Kentucky received the overall No. 1 seed and deservedly so, but there is plenty of competition within the South region that could cause the Wildcats some problems – and one team already has. Can anyone challenge the Cats to make a run to the Final Four?
Dream Matchup: (1) Kentucky vs. (4) Indiana. Ahh, the aforementioned troublemaker. Indiana gave Kentucky its only loss of the entire regular season when the Wildcats visited Assembly Hall in Bloomington on Dec. 10. It took Christian Watford’s shot of the year at the buzzer to fell UK 73-72, and who doesn’t want to see a rematch of that in the Sweet 16 if both teams make it?
Cinderella: (7) Notre Dame. VCU again? A year after it went to the Final Four? Actually, look for the Fighting Irish to have a chance at an Elite Eight run. A seven seed may not be the most ridiculous Cinderella story, especially as the third-place Big East finisher, but potential wins over an inconsistent Duke and a talented Baylor Bears squad would be impressive.
Going Home Early: (2) Duke or (4) Indiana. If a top four seed goes home over the first weekend, it will be either the Blue Devils or the Hoosiers. The Blue Devils, however, will find the Fighting Irish’s perimeter defense and strong frontcourt play on offense a tough matchup if both teams potentially advance.
Winner: Kentucky. It’s not just a safe bet; it is a smart bet. There isn’t a more athletic team in college basketball and the loss in the SEC title game should ease some of the pressure. This could finally be Coach Cal’s year.
Syracuse and Ohio State could both be in jeopardy of falling before the Final, as each has multiple challenging potential matchups before they would ever play each other. In fact, outside of OSU and Syracuse, the East holds three other teams from power six conferences that played in their conference tournament championship game – Vanderbilt (won), Florida State (won) and Cincinnati (runner-up).
Dream Matchup: (1) Syracuse vs. (5) Vanderbilt. The Commodores have a great perimeter game, averaging almost nine 3-pointers per game. Vandy’s ability from deep could stretch the Syracuse zone, allowing Vandy’s skilled big-man tandem of Jeffery Taylor and Festus Ezeli could send the Orange’s mascot rolling home early.
Cinderella: (12) Harvard. The Ivy League champs haven’t been to the Big Dance since 1946, so why not? If anybody deserves to be a Cinderella it’s a team whose evil intra-conference step-sisters have kept it locked up for 56 years. Vandy is a tough draw for Harvard in the first round, but it should be a great matchup.
Going Home Early: (4) Wisconsin. The Badgers look like the high-seeded team to be sent packing in the first round; probably not against Montana, but the Commodores or the Crimson will likely give the Badgers’ hit-or-miss offense all kinds of trouble in the second round. Wisconsin lives and dies with the three, and a team with strong interior presence and solid post play could doom a drought-susceptible Wisconsin team to an early fate.
Winner: (3) Florida State. The Seminoles have beaten Duke and North Carolina twice this year and won the ACC tournament. Call me an optimist that they can keep it up, but there is not a single dreadfully scary team in the East region that the ‘Noles can’t beat.
North Carolina swiped the No. 1 seed away from Duke a couple of weeks ago with a win at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Now the Tar Heels will have to navigate arguably the deepest region of the bracket. Kansas, Michigan and even San Diego State are just a few teams that could challenge UNC.
Dream Matchup: (1) North Carolina vs. (2) Kansas. Dynamic players on both squads make this a marquee matchup for more reasons than just a one seed vs. two seed matchup. A game featuring Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller, Kendall Marshall and John Henson (if healthy) vs. Tyshawn Taylor and POY candidate Thomas Robinson is appealing to any fan of up-tempo offense and future NBA lottery picks. With a trip to New Orleans on the line if these two teams meet, this game has the potential to be the best of the tournament.
Cinderella: (6) San Diego State. The Aztecs lost a core group of players to the NBA last season, but really didn’t miss a beat, making it back to March Madness. They have a pair of guards in Chase Tapley (43 3PT percent) and Jamaal Franklin (17.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg) that can challenge any team in the Midwest region.
Going Home Early: (3) Georgetown. I’m not buying into the Hoyas this year. A projected three seed for weeks before they were awarded that designation, the Hoyas have lost to some questionable opponents – specifically Pittsburgh and Seton Hall – and have not won more than two consecutive games since Jan. 21.
Winner: (2) Kansas. The Jayhawks have the senior leadership and the phenomenal talent required to reach the Final Four. An elite matchup of UNC and KU seems likely, but the Tar Heels still have not proved they have the mental toughness to be a champion.
Michigan State pulled it off, finally escaping the grips of the three-way first place tie atop the Big Ten conference. The committee had no choice after the Spartans won the Big Ten tournament, but it has been clear for some time that Michigan State was the class of the conference despite its slip-up in securing the Big Ten outright.
Dream Matchup: (2) Missouri vs. (3) Marquette. Each team has a stud guard in Marcus Denmon (17.6 ppg) for the Tigers and Darius Johnson-Odom (18.5 ppg) for the Golden Eagles. If this matchup happens, an interesting facet to the game will be Marquette’s ability to shoot the three-ball. Marquette doesn’t shoot particularly well – just 33.7 percent from three on the season – but over its conference slate, Missouri’s 3-point defense was a terrible 41.5 percent clip.
Cinderella: (12) Long Beach State. Winners of 18 of its last 20 games, Long Beach State could be poised to make a valiant run in the tournament. The 49ers played a strong non-conference schedule against the likes of UNC, Kansas, Louisville and Creighton. They didn’t win any of those games, but they were close and crazy things happen in March.
Going Home Early: (5) Louisville. Louisville just ran the table through the Big East tournament, but will run a gauntlet of good teams no matter who advances through the first couple of rounds. I’m not saying the Cardinals are going to lose early; they just appear to be in the most danger early in the tournament.
Winner: (1) Michigan State. Michigan State dominated the Big Ten tournament field, forgiving the narrow win over the Buckeyes in the championship game. Izzo leads his teams to Final Fours and this Spartans team looks as good as any Izzo has ever had.