The South is Loaded
Kentucky is the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, so it stands to reason that UK’s road to the Final Four should be the smoothest. That certainly doesn’t appear to be the case, as the Wildcats have drawn a region oozing with talented teams capable of giving them fits.
Having Baylor (which is loaded with NBA prospects) and Duke (which is Duke) at the top is bad enough, but the strength of this region is most apparent in the middle. There is no better 8/9 matchup than the South’s of Royce White and Iowa State going up against the defending national champions from Connecticut. Either of those squads could give UK trouble in the third round, but the Huskies – who boast likely lottery picks in Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond and have a handful of players who were part of a win over the Wildcats in the 2011 Final Four – are particularly worthy of fear.
A look elsewhere in the region reveals the team most have considered to be the strongest mid-major (Wichita State), another that knocked off North Carolina by ten (UNLV), and then, of course, the only team to defeat Kentucky during the regular season (Indiana).
You’re not going to win a national championship without defeating elite teams, but the teams Kentucky will have to face on their way to New Orleans are probably a tad more elite than Big Blue Nation would have preferred.
Seton Hall Snubbed
It was a disappointing Sunday for a number of teams hoping to hear their name called during the selection special, but it was especially brutal for a Seton Hall team that most "Bracketologists" had penciled into the field of 68.
The Pirates’ lone non-conference loss was to Northwestern, and their computer numbers appear to be at-large worthy enough. They had a chance to help themselves by earning a couple of quality wins in the Big East Tournament, but they fell to eventual champion Louisville in the second round.
"I believe this team deserves to be playing and have its name called on Sunday," said head coach Kevin Willard after the loss to the Cardinals. "I’ve always been under the belief that it’s the total year, it’s not just two games that you played bad at the end of the year."
Still, it was a late-season slide that included ten losses in 15 games that will result in SHU’s relegation to the NIT.
Iona Sneaks In
It was a widely held belief that Iona’s NCAA Tournament dreams were dashed when the Gaels fell to Fairfield in the MAAC Tournament semifinals. Their inclusion in the field of 68 is already proving to be the most hotly contested, that that will almost certainly remain the case until they tip-off against BYU in the tournament’s opening round on Tuesday.
While Iona’s resume certainly can't be scrutinized, their benefit to the tournament’s opening night cannot. The Gaels score more points than anyone in the country and possess three players – Scott Machado, MoMo Jones and Mike Glover – who would play significant minutes for any team in the country. They are fully capable of beating BYU and then giving Marquette all it can handle in round two.
Iona’s situation is eerily reminiscent of VCU’s inclusion last year. The Rams were lambasted by national analysts and fans alike before winning five games and making a shocking appearance in the Final Four. I’m not saying the Gaels fans should be making travel plans for New Orleans, I’m just saying that Iona’s shaky resume doesn’t mean they aren’t a team that should be taken seriously this week.
Must-See Matchups in the Second Round
I’m contractually obligated to refer to the games on Thursday/Friday as "second round" matchups, but just know that I don’t like it. Anyway, here are the five best:
1. 8) Iowa State vs. 9) Connecticut (South)
There will be a plethora of NBA talent on the floor at the same time with Royce White, Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb.
2. 5) New Mexico vs. 12) Long Beach State (West)
The Beach doesn’t have an answer for Drew Gordon inside, but it’s going to be equally difficult for the Lobos to slow Casper Ware and company.
3. 5) Vanderbilt vs. 12) Harvard (East)
The ‘Dores have made a habit of being early upset victims in recent years. If it happens again this week, the result will be Harvard’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory.
4. 3) Marquette vs. 14) Iona (West)
If Iona beats BYU on Tuesday and this matchup comes to fruition, I’m telling you, you’re going to want to watch. The Gales get up-and-down more than any other team in the field, and Marquette probably isn’t going to try to do a lot to slow them down.
5. 4) Michigan vs. 13) Ohio (Midwest)
D.J. Cooper and the Bobcats are extremely enjoyable to watch, and they have all the necessary assets to give Michigan all it can handle.
North Carolina Walks to the Elite Eight
The top half of the Midwest bracket appears to be the weakest in the tournament, and North Carolina gets to reap the benefits. Even though the Heels have been prone to seeming bored at times this season, there’s no one they’ll face before the regional final who is capable of throwing them off the road to New Orleans.
In the Elite Eight, UNC could potentially face one of two programs which has handed the Heels painful tournament losses in recent years. Second-seeded Kansas blasted Carolina in the ’08 Final Four, and No. 3 Georgetown upset them in the 2007 regional finals.