Well... this was easily my worst year in projecting the field (something I thought might happen as I evaluated teams this week). I do not think the selection committee did a great job this year. As I have always said to me the most important quality in an NCAA tournament team is a proven ability to beat other tournament teams. Cal, Utah State and UTEP all failed to prove they could that, while Illinois proved they could by beating 4 top 25 RPI teams, 3 of which were away from home. To me that is an NCAA tournament team. My other major issue was Florida getting in over Mississippi State team that beat them on a neutral floor a two days earlier, then beat Vandy, then took UK to OT and really lost on a bad bounce. Now I would have been fine with Mississippi State not getting in, but Florida getting in over them does not make any sense at all. Their resume's are essentially the same, but Mississippi State was better late and again beat them on a neutral floor.
I will say though that no one that missed really has anyone to blame but themselves. Mississippi State did not do enough throughout the year, Illinois had some bad losses, VT had an awful non-conference schedule. In the end I may disagree with the committee but we are not debating teams that would have a shot to win the whole thing... so I am good with how it is.
The biggest issue I had was Duke being treated like the number 1 overall seed. Duke was easily the weakest of the 1 seeds and did not have as good a resume as WVU. Duke was given the weakest 2 seed in their region. They were also given a 4 seed missing their best player. Duke does draw the toughest 8/9 winner (unless Texas suddenly starts playing to their ability), but other than that they were given a great draw.
WVU who had 5 top 25 RPI wins to Duke's 1 and was 7-4 on the road vs. Duke who was 5-5 ended being a 2 seed and was put into Kentucky's region making a final four run that much more difficult. Had they put WVU in Duke's region they'd be a favorite to make the final four. The good news for WVU is they may have gotten some favors at the bottom of the region being matched up with New Mexico as the three seed (a team they should beat if New Mexico were to get that far). It seems that the committee felt it was more important to give them the Buffalo/Syracuse locations than to match them with the weakest 1 seed.
Another team I think got jobbed was Ohio State. Why did Ohio State get put in the bracket of the top 1 seed? I guess it is as simple as keeping OSU in St Louis for the the regional finals instead of sending them to Houston...but if you are Ohio State would you rather be in St Louis in a Region with Kansas and Georgetown (probably the best 1 and 3 seeds respectively) or be in Houston with Duke and Baylor as your chief rivals. On top of that the Oklahoma State v Georgia Tech winner is going to be an absolutely rough second round match-up for the Buckeyes. To me they have far and away the toughest path of any of the high seeds to the final four.
Now lets take a look at the first round match-ups I am most looking forward to:
Thursday 12:20, 7 BYU vs. 10 Florida- 7/10 games always tend to be close. I really like this BYU team. Florida has struggled a bunch down the stretch. I do not think they should have made the tournament, that being said they could easily win this game.
Thursday 12:25, 6 Notre Dame vs. 11 Old Dominion- Notre Dame was one of the hottest teams in the country to end the season. Old Dominion won a very competitive Colonial Athletic Association. Four years ago George Mason made an historic final four run from a similar position. Obviously that is a huge unlikelihood, but a Sweet 16 run would not be surprising at all.
Thursday 2:30, 4 Vanderbilt vs. 13 Murray State- Really all the 13/4 games have a certain level of intrigue to them this year. I think this is one of the better sets of 13 seeds I can remember in the tournament and the four seeds they have been matched with are not really teams that seem to blow others out. Murray State was absolutely dominant in the Ohio Valley this year (big surprise I know they've been doing it for over 2 decades). Vanderbilt had a great year. They are well coached and very skilled, but I think Murray States quickness could give them trouble. It should be a very interesting matchup and maybe the first big upset of the tournament.
Thursday 4:45, 5 Butler vs. 12 UTEP- I did not pick a single 5/12 upset this year...which will probably prove to be foolish as they happen like clockwork. I think Butler is too good a team for UTEP, but I guess we will see. Anyways the 5/12 games are always worth watching.
Thursday 7:20, 6 Marquette vs. 11 Washington- Marquette is another example of how much respect the Big East got this year. I think Marquette is probably a bit over-seeded. They really did overachieve with the roster they have in place. I think they are better than Washington, but Washington has been hot. I think the winner of this game will likely beat New Mexico and find their way to the sweet 16.
Thursday 7:25, 3 Georgetown vs. 14 Ohio- I think this will probably be a blowout, Georgetown is incredibly dangerous in this tournament. That being said, always look forward to watching the Bobcats.
Thursday 9:45, 6 Tennessee vs. 11 San Diego State- San Diego State is red hot moving into the tournament. I like their chances against Tennessee, but in the end I'm not betting against Bruce Pearl.
Friday 12:25, 6 Xavier vs. 11 Minnesota- I personally think Xavier is much better than Minnesota. However, I also think Tubby Smith is a very good game to game coach and he will have them ready. I thought Xavier got a nice draw for getting back to the sweet 16, but they have to get the first one.
Friday 12:30, 5 Temple vs. 12 Cornell- The Atlantic 10 is very much featured in the 12:30 games. I thought Temple was under-seeded in the tournament this year. I know Cornell is a trendy pick here but I think Temple is a much more athletic and a generally better team. I personally like the Owls to make the sweet 16.
Friday 2:30, 4 Purdue vs. 13. Siena- It is the second of the very intriguing 4/13 match-ups in this year's tournament. Purdue has looked really bad in their two games against tournament competition without Robby Hummel. They have the talent to win without him, but will they have it together by then? Siena brought back four starters from the team that upset Ohio State last year. They are very good and tournament tested. This will be a really good game.
Friday 4:45, 5 Texas A&M vs. 12. Utah State- I think this is the most likely of the 12/5 upsets. Utah State had been very hot before the tournament. Texas A&M is better and should win, but we have seen bigger upsets in 12/5 games before.
Friday 7:15, 7 Oklahoma State vs. 10 Georgia Tech- These are two very talented teams who will give Ohio State a hell of a time in the second round. I will be very anxious to see who wins.
Friday 7:20- 5 Michigan State vs. 12 New Mexico State- I thought New Mexico State was probably seeded to high and it is dumb to bet against Tom Izzo in the Big Dance, but Michigan State has looked very vulnerable and we all know about 5/12.
Friday 9:40- 4 Maryland vs. 13 Houston- The last of the 4/13 match-ups I am very interested in. Houston impressed me in the Conference USA title. Tom Penders I a good coach. Maryland has not been great away from home this year. I think Maryland wins, but it should be a good game.
Friday 9:45- 8 Cal vs. 9 Louisville- The winner of this game is going to be a real threat to Duke. Just from that level of interest I will be paying attention.
Additional Thoughts on the Tournament:
15/16 team that is most likely to keep the game close- Winthrop (they are in the play in game, but screw it I went to school their for a year I'm going with them)
Toughest Draw for a 1-4 seed- Ohio State
Potential Second Round Games to Look Forward to-
Duke vs. UofL/Cal winner
Ohio State vs. Oklahoma State/Georgia Tech winner
Georgetown vs. Tennessee
12 seed or lower that could make the sweet 16- Murray State
Will the Big East get two in the final four again? Yes, out of Syracuse, WVU, Georgetown and Villanova two will find their way to the final four.
Outsider most likely to crash the final four- Baylor (and if you do not consider them an outside because they are from a power conference... Temple)
Biggest X factor in the tournament- The health of Arinze Onuaku.
Texas A& M
Kansas vs. Syracuse (the winner will be Champion)
Syracuse over West Virginia (I'm assuming Onauku will be good to go...if not...well I'll be wrong)