BY JORDAN O’DONNELL
South Region (Atlanta)
That the overall No. 1 seed was rewarded with a very tough draw. In addition to potentially playing defending national champion (and pre-season top 10 team) UConn, Kentucky could see Duke, Baylor and Indiana before reaching the Final Four. All of those teams are capable of knocking off the Wildcats (Indiana has already done so).
Best First Second Round Match-Up:
Iowa State-Connecticut – I realize it’s not daring to claim that the 8-9 match-up is the best, but former NBA player Fred Hoiberg has done a strong job coaching the Cyclones this year, highlighted by a win over Kansas. Connecticut was in a free-fall, but seemed to improve once coach Jim Calhoun returned for the final game of the regular season. The Huskies fell to Syracuse in the Big East Championship, but showed the focus and ability that it had been missing a few weeks ago.
This bracket should excite the people that work in the highlight departments at CBS and Turner. Indiana was Kentucky’s only regular season loss, via a buzzer-beater in Bloomington. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was an assistant under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. When you think Kentucky and Duke, you think Christian Laettner. And Duke and UNLV could finally have their long-awaited rubber match: UNLV defeated Duke in the 1990 championship game, and Duke got revenge against the Rebels in the 1991 title game.
West Region (Phoenix)
Some commentators yesterday stated that Memphis was better than an 8 seed, but the biggest mistake the committee made this year was rating Murray State as a 6 seed. Murray State lost one game this year. One.
Best First Second Round Matchup:
Florida-Virginia – Florida is a talented 7 seed (the Gators were ranked in the top 15 for much of the season). They heavily rely on the three-point shot, taking the second-most in the nation and having the 22nd best percentage. Virginia is a team that slows down the pace and keeps games close. If Florida isn’t hitting threes, it will have fewer possessions than normal to make up any deficits.
No major stories here, but we could see some excellent coaching matchups. Tom Izzo and Rick Pitino could square off if Michigan State and Louisville meet in the Sweet Sixteen. An unlikely scenario could see Pitino facing his former player (at Providence and with the Knicks) and assistant (at Kentucky), Billy Donovan, should the Cardinals and Gators meet in the regional final.
Midwest (St. Louis)
As a UNC grad, I am surprised/nervous/scared/excited to see Kansas in the same region as the Tar Heels, but we’ll get to that soon. I find the lack of teeth in this region to be a surprise. Georgetown and Michigan are good teams, but neither really scares you that much. Georgetown did not fare well against the top teams in the Big East, particularly late in the season. The Hoyas defeated Louisville and Marquette in two of its first three conference games, but lost to Cincinnati, Syracuse and Marquette down the stretch.
Best First Second Round Game:
Georgetown-Belmont – Belmont has received some early buzz from analysts despite being a 13 seed. They lost to Duke by one point to open the season, and as explained above, Georgetown is not a powerhouse. Since making the Final Four in 2007, Georgetown has not advanced past the (actual) second round of the NCAA Tournament, and has made one NIT appearance.
A lot of program demons could be exercised in this region. North Carolina lost to Georgetown in the 2007 tournament, after having an unprecedented offensive drought in the Elite Eight. Michigan infamously lost to UNC in the 1993 championship game after Chris Webber called a timeout he did not have. But the biggest storyline is the potential Elite Eight monster matchup of Carolina and Kansas. Roy Williams could face his old team yet again in St. Louis, giving Kansas a distinct geographic advantage. After the Heels lost to the Jayhawks in the 2008 Final Four in a game that Billy Packer declared over in the first half because Kansas opened up to a big lead (UNC eventually cut it to four in the second half), Carolina fans are a bit nervous about this prospect. But the game would undoubtedly be one of the best in the tournament, especially with National Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson going against UNC’s big men, Tyler Zeller and John Henson.
East Region (Boston)
For me, it’s Vanderbilt as a 5 seed. Not to take away from their win against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament final, but the Commodores did not have to play Florida en route to the title. You can argue if you want that Vanderbilt is among the best 20 teams in the field, but are they really better than Murray State, which lost one game? One game!
Best First Second Round Game:
Vanderbilt-Harvard – Harvard was ranked in the polls earlier in the season, and has defeated Florida State. Tommy Amaker’s squad has the talent to contend with a major conference team like Vanderbilt. And we all know 5-12 games are primed to be upsets.
Syracuse and Ohio State were two of the teams I wrote to watch in their conference tournaments. Ohio State lost a hard fought battle against Michigan State in the Big Ten final, and Syracuse lost in the Big East semifinals to Cincinnati. They remain two interesting teams to watch.