I don't think it's unfair to say this is the most bizarre set of brackets I can recall. Some of the selections (I'm looking at you, Air Force and George Mason) and some of the seedings (ahem...Tennessee and Indiana) make absolutely no sense. I'm happy with some of the decisions, angered by others, and just flat out confused by many of them. Let's get to it:
1. Memphis got screwed geographically, not competitively.
The Tigers are your top seed in the Oakland region, which in and of itself is not a measure of getting screwed. They were deservedly the worst of the number one seeds, which means they got shipped out west. Such is life. Quite honestly, when you look at the potential matchups for Memphis, they really aren't that bad. Oral Roberts is probably the best 16th seed in the history of the NCAA Tournament. For more on that, check out this excerpt from Ken Pomeroy's blog:
If a 16 ever beats a 1, it will be this season. To compound matters, the committee really got sloppy in giving Oral Roberts a 16-seed. To compound matters further, the Golden Eagles have drawn the weakest one-seed in Memphis. 16-seeds are 0-84 all-time. It’s safe to say Oral Roberts has a better that 1-in-84 chance of beating Memphis. Much better.
Log5 says that Oral Roberts has about a 1-in-8 chance of pulling off the unthinkable. Log5 doesn’t do so well with extreme matchups. It says Southern has a 1-in-40 chance of beating Duke, when Southern’s chances are truly much worse. But I’d give ORU a 1-in-15 chance of a win. Which means that hyping this game will result in me looking like an idiot 14 out of 15 times, but that’s what I am all about. I’d feel a lot more comfortable if ORU could play an effective zone, but since they’re coached by a Sutton, I’m guessing they won’t consider doing that. And their defensive stats suggest a team that exclusively plays man-to-man: low 3FGA/FGA, low A/FGM, high DR%.
But what the heck, I’ll throw my weight behind this game the remainder of the week. It’s a chance to witness history, if only a slim one.
Pomeroy's a pretty well-respected college basketball journalist, so this is rather interesting to read. Despite the numbers listed above, I'm going to go out on a limb and predict a Memphis win against Oral Roberts. I know, I'm a maverick. Pomeroy would hate me for that if he had any idea who I was.
To me the biggest problem comes from the geographic aspect of Memphis' potential run. Oral Roberts is in Tulsa, which obviously is much closer to Dallas (Memphis' first/second round site) than Memphis. That's not a problem, since Memphis should beat Oral Roberts even if they play in Rev. Oral Roberts' backyard. The problem comes in the second round. Assuming Arkansas beats Bucknell, and that is by no means a foregone conclusion, Memphis would then play Arkansas in Dallas -- much more of a home-court advantage for the Hogs than the Tigers. Again.
It continues. In the Round of 16, the Tigers would face Kansas if seeding holds, another team that's closer to the site (Oakland, CA) than Memphis would be. Of course, should 5th-seeded Pittsburgh get through, this would be a moot point. Finally, the prospect looms that the Tigers would play UCLA in the Elite Eight, with Los Angeles clearly closer to Oakland than Memphis. Even if Gonzaga, the third seed, gets through to the Elite Eight, Gonzaga is in Spokane, which is in Washington, which (and correct me if I'm wrong, Rand McNally) is closer to Oakland than Memphis. Let me check the map. Yep. Here's the map from Memphis to Oakland. UCLA is closer (by 1600 miles, give or take). Gonzaga is closer (by only 1100 miles or so). I would have thought getting a number one seed would have afforded you a little more home court protection than that.
However, Memphis is not alone in this. If I'm Boston College, I am absolutely furious with the so-called "pod" system. They got well and truly rogered, as the Brits might say. They are a 4 seed (and I think they really should have been a 3), which is supposed to afford them protection in their 4-team group. It didn't. They got placed in Salt Lake City, against a tough 13 seed in Pacific (which obviously is much closer to SLC than Boston is), then against a nightmare matchup in 5th-seeded Nevada. Ridiculous.
2. Seeding decisions were inconsistent and bizarre.
I have no problem with any of the #1 seeds. However, Tennessee as a #2 seed defies explanation. Given the Vols' poor finish to the season (2-4 in their last 6 games), it would seem that the committee placed a huge amount of weight on the Vols' RPI, which has stayed high all season long (they were a 6 in the final NCAA RPI). I guess since Florida turned out to be a #3 seed, Tennessee's two victories over the Gators factored in strongly, as well. Regardless, I would have been far more comfortable with North Carolina as the #2 seed, and Tennessee as the #3 in the Washington, DC bracket.
Boston College should have been a #3. Their finish in the ACC and the talent level they've got should have pushed them above Gonzaga, who just did not deserve even a #3 seed. Which Top 50 RPI teams did Gonzaga beat? Exactly.
There is no way an 18-11 Indiana team should have been a #6 seed. No chance. It doesn't even approach making sense. This is a team that has struggled mightily at times, and despite playing better late in the season, the Hoosiers look ripe for an upset by #11 San Diego State. More on this later.
3. There are some mouth-watering matchups in the first round.
Rather than a standard list, I'll just give you what I think is the best of each of the seeding matchups -- i.e. the best #1 vs. #16, #2 vs. #15, and so on.
Best 1/16 Game: 1) Memphis vs. 16) Oral Roberts: For the reasons listed above and more, Oral Roberts is the best 16 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Maybe the best 16 seed ever. The Tigers have at times struggled to start games with authority, and if they do that again in Dallas, Oral Roberts will give them a game. I fully expect Memphis to win comfortably, but this should be the most interesting 1/16 game.
