Five Best Offenses
5. Wichita State
Indiana's offense is heavily predicated on making 3-pointers. This can obviously be a dicey proposition in the NCAA Tournament, where it just takes one solid cold spell or set of unfriendly rims to end your season; but as Kentucky can attest, the Hoosiers can be devastating once they get rolling. Jordan Hulls, Christian Watford and Matt Roth combined to make an incredible 149 of 308 3-point attempts this season (48.4 percent), while freshman Cody Zeller cleaned up quite a few of the misses.
Five Best Defenses
2. Wichita State
Led by Anthony Davis and Terrence Jones, the Wildcats block virtually every shot inside the 3-point line, and they do so without fouling. They alter shots they don't block, and generally speaking, they make life rather miserable for opposing offenses. Of course, there are a lot of ways to play quality defense in this region -- Wichita State leverages you into shots you don't typically take, then cleans up the glass. VCU forces turnovers at the highest rate in the country. UNLV does a little of each. Top to bottom, defenses outpace offenses in this region, though Duke and Indiana might disagree with that assessment.
As Seeded By Pomeroy
To get a glimpse into the strengths, weaknesses, overseed and underseeds of the bracket, let's re-seed the teams based on their Ken Pomeroy rankings.
1. Kentucky vs. 16. WKU/MVSU
6. Iowa State vs. 8. Connecticut
2. Wichita State vs. 10. VCU
3. Indiana vs. 13. New Mexico State
7. UNLV vs. 14. Colorado
4. Baylor vs. 11. South Dakota State
9. Notre Dame vs. 12. Xavier
5. Duke vs. 15. Lehigh
The top three, and five of the top eight, all reside on Kentucky's side of the ledger. Meanwhile, Baylor ended up with potentially the most favorable draw imaginable, and Iowa State, a quality team that has improved over the past two months, could not have ended up with much worse.
Most Likely Cinderella
(In this case, "Cinderella" refers to the team, seeded 11th or worse, most likely to make the Sweet 16.)
South Dakota State. I made a point yesterday to mention how Baylor lost only two games all season to teams outside of Pomeroy's Top 10, which makes the Jackrabbits an unlikely Cinderella pick. But the road isn't any easier for teams like New Mexico State, Colorado or last year's Cinderella VCU. If SDSU can somehow take Baylor out, they would face a semi-friendly matchup in the Round of 32. VCU, meanwhile, must take out the second- and third-best teams in the region (according to Pomeroy) to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
In other words, a Cinderella isn't likely in this region, at least not beyond the Round of 32.
This Year's Harold Arceneaux
Here are the top three players, from the list of Cinderellas, most likely to single-handedly take down a region heavyweight, a la Weber State's Harold Arceneaux in 1999.
Nate Wolters, South Dakota State. Quite simply, the 6-foot-4 junior is SDSU's offense. He takes one-third of the Jackrabbits' shots when he is on the court (16.5 field goal attempts per game), he gets to the line (7.1 free throw attempts per game), and when he isn't shooting, he's either setting up a shooter (6.0 assists per game) or grabbing a rebound (5.2 boards per game). He isn't much of a 3-point shooter (24 percent), but he gets hot on occasion, and when he does, look out. For the season, Wolters averaged almost as many points (21.3) as SDSU's No. 2 and No. 3 scorers combined (22.0).
Wendell McKines, New Mexico State. The 6-foot-6 senior averaged 18.8 points and 10.6 rebounds per game this season. He takes a lot of shots, grabs a lot of rebounds, draws fouls, and drifts out to the perimeter enough to attempt over four 3-pointers per game. The Aggies are a big, strong team, and if McKines gets rolling, they could easily make Indiana's return trip to the NCAA Tournament a short one.
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh. McCollum, a 6-foot-3 junior, averaged 21.9 points per game for the up-tempo Mountain Hawks. He attempts nearly 16 field goal attempts per game, and when the 3-pointers start to fall, Lehigh becomes very dangerous. He made seven of 12 3-balls in a 22-point win over Colgate, and he averaged 28 points per game in Lehigh's last two wins in the Patriot League tournament. He will need to put up 30+ for Lehigh to have a shot against Duke
Most Overlooked Team
Duke. As odd as it may sound, the second-seeded Blue Devils have been written off by quite a few, primarily because of their occasional defensive issues. This is not without warrant; using Pomeroy's rankings, Duke's defense ranks 10th in the region, barely ahead of Xavier's and New Mexico State's. Still, Duke only suffered one truly questionable loss this season -- at home to Miami -- and has won eight of their last ten games. They were 21-0 versus teams ranked 40th or worse (according to Pomeroy), and they wouldn't face a team ranked better than 40th until the Sweet Sixteen. Their defense might prevent them from being a title contender, but their offense is still going to give them a chance.
Best Round Of 64 Matchup
Wichita State vs. VCU. It was a dead heat between this game and Iowa State-UConn, but the matchups in this one are fascinating. VCU forces more turnovers than anybody in the country but springs leaks on the defensive glass. Wichita State, meanwhile, forces no turnovers and allows no offensive rebounds. VCU's offense runs through 6-foot-6 senior Bradford Burgess and, when he's on the court, 6-foot-5 freshman Treveon Graham; both are streaky, and neither makes a high percentage of his shots. VCU is going to have to force a ton of turnovers to win because WSU will swallow them whole in halfcourt sets. Of course ... VCU very well could force a ton of turnovers.
Best Potential Round Of 32 Matchup
Kentucky vs. UConn. Rare is the opportunity to pair this year's championship favorite versus last year's championship winner on the first weekend of the tournament. If you are into name brands, this potential game could be a highlight of your weekend, unless Iowa State has something to say about it.
Best Potential Sweet 16 Matchup
Duke vs. Baylor. A potential Kentucky-Indiana rematch would also be lovely, but if you want fascinating matchups, look no further than Blue Devils-Bears. Austin Rivers vs. Pierre Jackson. Perry Jones III and Quincy Acy vs. Ryan Kelly and the Plumlees. Seth Curry vs. Brady Heslip. Mike Krzyzewski vs. ... Scott Drew. Baylor is long, athletic and occasionally explosive, and they have quite a few matchup advantages in their favor. But Duke is still Duke, and Coach K is still Coach K.
Best Potential Elite Eight Matchup
Kentucky vs. Baylor. Baylor came on very, very strong in the Big 12 Tournament, whipping Kansas State and Kansas before falling to Missouri in the finals. Perry Jones III has begun to rebound from a half-dreadful February, and Acy and Heslip are incredible role players. Kentucky is the favorite for a reason, but if all the pieces come together for the Bears at the same time, this matchup has by far the highest ceiling in the region.
Kentucky. Kentucky is Baylor with quite a bit more realized potential. They have the perimeter defenders to handle Duke, they have the inside presence to fluster Perry Jones III, and they have revenge on the brain if they get another shot at Indiana. They have too many pieces not to be the overwhelming favorite in this region.