The NCAA tournament bracket is out and the First Four games in Dayton are less than 48 hours away. Here’s what we learned from Selection Sunday:
The East Region is loaded.
No. 1 seed North Carolina, coming off a victory over the Midwest’s top seed Virginia in the ACC title game Saturday night, is staring down a Sweet 16 matchup against either Big Ten regular season champion Indiana, the No. 5 seed, or SEC Tournament champion Kentucky, the No. 4.
The Wildcats appear to be peaking at the right time, having won five games in a row including a thrilling 82-77 overtime defeat of top-seeded Texas A&M in the SEC final on Sunday. Jamal Murray and Tyler Ulis form a dynamic backcourt that drives the nation’s best offense (122.5 adjusted efficiency). The Wildcats are No. 8 in the KenPom ratings and have reached the Final Four in four of the last five years.
Last week in the Big Ten quarterfinals, Indiana lost at the buzzer to Michigan (which apparently catapulted the Wolverines into the field). Still, the Hoosiers closed the regular season by winning six of seven games, beating four top 25 KenPom opponents during that span and have the nation’s 7th most efficient offense.
Now let’s turn to the bottom half of that region's bracket.
No. 2 Xavier has two losses to Seton Hall in the last two weeks, but finished with a 27-5 overall record and is deep and balanced. No. 3 West Virginia lost eight games and seven of those opponents are top 30 in KenPom. The Mountaineers force turnovers on one-fourth of their opponents’ possessions (second in the nation).
No. 6 Notre Dame beat Iowa, North Carolina, Louisville and Duke (twice). No. 7 Wisconsin closed the regular season by winning 11 of 13.
The team that emerges from the East Region in Philadelphia will be tested and tough to beat in Houston.
It was a rough day for three mid-majors who were on the bubble. Saint Mary’s, Valparaiso, Monmouth each won their conference regular season title, but lost during their respective tournaments, and entered Sunday afternoon hopeful of receiving an at-large bid.
Each team was denied.
“We recognize that teams like Monmouth have a hard time trying to get games outside of their conference,” selection committee chair Joe Castiglione said. “And they did a good job. They did exactly what you’d want a team like that to do, they went 3-4 against those teams they played. But it was those three losses over the 200 line that really hurt them when it was all said and done. Just not enough to overcompensate. Will say again, Monmouth was right there in that final discussion. They had a great year.”
When interviewed on the CBS Selection Show, Castiglione frequently cited a team’s top 50 wins when discussing specific teams.
Valparaiso had one win against the RPI Top 50 while Saint Mary’s had two. On the other hand, Syracuse, which received a No. 10 seed in the Midwest region, had five top 50 victories, including at Duke (No. 4 in the West) and over Texas A&M (No. 3 West) on a neutral court.
The committee’s final four at-large picks were Tulsa (20-11), Michigan (22-12), Vandy (19-13) and Wichita State (24-8). Those teams are headed to Dayton as part of the First Four on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Winning the Big Ten conference tournament with a 66-62 win over Purdue on Sunday afternoon wasn’t enough to vault Michigan State to a No. 1 seed. Instead, the Spartans settled for a No. 2 in the Midwest, not that anyone in East Lansing minds knowing that their road to Houston likely goes through the Cavaliers.
Michigan State knocked Virginia out of the NCAA tournament the last two years, winning by two points in the Sweet 16 in 2014 and by six points in the second round last year.
College basketball fans could only be so lucky to watch the Spartans and Cavaliers tangle in the regional final in Chicago. A head-to-head matchup between first-team All-American seniors Malcolm Brogdon and Denzel Valentine is just another reason why March is great.
Michigan State is 29-5, has won eight games in a row and seeks the eighth Final Four appearance under coach Tom Izzo. Virginia is 26-7 and has seven wins against the KenPom top 20.