Best & Worst NCAA Draws
March 13, 2017
By Joe Nelson
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Dissecting the bracket and the decisions of the selection committee is certainly a fun topic Monday morning.
Here is a quick early reaction look at some of the favorable and unfavorable draws in the bracket. Neither is indicative of ultimate success in the tournament but some teams seem to have been dealt better paths than others.
Kentucky (#2 South): Kentucky’s case to be seeded as a #1 isn’t a strong one even with a long winning streak to claim the SEC regular season and tournament titles. However they did beat the North Carolina team that wound up as the #1 seed in the South region where the Wildcats were placed. The coinciding 7-10 matchup in Indianapolis is certainly a scary one for the Wildcats with Wichita State lurking as a very dangerous team as a #10 seed. Recall that in the 2014 tournament it was a #8 seeded Kentucky team that knocked off the then 35-0 Shockers in the Round of the 32. Wichita State has tournament wins over Kansas and Arizona the past two years and they won’t be intimidated by the matchup should the Shockers get by a Dayton squad playing very close to home. If Kentucky advances to the Sweet 16 they could see a very dangerous UCLA squad that won in Lexington in December and they would potentially have to beat North Carolina again to get to the Final Four in a loaded South region.
Virginia (#5 East): The Cavaliers have fallen short of expectations in several recent NCAA Tournaments as a highly seeded team and it will be an uphill battle to have much more success this season with more modest seeding and a challenging path. UNC-Wilmington was the projected #12 seed that no one wanted to see and while the great contrast in pace with Virginia could favor the slower Cavaliers it is still a difficult matchup for a Virginia squad that closed the season going 6-7 with great inconsistency after a 16-3 start. Given that the team that Virginia tied with for fifth place in the ACC just got a favorable #2 seed while a Louisville team Virginia beat twice also got a #2 seed it is a tough placement with not all that much separation between the top teams in the ACC this season. Should the Cavaliers get by the Round of 64 upset threat they’ll draw a Florida team that also looks deserving of stronger seeding and that game would be a two-hour drive from Gainesville in Orlando. Win that game and the defending national champion and overall #1 seed Villanova is likely to be waiting for the Cavaliers in a brutally tough path as Tony Bennett seems unlikely to improve on his marginal Big Dance track record.
Notre Dame (#5 West): The Irish were a tough luck loser in a very tight ACC Championship game Saturday night and while Duke was rewarded with one of the best draws in the tournament by winning that coin-flip game, Notre Dame is in a challenging spot. The Ivy League has a few recent upsets under its belt including Yale beating Baylor last season and Princeton completed a perfect season in the league looking like one of the top contenders out of the conference in recent years even with a scare in the new Ivy League tournament. Should the Irish survive that game a very tough West Virginia squad that was in the Big XII championship game is likely to be up next though the Mountaineers have a difficult first round test with Bucknell. Notre Dame is also heading to Buffalo to play Thursday, losing out on preferable venues in Milwaukee or Indianapolis and playing reasonably close to Princeton’s home base, not to mention facing some potential travel headaches with the weather and drawing an early daytime time slot. Should the Irish get to the Sweet 16 they will get sent to the west coast in San Jose to possibly play top seeded Gonzaga as another Elite 8 run would require some impressive wins.
SMU (#6 East): Despite complete dominance in the AAC the lack of standout non-conference wins buried a SMU squad that more than passes the eye test into just a #6 seed. Tulsa is a good location draw for the Mustangs but they are stuck facing a First Four winner in the Tuesday matchup between USC and Providence. Both are capable teams and USC actually beat SMU early in the season, a win that is likely the primary reason the Trojans barely snuck into the field. In a fairly unprecedented situation the winner of that matchup will get two days off before a Friday game unlike in past seasons where the Tuesday winner typically played Thursday, certainly a big break for the winner of that game with the hectic travel to get to Dayton for Tuesday’s game. Baylor isn’t the most daunting of #3 seeds in this grouping but Duke is certainly a formidable #2 seed in the bottom portion of the East region if SMU is hoping to make a deep run and that potential game would be on the east coast in New York City when the Mustangs certainly would have preferred a path through Kansas City or Memphis. Adding insult to the seeding is that the Cincinnati squad SMU bested twice in the last month also got a #6 seed.
