The Southeast Regional is the weakest in terms of top contenders. In fact, when I look at Ken Pomeroy’s rankings of the teams versus the seeds assigned, none of the top 8 seeds in this region were one of the top two teams at a particular seed. That’s pretty hard to do. I wonder if BYU is reconsidering the Brandon Davies suspension, because they would be a pretty solid favorite with him in this region.
What this region does have is quality at the bottom of the bracket, which likely means all sorts of mayhem and the victor coming from the team that can “survive and advance.” Old Dominion is a decent #9 seed coming off a CAA tournament win, and they match up well with Pittsburgh. Michigan State is a dangerous tournament team under Tom Izzo that after a couple Big Ten tournament wins, has new life. Gonzaga is a talented 11 seed, while Utah State and Belmont are possibly the strongest 12/13 combo in the same region, ever. Wofford is an experienced tournament team with senior leadership. All that likely translates into a topsy-turvy bracket. So, of course, go ahead and pencil in the top 4 seeds to all make the New Orleans site for the second week as a result of me saying that.
Best first-round matchup: St. John’s vs Gonzaga. St. John’s came on strong beginning with the win over Duke in January, and had several quality wins (Notre Dame, Connecticut, Pittsburgh) but tended to play to their competition. Gonzaga has flown under the radar after a slow start, and is back in the underdog role as an #11 seed, that they knew a decade ago, though the Vegas line has it as almost a tossup.
Look at the (lack of perceived) NBA talent!: Jimmer Fredette (BYU) is the only projected lottery pick from this region. As far as the collegians go, the All-Southeastern Region pre-tournament team would feature Fredette, Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer of Wisconsin, Jacob Pullen of Kansas State, Ashton Gibbs of Pittsburgh, and Tai Wesley of Utah State.
Darkhorse in the bracket: Utah State. The Aggies are 30-3 and were inside the top 20 in the RPI and Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, and 21st in Sagarin. It’s rare that these three measures would agree so uniformly on a team. So what did the committee do? Made them a #12 seed. Of course they did. The Aggies are one of the best defensive teams in the country, and the offense runs through Tai Wesley on the interior, who shoots 60% from the field, gets to the foul line, and makes a good percentage of free throws. The Aggies have three shooters in Pooh Williams, Brian Green (still trying to confirm whether his middle name is Austin), and Tyler Newbold. They get Kansas State in a tough first matchup, but the Aggies match up well with the Wildcats.
Old Friends with Final Fours galore: UCLA and Michigan State may be not as good as their reputations this year, but that part of the bracket has coaches who have enjoyed recent tournament success in Ben Howland (UCLA), Tom Izzo (Michigan State) and Billy Donovan (Florida). Donovan’s Gators beat UCLA in the championship game back in 2006, while Michigan State beat Florida in the 2000 title game.
Really, Committee?: Florida as a #2 seed is the most curious choice. I thought they had moved up to a #3 seed at the end of the season after the win over Alabama, but then they didn’t win the conference tournament or do anything to boost that. I think it’s pretty clear that the committee made a decision before Sunday because they knew Florida would beat Kentucky, because Kentucky can’t win on the road.
Stat That May or May Not Interest You: Pittsburgh technically made a National Semifinal back in 1941 (when it took one win in the eight team tournament), but since World War II, Pittsburgh and BYU, the #1 and #3 seeds in this region, have combined for 46 tournament appearances and no Final Fours. Ken Pomeroy’s log5 analysis puts it at 48.8% chance that one of them will get there this year.
Really, Committee? part II: Utah State as a #12 seed and Belmont as a #13 seed in the same group? They both have 30 wins and are ranked in the top 20 in Pomeroy’s rankings. Last year, three teams were a double digit seed despite 5 or fewer losses entering the tournament: St. Mary’s (beat Villanova in the 2nd round), Cornell (beat Temple and Wisconsin), and Murray State (beat Vanderbilt, lost to Butler by 2 points).
Heart Says: One of the Cinderellas breaks through on the upper side of the bracket, either a veteran Old Dominion team that can rebound with Pittsburgh, or Utah State with Tai Wesley, and makes a run. On the other side, the ventricles want Michigan State to not go on yet another run out of a middling seed, and I wouldn’t mind a BYU run to the Elite 8. Despite any teasing of Stephen and his adulation of Jimmer, I enjoy a good shooter who has ”in the gym” range, even if he is an indifferent defender.
Head Says: Pittsburgh has the advantage, because the other foursome on their side is brutal, and there is no guarantee Wisconsin survives. If I knew Wisconsin would get past a tough Belmont draw, I would pick them. They will definitely be a swing pick in this region. On the other side, the head says BYU has been more like a 7-seed, Florida has a profile more like a 4 seed, and that half is absolutely wide open. There is no combination that would surprise between teams seeded 2 through 11 on this side in the Sweet 16 and on to the Elite 8 that would surprise me.
Prediction: In a bracket pool, I would be taking either Wisconsin or Pittsburgh to the Final Four, and trying to pick lots of perceived upsets in this group. I would be looking for value on the other side. That could mean BYU because I have a feeling public will be on St. John’s way too heavily too much, or someone like Gonzaga to make a run, since public is likely down on them as a sleeper.
[photo via Getty]