West Region breakdown:
It is worth noting that for all of the committee’s talk about trying to keep teams in their “natural region,” there is exactly one West Coast team playing in the West Region: Long Beach State. In this case, that may have more to do with the absolute dearth of good teams in the west (although San Diego State is in the Midwest as is California) than anything else.
The top seed, Michigan State, plays in the Eastern time zone. Its first-round opponent, Long Island University, is in Brooklyn. So much for natural regions.
The Blackbirds are a once-great basketball school risen from the ashes and probably deserved a better fate than a No. 16 seed. For winning the Northeast Conference, they get a trip to Columbus to play against a team coached by Tom Izzo, who has been to six Final Fours. He has an excellent chance to make it seven this month.
His second-round opponent will be an intriguing one regardless of who wins the Memphis-Saint Louis matchup. With all due respect to Memphis and Josh Pastner, you can’t help but pull for Rick Majerus, who has proven he can win anywhere by winning 25 games at Saint Louis. Majerus, it should be remembered, took Utah to the national championship game in 1998. He is also a swimmer who survived septuple bypass surgery — a man after my own heart (pun intended).
Still, Michigan State should advance past the Billikens or the Tigers and might find a real surprise team as its opponent in the round of 16. Teams that win four games to win the Big East title often struggle early in the tournament.
East Region breakdown:
There isn’t any doubt that Syracuse earned the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament and the chance to go through Pittsburgh and Boston to get to The Final Four.
That said, the committee didn’t do Jim Boeheim and the Orange any favors in the draw. Could it be that our image-conscious friends aren’t all that excited about listening to the folks from CBS fall all over themselves in New Orleans to not mention all the off-court troubles that have taken place in Boeheim World this winter? After all, CBS still hasn’t gotten around to mentioning that last season’s national champions played the tournament while on probation.
Syracuse’s first game isn’t even that easy. UNC Asheville is a veteran team that was in the tournament a year ago and has a coach in Eddie Biedenbach who will almost certainly win the Wednesday news conference in Pittsburgh and send a loose team onto the court Thursday. That’s not to say the Bulldogs will be the first 16th seed to beat a No. 1 seed, but the game could be interesting for a while.
The second round could be even more interesting. The committee never seems to give the Big 12 the respect it deserves — no No. 1 seeds for Kansas or Missouri while North Carolina gets one out of the clearly inferior ACC — and Kansas State will be a tough out for Syracuse after it beats Southern Mississippi (which should send a Christmas card to SMU Athletic Director Steve Orsini for getting Conference USA a second bid).