to see play out the most tonight?
Jordan Brenner (2:29 PM)
I'm intrigued by a couple of matchups. I'll be really interested to see if Kentucky stays big or plays Poythress heavy minutes at the 4 with Randle at the 5. Poythress vs. Daniels is a really interesting matchup.I'm also anxious to see how the Harrison twins deal with the ball pressure of Napier and Boatright. I was really down on the twins all season, and every time I've doubted them in the tourney, they've reminded the world of why I'm an idiot. That said, I still don't love them as playmakers and after watching what Boatright and Napier did to Florida, I think they could take UK out of its offense. Then again, I thought Louisville's guards would do the same.
So Cauley-Stein is out cause of 'nagging' ankle injury? Would you say he is soft since it isn't broken and he didn't need surgery?
Jordan Brenner (2:30 PM)
Absolutely. Real men spend the Final Four resting and elevating. (If you don't get this, I have a lovely pic of my cast on Twitter. Sigh.)
Any thoughts on the charge/block calls in the Kentucky Wisconsin game? I don't recall a single charge being called all game and quite a few times it appeared as though the defender had good position.
Jordan Brenner (2:32 PM)
Two thoughts:1) I though there were a couple of really tough calls against Jackson.2) The rule changes at the beginning of the year made it so much tougher to draw a charge that none of those calls surprised me. Now that you have to be set before the shooter begins his upward motion, it's just so tough to get in position in time, and the refs are giving the shooter the benefit of the doubt.
Jeff (NY, NY)
One of my big concerns for UConn isif their bigs getting in early foul trouble. Olander is OK if he plays under 5 minutes, but kills their spacing on offense and has real athletic limitations.
Jordan Brenner (2:33 PM)
No doubt. In general, I hate how big a role foul trouble plays in key NCAA tourney games, and that's why I would advocate for an alternative to fouling out after 5 (but that's a discussion for another time). But yes, UConn needs its centers to stay on the court, simply to protect the rim.
College Basketball has no meaning from November until the 3rd week of March. CT and KY have not had the two best years, yet one will be crowned champion. Say what you will about College Football, but Florida St. and Auburn were the two best teams last year.
Jordan Brenner (2:34 PM)
You're not wrong, Paul. That both the beauty and the curse of March Madness.
which team tonight can ill afford an off night by one of their top players?
Jordan Brenner (2:35 PM)
UConn, for sure. Kentucky has survived poor games from the Harrisons or Young or Randle. The Wildcats have enough weapons to get by with one misfiring. But I can't picture a scenario where UConn wins with a sub-par Napier, for instance. The Huskies' top players have to play like stars.
Jordan Brenner (2:36 PM)
Man, I thought answering that ankle question would generate more sympathy. You are a cruel crowd!
Badger Backer (Madison, WI)
With everyone but Brust returning and Koenig and Hayes with a year under their belt are the Badgers a Top 5 team to begin next season?
Jordan Brenner (2:38 PM)
I was just having this discussion with a good friend who is a recent Wisconsin grad. Things are setting up really well for Bucky, no question. I wish they had a little more of a recruiting class coming in, and they need to find another shooter without Brust, but yes, they will be a strong title contender again.
Could Aaron Harrison's draft stock risen any higher any quicker? Prior to the tournament, I heard some people say he might not even be a first round pick...now he could be a lottery guy!
Jordan Brenner (2:40 PM)
I'm still skeptical about Aaron Harrison as a pro. His game doesn't necessarily translate to the way the NBA game is being played right now. I'm not sure if he's a point guard at the next level at all, and I need to see him run the pick-and-roll a lot better. I try not to let small sample sizes sway me, so I still see serious flaws in his game.
If _______ happens in the first 5-6 minutes of the game tonight, then it's most likely we'll see _________ win.
Jordan Brenner (2:42 PM)
If a biblical flood happens in the first 5-6 minutes of the game tonight, then it's most likely we'll see neither team win. Kidding, Neal -- that's actually a fun question.I'll rule out major injuries and say that if both Nolan and Brimah pick up a pair of early fouls, it's most likely UK will win.
do you think in today's game that too many teams rely on the 3-point shot? if you go cold from deep, you're sunk.
Jordan Brenner (2:43 PM)
Not at all. Analytics will tell you that the two most efficient shots in basketball are 3-pointers and layups. You want to get the ball to the front of the rim as much as possible, because it leads to layups, fouls and kickouts. But if teams get open 3's, they should take them. And keep taking them. Don't forget that making a third of your threes is the same as making half your 2's. And it's probably better, because more misses mean more opportunities for offensive rebounds.
Do you think Randle could go off tonight and show everyone why he's a high lottery pick?
Jordan Brenner (2:45 PM)
Of course! Randle is tremendous, and he hasn't had that thoroughly dominant performance in the tourney yet (although he's been very, very good and so steady). But the matchup tonight sets up very well for him. UK just needs to keep feeding him, which is often a problem.
