The Bulldogs hung on for dear life to the final No. 1 seed. It’s amazing the NCAA tournament selection committee didn’t just give the first eight seeds to the ACC.
The Zags open with the winner of Fairleigh Dickinson-Prairie View, which will have to fly from Dayton, Ohio, to Salt Lake City. Why in the world the committee wouldn’t send a Dayton winner to Columbus for its next game is unanswerable. Just as baffling is why Prairie View has to go to Dayton to begin with. The Panthers deserved better.
Assuming Gonzaga advances, it will play the winner of Syracuse-Baylor, which should be one of the more entertaining first-round games. Don’t bet against Jim Boeheim in early-round games. He has been tough to beat on the first weekend in his dotage, which means the Orange will give Gonzaga all it wants.
The best first-round game might be between Marquette, which has looked shaky in the past few weeks, against Murray State, which has not. The Racers have one of the best players ESPN rarely has heard of in Ja Morant. Of course, the Golden Eagles have Markus Howard. The winner gets Florida State, which isn’t going to lose to Vermont. The Catamounts are very good, but FSU’s size will be too much for them to handle.
A Gonzaga-Florida State round-of-16 game would be a war, with the winner playing . . . Buffalo? for the regional title.
The Bulls are really good and under-seeded at No. 6. They’ll beat the winner of the Arizona State-St. John’s game in Dayton. The tournament really needed the Red Storm, didn’t it? After all, it was 8-10 in the Big East, beat almost no one in nonconference play and lost its conference tournament quarterfinal by 32 points to a team that hadn’t won in two weeks. What a résumé!
The committee was in New York. It loves New York. And a big name, Chris Mullin, will be in Dayton.
Buffalo will face a much tougher second-round foe in Texas Tech, which should beat a good Northern Kentucky team. Chris Beard’s team guards. That’s not surprising for a second-generation Bob Knight disciple.
Nevada limped to the finish but should handle Florida and then will take on Michigan. The Wolverines will advance there but will face a tough Sweet 16 matchup with Buffalo or Texas Tech.
I would love to see Gonzaga come out of here, but don’t be stunned if Florida State comes through. And never count out John Beilein this time of year.
If I sound like Billy Martin — “I feel strongly many ways” — it’s because I do. Pass the Miller Lite ...
The team that got the worst draw in the tournament is, without a doubt, Gardner-Webb. The tiny North Carolina school, which is playing in its first NCAA tournament, drew Virginia in a 1-16 game.
Anyone remember what happened in Virginia’s 1-16 game a year ago? The Cavaliers probably will be so into this game that Tony Bennett might fling his jacket at some point. This will not be pretty, which is too bad because the Bulldogs won road games against Campbell and Radford to win the Big South. They deserved better.
Virginia then will get the winner of Mississippi-Oklahoma, although only Lon Kruger and the selection committee can explain why the Sooners are in the field. They finished 7-11 in the Big 12 and then lost in the first round of the tournament to last-place West Virginia. Maybe the committee thinks Trae Young is still on the team.
No one should seriously threaten the Cavaliers before the region final. Wisconsin should beat Oregon — which sneaked into the tournament by winning the pathetic Pac-12 tournament — and then could face Kansas State, which might be without starting forward Dean Wade because of a foot injury and will be hard-pressed to beat UC Irvine, which is 30-5 and has won 16 straight.
The bottom half of the draw is far more intriguing. Tennessee easily could have been a No. 1 seed, even though it clearly had nothing in the tank Sunday against Auburn after its showdown with Kentucky on Saturday. The Vols may be the most experienced top team in the tournament and will be too much for Colgate. The Raiders are a wonderful story. They will be overmatched.
The committee, however, did Tennessee no favors, giving it a potential second-round game against a Cincinnati team that will dispense with Iowa, which has lost six of its past eight games, including three by 20 points or more. Fran McCaffery can’t blame all that on officiating.
Tennessee-Cincinnati is a lock prime-time game Sunday, and the winner probably will play Purdue or Villanova in the Sweet 16. Jay Wright might have done his best coaching job this season, recovering from November losses at home to Michigan (by 27) and to Furman to win an admittedly down Big East again.
The Wildcats aren’t close to the team they were a year ago but have players who know how to win in March. That said, Saint Mary’s will be a difficult first-round game, followed by a probable matchup with Purdue. It is impossible not to pull for Old Dominion Coach Jeff Jones, who is dealing with treatments for prostate cancer and still took the Monarchs to their first trip to the tournament since 2011.
Tennessee, if it beats Cincinnati, is the best bet to get to the region final to take on Virginia. This, though, feels like Tony Bennett’s year . . . finally.
For the third time in four years, North Carolina and Kentucky are in the same region. Apparently the committee couldn’t figure out a way to pair the Wildcats with Duke.
