Five bracket observations
From this comfortable couch with both laptop and TV remote handy, it’s easy to have opinions on the NCAA tournament bracket.
And I do.
Here are five things that stood out to me as I examined the NCAA tournament selection committee’s work in building the bracket it unveiled on Sunday night…
1. Louisville as a No. 4 seed
Seriously? The fourth No. 1 seed would make more sense. Last year is over, and this Cardinals team is different, but it’s better than a No. 4 seed — and is better than all of the No. 3 seeds. To make matters worse, Louisville was placed in the Midwest Region where it faces a path of either a 26-win Saint Louis team or the Xavier/NC State winner, then unbeaten Wichita State — and that’s just to get to the regional final, where either No. 2 Michigan or No. 3 Duke will likely await. Louisville is peaking, experienced and good enough defensively to beat just about anybody. All the ingredients are there, but the committee (apparently) chose to look at a relatively weak non-conference resume from three months ago and seed the Cardinals two spots too low. That mistake could spell the end of Wichita State’s unbeaten run 12 days from now in a game that no one would have complained if it was a Final Four rematch.
2. The Big Ten should be really pleased
Matchups are much more important than seeds, and we’ve seen in the past that Big Ten teams can benefit from getting out of the grind of conference play and into a more free-flowing tournament style. The bracket sets up nicely. Like last year, Michigan’s first weekend is a dream. Michigan State may be underseeded at No. 4, but the Spartans can see an eventual pairing with the weakest No. 1 seed, Virginia. Wisconsin gets to play in Milwaukee this weekend as a No. 2 seed, and for as inconsistent as Ohio State has been, a path of Dayton then Syracuse to get back to the Sweet 16 could have been much worse.
3. The First Four seems strong, which means it seems off
The concept is fine, and each year a team that’s won one of the at-large games has gone to win another game, too. The University of Dayton Arena is the perfect venue for it. But Xavier? And Iowa? Those teams had earned non-stop tickets to the real bracket lines, even if Iowa had stumbled lately. The committee has consistently rewarded aggressive scheduling, and not only did Iowa trade punches all year in the Big Ten but out of conference it played Xavier and Villanova on a neutral floor and at Iowa State. Xavier wasn’t consistent but was good enough to win on a neutral floor vs. Cincinnati and at home vs. Creighton. The Iowa-Tennessee winner will be a Las Vegas favorite to beat No. 6 seed UMass, and the Xavier-NC State winner beating Saint Louis seems a logical choice for the No. 12 seed beating a No. 5 that happens every year.
4. Cincinnati better have its "A" game
Maybe the Bearcats deserved better than a No. 5 seed, though their offense is so shaky that maybe the five line is a good fit. The draw certainly didn’t do Cincinnati any favors, though, as going to Spokane, Wash., to play a rested and experienced Harvard team with Michigan State waiting on Saturday isn’t going to be easy. It never is, and Sean Kilpatrick and company are good enough to win two games and get to Madison Square Garden for the Sweet 16. The competition is also stiff enough that the Bearcats may not see the weekend. The KenPom.com advanced stats say Cincinnati is the nation’s 24th best team and sports the ninth best defense. Harvard ranks 33rd, with an offensive ranking of 55 and defensive ranking of 33.
5. I am not much for conspiracy theories. I just see some misses.
Ohio State – Dayton has obvious appeal. So, too, does Xavier playing in Dayton — and possible early matchups like Creighton-Nebraska, Wichita State-Kentucky and Villanova-UConn. But given all the committee has to do with avoiding first-round rematches, putting deserving teams in desirable geographic sites, BYU not being able to play on Sundays and mixing/matching conference teams, I don’t think much is done intentionally. I just think the committee swings and misses too often. BYU should have been a First Four team at best. Baylor and UMass are way overseeded as 6s; ditto Stanford and Arizona State as 10s. I’ve been wrong before, and they don’t play these games on paper or in a computer program — they play them on TV, duh — but it seems that Kansas deserves better than playing New Mexico this weekend and that Cincinnati and Louisville deserve better in general. Life’s neither fair nor predictable — neither is this year’s final bracket.
Enjoy using work hours to fill yours out.