Never has college basketball had more balance across the country.
We are coming off a season with two mid-majors in the Final Four. This year 11 mid-majors were invited as at-large teams. Three #5 seeds, three #6 seeds, two #7 seeds, and two #8 seeds are mid-major programs. The Pac-12 regular season champion was treated like any mid-major champion, and justly so. Welcome to the new landscape. I detailed the Rise of the Mid-Majors last year.
Because the best mid-majors are being treated with so much respect now, and are earning higher seeds, it should be more difficult than ever to find upsets in the first round. That is not the case though. Taking out the opening round (First Four, or 1st round games) I believe there are 57 teams capable of winning a game. 57!
The 12, 13, 14, and even 15 seeds are stronger than ever. Picking a 12 over a 5 hardly qualifies as a major upset anymore.
And the top of the field is shakier than ever filled with overachieving veteran teams and talented, but youth-laden squads. The three-point shot isn’t just utilized by the upset-minded little schools, it is now the primary weapon of choice for most of the big schools too. The game has changed as much as teams playing it.
Okay, okay, I will get onto my thoughts on the brackets.
– The seeding was well done by the committee. I actually had the exact same #1-#4 seeds.
– Iona deserved to be in. I projected them in too. And I believe they can win multiple games.
– Only UConn got into the tournament as an at-large with a losing record in their conference. Ilike that a lot with the strength of the mid-majors growing, winning should be awarded. Don’t rule out the Huskies winning a game though. They are the 28th team with a losing record in conference to be selected. 16 have won game, 5 won two games.
– Washington should have been out. Cal didn’t win the Pac-12, but finished just a game back and beat the Huskies in their only head-2-head meeting. Winning a conference isn’t what it used to be because of unbalanced scheduling due to expansion.
– I would have placed Drexel and/or Oral Roberts in over Cal or BYU.
– Best first round matchups (I like both teams and will love the game, but hate picking it): New Mexico-Long Beach State, Creighton-Alabama, Memphis-St. Louis, Wichita State-VCU, Cincinnati-Texas
– Worst first round matchups (I don’t like either team and would’ve picked either to lose): Notre Dame-Xavier, Louisville-Davidson, Gonzaga-West Virginia, St. Mary’s-Purdue
– All the top seeds could play a team that could beat them in the second round (UConn, Memphis, Kansas State, Creighton)
– 6 of the top 8 overall seeds lost in their conference tourney. Translation: Nobody is unbeatable.
– Of the last 8 years, only 3 of the #1 overall seeds even got to the Final Four. And only one won the title. So don’t feel like a rebel if you don’t pick Kentucky.
– Teams that deserved their seeding, but won’t live up to it: Michigan State, Louisville, Michigan, San Diego State, Syracuse, Florida State, Duke, Baylor
– Teams that are better than where they were seeded: Wichita State, Long Beach State, Memphis, Florida, Vanderbilt
– Should be noted: Florida, Vanderbilt, and Memphis were preseason top ten in the Coaches Poll
– Also should be noted: Michigan State and FSU weren’t ranked
– And: Missouri was #25 in both polls
– This year’s VCU: Long Beach State. The Beach has an outstanding guard in Casper Ware and swarm like a pack of bees on the defensive end pushing the tempo. They will not be intimidated by anyone after playing UNC, Kansas, Memphis, and others this year.
– Duke: I’ve been saying all year they are an upset waiting to happen. Then they get two of the most overrated teams in the field as possible second round matchups. Xavier could beat them, but I don’t trust the Muskateers to beat the Irish.
– Duke again: The only team to advance to the Sweet 16 the last 3 years? The Blue Devils.
– My best tip: Ignore seeding. Seeing the number next to the name can be misleading at times.
– Don’t be a hero, but don’t be obvious: Last year a #3, #4, #8, and #11 made it to the Final Four. That’s extreme. The other extreme is picking all 4 #1 seeds. Both historically are unlikely. Fall somewhere in between.
Jerry and I will be shooting a video tomorrow highlighting our picks. Stay tuned!