March 13, 2017
By Joe Nelson
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Best & Worst NCAA Draws
While the focus in the aftermath of Selection Sunday is often on seeds and the matchups, many coaches might prioritize the venue draw in those announcements as the programs scramble to make travel arrangements and hope to get fan support thrown into often random location assignments.
The committee allegedly only makes location concessions for the top handful of seeds but certainly there were winners and losers in the location assignments.
Buffalo, New York (Thursday/Saturday)
Winner – Princeton: The Tigers will make their NCAA Tournament appearance in Ivy League country likely with decent local support facing off with Notre Dame. South Bend isn’t all that far from Buffalo but the current weather and the early Thursday time slot isn’t likely ideal for the Irish for an already tricky first round matchup. Bucknell and West Virginia are also fairly close to home on the other side of the pod if Notre Dame advances as this is as much of a bad pull for the Irish as a good pull for Princeton even though the distances involved are not that significant.
Loser - Wisconsin: In addition to getting a worse seed than many expected, the Badgers head to Buffalo when there were several more preferable options. Wisconsin didn’t play well enough to deserve a Milwaukee draw but options in Indianapolis or Tulsa likely would have been preferable with the current forecast. Add that Wisconsin was in Washington D.C. Sunday afternoon for the Big Ten championship and now faces a Thursday game, the Badgers didn’t get much in their favor in this spot in the bracket.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Thursday/Saturday)
Winner – Minnesota: With Wisconsin playing its way out of position to gain favorable near-home games in Milwaukee several Midwest schools certainly had interest in getting these games. Minnesota wound up with a great draw as a surprising #5 seed in Milwaukee. This isn’t a bad draw for Minnesota’s dangerous opponent Middle Tennessee State either with the Blue Raiders knocking out a Big Ten team last season in the big upset over Michigan State. Butler is close to home as the #4 seed in that Milwaukee pod as well but Minnesota should be well supported especially with Purdue and Iowa State in the building as well.
Loser – Nevada: The Wolf Pack were Mountain West winners in the regular season and the conference tournament and the high scoring squad was set to be a dangerous first round matchup. With Sacramento and Salt Lake City as favorable landing spots the Wolfpack wound up sent to Milwaukee with a Thursday date, although they did get a preferable later time slot. Nevada certainly has the furthest travel and is likely to have the least support of the eight schools in this group, though two of the other #12 seeds are playing even further east as a better option might not have been there in this year’s bracket.
Orlando, Florida (Thursday/Saturday)
Winner - Florida: Florida State and Florida Gulf Coast are certainly happy to make a reasonable trip in their home state to Orlando but the big winner of this draw was #4 seed Florida. Perhaps as a concession for potentially being under-seeded and placed in a very tough four-team pod, the Gators will enjoy a big location edge playing just 115 miles from home vs. a dangerous East Tennessee State team. The round of 32 matchup won’t be an easy one vs. Virginia or UNC Wilmington but a Florida crowd will be on hand with the Seminoles also expecting to be playing on Saturday.
Loser – Virginia: In a vacuum Orlando is a reasonable landing spot for the Cavaliers though it is over 800 miles away from Charlottesville, there at least isn’t a time change. The issue is that Virginia will be up against a semi-home game for Florida in a potential Round of 32 game and dangerous #12 seed UNC Wilmington has a little more reasonable drive south to Orlando for the Round of 64 matchup as well. Adding to the venue issues is ACC rival Florida State also in the venue as Virginia isn’t likely to get a lot of support in Orlando.
Salt Lake City, Utah (Thursday/Saturday)
Winner – Saint Mary’s: Moraga isn’t exactly close to Salt Lake City but this is a preferable option for the Gaels compared with longer travel or a more significant time change. The Round of 64 matchup is also a night game facing VCU from the east coast with a quick turnaround as the Rams played Sunday and now play Thursday across the country. Arizona is about equally close to Salt Lake City in a potential Round of 32 game for St. Mary’s but the allure of a Pac-12 foe that the team has some familiarity with might offer a better upset opportunity than many other possible matchups for the WCC runner-up.
Loser – VCU: We won’t know if VCU’s seed might have changed had they won the A-10 Tournament finale but the Rams will face one of the more daunting travel turnarounds heading west for a Thursday game after Sunday’s championship loss to Rhode Island in Pittsburgh. The Rams didn’t play a game this far west all season and they’ll face only western foes in Utah with Saint Mary’s and likely Arizona should they advance. Given a choice VCU likely would have chosen every other location before this spot as at least the Sacramento games are Friday.
