The Top seed is Flawed: Gonzaga comes in with the 31-2 record and plenty of solid wins (4-0 against Big XII teams Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State). There are also questions about whether they were challenged as much as other top seeds coming out of the West Coast Conference, and the whispers about Gonzaga’s recent tournament history, where they have not advanced to the Elite Eight since the magical ’99 run.
When you look past the program history and name, they have the depth, top line players, and mix of inside and outside weapons to play with anyone. Kelly Olynyk is one of the best big men at getting out in transition in the country. His running mate, Elias Harris, gives the team another Bulldog on the interior. David Stockton is a quality backup point guard who plays substantial minutes behind Kevin Pangos (and sometimes at the same time). Offensively, they have been one of the best. The question is how they will do going against a front line (if Pittsburgh advances) that can match them physically inside and challenge them on the boards, something that did not happen in conference play. Teams are able to get threes against the ‘Zags, and the risk is that a team able to match them inside can then open up the perimeter to outgun the Bulldogs.
[PREVIOUSLY: NCAA Tournament 2013 Bracket Breakdown: Midwest]
The Hot Hand Region: I’m not sure that six weeks ago, most people would have had the top five seeds in this region seeded where they are. Gonzaga has won fourteen straight games. Ohio State rallied from a start that saw them lose most of their big games (2-7 in first 9 games against at-large or big conference auto bid teams), to add wins at Indiana and in the Big Ten tourney and close 6-0 in their last six games against top competition. New Mexico rolled through the second half of the Mountain West schedule and to a tourney title. Kansas State is 20-2 since mid-December against teams not named the Kansas Jayhawks. Wisconsin was the Big Ten runner up, with tourney wins over Michigan and Indiana.
Arizona is the highest seeded team going the other way, dropping to a 6 seed.
NBA Players: The perception is that this is the easiest region. Scouts might agree if the consideration is NBA futures. Kelly Olynyk of Gonzaga has proven to be quality big man who can get into late lottery range. Ohio State’s DeShaun Thomas will go in the first round, just a matter of how much the league picks apart his game in the draft process as to whether it is mid or late first. Other than that, it is several guys who could get a rotational look as a second round pick. I’d look at Solomon Hill of Arizona is a smart player who could provide value.
[PREVIOUSLY: NCAA Tournament 2013 Bracket Breakdown: East]
Sam Thompson of Ohio State can jump: Video of his throwdown off an inbounds pass. He had an incredible block in the game at Northwestern I attended, far more impressive in person where you could see just how far away (inside the free throw line) he was when the shooter went into the three point shot.
Overtime Heroes, Except for I-O-A Teams: Iowa State and Iona don’t belong with the rest of this group. Iowa State notably lost twice to Kansas in overtime after having a lead in the final minute (0-3 overall), and Iona is 1-4 in overtime. Other than those two, the teams in this region are 19-6 in games decided in overtime, none more notable than Notre Dame’s marathon 5 overtime win over top overall seed Louisville.
New Mexico Lobos and Pittsburgh Panthers, part deux: I wrote about New Mexico and Pitt and their differing RPI’s previously. Since then, New Mexico played like a top three seed, winning at Colorado State in a game where Kendall Williams scored 46 points, then rolling through the Mountain West tournament. Pittsburgh still got seeded down at an 8 due to that RPI, brought down by wins against the weakest part of the schedule. I don’t think that they are one of the ten best teams in the country, but they are certainly one of the top 25, and were ranked in the top 20 entering the Big East tourney. Both have a chance to make a run through this region full of quality big men.
[PREVIOUSLY: NCAA Tournament 2013 Bracket Breakdown: South]
Upset Picks: Belmont have been perennial choices, but I’m not sure this matchup favors them. Their vulnerability is on the glass, an area that Arizona’s frontline of Hill, Kaleb Tarczewski, and Kevin Parrom can exploit. Pittsburgh will be a focus this week, but they have to get past a very good Wichita State team that will be looking to get off to a better start than how their first game against VCU began last year. Gonzaga won’t be looking past either. I tend to think this region is going to get crazy in the round of 32 and beyond, where each of the teams wearing road in that round are a danger. The upset pick I’ll go with is a deep run by Wisconsin.
Picking Against the Harlem Shake: If you are doing a bracket excluding teams with a connection to the Harlem Shake, well, sorry Zags. This move after the WCC tourney moved you off the fan favorite list. My pick: Ohio State to the Final Four.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]