Sunday, March 14, 2010

Who Gets An Easy Path? Who Has It Rough?

Because I'm sure you want to poke yourself in the eye listening to the ESPN talking heads, I'll be with you all evening giving my thoughts on the bracket. Before I get to actually previewing the individual games and match-ups, I want to talk about which teams got really lucky or unlucky in the draw:

Easiest Draws:

Easiest 1 seed draw: Syracuse: I know many people are going to say Duke here, but I think too many people let "Dook hatred" blind them. Syracuse has an average 8/9 opponent, but they are by far the most likely 1 seed to see a 12 or 13 seed in the Sweet 16. And there are also clearly two very good 2 seed (Ohio State and West Virginia) and two very weak 2 seeds (Kansas State and Villanova), and Syracuse got one of the weaker ones. Throw Syracuse in the Midwest and there's almost no chance they make it out alive, but they're probably fairly heavy favorites in their bracket. It seems pretty bizarre that the #1 and #2 overall 1 seeds got the two toughest brackets (Kansas has by far the toughest bracket), while the last two 1 seeds (Syracuse and Duke) got in fairly easy.

Easiest 2 seed draw: West Virginia: If there's any 2 seed you can pencil into the Elite 8 right now, it's West Virginia. They got one of the two easiest 3 seeds, 6 seeds and 7 seeds. The team they might have to worry most about is the 10 seed: Missouri. And once they're in the Elite 8, they got drawn against the easiest 1 seed (Kentucky). And considering that there's a pretty good chance Kentucky won't even get into the Elite 8 (beating Texas and Wisconsin back to back will be extremely tough for that young team), West Virginia could end up with a gifted path to the Final Four.

Easiest 3 seed draw: Baylor: They got by far the easiest Sweet 16 and Elite 8 routes of any 3 seed. Notre Dame is a joke of a 6 seed, and most likely Baylor will actually get Old Dominion in the second round. Don't get me wrong, Old Dominion is a very dangerous team, but would you rather play Old Dominion or Tennessee? And as I just mentioned, there's a clear dichotomy amongst the 2 seeds, with two very good 2 seeds (Ohio State and West Virginia) and two very weak ones by historic standards (Kansas State and Villanova). Baylor got one of the weak ones (Villanova).

Easiest 4 seed draw: Wisconsin: Vandy also has an easy 4 seed draw, so I could see calling them the easiest 4 seed draw. Both Wisconsin and Vandy got it much easier than the other two 4 seeds. Wisconsin won't have a walkover in the first round, but they could have done worse than Wofford. And Temple is a wildly overrated 5 seed that is nowhere near as good as Texas A&M or Michigan State (a note to Temple fans: once every analyst in the nation is calling you underrated, you quickly become overrated - I like to call this the Ben Wallace Rule). And Wisconsin then got the 1 seed that is not only the worst 1 seed (not in terms of resume, but in terms of actual team quality), but also a team that is uniquely vulnerable to a team like Wisconsin. Kentucky's freshmen are going to have a nightmare against the methodical, execution-dependent Wisconsin style. Wisconsin got a tough 2 seed in their bracket, but the odds of a 4 seed playing a 2 seed in the Elite 8 are small enough that it's probably not relevant to a discussion about how difficult of a path a 4 seed got.

Easiest 5 seed draw: Butler: This was close between Butler and Texas A&M, but I think Butler's path is easier. They've got a rough first round opponent, but if they can get past that then they've got arguably the easiest 4 seed (some people think it's Purdue, but I think people are overrating that final game against Minnesota), and then I'd much rather play Syracuse in the Sweet 16 than either Kansas or Duke. So I give Butler the narrow edge over Texas A&M for the easiest Elite 8 path of any 5 seed.

