The bracket is set and March is mad. The 68-team men’s basketball championship bracket was announced on Sunday and now it’s a mad dash to New Orleans where someone will claim the crown. Here are some observations and storylines to watch after a first glance at the bracket.
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West Region: Can Gonzaga Finish The Job?
Your overall top seed is the top-ranked team in the nation Gonzaga, which has made the final game twice in the last four years. Gonzaga was undefeated up until the national title game last year and is the consensus top team in the country this season. Can they get that last win and finally win it all? Gonzaga’s draw is a challenging one, as it opens with Sun Belt champion Georgia State instead of a First Four opponent and has Duke, Texas Tech and Arkansas to deal with on the way through the region. Even a second round matchup with the Boise State-Memphis winner (both teams are around the top 30 in all of the efficiency metrics) could be tricky.
Other West Region Thoughts
Notre Dame was second in the regular season ACC standings but in this strange year the resume seemed thin for a team that had such a good record. But the Irish owned only two Quad 1 wins, 0-4 on neutral courts and were 53 in the NET. It’s a strange year when a 15-5 team in the ACC is in the First Four.
Duke has an interesting draw, beginning in nearby Greenville, S.C., before heading west should they advance. Under Coach K, Duke is 0-5 in the second weekend playing in the West Region.
South Region: Loaded At The Top
The South Region where Arizona is the top seed will be a battle. Villanova is tourney tested and has the offensive metrics to win in the tournament: low turnovers, good free throw shooting and a slow tempo that can shorten the game. Tennessee is the No. 3 seed and is red hot, having cruised through the SEC tournament.
Other South Region Thoughts
Houston, a Final Four team a year ago, is the NO. 5 seed and has an interesting path. The metrics loved Houston (3 in NET, 4 in KenPom) but the Cougars didn’t have a Quad 1 win. UAB is an interesting first game and a potential Houston-Illinois game in the second round would be really fun, where Illinois would want to work the ball inside and Houston would want to run 94 feet.
Michigan got a great draw, going from potentially on the bubble to sahe fely in and also playing Colorado State in Indianapolis, just a couple hours away from Ann Arbor. Michigan should have a friendly crowd and will be playing on a familiar court.
Midwest Region: Bracket Of Champions
In the Midwest, the top five seeds all had at least a share of a title this year. Top seed Kansas won the tourney and a share of the regular season in the Big 12. Auburn tied at the top of the SEC, Wisconsin did the same in the Big Ten and Providence was first in the regular season standings in the Big East. The No. 5 seed Iowa won the Big Ten tournament and is second in the nation in offensive efficiency – Iowa is a nightmare to guard. The Midwest Region is loaded with teams who have won meaningful games all year.
Other Midwest Thoughts
USC-Miami looks like a really fun football matchup from 2001, and it should be an interesting first round game on Friday. USC has lost three of its last four and will be traveling across country to South Carolina to play this game. Miami has one of the lowest turnover percentages in the nation, which means they won’t beat themselves. That’s always a good trait in the tournament.
South Dakota State, the Summit League champion playing Providence, tied for second in the nation with 30 wins. The Jackrabbits lead the nation in eFG% (.597) and 3-point percentage (.442). If they get hot, that could be a Cinderella pick.
East Region: Is This The Toughest?
Many bracket pundits opined on Twitter Sunday night that the East Region is the toughest of the four. Baylor and Kentucky are at the top, and No. 3 seed Purdue was ranked first in the AP poll at one point. UCLA was in the Final Four last year and Saint Mary’s as the No. 5 is a team that has beaten Gonzaga. Whoever makes it to the regional finals in Philadelphia in the second weekend will have to earn it.
Other East Thoughts
A potential matchup of Kentucky and Murray State would be a delight for college basketball fans. Kentuckians are passionate about hoops and having those two square off would be fun. Both teams are among the national leaders in offensive rebounding percentage and both teams want to battle it out in the paint.
Who Didn’t Get In?
A 23-win Texas A&M was red hot over the last week and advanced to the SEC final before falling to Tennessee. The Aggies had four Quad 1 wins, the same amount as USC and San Francisco, two more than Murray State and four more than Houston. Dayton was also revealed to be really close, and may have even been bumped when Richmond won the A-10 tourney. The highest-rated team to not get in was Oklahoma (40 NET, 30 KenPom).
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