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Bracket thoughts - Seth's initial reaction to the NCAA tournament bracket

Seth Dunlap
March 11, 2018 - 10:01 pm
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Selection Sunday finally came and graced us with its annual gifts of snubs, storylines and, of course, brackets!

The NCAA tournament field is set, and as always is the case there were a few supposed "locks" that were left out along with a couple of surprise qualifiers.  We will go in depth breaking down the brackets over the next few days, but here are my quick initial thoughts on the tournament field.

 

SNUBS

I like to think that the Mad in March Madness at least partially refers to the bevvy of teams that think they were unjustly left out of the tournament field.   Fans and local media go berserk for a few days and recently we've even seen coaches roll out their best righteous indignation.  We lovingly call these teams "snubs", although the more apt description is probably  "mediocre".   Let's not forget, that' what all of these snubs are -- mediocre teams with basically no chance of real Final Four contention. 

The selection committee has an impossible job and, for the most part.  There are always going to be bubble teams no matter how big the field is.  At least, unlike football, those left out of the tournament wouldn't have affected the championship outcome.  It's not like any of the teams I'm about to mention would be cutting down nets in three weeks.  

That said, I am perplexed by a few notable snubs.  Here's a quick list:

  • USC - I don't understand how the Trojans aren't in this tournament.  They had an RPI of 34, and they were 40 on KenPom.  Oh, and they also made their conference tournament title game, something nobody higher in either of those rankings and who was left out of the tournament can say.  Yeah, this one is a head scratcher to me.  
  • St. Mary's - Let's not fool ourselves, if St. Mary's resume was copy/pasted to North Carolina or Michigan State then they would be in the field.  This is a case of mid major snubbing at its finest.  They had the highest KenPom rating (28) of any team left out of the field, and their RPI (42) was respectable.   
  • Oklahoma State - The Cowboys are sitting at home while the Sooners, who lost eight of the final 10 games, are in.  That's gotta hurt.  Oh, and OSU knocked Oklahoma out of the Big 12 tournament.  If the selection committee ever says that star power doesn't matter, don't listen.  

 

EARLY GAMES/BRACKETS TO WATCH

There are a lot of potential marquee matchups between premier programs looming in the second round and Sweet 16.  Here's a few I'm looking forward to, should they happen.

  • #5 Kentucky vs. #4 Arizona, Round 2
  • #5 Ohio State vs #4 Gonzaga, Round 2
  • #5 West Virginia vs. #4 Wichita State, Round 2
  • #11 Syracuse vs. #3 Michigan State, Round 2
  • #3 Michigan State vs. #2 Duke, Sweet 16
  • #1 Virginia vs. Arizona/Kentucky, Sweet 16 

 

EASIEST & TOUGHEST REGIONS

Tackling the first one is easy.  Villanova has a remarkably clear path to the Final Four (fateful words, I know).  There are no college basketball Goliaths in their route -- no Wichita State or Purdue doesn't count.  I'd wager that over 50% of your office pool brackets will have Villanova coming out of the East Region.  

The selection committee apparently is no fan of things out west (see the USC and St. Mary's snubs above) and they've really stacked the deck against the West Region's #1 seed, Xavier.  They could face Missouri (with a healthy Michael Porter), and then go back to back with last year's national champion runner up, Gonzaga, and champion, North Carolina.   Good luck.

 

CALLING ALL CINDERELLAS

Predicting potential Cinderallas isn't easy.  It's also way more fun to be genuinely surprised by a team's unexpected tournament run than thinking it could happen beforehand.  Here are a few teams that could hang around until the second weekend and provide us our expected dose of underdog glory.  

  • #7 Nevada - Ok, I'm cheating a little here.  You aren't really a Cinderella as a #7 seed, but I could lay out some scenarios where I see the Wolfpack make a regional final or (gasp!) a trip to the Final Four.  That would be Cinderella worthy, right?
  • #14 Bucknell - They have a history from this position.  Back in 2005 they defeated #3 Kansas in the opening round as a #13 seed.  Can they do it again to Michigan State?
  • #13 Charleston - Auburn has been scuffling a bit as of late, and they're facing a team who swept their way to a conference title.  Keep an eye on that game as a potential early round shocker. 
  • #11 UCLA - Not all Cinderellas are made equal.  UCLA has the prestige, and the tournament history, but they qualify as a double digit seed this year.  The Bruins have tournament chops, and they just gave Pac-12 champion Arizona an overtime run for their money in the conference tournament.   They'll have to win a First Four, but they've also been gifted with a spot in the tournament's weakest region.   The Bruins could make a run.
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