Easiest 6 seed draw: Xavier: This was close between Xavier, Notre Dame and Marquette, because all three were given cupcake draws compared to Tennessee. But I think Xavier has the easiest 11 seed opponent (Minnesota), followed by a very overrated 3 seed (Pittsburgh) and one of the two worst 2 seeds (Kansas State). I don't like any of the 6 seeds to make the Elite 8, but if any of them are going to do it I think Xavier has clearly the best chance.

Toughest Draws:

Toughest 1 seed draw: Kansas: No question the Midwest is by far the toughest bracket. I was shocked. Kansas will blow through their first two games, but a potential Michigan State Sweet 16 game followed by either Georgetown or Ohio State in the Elite 8 is really rough. I'm shocked that the Selection Committee gave the #1 team in the nation by far the toughest bracket. In any of the other regions I'd say you could put Kansas into the Final Four in pen, just as I said about North Carolina last year, but you have to at least consider the possibility of Kansas going down in the Midwest.

Toughest 2 seed draw: Ohio State: Once again, no question it's the Midwest region here. Oklahoma State is a tough 7 seed to be drawn against, but most importantly they're going to get either Georgetown or Tennessee in the Sweet 16, the two teams that are by far the best 3 and 6 seeds, respectively. And should they get to the Elite 8? The clear best team in the nation: Kansas.

Toughest 3 seed draw: Georgetown: There's a theme here as we're going to stay in the Midwest. The potential of Tennessee in the second round, Ohio State in the Sweet 16 and Kansas in the Elite 8? The Selection Committee even gave them the best 14 seed just for good measure. Don't buy the hype about Ohio being a huge upset in the MAC - they're a dangerous team that I had called "the best sleeper pick" in my MAC tournament preview. I would have given Ohio a great shot of winning their first round game as a 14 seed... if they hadn't gotten put against by far the least likely 3 seed to get upset.

Toughest 4 seed draw: Purdue: You can certainly argue that Maryland got a tougher draw, but I felt the need to pick at least one team outside the Midwest in this section. You know you've got a tough draw as a 4 seed when everybody is picking you as a first round upset. Siena is certainly by far the most dangerous 13 seed, and you could have argued for them as a 10 or 11 seed. They have all but one player back from the team that last year got a 9 seed and then beat Ohio State and nearly beat Louisville. In the second round Purdue gets a very tough 5 seed (Texas A&M), and then will run into what I think is the second best team in the nation: Duke. Considering how much Purdue is hurting from the Robbie Hummel injury, I can't see any way to rationalize putting them in the Elite 8. If you're looking for a 4 seed in the elite 8 there's no question that Wisconsin is the pick, followed by Vanderbilt.

Toughest 5 seed draw: Michigan State: We're back in the Midwest because Michigan State is seeded against a very tough 4 seed (Maryland). And of course they would have to play Kansas in the Sweet 16, followed by either Georgetown, Ohio State or Tennessee in the Elite 8. The Selection Committee even gave Michigan State a very rough 12 seed (although all of the 12 seeds are dangerous this season). Considering how Michigan State tailed off down the stretch, I don't see any way you can put Michigan State beyond the Sweet 16 in your bracket, despite Tom Izzo's career Tournament success.

Toughest 6 seed draw: Tennessee: The reason I carried this post out to 6 seeds is to talk about Tennessee, the team that probably got the toughest draw any 6 has ever gotten in the history of the NCAA Tournament. I'd rather be the 11 seed in the South than the 6 seed in the Midwest. First they get a killer 11 seed: a San Diego State team that probably deserves a 7 or 8 seed. Then in the second round they get a Georgetown team that is by far the best 3 seed. Then in the Sweet 16 they get Ohio State, and if they can survive that then they get the clear best team in the nation in the Elite 8? Tennessee is clearly the best 6 seed in the Tournament, but if I gave you 30-to-1 odds on Tennessee to make the Final Four you'd have to be nuts to take it. Considering the fact that Tennessee probably shouldn't even be a 6 seed (they should be a 4 or 5), I don't think any team in the nation (even Virginia Tech) should be as mad at the Selection Committee tonight as Tennessee.

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