Does Aaron Gordon not playing in tonight's game mean he is no longer a lottery pick?
Jordan Brenner (2:46 PM)
Ummmm ... what?
UK has the big advantage in the paint, right?
Jordan Brenner (2:47 PM)
Right. But basically everyone has had an edge in the paint against UConn and the Huskies are still standing.
biggest key for either team tonight?
Jordan Brenner (2:48 PM)
UConn has to shoot reasonably well. This can't be like the 2011 final where the team that played slightly less ugly won. (Please, please don't let it be like that final.) UK has too many ways to score to completely shut them down. So the Huskies are going to have to hit a decent % of their threes to win, I think.
Do you think the one and one rule has a large part to do with the fact that the tournament is more unpredictable than ever?
Jordan Brenner (2:49 PM)
I assume you mean the one-and-DONE rule, and not the something about FTs? Feel free to write back to clarify and I'll answer that question if I still have time.
Jordan Brenner (2:49 PM)
Speaking of which, we've got about 10 minutes left -- keep the questions coming, folks!
Matthew (Los Angeles)
I'm the only person out of my friends that thinks Wichita St was really good this year. Do you think if they beat Kentucky they would have gone to the nat'l championship?
Jordan Brenner (2:51 PM)
Tell your friends to watch more closely. Wichita State was, without a doubt, an excellent basketball team this year. I can't say for sure that they would have been playing tonight if they'd beaten UK -- no one can say that, and there are to many random factors that intervene. But they had as good a shot as anyone.
HA....oops. Yeah, the one and done rule...what impact does that have on the tournament?
Jordan Brenner (2:53 PM)
There's no question that the one-and-done rule has impacted all aspects of college basketball, including the tourney. You can win with one-and-dones. You can lose early with one-and-dones. There are certainly more talented players in the tourney now, but their performances vary wildly from game to game, as you'd expect with young players. And I have to believe that increases the opportunity for upsets.
Napier, for the most part, doesn't fill up a stat sheet, but folks still talk about his impact on the game....what do you think makes him so special?
Jordan Brenner (2:55 PM)
He has the right combination of skills to succeed at this level. He's strong, quick, has a tight handle and is shooting it extremely well. Plus, he's really tough-minded. Many of these skills will be just average at the next level. But as I discussed earlier, they really stand out against what I see as a low level of PG talent in the college game this season.
Harvey (St. Louis)
It's pretty interesting. these two teams have pretty good history and pedigree. However, I've heard many people talk about how this year's game won't be as good as in year's past, because these teams aren't that good.....but you have two pretty storied programs playing. that's still pretty good in my book.
Jordan Brenner (2:57 PM)
These aren't superb teams. Both have flaws. But you're right -- they are big-name programs and that does matter. If that means we're rooting for laundry, as Jerry Seinfeld once said, so be it.
Why has UConn's defense been so successful this tournament?
Jordan Brenner (2:59 PM)
I wish I had a great answer to that question. I think it starts with the ball pressure their guards are able to apply, though, and Daniels' versatility as a help defender. What's interesting is that this is a totally different model of UConn defense. Jim Calhoun's teams in the 2000s thrived on shotblocking - think Okafor, Boone, Thabeet, etc. This UConn team doesn't have nearly that kind of inside presence, but the overall team concepts are still working.
amari young (decatur)
Jordan Brenner (2:59 PM)
To piggyback off the Wisco top 5 question, if McGary and Robinson III return (and Stauskas leaves), do you think Michigan will be a top 5 team and title contender, especially given the expected development with Walton Jr., Irvin, and LeVert?
Jordan Brenner (3:00 PM)
Well, there's only room for 5 teams in the top 5. I'd probably have Michigan just a hair below Wisconsin without Stauskas and maybe just outside the top 5. But that team, too, would be a definite title contender. Stauskas would leave a huge void, though.
many people i hear seem to think that UK should have gotten a higher seed. What do you think? What seed did they deserve?
Jordan Brenner (3:02 PM)
I didn't have a big issue with an 8-seed. Maybe they could have been a 7 or even a 6, but this team was thoroughly mediocre throughout the season, lost 10 games, got swept by Arkansas and fell to South Carolina and LSU. Despite Cal's continued whining, they didn't really deserve much better from the committee.
Kentucky is killing everyone on the offensive glass. Yet, they barely win their games. Why aren't they winning in blowouts??
Jordan Brenner (3:04 PM)
Because their defense has been thoroughly mediocre. You have to get stops to blow teams out, and they haven't been doing that consistently.
Jordan Brenner (3:05 PM)
OK, everyone -- it's time to go elevate the ankle again. Thanks for stopping by, enjoy the game, and hit me up on Twitter if you have any other questions or just want to see a pic of my cast. See ya!