Wisconsin (#8 East): The Badgers have won more NCAA Tournament games over the past three seasons (11) than any team in the country and were almost universally projected to be on the 6-seed line prior to the Big Ten Championship game. In past years that late start game on Selection Sunday has had little to no impact on the Selection Committee’s decisions. It seems this year the committee might have made a last minute swaps among Big Ten teams with Michigan taking the title as Wisconsin fell all the way to a #8 seed. To make matters worse they’ll leave town in the middle of a snowstorm in the Midwest only to head into a snowstorm in Buffalo with a short turnaround for a late Thursday night game. Virginia Tech isn’t necessarily the most daunting matchup but a veteran team that can certainly get a minor upset and Hokies coach Buzz Williams has plenty of familiarity with Wisconsin from his days at Marquette. If the Badgers hope to make it six Sweet 16 trips in seven seasons they’ll only have to beat the defending national champions in Villanova, the committee’s overall #1 seed. Wisconsin’s resume deserved scrutiny after what looked like a decent set of non-conference wins regressed in value as the season went on and it appears the team was penalized heavily for losing five of the final seven regular season games. However considering where Minnesota (#5) and Maryland (#6) were seeded, Wisconsin certainly has a valid gripe with this placement, going 3-0 vs. those two teams that they finished ahead of in the Big Ten standings.
Oklahoma State (#10 Midwest): The Cowboys were a slight favorite when they faced the eventual Big XII tournament champion Iowa State in Kansas City last Thursday. While the Cyclones deserve credit for winning that game and a great title run, Iowa State is a #5 seed while Oklahoma State is a #10 despite profiles that don’t look too far apart aside from two recent head-to-head losses for the Cowboys. Not only is Oklahoma State a double-digit seed but they draw a dangerous Michigan squad that just rolled through the Big Ten tournament and the game is a very reasonable drive south from Ann Arbor in Indianapolis as well. Win that game and a date with Louisville is likely waiting with the Cardinals a difficult potential matchup with the reckless pace of the Cowboys and Louisville’s size and ability to create turnovers with its defensive pressure. The committee’s lack of respect for Wichita State hurt Oklahoma State as a 17-point win in Wichita should have counted as a high quality win for the Cowboys and ultimately going 0-7 vs. Kansas, Iowa State, and Baylor was hard to overlook for a team that probably deserved to be placed a big higher.
Duke (#2 East): The Blue Devils had an amazing run in the ACC Tournament but recall that Duke had to play four games in four days because four teams finished ahead of them in the ACC standings. This seeding is essentially calling Duke one of the top eight teams in the country despite the Blue Devils finishing in a tie for fifth place in their own conference. Clearly the committee heavily discounted the losses Duke took without Coach K but the non-conference resume really wasn’t all that appealing with the win over Florida being the only top 30 win as this is a generous seeding for a team that is talent rich but still was losers of eight games including two against non-tournament teams. Before last week’s great run in Brooklyn Duke lost in three of the final four games of the regular season and that was with Coach K back as the Blue Devils weren’t penalized for a late season slide like many other teams in the field seem to have been. This is a great draw with a pair of presumed bubble teams South Carolina and Marquette fairly unthreatening in the 7/10 pairing and Baylor looking like the weakest of the #3 seeds in the bottom half of the East bracket. Duke won’t be playing in its home state this season but they are less than a four-hour drive from Greenville and while South Carolina would have a venue advantage in a potential Round of 32 matchup and despite finishing sixth in the Sun Belt Troy is the best of the #15 seeds but all things considered this is a great draw for Duke who opens the tournament as Las Vegas favorite to win it all.
Florida State (#3 West): If Florida State wants to make it to the Final Four they’ll have to do it on the west coast but they get their opening pod games in Orlando with a #3 seed which looks generous relative to ACC peers Notre Dame and Virginia who were both saddled with difficult #5 draws despite reasonably similar regular season results in the ACC. Non-conference wins over Florida and Minnesota pulled some weight for the Seminoles who closed the season on just a 7-6 run including losing three games to teams that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament field and losing to Notre Dame twice, the team that got a #5 seed and was seconds away from winning the ACC Tournament title. Add that the 6/11 pairing in Orlando features an incredibly over-seeded Maryland team as well as a Xavier team that really struggled down the stretch after losing one of its best players and this is a great draw for the Seminoles to have a great run. #14 seed Florida Gulf Coast is perhaps the most dangerous of the #14 seeds and they will also be close to home and up for the opportunity against a Sunshine State power but it is still a minor hurdle in a great big picture draw.
