Best and Worst Big Dance Draws
Dissecting the bracket and the decisions of the selection committee is certainly a fun topic Monday morning. Here is a quick look at some of the favorable and unfavorable draws in the bracket. Neither is indicative of ultimate success in the tournament but some teams were dealt better hands than others.
West Virginia (#3 East): The Mountaineers made it to the Big XII championship game, narrowly losing against #1 overall Kansas on Saturday. Most power ratings project West Virginia as a clear top 10 team but they have drawn a fairly difficult path as a #3 seed, while staring at the Oklahoma team they finished ahead of and just beat as a #2 seed. Stephen F. Austin hasn’t lost a game since the calendar turned to 2016 taking a 20 game winning streak into the tournament. The Lumberjacks beat VCU in the 2015 tournament and last season played a very close game with Utah in a 5/12 matchup. West Virginia’s success is built on creating turnovers yet they will have to face the only team in the nation with a higher defensive turnover rate in this matchup as these teams have similar strengths, except in 3-point shooting and free throw shooting where the Mountaineers are the much weaker team. Should West Virginia survive they could potentially face Notre Dame or Michigan, two powerhouse fan bases that have will have strong support in the Brooklyn venue.
Baylor (#5 West): The Bears lost as a #3 seed last season against Georgia State and Baylor will again be on upset alert this season in the opening round. In 2013 and 2014 Ivy League champion Harvard won NCAA tournament games and last season the Crimson just missed an upset over North Carolina in a two-point defeat as the league deserves some respect. This game will also take place in Providence giving the Bulldogs a huge location edge with the venue just an hour and a half drive from New Haven and with plenty of alumni in the region ready to snap up tickets for Yale’s first Big Dance appearance since 1962. As the spread suggests a Yale win won’t be much of an upset but if the Bears survive they will only have to go through the defending national champions with Duke sitting as the opposing #4 seed should the Blue Devils advance.
Indiana (#5 East): The Hoosiers don’t have a great argument to have been seeded much higher despite being the Big Ten champions in the regular season. The SEC regular season and tournament champion Kentucky certainly does have a valid gripe however and that potential matchup will be the highest profile game of the Round of 32. If Indiana keeps up its late season shooting they can beat anyone but the Kentucky backcourt seems likely to be a difficult matchup for the Hoosiers and the Des Moines crowd will likely have strong Kentucky support. The Hoosiers had better not get caught looking ahead to that game however as Chattanooga is a dangerous team that lost just five games all season and picked up wins over Georgia, Illinois, and Dayton. The Mocs have been very good at creating turnovers which could capitalize on the chief weakness of the Hoosiers and the 3-point defense for Chattanooga has also been pretty sound. Beat Chattanooga and Kentucky and Indiana’s reward is facing North Carolina in most scenarios as it won’t be easy for Tom Crean to get past the Sweet 16 for the first time since he took over in Bloomington.
Arizona (#6 South): The Wildcats have been unable to get over the hump in the Elite Eight the past two years and they will have a difficult path ahead if Sean Miller is to make his first Final Four in 2016. Arizona may have felt slighted to be a #2 seed last season but they at least played on the west coast. This season the Wildcats have been shipped across the country to Providence. To make matters worse they play on Thursday night but they won’t know the opponent until Tuesday night facing the winner of gem of a First Four matchup between Wichita State and Vanderbilt. Both of those squads wound up on the bubble but both teams have very high ceilings and will be considered viable sleepers to make it out of the first weekend. In the short history of the First Four, all five seasons one of the winning teams has advanced to at least the Round of 32, with three teams making the Sweet 16 and VCU making the Final Four in the initial year of the First Four in 2011.
Cal-State Bakersfield (#15 West): The hodgepodge WAC doesn’t get much respect as a whole as there are some pretty bad teams in the group but the top of the conference produced some respectable results around the country. Bakersfield is 24-8 to earn this spot after knocking off regular season champion New Mexico State last weekend. While the profile lacks any standout non-conference wins most power rankings would place the Roadrunners above several teams that received better placement in the bracket such as Chattanooga, Green Bay, Stony Brook, or Buffalo. In addition to the #15 seed and the difficult matchup with a Sooners team that was ranked #1 much of the year, the Roadrunners will feel like they are playing a road game drawing Oklahoma in Oklahoma City. It won’t be a shock in Bakersfield gives the Sooners a scare but the Roadrunners would have been a more viable upset threat with a seeding more consistent with their strong statistics.
