Raise your hand if this starts to sound familiar.
Kentucky . . . Kansas . . . Duke . . . North Carolina . . . Michigan State. Yes, the usual gaggle of bluebloods should be fighting for the high seeds of the NCAA Tournament again come next March. The names change, but the shiny records and love from the committee remains pretty much the same.
Not that there won’t be a new face or two – say hello, Maryland. Since there are only 150-odd shopping days until Selection Sunday, here’s one guess on how the bracket might look in the end.
Warning: The use of this bracket could be hazardous to your reputation as a deft prognosticator.
Since a lot of it will be wrong, and the rest of it lucky.
No. 1 seeds: North Carolina, Kansas, Maryland, Kentucky.
The last time the Tar Heels went six seasons without a Final Four trip – which they have now -- was a quarter-century ago. The last time Kansas did not win at least a piece of the Big 12, Bill Self’s new freshmen were in first grade. Here’s all Big Ten newbie Maryland needs to know: The league has produced one national champion in 26 years, and none in 15. Meanwhile, the last word from Lexington was Calipari saying his new-look Wildcats ``stink.’’ But that was early October.
No. 2 seeds: Duke, Oklahoma, Gonzaga, Iowa State.
We’ll need a program to identify all the new players at Duke. But not the coach. Can we agree Gonzaga is currently the best program never to crack the Final Four? And that Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger – who has led five different schools to the tournament – is one of the nation’s more unappreciated coaches? And that it can’t be easy for Steve Prohm at Iowa State, replacing a guy nicknamed The Mayor?
No. 3 seeds: Villanova, Virginia, Indiana, Wichita State.
Ah, Villanova. So mighty in January and February, so meek in March. Maybe this time will be different. Virginia’s defense might be even more imposing since there are five fewer seconds to shoot this season. Tom Crean really, really, really needs a big season at Indiana. As for Wichita State, Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet are back for – what – their seventh seasons?
No. 4 seeds: Wisconsin, Michigan State, Arizona, California.
This is Bo Ryan’s farewell tour. Unless it’s not. As for Cal, there have been only two Sweet 16s in the past 55 years, and none this century. You could say the Bears are due.
No. 5 seeds: Notre Dame, Miami, Butler, Michigan.
Ten years ago, Jim Larranaga took George Mason on a magic carpet ride to the Final Four. Maybe he can celebrate the anniversary by doing the same thing at Miami, which has nearly everyone back from a team that came within overtime of winning the NIT. Notre Dame STILL thinks it should have beaten Kentucky last March.
No. 6 seeds: Baylor, LSU, Georgetown, Vanderbilt.
Ben Simmons, you’re on in Baton Rouge. All they want you to do as the nation’s most ballyhooed freshman is be even better than Shaq. The big question at Baylor: Can the basketball team outscore the football team?
No. 7 seeds. Texas A&M, Purdue, Connecticut, Utah.
With vaunted 6-foot-9 recruit Caleb Swanigan to go with 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas and 7-foot A.J. Hammons, Purdue now has the second tallest skyline in the state of Indiana, next to downtown Indianapolis. Does everyone realize UConn has as many national titles this century as Duke? The Huskies give the fans in Storrs something to do on days the women don’t play.
No. 8 seeds: Xavier, Louisville, UCLA, Florida State.
Nothing usually gets in the way of Rick Pitino reloading his Louisville program. Xavier just keeps showing up in March, and is the only team in the two-year-old new Big East to crack the Sweet 16.
No. 9 seeds: Oregon, San Diego State, West Virginia, Tulsa.
Steve Fisher turned 70 this year. It’d be nice if San Diego State gave him one more nice ride through March. All Oregon wants is a team that its court – the one with a forest painted on it – can be proud of.
No. 10 seeds: Cincinnati, North Carolina State, Texas, Syracuse.
Havoc has moved to Austin, and so has Shaka Smart. Bringing the ball up the court against Texas won’t be so much fun. Syracuse is back from the turmoil of sanctions, Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin is back from a health scare.
No. 11 seeds: Mississippi State/Marquette, Providence, Dayton, Iowa.
Welcome to Mississippi State, Ben Howland. Starkville is a wee bit different than Westwood, but no one there will ask you what John Wooden would have done. If Duke alum Steve Wojciechowski can accomplish some big things at Marquette, it’ll shine up his resume for the Who-Replaces-Mike-Krzyzewski Sweepstakes one day. Dayton’s Archie Miller is one of the nation’s hottest young coaches and won 27 games last year with only six scholarship players, none over 6-foot-6.
No. 12 seeds: Boise State/Rhode Island, Stephen F. Austin, Valparaiso, Belmont.
This is the spot that produces upsets like Buick produces Regals. Only twice in the past 15 tournaments has there not been at least one No. 12 win over a No. 5 seed. Two years ago, there were three. Particular notice is due Valparaiso, which returns nearly every important piece from a team that lost by three points in the second round to Maryland last March.
No. 13 seeds: South Dakota State, Old Dominion, Central Michigan, UC Irvine.
As long as the UC Irvine Anteaters keep getting invited to the tournament, the title for best nickname in the field is a no-brainer.
No. 14 seeds: Yale, Chattanooga, Stony Brook, Louisiana (Don’t Call us Lafayette).
Yale’s last trip to the NCAA Tournament was 1962. Then again, Stony Brook has never made it and lost the America East championship game – and an NCAA bid – at the buzzer last season. That can motivate a team.
No. 15 seeds: Iona, New Mexico State, Hofstra, Montana.
Trivia note: Montana’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament was 41 years ago, with Jud Heathcote as the coach. He soon left town for the job at Michigan State - just in time to recruit a guy named Magic Johnson.
No. 16 seeds: Hampton/Bucknell, Coastal Carolina, North Florida/Texas Southern, Robert Morris.
The First Four allows two of these teams to know what an NCAA Tournament victory feels like. Then – sigh – comes the suicide mission against the No. 1 seeds. The updated record is 0-124. And counting.