Mar 4, 2012; Springfield, MA, USA; Iona Gaels forward Taaj Ridley (0) and forward Mike Glover (1) celebrate against the Fairfield Stags during the second half of the semifinal round of the 2012 Metro Atlantic Conference Tournament at the Mass Mutual Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-US PRESSWIRE
Now that the field of 68 is known and each team knows its path to New Orleans, our resident bracketologist chimes in with his thoughts on the field on the bracket and the next three weeks.
Now that the field is revealed, here are a few items that stand out to me from a bracket projection perspective.
For starters, I'm fairly pleased with my guess. I picked 35 of 37 at-larges right, an improvement of one from last season. Keep in mind that in reality, only four to six spots were ever really up for grabs. My two misses were Iona and N.C. State, as I selected Drexel and Marshall instead. From a seeding perspective, my bracket improved considerably compared to last year, even if I pegged one less team correctly (35 vs. 36). In 2012, I had 59 teams picked on or within a seed line (compared to 53 last year), with five whiffs by two lines (nine in 2011) and a pair that were off by three lines (three in 2011).
The Final At-Larges
No matter how closely I looked at each team's profile and how much time I spent crunching numbers and comparing wins, my results were different just about every single time. It's probably a good thing there are 10 people on the Selection Committee to sort things out.
I probably should have held off on putting Drexel in, considering the Dragons' RPI and woeful strength of schedule numbers. One day, I will finally learn to go with my first instinct, which should have been Iona, given its RPI and slightly better, though not great, schedule metrics. The Gaels' inclusion is a bit of a surprise, but I'm glad to see the Selection Committee give a worthy mid-major regular season champion an opportunity. (Note that Drexel, Oral Roberts and Nevada were all in the discussion until late in the game, as all three joined Miami on the First Four Out list revealed on TruTV's Hardcore Brackets program.) America wins with Iona's inclusion, as they are truly one of the most fun teams in the country to watch.
Note that the decision to have Iona and BYU play for a 14th-seed is clearly designed to keep the Cougars in a Thursday/Saturday path for both the first and second weekends.
In the end, N.C. State, the team I eliminated from my projection when St. Bonaventure won the Atlantic 10 title, was more than safe. The Wolfpack's 9-6 record away from Raleigh undoubtedly helped, especially considering how so many bubble teams struggled away from home during the 2011-12 season.
The No. 1 And 2 Seeds
With Kentucky and Syracuse holding the top two seeds for the majority of the season, there was always going to be a race for the other two. In the end, Michigan State was the only conference tournament champion to end up on the top line. According to Hardcore Brackets, the Buckeyes would not have been a top seed. In other words, the Selection Committee decided not to take the easy way out. That means Kansas was likely the next team in line.
I never really considered Missouri seriously, even though the team certainly plays like a top seed, because its profile just didn't match up well with the Selection Committee's typical opinions on scheduling. Perhaps in the future, teams in the Tigers' position -- and really any team that wants to qualify for the Tournament -- will finally take the Committee's opinions to heart. If they do, college basketball fans will have plenty of November and December games to look forward to in the future.
The two teams able to complain the most about their position in the bracket are Memphis, which was certainly playing like a team that should be a No. 4, 5 or 6 seed, and Creighton, a team with Sweet 16 talent, which may very well face Midwest No. 1 seed North Carolina in Greensboro. (OK, the list could be four teams, as Memphis' Second Round opponent Saint Louis must be hating its particular draw, alongside Michigan State, who will in all likelihood await the winner in Round Three.)
On the flip side, Colorado should be thankful that it's in a winnable 6 vs. 11 matchup against UNLV. The Pac-12 Tournament helped the Buffaloes' stock rise quickly, as they were able to pick up three Top-100 wins in a three-day span. Conversely, Southern Mississippi may have been better off down in the 10-12 neighborhood where most had them projected, as opposed to the No. 9 seed and pod -- with Kansas State and Syracuse - in which they landed.
A Quick Thought Or Two On Each Region
If Kentucky doesn't survive this bracket, it might be the upset of the century. That's because potential Third Round opponent Connecticut may be the Wildcats' biggest obstacle on the way to New Orleans. Duke is vulnerable; Baylor is talented, but inconsistent, particularly inside; and you have to think Big Blue Nation is relishing a possible Sweet 16 rematch with Indiana, if the Hoosiers can get out of their Portland pod, especially with Verdell Jones III now lost for the season.
Second Round Game To Watch: The Battle of the Mid-Major Powers, No. 5 Wichita State vs. No. 12 VCU.
Michigan State will be challenged to make it to the Final Four out of this region, not only because of that possible game with Memphis on Sunday, but because of the possibility of facing a Missouri team that wants to prove it belongs among the elite in a Regional Final. Of course to get there, several quality backcourts (Virginia, Florida, Marquette) stand in the Tigers' way. On the other side of the bracket, the Spartans may very well have to get past rising Louisville to make the round of eight. There's nothing quite like a Tom Izzo vs. Rick Pitino March matchup.
Second Round Game To Watch: No. 5 New Mexico vs. No. 12 Long Beach State, simply because the 49ers are more than prepared to pull the upset, at least.
A Syracuse-Ohio State regional final looks rather obvious, though I think the Buckeyes will have their hands full with Florida State in the regional semifinals, provided the Seminoles get that far, which is not a given. Wisconsin's tempo may create issues for the Orange, provided both make it to Boston. If they do, it's not the greatest match-up in the world for the top seed.
Second Round Game To Watch: No. 3 Florida State vs. No. 14 St. Bonaventure, as Andrew Nicholson will be a handful for the Seminoles' frontcourt.
You could argue that a potential meeting between North Carolina and Kansas in the regional final would be the NCAA Tournament's overall 4 vs. 5 game. Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, if the game comes to pass, they'll have to play it far closer to Lawrence than Chapel Hill. Of course, if Roy Williams' team plays like it did for most of Sunday afternoon in Atlanta, Creighton, Michigan or even Temple could knock them out well before they travel to St. Louis. As for the Jayhawks, their draw sets up rather well, particularly if the Belmont finally breaks through and upsets Georgetown.
Second Round Game To Watch: No. 4 Michigan vs. No. 13 Ohio, if the Bobcats' perimeter defense can lock down the Wolverines' shooters, they could grab another upset win.
My full tournament picks will come on Tuesday morning, though I'll warn you that you should be prepared to file and save them for later ridicule.