Villanova and Duke, the past two national champions, is a TV dream regional final. Duke, widely considered at worst the sixth-best team in the field, shouldn’t be in the same regional with the top overall seed. But TV talks and fairness walks.
This is a loaded region, even after Villanova and Duke at the top. Baylor has a lot to prove as the No. 3 seed after losing to Yale in the first round a year ago, and Florida, the No. 4, has serious upside against almost anyone in the country not named Vanderbilt. There’s also SMU at No. 6 — a team that won 30 games but did it in a conference the selection committee apparently doesn’t know exists unless Connecticut is playing.
And if No. 10 seed Marquette can beat South Carolina in the first round, the Golden Eagles will play Duke — and Steve Wojciechowski will face his former coach, Mike Krzyzewki — in the second round.
It’s another made-for-TV miracle!
Plenty of teams have reason to complain in this region. How in the world does Wisconsin drop to a No. 8 seed after finishing second in the Big Ten while Minnesota is a No. 5 seed in the South?
The made-for-TV nature of this bracket is actually most unfair to Villanova. The Wildcats potentially have to face a Wisconsin team with the kind of size that could give them trouble. Of course, the Badgers have been so goofy this season they could lose their opener to Virginia Tech.
UNC Wilmington as a No. 12 seed is going to be a popular upset pick against No. 5 Virginia. The Seahawks almost beat Duke a year ago and have most of their key players back. Virginia will slow them down — the Cavaliers slow everyone down — but the question will be whether they can score enough.
The winner might beat Florida, assuming the Gators beat a good East Tennessee State team. Florida has top-10 talent but didn’t actually beat anyone really good other than Kentucky, and that was at home. Of course in Orlando, the Gators will have some home-court feeling. Still, don’t be stunned if UNC-Wilmington ends up in New York.
The wild card here is Baylor. The Bears were the best team in the country the first two months of the season with wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier. Then they got to be ranked No. 1 and went 10-7 from that point. They have the size and talent to win the region. They could also lose to New Mexico State or SMU this weekend in Tulsa.
Villanova should get to the final and should meet Duke. The last time the two schools met in the tournament was 2009, when the Wildcats blew out the Blue Devils en route to the Final Four. This won’t be a blowout, but expect the result to be the same.