Let us begin this bracket by talking about who is not in it: St. Bonaventure, which shared the Atlantic 10 title, and Monmouth, which won road games against UCLA and Georgetown and neutral-site games against Notre Dame and USC.
The message to Monmouth and other non-power schools that clearly had no chance to get an at-large bid was simple: Don’t even bother to play a regular season schedule; just get ready for your conference tournament because that is the only way you are making the field.
North Carolina is the clear-cut favorite in this bracket, especially with the way the Tar Heels played last week in the ACC tournament. The Tar Heels will hammer whomever comes out of the Florida Gulf Coast-Fairleigh Dickinson matchup. Gulf Coast is a far cry from Dunk City circa 2013 and will be hard-pressed to beat Fairleigh Dickinson. USC and Providence, Carolina’s potential second-round opponents, are both sliding, although the Friars have Kris Dunn, once a national player-of-the-year candidate.
It should get more interesting for the Tar Heels in Philadelphia if only because of the names of the schools they’ll face. Indiana, the Big Ten regular season champion, was done no favors by the committee with a No. 5 seed and a first-round game against a very good team in Chattanooga. Kentucky also faces a good, experienced team in Stony Brook, featuring Jameel Warney.
If both survive, surprise! It will be Kentucky-Indiana in the second round. No TV influence in that matchup, huh? The winner would get Carolina in Philly.
Xavier is the No. 2 seed, and a lot of people will see that as meaning an easy trip to Houston for Carolina. Maybe. Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett is one of the most underrated players in the country, and the Musketeers always seem to overachieve this time of year.
That said, the Wisconsin-Pitt winner won’t be an easy second-round game, especially if it is Wisconsin. In spite of their stumble in the Big Ten tourney, the Badgers played well down the stretch under newly named permanent Coach Greg Gard and have players who were in the title game a year ago.
The joke in this bracket is the presence of Michigan and Tulsa in a play-in game in Dayton, Ohio. Neither belongs in the field, even if Michigan did upset Indiana on Friday. Certainly neither should be playing while Monmouth and St. Bonaventure go to the NIT.
But one will play Notre Dame and could even win. UCLA didn’t belong last year and made the Sweet 16. It happens.
West Virginia could go deep, perhaps to the region final. It could also lose to Stephen F. Austin, one of those teams that shows up every year and makes someone’s life miserable.
More 2016 NCAA tournament coverage:
Graphics: NCAA tournament campaign buttons
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