By far the #1 seed with the least hardest path to the Final Four is Duke. How it is Mike Krzyzewski always manages to get these gift draws even in down years is beyond me; he must have made some kind of deal with the (Blue) Devil (ha-ha-ha). Not only that, why does Duke and not the #1 overall seed Kansas get the winner of the play-in game in the opening round? You could have made a case for West Virginia to get a 1-seed, but even though it was a down year in the ACC Duke played one of the best non-conference schedules in the country. Not seeing much on this side of the bracket to challenge Duke, so go ahead and pencil in their name in the regional final.
In a definite down year in the Pac Ten, so California should have won the regular season championship. This is probably the worst defensive team in the tournament, and there isn’t a lot of size, but the Bears do get after it on the offensive end. The key is they have to spread the floor and shoot lights out, but when the shooting goes out they are hard to watch. Louisville, on the other hand, is not a great shooting team, but man these guys can get in your grill on defense. The Cardinals are the only team to beat Syracuse TWICE. Still an experienced team that played a tough Big East schedule and made it all the way to last year’s regional final. As much as I hate to say it, Louisville wins this one but dies on the vine against Duke in the Round of 16.
Siena has won in the first round each of the last two years in the NCAA’s. They are a balanced and experienced team that has learned to expect to win even though they don’t have the world’s strongest schedule. Plus, they are catching Purdue at the right time. The Boilermakers were pounding it out for a #1 seed when they were hit with key injuries at the most inopportune time, then they subsequently were just ordinary down the stretch, so they come into the tournament not playing their best. Because of injuries points are going to be very hard to come by. Purdue was probably gifted a kind 4-seed and probably didn’t deserve it, but there is enough all around for them to finally put the kibosh on Siena.
Texas A&M-Utah State is a better 5-12 matchup than you might think. A&M is not especially big but everyone is tough on the defensive end – holding opponents to 40% shooting. Problem is they are one of the worst foul shooting teams in the country. UTU is in the top ten nationally in three point and free throw shooting. Their perimeter shooting allows them to beat most zones, but deep teams that can substitute for pressure or big teams can cause them all kinds of problems. Not knowing anything else I would pick this matchup as an Upset Special, but Utah State didn’t beat anybody of note, while Texas A&M came up big against big time opponents. I’m taking A&M.
I like Notre Dame’s chameleon-like tenacity. Playing a tough Big East schedule, the Fighting Irish had to morph from a high-scoring, good-shooting team, when they were beset by injuries, into a more patient team. So we know Mike Brey’s charges can adjust to ever-changing game conditions and become what they need to be at any given moment. Old Dominion is one of the bigger teams in the tournament that ruled the paint in a weak Colonial Athletic Association – and they needed every bit of that size just to shoot 40% from the field. That, coupled with the Monarchs’ inability to shoot free throws, indicates that Notre Dame will take this one in an entertaining 6-11 pairing.
Baylor! Wow! These guys are surprising good both inside and outside. Superb guard play coupled with the second best rebounding in a tough year in the Big XII. Stated simply, this team is dangerous; this is probably the one team in this field nobody wants to see. The Bears had some big wins against Kansas, Xavier, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas A&M – and Texas TWICE. Sam Houston State was the best offensive team in the Southland Conference – which isn’t saying much; another team that didn’t play anybody. Baylor may be neophytes at this, but there’s enough wow here to overwhelm anybody. Baylor in a walk to set up a knock-down drag-out fight with Notre Dame in the next round.
Tough 7-10 matchup to call. Surprise Richmond cracked the Top 25 this year, with defense (holding teams to 39% shooting), depth (a solid rotation of nine players), and an experienced backcourt. This is by far the best Richmond side ever. St. Mary’s is nobody’s prison bitch, though. They had to vanquish Gonzaga convincingly to get to the tourney. Despite the loss of key starters in the backcourt in December and having to switch to a bigger lineup because of it, the Gaels hit the boards with abandon while still sinking 41% of their treys; all while sinking 76% of their free throws. Problem is the lineup is limited; they have no depth and rely almost solely on their starters. If Richmond can rotate players in and put pressure on St. Mary’s, this could be a very long game for the Gaels. I’m guessing the selection committee got this one right in giving the Spiders the higher seed.
Not the world’s most difficult subregion for Villanova. Arguably the deepest, most experienced team in the field returns their Final Four team virtually intact. The Wildcats run the floor well, play up-tempo and will run you off the court. There is scoring all up and down their lineup, and they shoot the ball well from all over the court and from the charity stripe. They get Robert Morris in the first round, whom I will give madd kudos to for a defense-first mentality and playing some tough regular season foes. But Villanova shouldn’t have too many problems with this subregion. It gets tougher after that, with Baylor (wow!) possibly waiting for them before having to deal with Duke in the regional final. If there is anybody in this region who can beat Duke it’s Villanova, who dispatched the Blue Devils in last year’s regional semis.