Gee, it was generous of the committee to make Gonzaga the fourth No. 1 seed after the Zags — who, unlike schools in the power conferences will play anyone, anywhere — went 31-2 and didn’t lose a game the last two months of the season.
Then again, they didn’t do them any favors with their bracket. After a first-round walkover against Southern, Gonzaga faces the Pittsburgh-Wichita State winner and then, very possibly, Wisconsin in the round of 16. The Badgers are the No. 5 seed in the region and will probably play Kansas State in the second round. Here’s a good rule for this tournament: If a matchup between a Big Ten team and a non-Big Ten team looks even, bet on the Big Ten team. It was, without a doubt, the best league in the country this season.
That’s why having two Big Ten teams in the region will make Gonzaga’s route to Atlanta a treacherous one. Ohio State, the No. 2 seed, has improved probably as much as any team in the country since November. That said, the Buckeyes — who will handle Iona in the first round — could find Notre Dame or Iowa State a tough out in the second round. Notre Dame has been a perennial March disappointment in recent years, but the Irish are, as Coach Mike Brey puts it, an “old” team, and this might be the year they pull a second-round upset rather than being victimized by one.
It’s interesting the committee chose to put the two best non-power conference teams in the tournament in the same bracket. God forbid both should reach Atlanta, the TV execs in New York might choke on their caviar. New Mexico is the No. 3 seed out here and will face a tough second-round game against Arizona. The committee members apparently loved the Pac-12 (probably because none of them can stay up late enough to watch their games) because they gave the league five bids. New Mexico’s going to beat Arizona. Steve Alford’s team plays with a healthy chip on its shoulder, and it has the size to handle the Wildcats. In fact, the Lobos might very well make it to the region final.
Gonzaga has a wonderful inside combination in Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris and likely won’t find the pressure of being a No. 1 seed overwhelming.