Louisville Favored to Win in NCAA Midwest Regional
Let's begin by giving kudos to the committee for recognizing the mediocrity of the Big Ten. Oh wait, it gave the league seven bids. As is almost always the case, all the mid-major bubble teams got sent NIT packing. San Diego State, Creighton, St. Mary's, Davidson and Niagara -- all of which had cases -- were told there was no room at the inn. The committee might have taken one of those schools, if only to make it look like they aren't completely controlled by the power conferences.
Louisville getting the tournament's No. 1 seed wasn't a huge surprise because it was the only top seed that didn't lose this past week. The committee, which never sends two schools from historically black conferences to the play-in game but always sends one, sent Alabama State from the SWAC to play Morehead State for the right to play Louisville. Oh joy.
Louisville may very well meet No. 9 seed Siena in the second round, although Ohio State (No. 8) has played well down the stretch. The Saints beat Vanderbilt last season, so the Buckeyes shouldn't overlook them. However, the game is in Dayton. Since when does a No. 8 seed rate staying close to home? Louisville will beat either team and move on to Indianapolis.
Utah is seeded a bit high at No. 5 and could lose to Arizona. Still, the Wildcats don't belong in the field. Arizona lost five of its last six and its good wins came early.
The big question in the top half of this draw is which Wake Forest team will show up -- the one that beat North Carolina and Duke in January or the one that looked ready for the beach against Maryland last week. The good Deacons should reach the Sweet 16. The bad Deacons could lose in the first round to Cleveland State.
The bottom half of this draw is wide open because no one is terribly good. Michigan State got a No. 2 seed by default and wouldn't be a bad pick to lose to Robert Morris except that Tom Izzo is a great tournament coach. His presence alone should get the Spartans to the round of 16, although Boston College would be a difficult second-round game. Al Skinner is as underrated a coach as there is.
West Virginia-Dayton should be one of the best first-round games of the week. Kansas-North Dakota State won't be, but did you see the crowd at NDSU for the bracket announcement? Wow. Look for Kansas to make it to the regional final. That's a pretty good year for the Jayhawks, defending their national title with four starters gone.
The pick still has to be Louisville. Rick Pitino hasn't gotten three schools to the Final Four by not knowing how to coach in March. And he's got a veteran team; Kansas has a young one.
First-round upset: Siena over Ohio State. (It would be Robert Morris over Michigan State if not for the Izzo factor.) Dark horse that can go deep: Boston College. Best story: North Dakota State -- first bid in the first year it was eligible.