This year's March Madness bracket — get your 2011 NCAA Tournament printable bracket here! — had to be filled with one of the weakest fields in NCAA basketball recent memory, had to be topped by a handful of great teams with no obviously dominant top team — save maybe Ohio State — and had to be very hard to put together. That said, the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee certainly made some interesting decisions. Let's run down the Selection Sunday winners and losers.
Florida lost its last game this Sunday, and was fairly uncompetitive against Kentucky in that SEC Tournament Championship Game. I think we can justifiably wonder whether the Selection Committee was watching: Kentucky got a No. 4 seed for that effort, while Florida is a No. 2 seed, plays its first two games in a Tampa pod that will be filled with orange and blue partisans, would match up with the Brandon Davies-less No. 3 seed BYU team it played in an instant classic last year, and is bracketed to meet either Pittsburgh or Wisconsin in the Southeast Regional final in New Orleans. Suddenly, Gators fans — myself included — get to look at a bracket and talk themselves out of slotting their team into the Final Four. And all this just hours after a bad loss! Florida's resume is dotted with a slew of very good wins, but a No. 2 seed still seems a little high.
UAB and VCU
Clemson is apparently going to escape the brunt of this — thanks, ACC cover! — but flick on any "selection special," open any 2011 NCAA Tournament newspaper, or check out any website, and you will see plenty of time devoted to excoriating the Selection Committee for giving the Blazers and Rams a chance to take part in this year's March Madness. That may make the Selection Committee a loser ... but it makes those two schools, their players, and their fans winners. Sometimes, in sports, things just have to fall your way.
The Fighting Irish were talked about as a fringe No. 1 seed contender. But take a look at this year's field and answer me this: would you rather have Duke's road to the Final Four or Notre Dame's? The Irish only have to get past Akron and either Texas A&M or Florida State to make it to a Chicago site for the Southwest Regional that will be full-throated in its approval of Ben Hansbrough and Company. And Purdue isn't the toughest No. 3 seed in the field — that would be Connecticut, in Duke's regional — meaning Notre Dame should be favored to go to a regional final against Kansas. Sure, that Elite Eight game might be really tough. But Notre Dame might not have to play its best basketball to get there.
The gut reaction to Duke getting a No. 1 seed in a year that seemed dominated by other teams is typical for anyone familiar with Duke: "Aw, man, the powers that be want Duke to win! Ratings! White guys! Coach K! No fair!" But this Duke team should be very worried about a West Regional final against San Diego State in Anaheim. Heck, these Blue Devils should be terrified about a possible Sweet Sixteen matchup against the deep, gritty Texas team that got criminally underseeded as a No. 4 — or the fleet, talented Arizona team that might be underseeded as a No. 5. And should San Diego State somehow not be waiting for Duke in Anaheim, it's likely Connecticut will. You know, Connecticut, that No. 3 seed that just finished winning five games in five days — four against NCAA Tournament teams given fifth seeds or better — and led by all-everything point guard Kemba Walker? That team that might be less appealing than a game against the rugged Aztecs? Yeah, I think you can give the "Duke has it easy!" bellyaching a year off, unless you want to complain about how Duke merely has to bus to Charlotte and dispatch Hampton to get to a tricky game against Michigan or Tennessee.
Much like the 2010 NCAA Tournament, the overall No. 1 seed will have to navigate a rough regional just to make the Final Four in 2011. The other top seeds in No. 1-seeded Ohio State's East bracket? No. 2 North Carolina, No. 3 Syracuse, and No. 4 Kentucky. There is a massive amount of talent on those three teams, and each will bring a legion of fans to the East Regional site in Newark, neutralizing some of the Buckeyes' possible proximity advantage. And just to get to the Sweet Sixteen, Ohio State may have to beat George Mason, one of the best teams few have noticed nationally. Good luck to Jared Sullinger, David Lighty, and the rest: they may need it.
Fans Buying Tickets From Scalpers At An East Regional Involving Ohio State, North Carolina, Syracuse, And Kentucky
Bit of advice: you folks might want to take a loan out against a car, first-born, or small stockpile of gold bullion just in case that happens. And you thought a possible trip to Newark was bad enough!
Sure, the Longhorns faded. Sure, the Longhorns won big games against Kansas and North Carolina this more than 30 days before Selection Sunday. Sure, the Longhorns didn't capitalize on their brutal schedule with as many wins as they could have. But a No. 4 seed and a possible second-round date with Arizona? Bevo has some bellowing to do.
The Badgers, much like virtually every other team in the wide open Southeast Regional, have a legitimate chance to make a Final Four run. But the Badgers are the only team in that group that gets this year's mid-major darling — four-loss Belmont, which strafed the Atlantic Sun and lost only road games to Tennessee and Vanderbilt out of conference, and which should be a bit mad about earning a 13 seed in an NCAA Tournament field that granted UAB a berth — in the first round. And getting past Belmont only guarantees the Badgers another tough game against either Kansas State or Utah State.
The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee
- Seeded UAB
- Gave Belmont a lower seed than UAB
- Gave Texas a No. 4 seed
- Gave Florida a No. 2 seed
- Gave Ohio State, the top overall seed, the toughest regional
- Pitted Rick Pitino's team against Morehead State, which you will probably not hear about from any of your buddies from college who think they are clever
- Created a bracket that is full of intrigue in a year without a single dominant team
...wait, that last part's a win. Shoot. I guess you can't screw March Madness up even if you're trying.