Oregon (#1 West): The Ducks weren’t on the radar for most as a potential #1 seed but the Pac-12 was given great respect by the committee and the emphatic title game win pushed the Ducks to the top line after claiming both the regular season and conference tournament titles. Oregon gets to play the winner of the Holy Cross and Southern Matchup as they will have one of the most favorable opening round draws and getting to play the first weekend in Spokane is a big plus with no other west coast schools in that pod. Duke and Baylor don’t look overly formidable as the #4 and #5 teams in the group particularly on defense given Oregon’s fantastic offensive potential. Upsets are very possible in that Providence grouping as well with Duke and Baylor both set to face challenging opening games. If Oregon lives up to its seeding it would have an Anaheim regional final matchup with likely Oklahoma or Texas A&M two teams with high ceilings but plenty of inconsistency this season while avoiding some of the more proven candidates in those #2 and #3 slots.
Villanova (#2 South): The Wildcats have a big monkey on their back for tournament failures in recent years and not having the pressure of being a #1 seed might be a benefit. #1 overall Kansas is on the opposite side of the region but getting past the opening weekend has to be the priority for Villanova. UNC-Asheville rates as one of the weaker teams in the field losing six games in the Big South but a non-conference win over Georgetown should be enough to capture Villanova’s attention. The 7/10 draw of Iowa and Temple also looks promising as Temple rates as by far the weakest #10 seed and is a team that Villanova beat by 16 in February. While Iowa has a strong season profile this is a Hawkeyes team that has lost six of the last eight games to wipe away the great work the team did in January. Iowa lost to Penn State, Ohio State, and Illinois down the stretch while also losing two home games and snapping out of that funk looks challenging against a team like Villanova should the Hawkeyes even get that chance. Miami is a strong team as the #3 seed but perhaps less threatening than some of the other potential teams that could have been in that spot in the South like West Virginia, Kentucky, or Texas A&M.
Michigan State (#2 Midwest): Most instantly placed Michigan State as a team with a gripe about not being a #1 seed as the Spartans are the Vegas favorites to cut down the nets and it isn’t a hard case to make putting the Spartans on the #1 line. That said, a close look reveals some real benefits to this path if the Spartans can use that slight as motivation to get back to the Final Four. The #1 seed in the Midwest is Virginia, a team the Spartans have beat the past two seasons in the NCAA Tournament and that potential game would be in Chicago with a clear edge for Michigan State. Middle Tennessee State is a better team than any of the #1 seeds will face in the opening round but the Spartans should be comfortable with potential matchups with Syracuse or Dayton in the Round of 32. Utah also looks like the weakest of the #3 seeds and that potential Sweet 16 matchup would also be in Chicago for a huge location edge for the Spartans. Iowa State also looks like one of the weaker #4 seeds and they also line up in the Midwest should Virginia falter early.
Texas (#6 West): The Longhorns lost twice as many games as their NCAA Tournament seed this season but big wins pushed Texas into a favorable position. Northern Iowa had some big wins this season and as the spread suggests it won’t be an easy game but the Oklahoma City venue should be favorable and Texas is very comfortable playing at a slower pace. The Longhorns can’t help but looking ahead to a potential matchup with Texas A&M in the round of 32, a rival and team they had a chance to play early in the season and would have no shortage of motivation and support for. It should be a Big XII crowd at the Chesapeake Arena with Oklahoma also slated to play there which could help the cause. If the Longhorns advance to the Sweet 16 they would likely face a Sooners team they beat by 13 just a few weeks ago. Ultimately the Longhorns have to feel pretty good about how things worked out especially with two other #6 seeds having the challenge of facing a First Four winner while the other #6 Seton Hall has been sent across the country in a pod with three western teams.
Iona (#13 Midwest): Metro Atlantic fans can certainly cry foul for Monmouth’s exclusion but the conference was handed a great opportunity to actually pick up a win in the NCAA Tournament with the draw for Iona. Getting a #13 seed is probably generous for a squad that lost 10 games and whose only top 100 wins came against Monmouth. Of the #4 seeds Iona would want to face Iowa State would have to be high on the list as the Cyclones don’t have the devastating size up front that some of the other #3, #4, or #5 seeds have. Iona is led by an up-tempo offense and that is Iowa State’s preferred pace as well with the Cyclones shaky on defense at times as this game could be a bit of a track meet. Playing in the mountain air in Denver also could give the Gaels a boost as well as the conditioning for Iona should be excellent given the pace of play they employ.
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