Chris Dobbertean, SB Nation's resident bracketologist and editor of Blogging The Bracket, shares his initial thoughts about the NCAA field and his very early picks.
What started in November with early round games for the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic is rapidly reaching its conclusion. Tonight's announcement of the NCAA field of 65 means that the season will soon be over. But looking at the bracket, as flawed as it is, with Duke as a 1, West Virginia a 2, Temple a 5, Gonzaga as an 8, Cornell as a 12, it looks like we'll be in for a maddening three weekends of basketball.
From the seeding and bracketing perspective there was one change this year I wasn't expecting. Traditionally, teams from the same conference are kept apart until the Elite Eight, but there has been flexibility during recent years to allow league brethren to meet as soon as Round Two. The Committee didn't take advantage of this idea until this year. The East and South regions both feature potential all-Big East regional semifinal matches. I don't happen to think this will happen in either case, though.
For more seeding talk, from the mid-major perspective, check out Adam Jacobi's thoughts on the subject.
The Illini got themselves into an exempt event, and lost two games in Las Vegas to teams who went nowhere. They went 10-6 in the Big Ten, but didn't grab enough wins in their many chances to be selected.
The Bulldogs certainly looked like one of the best 34 at-large teams, this week. If they had showed that sense of urgency in games against Richmond, Rider and Western Kentucky (or even in some of their regular season SEC games), they would have been in.
Likewise, the Hokies went 10-6 in the ACC, and grabbed three wins over the RPI Top 50 as the season wound down. With the Committee's emphasis on finishing kick, perhaps they would have been in had they not lost to Miami in the ACC quarterfinals. They didn't, so the scheduling criteria kicked in, and the fact the Hokies' best non-league win was against Seton Hall relegated them to the NIT.
That's enough about the teams who didn't get in. Here are my thoughts and early picks for each of the four regions.
On the surface, this region is the most difficult, which many have said is unfair to the number one overall seed, Kansas. However, the Committee made the proper choices in seeding this bracket. The first priority is to get teams on the top four lines as close to their natural regions as possible, not to match up the top 1 seed with the worst 2 seed. Since Kansas State couldn't be placed in this region because of Kansas' presence (the top three teams from a conference must be placed in separate regions), Ohio State got the nod instead.
Maryland likely gets a 4 seed here based on their finish. Their overall profile, thanks to early non-conference struggles, warranted a 5 in my opinion. Not that there's really much of a difference when Eastern schools are sent to Western sites as "protected" seeds.
Round One: Kansas, Northern Iowa, Michigan State, Maryland, San Diego State, Georgetown, Georgia Tech, Ohio State
Round Two: Kansas, Maryland, Georgetown, Ohio State
Regional Semifinals: Kansas, Ohio State
Regional Final: Kansas
Kentucky faces a very difficult road to Indianapolis. A potential matchup with underachieving Texas in the second round is the least of the Wildcats' worries. The regional semifinals could see them face Wisconsin, Temple or Cornell. The Owls and Big Red are two of the most underseeded teams in the field.
If they survive that, Kentucky could potentially face West Virginia, a team I thought had a better case for a 1 seed than Duke did, thanks to higher-quality wins. In the end, the Committee took the team who won both their conference regular season and tournament titles (which makes me wonder why Temple isn't higer than a 5, as they did the same).
Round One: Kentucky, Texas, Cornell, Wisconsin, Washington, New Mexico, Clemson, West Virginia
Round Two: Kentucky, Cornell, New Mexico, West Virginia
Regional Semifinals: Kentucky, West Virginia
Regional Final: Kentucky
This region looks like it could be a cakewalk for Duke, who I didn't even have pegged as a one seed this afternoon, but I don't think it will be. The Blue Devils should cruise to the regional final, but Villanova could await there. The Wildcats have the speed and guard play that can give Duke issues.
But it won't be easy for Nova, as they may have to get past some teams with talented big men. Potential second round opponents Richmond and St. Mary's both have interior guys who will give the Wildcats headaches. The Gaels have Omar Samhan and 6-11 Ben Allen, who's a dangerous three-point threat, while the Spiders have Dan Geriot and Justin Harper, another big body who has a nice perimeter game. And I haven't even mentioned potential regional semifinal opponent Baylor, who has Ekpe Udoh inside.
The Committee did struggling Purdue no favors, placing them as a 4 seed opposite Siena, a veteran team who is a bit underseeded at 13. The Saints could even make the Sweet 16, as their second round opponent with a win would be either Texas A&M, who's done amazing things without Derrick Roland, but hasn't had a ton of Tournament success lately, or Utah State. The Blue Aggies will face a team that shares their nickname for the second game in a row. They'll do it in Spokane, which just happens to be where head coach Stew Morrill went to college.
This is the other region where there's a potential Big East regional semifinal, but I'm picking Gerald Lee and Old Dominion to get by Luke Harangody and Notre Dame in a battle of two of the country's best forwards.
Syracuse fans throughout the country were a bit peeved when they saw the name Vermont pop up as their first round opponent, but this isn't 2005 and Taylor Coppenrath has exhausted his eligibility, so the Orange, backed by plenty of fans in Buffalo, should move on to face either Gonzaga or Florida State in round two. The Bulldogs are a bit underseeded in my opinion, and they can not only score, but they have a big man in Robert Sacre who can give the 'Cuse problems, especially if Arinze Onuaku is limited.
If they can survive the first weekend, the Orange should be in good shape, as long as Pittsburgh gets knocked out before the regional final. The Panthers would love nothing more than to end Syracuse's season before Indianapolis.
I had Florida as my final team in, and looking at the bracket, the Committee was of a similar mindset. They were likely among the last few teams in based on their seeding relative to the other at-larges. Their reward, a game against a BYU team that can really score. Given how the Gators seem to disappear offensively at time, that could be trouble.
The one team I missed this season happens to be in this region, as UTEP is the 12 seed in San Jose, where they'll face Butler in the first round. This one will feature an interesting contest between the Miners' Derrick Caracter and Bulldogs' Matt Howard: which talented, but foul-prone forward will spend more time on the floor? My pick is Howard, which gives Butler the edge in one of the more intriguing first round matchups out there.
Round One: Syracuse, Gonzaga, Butler, Vanderbilt, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, BYU, Kansas State
Round Two: Syracuse, Butler, Pittsburgh, Kansas State
Regional Semifinals: Syracuse, Kansas State
Regional Final: Syracuse
Final Four Picks
National Semifinals: Syracuse over Kansas and Kentucky over Villanova
National Final: Syracuse over Kentucky
The combination of a few extra days rest, a confusing well-executed defense, Wes Johnson's all-around play, Andy Rautins' threes and an ever-maturing supporting cast should push the Orange to the top. However, if Arinze Onuaku is limited, this pick may change, as Syracuse's depth will be challenged.
As I haven't really scratched the surface in terms of studying this bracket, I'll post a final set of picks on Wednesday.