One of the most popular first-round upset picks will come out of this region: Oakland over Texas. The Longhorns, who looked like a possible No. 1 seed a month ago, stumbled to the finish line to drop to No. 4, and Oakland is one of those veteran teams from a mid-major conference that played a very tough nonconference schedule that included a win at Tennessee.
It could happen. On the other hand, Texas could survive that game — and it almost assuredly will not be easy — and if it does, could easily find itself in the region final. This is a very wide open region. The hottest team entering the tournament is the No. 3 seed, Connecticut. The Huskies may also be the most tired. Duke is the No. 1 seed, but the committee did it no favors with a second-round game against either Michigan or Tennessee. The Vols may be the most schizophrenic team in the field — a reflection of their coach — and Michigan shoots threes a lot, which makes it dangerous when they go in. Don’t be stunned by an early Duke exit. It has happened before.
San Diego State is the mystery No. 2 seed. On the one hand, the Aztecs have two losses all season, both to Brigham Young when the Cougars were whole. On the other hand, they haven’t been tested in either conference play or nonconference play the way the other high seeds have been. A second-round game against Temple or Penn State will tell us a lot about them. If the committee had any sense of history, it would put Temple-Penn State in at the Palestra. But this is a group whose chairman now refers to “style of play,” as a criteria for getting into the field. If so, how can Penn State and Wisconsin be allowed anywhere near any tournament building?
Connecticut may be tired after its five-game Big East tournament odyssey, and it won’t have an easy time with Bucknell in its first game. The Bison defend well, have an excellent big man in Mike Muscala and could make things tough for the Huskies if they can make it a halfcourt game. On the other hand, the second round — or second game or whatever the NCAA calls it now — may not be as difficult. Cincinnati’s resume is actually flimsier than it looks — two wins over Georgetown with Chris Wright playing just one half, for example — and Missouri is reeling.
There are going to be upsets in this bracket. The top four seeds are all flawed in different ways. This could be the bracket where you look up next week and see Michigan playing Memphis and Temple playing Missouri — not likely, but not out of the question either.
Of course Duke is always going to be a tough out because the Blue Devils always play defense. They managed to win 30 games and another ACC title (10 in 13 years now) without Kyrie Irving. If the Blue Devils do get past the first weekend, they’re capable of making it back to the Final Four although they can also lose to anyone when they have a bad shooting night. Arizona is the dangerous floater in this draw, with a superb guard in Derrick Williams and an underrated coach in Sean Miller.
That said, the Wildcats face a young and unafraid Memphis team in the opener. Memphis is the only Conference USA team that should be in the field. Not only did Virginia Tech deserve a bid over UAB (and Georgia and Southern Cal), Harvard deserved a bid more. Check the numbers.
The most talented team in this region is Texas. The best player in the region is Kemba Walker. The best coach is Mike Krzyzewski. The best story is San Diego State. It is a made-for-Hollywood regional. So, it will be played in Anaheim.
Don’t be surprised if Connecticut somehow ends up in the final against Tennessee. The good news in that matchup is that one coach will have already served his suspension for breaking NCAA rules; the other won’t have started his yet. Don’t you just love the purity of the college athletics.