Greenville, South Carolina (Friday/Sunday)
Winner – South Carolina: The incredible draw for South Carolina is pretty tough to justify by the committee with the Gamecocks one of a handful of teams playing in their home state just 100 miles away. Add that Marquette faces a long trip and will face a southeast crowd with Duke and North Carolina also in the building only helps a team that didn’t look deserving of this strong of a seed to begin with. Facing Duke in a potential Round of 32 game would be a great challenge but getting to play close to home and having a big defensive advantage in both potential matchups is a great draw for the Gamecocks.
Loser – Arkansas: Razorback fans making the journey east will face a lot of competition for tickets with heavyweights in the region in play. Arkansas made it to the SEC Tournament final but didn’t get a possible preferential location pull in Tulsa or even Indianapolis in a rare season where there are no NCAA Tournament games in the state of Texas or New Orleans. Arkansas didn’t have a strong enough season to have much of a complaint but it has to be a bit confusing to see conference rival South Carolina getting a great draw in this grouping even with Arkansas out-playing the Gamecocks down the stretch and winning in Columbia in mid-February.
Indianapolis, Indiana (Friday/Sunday)
Winner – Dayton: The Flyers won the A-10 narrowly in the regular season but were bounced early in the conference tournament as VCU and Rhode Island played for the title and some wondered in Dayton’s at-large case deserved revisiting. Those two A-10 squads that don’t rate far behind the Flyers but not only got far worse seeding with #10 and #11 draws, they were also both shipped out west. Dayton will be playing just 100 miles away from home though playing as an underdog vs. Wichita State despite the superior #7 seeding. If they win they’ll actually be closer to home than #2 seeded Kentucky in an Indianapolis Round of 32 matchup.
Loser – Oklahoma State: The Cowboys only had one favorable location option in Tulsa and with a fall to a #10 seed that venue likely wasn’t a consideration for Oklahoma State especially with other Big XII teams as better fits for that draw. They now not only face the strongest #7 seed in Michigan but the Wolverines will be playing rather close to home with a reasonable drive south to Indianapolis from Ann Arbor. Win that game and Louisville from less than two hours away will be facing the Cowboys who have to be scratching their heads with this placement after a good showing down the stretch in one of the nation’s strongest conferences.
Sacramento, California (Friday/Sunday)
Winner – Oregon: The Ducks were certainly in play for an even better seeding but the Pac-12 title game loss coupled with an injury to Chris Boucher and Oregon earned just a #3 seed but the path ahead might make up for not getting a #2 seed. Sacramento is certainly the best landing spot for the first week for Oregon and to improve the lot for the Ducks they draw an east coast team for Friday’s game while the coinciding 6/11 matchup will feature Creighton and Rhode Island teams that are also quite out of place in California’s capital. Oregon would wind up in Kansas City if they make the Sweet 16 but Louisville looks like a less threatening #2 seed than the alternatives.
Loser – Cincinnati: The Bearcats along with SMU were the clear head of the class in the AAC but Cincinnati was sent out west with a tough draw facing the Wednesday First Four winner between Wake Forest and Kansas State. Those First Four winners have been dangerous teams with momentum in recent years and given how contrasting in style those squads are, preparation without knowing the opponent will be difficult. Added to the mix is a pod with a very dangerous #3 seed UCLA and a Pac-12 heavy crowd in play in Sacramento this is a far from ideal spot for the Bearcats.
Tulsa, Oklahoma (Friday/Sunday)
Winner – Kansas: It is not surprise that #1 seed Kansas received a choice location in Tulsa for the opening week but more importantly the Midwest regional draw in Kansas City is waiting for Kansas if they can advance. They will get a Friday game vs. a Wednesday night First Four winner as NC Central or UC-Davis will have a hectic travel week. Miami and Michigan State are formidable programs but the victor will likely be overwhelmed in Big XII country with Baylor also in the Tulsa grouping.
Loser – Miami, FL: As a #8 seed Miami couldn’t expect preferential treatment but certainly Orlando or Greenville would have been a preferred outcome. This location doesn’t help Michigan State much either but the Spartans have strong national support in March and a great tournament reputation despite a lot of struggles this season as that matchup likely wouldn’t have been Miami’s first choice either. The Tuesday First Four winner in USC or Providence will also be in a tough spot with SMU and Baylor close to home in the Tulsa pod but at least those teams will get an unusual two-day break with Friday games.
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