It’s March Madness, my favorite time of the year because I’m a longtime college basketball fanatic. It’s been a weird season from the start and it’s been made even weirder by what I can only assume is someone dropping acid into the coffee of the NCAA selection committee, who made some truly baffling choices in choosing the seeding and brackets of the tournament.
To begin with, two of the four play-in games involve major conference teams rather than small conference teams that have little chance of beating anyone. One of them features North Carolina State vs. Xavier and the other is Iowa vs. Tennessee. Iowa certainly does not belong in a play-in game, that’s a good team and, if they get past Tennessee (and I think they will), they’re going to beat UMass in the first round. UMass is seeded way too high at #6 in the Midwest region.
And I don’t know what Greg Marshall and Wichita State did to piss off the selection committee, but they got hosed bigtime. They’re the #1 seed in the Midwest region but look at the teams behind them: #2 Michigan, #3 Duke and #4 Louisville. And they may have to take on Kentucky, which is seeded way too low at #8 (should be a 5 or 6), just to get to the round of 16. I won’t be at all surprised if they don’t make it out of the first weekend. Wichita State is a good team, but in order to get to the Final Four they’re likely to have to beat Kentucky, then Louisville, then either Duke or Michigan. Let’s just say that would not be a smart bet to make.
And Louisville as a 4 seed? One could make a strong case that they’ve been the best team in the country over the last few weeks, or maybe second behind Florida. Yeah, I know they don’t have a lot of wins over the RPI top 50, but that’s because they play in a weak conference (that changes next year when they join the ACC). But that team is on a roll, with Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell playing out of their minds. They’re my pick to come out of what is by far the toughest region in the tournament.
Michigan State is also seeded too low at #4 in the East region. They should be a 3 seed. Virtually everyone is picking them to come out of that region, and for good reason. They’re finally healthy after losing three of their four best players for long stretches over the last two months and they’re hitting their stride. The Big Ten tournament is exactly what they needed, three straight games to get them time to readjust to one another. There isn’t a more talented starting five in the country and they’ve got experience as well. This is the kind of team Izzo takes to the Final Four. The team that really scares me in that region if I’m MSU is Iowa State. They’ve got two players, Ejim and Kane, who can take over and dominate a game. But I think Brendan Dawson can defend Kane and neutralize him.
There are a bunch of teams that are total feast or famine. What do you do with a team like North Carolina, seeded 6th in the East? They could go down in the first round or make a run to the Final Four, they’re just so up and down. You could say the same thing about Syracuse, which has played terribly over the last three weeks after starting the season 25-0. And Oklahoma State. And UCLA. This is as wide open an NCAA tournament as I can ever remember. There isn’t a single team that I think could be called the favorite and at least a dozen teams with a legitimate reason to believe they can win it all.
Okay, a few first-round upsets: Harvard over Cincinnati. Stephen F. Austin over VCU. Possibly Providence over North Carolina, but again it depends entirely on which Tar Heels team shows up. They can beat anyone and they can lose to anyone.
My Final Four picks, offered very tentatively: Florida, Michigan State, Louisville and Wisconsin. And I won’t be terribly shocked if none of those teams make it.