The Top seed is Flawed: Louisville earned the top overall seed, and deservedly so. The early loss to Duke came without center Gorgui Dieng. The three game losing streak in the middle of the year featured two very close losses to excellent teams (by two points each to Syracuse and Georgetown). Over the last 14 games, they haven’t been beaten in regulation (or in the first four overtimes, for that matter).
Louisville is the best defensive team in the country, relying on its on-the-ball pressure and Dieng on the back line to eliminate shots. If teams are going to beat them, it is going to be because they handle the pressure and get shots up on offense, and because Louisville, which is not the best outside shooting team, struggles in getting shots to fall without the benefit of easy baskets. Louisville is not the biggest team by high seed standards (only Dieng is over 6’6″ among starters), and they are vulnerable to offensive rebounds. Meanwhile, Siva is only a 31% shooter from outside, Russ Smith is at 33%, and Wayne Blackshear at 32%. Identify Luke Hancock, try to withstand the defensive pressure and get on the glass, and hope Siva and company shoot them out of the game. Then hope that what happened to Syracuse doesn’t happen again, even if you can do that for the first 25 minutes.
The Loaded Region, by almost any way of looking at it: The instant reaction was that this region is very tough, with traditional powers (and coaches with tournament success) occupying the top in Louisville, Duke, and Michigan State. Add in some teams with star power, and also that nine of the teams in the region are in Pomeroy’s top 24 in his end of season rankings, and yeah. Those nine teams, by the way, don’t include 6th-seeded Memphis (who won 30 games) and a 12 seed that just won the Pac-12 tournament.
NBA Players: Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State is in the top five of everyone’s draft board, and could be the top overall pick this summer. His teammate Markel Brown could also be a first round pick. Mason Plumlee of Duke and Doug McDermott of Creighton could both get into late-lottery contention, while Louisville’s Dieng will likely be a first rounder as well.
Double-digit Darkhorses: In a loaded region, we still shouldn’t overlook a very competitive 14 seed in Valparaiso, which has a tough draw against Michigan State, but has the ability to knock in shots. Everyone will talk about 12 seed Oregon, but the winner of the St. Mary’s and Middle Tennessee game will have a real chance to add a top 50 victory for all those concerned about that stuff, when it meets Memphis.
Dunk You Might Have Missed This Weekend: How about Keith Appling, who threw this dunk down as Michigan State rallied to beat Iowa.
Old Reminders of Darker Days, and Redemption, in the Bracket: Larry Eustachy is now coaching Colorado State against Missouri in the opening game. It has been exactly a decade since pictures emerged of Eustachy partying with co-eds after a road game in Columbia, Missouri, when he was the Iowa State head coach. He has been sober for a decade now, has picked up the pieces, and has weaved his way to Southern Miss, and this last season to Colorado State after falling off the mountain.
Upset special: Middle Tennessee or St. Mary’s over Memphis, and then providing a tough test to Michigan State in the “third round.”
Matchups I can’t wait to see: Creighton vs Duke, if only so that Greg McDermott can piss off the Duke fanbase and balance things out in Carolina. Louisville vs. Missouri, for the close-my-eyes factor. Oklahoma State vs. St. Louis, as the talented Cowboys go against a very sound Billikens. Whoever emerges from the Middle Tennessee and St. Mary’s game trying to be a Cinderella starting against Memphis. So yeah, basically every possible matchup in this region. I just want to embed in Indianapolis.
How will Missouri lose in this one? I am a Missouri alumni and fan. Thus, when it comes to the NCAA tournament, I am a jaded and cynical character. It’s not a matter of IF, but HOW when it comes to the outcome here. The last second shot by Ole Miss in the SEC tournament, after Missouri had the lead all game, and had the ball with the shot clock off? Didn’t even register in my top 50 disappointments.
Others have national titles. We have regret and looking forward to the next dramatic defeat. This year’s team just seems to be priming to the piece de resistance. I don’t know if it will be a last second three pointer by Dorian Green of Colorado State, or Peyton Siva throwing up an off balance runner down by 1 with no time remaining, but it will happen. Oh yes.
Duke as a 2 seed: Once upon a time, Duke would, like clockwork, get a 2 or 3 seed in the East and get to the Final Four. Since 1995, though, they have been poor when out of the front runner role. In the last six tournaments where Duke was not a top seed, they have gone 6-6, and never advanced to an Elite Eight.
The Pick: Everyone is going to pick Louisville, and the Cardinals are the clear favorites. After that, no combination of results and runs that would surprise me, with coaches like Coach K and Izzo, talented teams like Oklahoma State and Memphis (and yes, underachieving Missouri), a star like Doug McDermott, and an underrated and sound defensive team like St. Louis.