So now that we know who’s going where — and who isn’t — what to think of the NCAA tournament bracket? Here are 10 takeaways:
1. A surging Duke is a scary Duke. And some would suggest, could have even been a No. 1 seeded Duke, rather than, say, the North Carolina team the Blue Devils beat twice. Whatever. They apparently found their A-game too late — making history with four wins in four days to win the ACC tournament — to make a concerted push for the top line. But that means a No. 1 seed was going to have its region invaded by a peaking potential juggernaut.
Congratulations, Villanova.About that championship repeat run, the Wildcats will have to earn it, because the East is loaded. They could well have to deal with a veteran Wisconsin team in the second round. An even more veteran Baylor is lurking out there in the East, as is a Florida team that beat Kentucky. By 22. Also SMU. When a team is 30-4 and has won 26 out of its last 27 games and is seeded — let’s check this again, yep — SIXTH, the region is made of pretty stern stuff.
And should we mention again what Duke did over the weekend? Just wondering how Kris Jenkins’ 3-point stroke is looking these days.
2. The South is Blueblood Alley. The top three seeds — North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA — have 24 national titles among them. Maybe they can fight it out using their trophies. Odd thing, though. The No. 4 seed, Butler, has been in more national championship games this decade than UNC and UCLA, and just as many as Kentucky with two. The Bulldogs have never been seeded this highly. They are the common folk, suddenly riding in the same limo with three rock stars.
3. Selection Sunday arrived, and the team to make history was . . . Vanderbilt? Correct. Vandy became the first team ever to be given an at-large invitation with 15 defeats. So let’s hear it for the Commodores, who weren’t even sent to the First Four in Dayton.
Doubtful that Illinois State, left out at 27-6, is applauding much.
4. And while we’re on the subject of the Missouri Valley Conference feeling a bit badly treated, who did Wichita State tick off? On paper, the Shockers have been an absolute monster, putting up a 30-4 record and winning 15 in a row, with only one of those by under 15 points. Their average margin of victory for the season is 19.4. And that added up to a No. 10 seed. The four No. 9 seeds just above them, by the way, have a combined 50 losses.
Clearly, the committee looked at the Missouri Valley this season and saw a putt-putt course. Wichita State drew a tough road, first with Atlantic 10 power Dayton, and if that works out, then probably Kentucky. That match might ring a bell. Three years ago, the Shockers and their 35-0 record were paired against the Wildcats in the second round and lost a marvelous duel 78-76. Undoubtedly, that memory immediately occurred to Shocker Nation when they got their first look at this bracket. Déjà blue.
5. This is for the No. 5 seeds, those big-name teams that must feel as if they’re holding onto hand grenades with the pins pulled out. It is a well-known axiom of the tournament that in the first round, No. 5 seeds are to No. 12 underdogs like bare arms are to mosquitoes. Two were upset last year, three fell in 2014, three in 2013. Only twice in the past 16 years has at least one 12th-seed not knocked down a No. 5.
And so regards to — with their potential first round trouble-makers in parentheses — Virginia (UNCW), Notre Dame (Princeton), Iowa State (Nevada) and Minnesota (Middle Tennessee). Guys, let’s be honest. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of who. You can look it up.
6. Isn’t democracy grand? The same tournament that welcomes Kentucky for the 57th time, North Carolina for the 48th time and Kansas for the 46th time, also has room for five rookies. Northern Kentucky, UC Davis, Jacksonville State, North Dakota and . . . hmm, there was one more. Right on the tip of the tongue. Oh yeah, Northwestern.7. The field will come from 35 states, with North Carolina sending the most with five entrants. Alas, nobody again from Maine or Alaska. They remain the only two states never to have put a team to the NCAA tournament. Do they fill out brackets in Anchorage and Bangor?
8. You wonder how the committee members reacted — perhaps with a giggle or two — when they noticed all the potential second-round head-knockers they were creating with their handiwork. Kentucky-Wichita State and Villanova-Wisconsin, as mentioned. But also:
SMU and Baylor in a Texas-sized showdown. Duke against South Carolina and its SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell. Iowa State, on a Big 12 roll, against Big Ten season champion Purdue. Michigan and Louisville. Notre Dame (known for not making turnovers) and West Virginia (forces lots of ‘em). Kansas and Michigan State.
Also Gonzaga, the team that has waited forever to get to the Final Four, against Northwestern, the team that waited forever to get into the tournament.
9. And after all that the first week, further down the road could be delicious rematches from the season.
Who put a stake through Kansas’ 51-game Allen Fieldhouse winning streak? Iowa State. That could be a Sweet 16 game in Kansas City.
Who did the same thing to Kentucky’s 42-game run in Rupp Arena in December? UCLA. They could have a Sweet 16 date in Memphis.
Who outshot North Carolina 103-100 in a pre-Christmas epic? Kentucky. That could be the South regional final.
Who bounced Arizona by seven points to send an early-season message about being king of the West? Gonzaga. They could reconnect in San Jose to decide who goes to the Final Four.
And there could always be Villanova and Duke playing to decide the East. The national champion from 2016 against the national champion from 2015.
You can almost see committee chair Mark Hollis looking at the crowd one day soon and shouting, “Are you not entertained?”
10. In the end, the bracket is probably a product of the regular season, which saw so many close games, nobody dominant enough to be safe, a landscape where One Little Thing could make a big difference. Last year, Syracuse lost 13 games during the season and went to the Final Four, This year, the Orange lost 14 games and are going to the NIT.