Seth Davis dubbed the South Region “the glamour bracket” during Sunday’s selection show. He’s got a point. North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA, the South’s top three seeds, have a combined 24 national championships.
From afar, it seems a No. 4 seed like Butler would have little-to-no chance to advance beyond the Sweet 16 – perhaps the Bulldogs could make a run in an ordinary region, but the glamour bracket is anything but.
Intentional or not, sometimes the committee has a sense of humor. To rattle off a few of Butler’s losses: Indiana State, St. John’s, Georgetown. That’s code for: scroll through KenPom with your eyes closed, stop at random, and you’ll probably land on a school that could beat the Bulldogs.
This may be the region of college basketball elites, but the committee stuck a few menaces in there to keep the big boys honest. Wichita State has a higher KenPom ranking (8) than NCAA tournament seed (10). Enjoy that potential Round of 32 matchup, Big Blue Nation. No. 12 Middle Tennessee did this last season:
If Wake Forest can escape the First Four, the casual college hoops observer will get to meet John Collins. Here are Collins’ sophomore year numbers next to a mystery player who – let’s not get carried away here – had a satisfactory career:
That would be Tim Duncan. The South Region is as feisty as it is glamorous – these games promise to deliver.
The “Sheesh, we have to play them?” region.
Villanova is the national champion that earned its No. 1 overall seed. That said, the Wildcats’ draw is a trip to the dentist, a weekend at the in-laws…. essentially, any cliché Jon Rothstein has ever tweeted that’s meant to illustrate a grueling 40 minutes applies here.
West Virginia Basketball. Tougher than a long weekend at your in-laws.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 11, 2017
There’s a chance the defending champions will have to go through Wisconsin and Virginia just to get to the Elite Eight. A reminder: Wisconsin has reached the second weekend three years in a row, while Virginia has the best defense in the country and gave the Wildcats all they could handle earlier in the season. If Jay Wright’s crew is going to repeat, it won’t come easy.
Taking a look at the bottom half of the region, if Baylor prevails against New Mexico State, it will likely have SMU – a team that has lost once since December (a two-point road defeat at Cincinnati, which is hardly a demerit) waiting for it. Florida has lost three of its last four games; the Gators’ opponent, East Tennessee State, has won nine of 10.
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Now, to the elephant in the room: Duke. While easy wins in March is an oxymoron, unlike Villanova, the Blue Devils have to love their draw. The 7-10 matchup between South Carolina and Marquette looks like the least daunting of the four – side note: we could get a Coach K vs protégé Round of 32 matchup if Steve Wojciechowski’s Golden Eagles advance. Duke should be able to handle Marquette, but it adds an interesting dynamic nonetheless.
No need to reinvent the wheel here: the Midwest Region is fun! Offense, backcourts and more offense – the Midwest is loaded with point guards. Frank Mason III. Monte Morris. Jawun Evans. Derrick Walton. Tyler Dorsey. Flyover country – prepare yourselves for some running and gunning.
Vermont, on the other hand – prepare yourself for, like, an ice bath. The Catamounts draw Caleb Swanigan, Isaac Haas and the Purdue Boilermakers in the 13-4 matchup, which may have upset potential based on Purdue’s recent postseason blues. Vermont hasn’t lost since Dec. 21 at Butler.
Also in this region are two “What could have been?” teams in Creighton and Oregon. The Bluejays lost All-Big East point guard Mo Watson midway through the season to a torn ACL; the Ducks lost center Chris Boucher to the same injury. With Watson, Creighton had Final Four potential. Oregon still might, but the Ducks weren’t deep to begin with – Oregon can still play with anyone, but its versatility took a major hit.
Kansas’ road to the Final Four has some obvious roadblocks – Michigan State doesn’t pass the eye test for most, but when has that ever stopped the Spartans from making a deep March run? Kansas and Michigan State could meet in the Round of 32. Iowa State beat Kansas this season at Phog Allen; that’s a potential Sweet 16 matchup. It’s a tough path for the Jayhawks, but not an impossible one to navigate.
The region of potential firsts. Northwestern is making its first NCAA tournament appearance. Have you heard? Princeton meets Notre Dame after winning the inaugural Ivy League tournament. Gonzaga could make its first Final Four under Mark Few after having so many viable squads in the past. Sean Miller could make his first Final Four – he has four Elite Eight appearances to his name. Zero semifinal trips. Based on the way Arizona played in the Pac-12 tournament, it doesn’t take a mind-reader to know what the Wildcats are striving to accomplish.
All these firsts – and Dunk City is hanging on the 14 line like, “I remember my first NCAA tournament.”
It doesn’t feel like Florida State is immune to an upset – that’s a 14-3 matchup to watch. West Virginia lost in the Round of 64 last year; the Mountaineers don’t have an easy opening opponent this time around. Bucknell is dancing once again – remember the time the Bison topped Kansas in the 14-3 game?
There is so much mystery surrounding the West Region.