No. 1 Seed: Kentucky
Potential Cinderella: No. 12 Virginia Commonwealth
The South is the consensus toughest quarter of the bracket, with three teams (UK, Duke, Baylor) who spent most of the year inside the top ten of the polls. The selection committee didn’t do Kentucky any favors, at least with their possible Elite Eight matchup with one of those powerhouses. Before that, UK might have to go through VCU. The Rams are one year removed from one of the most impressive underdog runs we’ve ever seen, as head coach Shaka Smart led them to the Final Four as an 11-seed. They’re regular season résumé is just as unimpressive as last year, but there’s no reason to think they can’t make another deep run into the Tournament. Heck, we just saw Butler make the championship game two years in a row, why not VCU?
No. 1 Seed: Michigan State
Potential Cinderella: No. 7 Florida
This section has the makings of several third round (formerly second round) upsets, with No. 4 Louisville, No. 6 Murray State, and No. 7 Florida all coming in under-seeded. Louisville scorched through the Big East Tournament, winning four games in four days and bringing back memories of eventual-champion UConn’s five-in-five run last year. Murray State romped over inferior competition on their way to a 30-1 record, but don’t rule out the Racers for a couple of early-round wins. And the Gators have more than enough talent to raise a ruckus against Mizzou in the third round. They lost by less than 7 to three top 4 teams over the year, so they are certainly capable of hanging with the big dogs.
No. 1 Seed: Syracuse
Potential Cinderella: No. 8 Kansas State
The good news is that Wisconsin got a relatively easy draw of teams in their “foursome.” None of Vanderbilt, Harvard or Montana should be able to adjust to the Badgers’ extreme slow-down game. After that, however, the Badgers would need a miracle to oust top-seeded Syracuse. ‘Cuse had just one loss during the regular season, and made it through the entire Big East Conference schedule unscathed (until the Big East Tournament). On the lower part of the East bracket, Ohio State and Florida State have a relatively easy road to their Sweet Sixteen matchup, but that should be one of the best games of the whole Tournament.
No. 1 Seed: North Carolina
Potential Cinderella: No. 11 North Carolina State
In what looks like the weakest (and probably the most boring) quarter, there seems to be little resistance to a looming UNC-Kansas Elite Eight matchup. The selection committee played a cruel trick on NC State, as they were the very last bid announced Sunday evening. The Wolfpack came out of their semifinal loss in the ACC Tournament with a spark, so hopefully they can provide some underdog magic in the first couple rounds. Another intriguing storyline could come this Sunday, if UNC and No. 8 Creighton take care of business in their first games. Swingman Harrison Barnes of the Tar Heels played alongside Bluejays’ star Doug McDermott in high school, winning two Iowa state championships. Now Barnes is a future NBA lottery pick and McDermott posted more than 23 points and eight rebounds per game this year. It would be very interesting to see these two sharing the same court again.