Best 2/15 Game: 2) Tennessee vs. 15) Winthrop: This looks more like a 4/13 game to me. Winthrop is a very solid team with a phenomenal young coach in Gregg Marshall. Tennessee may feel the pressure of having to justify what many (myself included) consider an overseeding. Plus, it has looked like Tennessee's lega are fading a little bit at the end of a season of massive overachievement. All of those factors spell trouble for the Vols, and a potentially close game in Greensboro.
Best 3/14 Game: 3) Florida vs. 14) South Alabama: Ole Miss fans, keep a close eye on this one. This could be a preview of how your new coach will play in the SEC. Much like Bruce Pearl did last year in leading UW-Milwaukee to a win over Alabama in the first round, then moving to Tennessee at season's end, South Alabama head coach John Pelphrey could do the same thing here. If the Jaguars make a run that begins with this improbable upset, Pelphrey could be in Oxford by the beginning of April. Florida's not likely to stumble like they have in years past, but even when they made the Final Four in 2000, they just barely got by Butler in Round One. Expect a tight game here.
Best 4/13 Game: 4) Kansas vs. 13) Bradley: Much like Memphis, Kansas is an athletically gifted team that won its conference tournament. Also like Memphis, it is a team full of inexperience. The Jayhawks start 3 freshmen and 2 sophomores, and have a history of struggling in the first round of the tournament. In fact, just look at last year's experienced Kansas team -- 3 senior starters -- that lost to 14th-seeded Bucknell in the first round last year. Bradley's got the edge on the interior in this matchup, and if they can slow down the athletes of Kansas, they can keep it close. If there's two minutes left in the game, and this one is tied, I know I'm giving the edge to the Braves.
Best 5/12 Game: 5) Syracuse vs. 12) Texas A&M: I expect the Orange to fall here. A&M is led by PG Acie Law, who has been phenomenal throughout the season, but especially towards the end. Syracuse has to be exhausted after their incredible run to a Big East title at MSG, and they should return to playing at their normal level, which is to say, not all that good. The Aggies have an impressive defensive team, and they can take advantage of a questionable Syracuse frontcourt. It will be low-scoring, and it will be an upset.
Best 6/11 Game: 6) Indiana vs. 11) San Diego State: I am impressed with the way Indiana responded to the Mike Davis situation. They seem to have had some of the pressure taken off their shoulders, and it has been evident in their play. However, Indiana is not a great offensive team, and San Diego State can really get after you athletically, which means they're not the best matchup Indiana could have gotten. Marco Killingsworth is one of the best post players in the country when he's on, but Indiana must find consistent help for him to succeed. I think they'll struggle to do that against SDSU, and that's why I think the Aztecs will win.
Best 7/10 Game: 7) Marquette vs. 10) Alabama: The 7/10 and 8/9 games are more or less even ones, so I don't necessarily consider a 10 or a 9 winning an upset. That said, because of the balance of the teams involved, these are typically some of the best games of the first round. I expect a good one with Marquette trying to get by Alabama -- Richard Hendrix has been getting better and better for the Tide, but it all revolves around JerMareo Davidson. If he's in, the Tide can dominate inside. If not, they will get gunned by Marquette's shooters.
Best 8/9 Game: 8) Kentucky vs. 9) UAB: And the committee says these matchups are computer-generated? Come on. This, of course, is a rematch from the 2004 NCAA Tournament Second Round, when top-seeded Kentucky was stunned by the 9th-seeded Blazers. Things are much different now. Kentucky has vacillated between having a miserable season and having a terrible season. Tubby's on the hot seat. Hard to believe the Wildcats are an 8 seed. Kentucky is typically a good postseason team, and if they can get it all together, they've got the talent to get by UAB. However, with UAB's outstanding pressure defense and consistent guard play (Johnson and McDonald are superb), they can give the shaky UK guards all they can handle. Kentucky wins, but it's very close.
4. Jim Nantz and Billy Packer need to shut the hell up.
In case you missed the NCAA Selection Show on CBS this past Sunday, Jim Nantz and Billy Packer basically jumped down NCAA Tournament Selection Committee Chairman Craig Littlepage's throat. They obviously disagreed with some of the committee's decisions, as most of us did, and they let their emotions take over. They were rude, they were condescending, and they belittled the work of Littlepage and his committee members. I expect the lunatic ranting and raving from Billy Packer, a bitter, grumpy old man who just needs to down a little Metamucil to get regular again. Packer is so obviously biased towards the power conferences, it's frightening. Yes, yes, Billy...there are other conferences besides the Big 10 and ACC! It's true! And, you know what, sometimes the teams that play in those conferences are pretty good!
If Packer had his way, the conference breakdown would look like this:
Big 10: 11
Big East: 14
Big 12: 7
Missouri Valley: 0
Everyone Else: 3
I think Billy just passed out from excitement. Anyway, my only request to Nantz, who really should have known better, and Old Man Packer is to shut the hell up, let the rest of us enjoy a tournament with big and small teams alike, and please stop using misleading statistics to present an obviously biased personal agenda on national television. Thank you.
I'll be headed to Dallas tomorrow to cover the Tigers' first and (presumably) second round games...I'll try my best to do a little live blogging on the scene to give you some good, solid information. No promises, though.
Finally, feel free to watch the last 2:30 of quite possibly my favorite tournament game ever. Cameron Mills! Wayne Turner! Fans, we gotta go...we're out of time!