The Tar Heels’ only losses since mid-January were to Virginia and Duke, the only teams seeded ahead of them in the tournament. The committee seeded Carolina ahead of Gonzaga in the apparent hope that it might end up with a Duke-UNC title game April 8. Talk about ratings!
There’s a long way to go, though, before that can happen. Carolina shouldn’t have much trouble reaching the second weekend. It opens with Iona, which is in the tournament for a fourth straight season in part because Tim Cluess is a superb coach, in part because the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference was down this winter. The Gaels should have gone to Dayton instead of Prairie View, but such sound judgment would require the selection committee members to watch, you know, basketball.
Don’t be surprise if Ol’ Roy Williams’s boys face Utah State in the second round. The Aggies will have an excellent shot to beat Washington, which won the Pac-12 regular season title almost by default.
It will get tougher for the Tar Heels in the round of 16. There they might face Kansas or might face Auburn. Both are good, even if this isn’t a vintage edition of Kansas. Auburn is a hot team, having just won the SEC tournament. Kansas doesn’t have a first-round walkover in Northeastern, and Auburn will, to use Clark Kellogg’s favorite expression, “get all it wants” from New Mexico State.
This is a bracket where a Cinderella could advance to the second week to play Carolina. Ol’ Roy will be scared to death of whichever team he plays and certainly doesn’t want to face his former school, Kansas.
The most intriguing team in the bottom half of the bracket is Wofford, which has won 20 straight and last lost Dec. 19. The Terriers won a very good Southern Conference — UNC Greensboro should have made the field, and you could also make a case for Furman — and were given a No. 7 seed by the committee members to prove they know mid-majors exist.
Wofford won’t have an easy first-round game against a Seton Hall team that always seems to improve under Kevin Willard in March. The winner of that game gets second-seeded Kentucky after the Wildcats play Abilene Christian.
The Wildcats should face a difficult round-of-16 game against Houston, which should beat Georgia State and Iowa State. The Cyclones will handle Ohio State, which is another team that doesn’t belong in the field. They beat Indiana in the Big Ten tournament. Wow!
In all likelihood, only Houston stands between a Kentucky-North Carolina final. If Carolina wins, two things are almost guaranteed: Ol’ Roy will weep, and Kentucky fans will blame the refs.
On the one hand, Duke should be thrilled that the committee basically decided its losses without Zion Williamson didn’t count and made it the No. 1 seed in the East — and in the entire tournament.
On the other hand, the lineup the Blue Devils will face trying to get to Minneapolis won’t thrill Mike Krzyzewski. Duke’s opening game will be against North Carolina Central if the Eagles can beat North Dakota State in Dayton, and Krzyzewski doesn’t want to face a crosstown team, especially a well-coached one.
A win there will bring either a matchup with Virginia Commonwealth — which defends foes from the time it gets off the bus — or Central Florida, coached by Johnny Dawkins, Krzyzewski’s first great player.
Putting aside that discomfort, the Golden Knights have 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall, the kind of player who can do enough unique things inside to make his team dangerous.
Assuming Duke survives those two games, it could very well face Virginia Tech in the Sweet 16 here in Washington. The Hokies beat the Zion-less Blue Devils in February without point guard Justin Robinson and, with what would undoubtedly be a roaring crowd behind them, could make life very difficult for the Blue Devils.
Virginia Tech should beat Saint Louis, which won the Atlantic 10 tournament because someone had to win it, and then should beat Mississippi State or Liberty — the Flames are capable of a first-round upset.
Michigan State appears to be the best team in the bottom half of the draw, although the Spartans lost some depth when Kyle Ahrens suffered a frightening injury Sunday in the Big Ten championship game. Still, Tom Izzo’s team has dealt with injuries all season. It should handle Bradley, which tried last week to ban a 29-year beat writer for (seriously) “not promoting the Bradley brand” — and then will take on Louisville or Minnesota. Izzo is looking at taking on a conference foe very familiar with his team or a Louisville squad that knocked off the Spartans in overtime in the ACC/Big Ten challenge.
Want an upset pick? Take a good look at Yale, which faces an LSU team reeling from the scandal that probably will cost suspended coach Will Wade his job. The likely beneficiary of such an upset? Maryland. The Terrapins will play the winner of Belmont-Temple in the first round.
Temple Coach Fran Dunphy made his bosses, who are pushing him into retirement, look bad by getting into the tournament, but the Owls will — you tell ’em Clark Kellogg — “get all they want” from Belmont. The Bruins are the committee’s token mid-major at-large. UNC Greensboro, Furman, Toledo and Lipscomb had no chance against juggernauts Ohio State, St. John’s, Oklahoma and Arizona State. The winner of that game will be anything but a walkover for Maryland — depending on which version of the Terrapins show up. That talent to get to the region final and a potential dream matchup with Duke — Maryland’s lingering obsession — is there. So is the potential for a first-round loss. Or perhaps a Sweet 16 loss to Michigan State. At least against the Spartans, the Terrapins won’t be playing eight against five. Right?