If ever a team looked like a Final Four lock, it was Kansas a year ago. If ever a team looks like a Final Four lock, it is Kansas this year.
Of course last year the Jayhawks lost in the second round to Northern Iowa, an upset only the folks in Cedar Rapids might have seen coming. Do not expect the same from UNLV or Illinois — Illinois, really? Over Virginia Tech? Was the ACC that bad this season?
The best first-round matchup in the entire tournament (other than Butler-ODU) might be Vanderbilt-Richmond. The committee clearly loves the SEC; not so much the Atlantic 10. The A-10 tournament champion got a No. 12 seed. It is seeded lower than Georgia, which belongs in the tournament less than Illinois but slightly more than UAB.
That said, the most dangerous team on the road to Houston for Kansas might be Purdue if only because Notre Dame is so dependent on three-point shooting. The Irish can beat anyone, but can they stay hot for four straight games? That’s the second-most asked question in South Bend these days, right after, “How do the quarterbacks look in spring practice?”
The bottom half of this draw is filled with interesting matchups. Notre Dame-Texas A&M (the Aggies should beat Florida State unless Chris Singleton can come back and play effectively after missing almost a month because of injury) is a tough second-round game. If they survive that game, they will probably face Purdue or Georgetown.
It is almost weird to pick either the Boilermakers or Hoyas to reach the round of 16 because neither has played well lately. Purdue lost to Iowa and was blown out by Michigan State in the Big Ten tournament. The Hoyas have lost four in a row but will get Chris Wright back for their game in Chicago against the USC-Virginia Commonwealth winner.
Let’s pause here to praise the committee (yes, we do it once a year whether necessary or not) for giving VCU a bid. The CAA deserved three bids and got three bids. Of course if Kevin O’Neill can stay out of fights in the team hotel, Southern Cal could be a tough play-in game for the Rams. (Okay, since we’re being nice to the committee maybe we should call that a “First Four game”).
Either way, Georgetown will have a tough opening game, especially with Wright playing for the first time since his injury. The Hoyas will have to shoot the ball from the outside and would be well-advised to get out on three-point shooters (see 2010, Ohio University ). If they can survive that game, the question will be which Purdue team will show up for the next round. The good Purdue would be tough for Georgetown to beat. The bad Purdue could lose to George Washington, George Mason or George Costanza.
The committee would no doubt love to see an all-Big East round-of-16 game between Notre Dame and Georgetown. It would probably settle for Notre Dame-Purdue because that would make Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney happy. He might even claim that Notre Dame is really a Big Ten team since it has invited it to play football in the conference 1,356 times.
Regardless of who gets to the final, Kansas should be waiting. The only team in that half of the draw that is a threat is Louisville, although Vanderbilt has had its moments during the season. The best bet is that form holds on the top half and Kansas plays Louisville for a spot in the elite eight.
Of course a year ago the best bet was that Kansas and Kentucky would play in the national championship game. That didn’t quite work out. That memory alone should get the Jayhawks to Houston.