Best 1st round matchup: Kentucky vs. Kansas State in the battle of the Wildcats. Everyone is salivating at the second round game between the undefeated, top-seeded Shockers and storied Kentucky. But don’t overlook Kansas State pulling the upset. Ken Pom has it 68-65 Kentucky, and Vegas has only made Calipari’s Cats a 4.5 point favorite. Kansas State slumped to end the season – losers of three straight, but all were to tourney teams – while Kentucky seemed to get hot in the SEC tournament, nearly beating Florida Sunday (lost 61-60). But a deeper look reveals Kentucky hasn’t beaten a team in the NCAA Tournament field (0-3) since January 18 (Tennessee, in Lexington).
Double Digit Darkhorses: Arizona State (10), Iowa (11), Tennessee (11), NC State (12). The latter three are in play-in games, but face underwhelming St. Louis and UMass. I love Arizona State as a Sweet 16 sleeper. The Sun Devils have a future NBA point guard in Jahii Carson, a 7-footer Jordan Bachynski, play formidable defense (27th) and shoot 3-pointers well (29th) and I’m not enamored with Texas or Michigan.
NBA Prospects to Watch: Are there 10 1st round picks in the region? Based on my last 2014 NBA Mock Draft, it’s close: Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein (Kentucky), TJ Warren (NC State), Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood (Duke), Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson (Michigan) are all what I’d call “locks” to go in June. This group will come close: Carson (ASU), Jordan McRae and Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee), Montrezl Harrell (Louisville) and Cleanthony Early (Wichita State).
Stupid Seeding: Louisville is a 4-seed, yet one of the favorites to win the tournament according to oddsmakers. The Cardinals should have probably been a No. 2 seed. Why was Kentucky an 8th seed? Their resume – which is similar to that of Saint Louis – puts them more on the 5-6 line. Michigan, according to statistical metrics (especially defensive rating), is the most overseeded team in the field.
Frivolous Facts: According to Ken Pom’s offensive ratings, look for scoring galore in this region. Duke is 2nd, Michigan is 3rd, Iowa is 4th, Wichita State is 8th, Kentucky is 19th, Tennessee is 29th.
CBS Dream Sweet 16 Games: Kentucky vs. Louisville – one of the best rivalries in the sport and Duke vs. Michigan, which would allow everyone to fire up the Fab 5 vs. Laettner memories. Ratings would be astronomical.
Heart Says ____ in the Regional Final: Wichita State vs. Duke. Can you imagine the insanity surrounding the Shockers if they beat Kentucky and Louisville and then face Duke for a return trip to the Final 4? Would be enormous for the tournament. Wichita State undefeated heading into a game against the team with the biggest national appeal in the sport?
Head Says ____ in the Regional Final: Louisville vs. Duke. I haven’t been high on Duke this season, but there isn’t a strong defensive team in their regional. Actually, keep an eye on Mercer against Duke. Mercer makes shots (24% in eFG percentage, 23% in 3FG percentage) and is excellent at defending the three (22nd). Louisville is, well, loaded.
Regional Champion: Louisville.