Butler (#4 South): It’s true that Butler was the clear #2 team in the Big East but behind Villanova it was a pretty tight pack most of the season in the conference. Butler gets a great draw in nearby Milwaukee while opposing a suspect #5 seed in Minnesota, who just lost a starter to injury in the Big Ten tournament. Middle Tennessee State and Winthrop are certainly two of the more viable #12 and #13 seeds for upset runs so this isn’t a completely safe pull for a Bulldogs team on a 5-5 run the last 10 games but all things considered this is a pretty good landing spot for a team that will get a lot of attention as a Final Four sleeper. The South bracket has three marquee top seeds in North Carolina, Kentucky, and UCLA as a Final Four run will require some big wins but this program has made its reputation being a giant-killer and has a win over Arizona and a pair of wins over Villanova this season as they will welcome that challenge. With the South regional semifinal and final games in Memphis Butler is a reasonably 450 miles from home as they should have decent support.
Iowa State (#5 Midwest): The Cyclones have a tricky first game but getting the relatively nearby Milwaukee draw is favorable for a #5 seed and looking at where the rest of the Big XII landed Iowa State is in a decent spot. Purdue has been rather inconsistent and a different team away from home in what could be a great Round of 32 matchup in the Midwest. A a potential Sweet 16 matchup with rival Kansas who the Cyclones played great against in two meetings this season has to be appealing for the Cyclones as well. That game would be in Kansas City in a favorable venue for both teams as a veteran Cyclones team is a threat for a deep run after claiming the Big XII Tournament crown for the third time in four years. Nevada looks like a semi-dangerous first round foe as the modest favorite spread suggests but forcing a west coast squad but the Wolf Pack face a long trip though with a late night time slot. Iowa State’s #5 draw looks pretty favorable as Purdue looks like the weakest #4 seed and this is likely a preferable position compared with where conference rivals with similar resumes West Virginia and Oklahoma State landed.
South Carolina (#7 East): The selection committee punished several teams for late season slides but a 3-6 run to close the season including three losses to teams outside the top 50 seemed to go unnoticed for a South Carolina team that many felt were right on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Michigan’s great late run helped the cause as that was a non-conference win for the Gamecocks back in November and other than a narrow home win over Florida there isn’t much weight on the resume. South Carolina not only gets a pretty favorable #7 seed they get to play in their home state just 100 miles away in Greenville. They also draw a Marquette team that will likely have trouble adjusting to the great contrast in pace that the Gamecocks will present as an elite defensive team. South Carolina has a reasonable shot to advance and get a big opportunity vs. Duke, another matchup where the Gamecocks could have some potential for an upset with a big edge on defense. If the Gamecocks continue to play like they did most of February it won’t matter but Frank Martin’s squad has to be thrilled to not only be in the field but playing about as close to home as anyone with great seeding.
Xavier (#11 West): In the final eight games of the Big East season Xavier only beat lowly DePaul, falling from Big East contender to a NCAA Tournament bubble team. The injury to point guard Edmond Sumner has forced a pair of freshmen into significant action for the Musketeers who did manage to upset Butler in the Big East tournament. That apparently was enough to not only get Xavier into the Big Dance but they also avoided the #11 First Four matchups where conference rival Providence landed while also avoiding a 8/9 matchup with a #1 seed lurking which is where Seton Hall landed from the Big East, with both of those teams beating Xavier in February. Xavier also pulls Maryland as the #6 seed in the pod in a Round of 64 matchup and has opened as just a 2-point underdog in a very winnable matchup despite the contrast in seeding. A potential matchup with Florida State in Orlando won’t be a picnic but Xavier went 2-0 vs. ACC teams in non-conference action and given the alternative landing spots for a team that barely made the field, the Musketeers have a great shot to at least match last season’s tournament result when they were a #2 seed and lost in the Round of 32.
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