To all the #1 seeds, I say congrats! You worked hard, got that top seed, and I’m sure you are psyched to get everything ready for your inevitable trip down to H-Town. I mean you have to reach Houston if you’re a number 1 seed right? Well, maybe not so fast. A couple of things from this season alone might scare you. Let’s take a quick walk down recent memory lane real quick…
Five #1 ranked teams fell before the calendar hit February this year. I mean the lack of snow in Houston hadn’t even settled yet from January and we had #1’s going down left and right. It was like college basketball was all of a sudden written by George RR Martin and every #1 team was attending a red wedding. On record, this season has seen the most upsets of #1 teams since the 1960’s. Furthermore, check out how many losses you guys have already:
The @MSFT_Business Tournament Stat: The 23 combined losses by this year's four No. 1 seeds are the most in a single NCAA Tournament.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 14, 2016
Ouch, not a great start but not impossible. You got some blemishes but with HD cameras and social media, can any of us really escape our flaws? Some of you, might in fact, make it all the way to Houston because you are truly a great team. One thing is for sure, we are a whole lot of Buffalo Wild Wing commercials away from finding out the Final Four teams.
The #1 seeds this year are:
#1 Seeds by Region:
KU – South
UNC – East
UVA – Midwest
UO – West pic.twitter.com/6AfzWlr4SV
— ESPN College BBall (@ESPNCBB) March 13, 2016
Kansas is the #1 overall seed and their reward is a bracket with Villanova, Maryland, Iowa, Miami, and Cal. Good luck Jayhawks.
North Carolina shouldn’t be laughing at the Jayhawks because they are staring down a barrel Kentucky, Xavier, and Indiana in their region. And you Virginia, before you start planning your trip to Houston, why don’t you take a look at Michigan State in your region, you know, the team that has prevented you from advancing twice before this.
Finally, let us all give a welcome to the block to the Oregon Ducks, the #1 seed in the West Region. The Ducks steamrolled through the Pac-12 to win their conference regular season and tournament. Their region is interesting because although Duke is in it, there is not a true traditional powerhouse that you can point to and say their experience alone is going to get them through this. The West Region, in my opinion, will truly be the Wild West. It’s going to truly be cray cray as the hip kids would say today.
So you come to me and you want to know who will make the Final Four and reach Space City, well wouldn’t you like to know? I mean I know I would that’s for sure, however, I have just as good of odds of knowing this as anybody out there. March Madness is truly Madness because no matter how well we plan and research it all gets blown to pieces as soon as the first upset happens which doesn’t take very long. I give it a game or half before I’m crying over my bracket.
“Got the first game right, on my way to a perfect region….”
Don’t worry I won’t leave you empty-handed. I will tell you which #1 seeds have the best chance to reach Houston and why and then you can throw it all out as soon as the tournament starts.
Let us start with the overall #1 seed, the Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas is truly playing their best basketball of the season at the right time. The Jayhawks had spent time as #1 earlier in the season but stumbled a bit here and there. Led by Perry Ellis and Frank Mason III, Kansas once again has an experienced roster that has been through it together instead of led by one and done players. The Jayhawks have been hitting their three’s like no other and play extremely well in transition. Defensively, they can be a suffocating bunch and I think that in combination with their offense will be tough for any team to deal with. The biggest challenge to Kansas in their region for me are the Maryland Terrapins. Sulaimon and Tremble make up for arguably the best guard combo in the country. Guard play is incredibly important in March and I think they have the talent in combination with those two players to give Kansas their most difficult time. Villanova to me will really be playing themselves and their history more than anything and I think you cannot do that and face Kansas at the same time to be successful. Iowa is in free fall and I think their downward spiral continues even though they were a top 5 team at one point during the season. Miami has a similar combination like Maryland in Rodriguez and McClellan but I think their lack of March success has me worried and I do not think they have the similar talent depth that Maryland does. Cal has some NBA talent for sure but I do not think they have the depth to contend with Kansas. I will say that Kansas will survive and reach Houston for the Final Four.
The Tarheels face a bracket with some traditional powerhouses in Kentucky and Indiana. Kentucky is another team, like Kansas, that is playing their best basketball of the year right now. Kentucky just won the SEC conference tournament and looked very good doing so led by Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray. Indiana won the Big-10 regular season title and have an incredible senior guard in Yogi Ferrell but the fact that they exited the Big-10 conference tournament in their first game frightens me. Furthermore, Indiana has a challenging first round opponent in Chattanooga. North Carolina started the season as #1 but has not quite lived up to that billing. The Tarheels have played very well in recent weeks by getting revenge on Duke on the road and beating Virginia in the ACC Title Game. Marcus Paige has not shot the 3 as well this season and in their other games North Carolina has not looked quite as strong. Some of their best games involved Brice Johnson turning into a beast to help them out and I am not sure if UNC can put that all together consistently throughout the tournament. I would probably have to say that Kentucky has the better shot here to make it to the Final Four and I do not think North Carolina will make it to Houston.
Virginia has got to be thinking, “what do we have to sacrifice to avoid seeing Michigan State in the tournament?” I think the Cavaliers have built an incredible elite program under coach Bennett and their pack-line defense stifles opponents offenses. The past few years have been stopped short thanks to the Spartans of Michigan State and it is almost poetic that Virginia is being forced to go through their demons to get to the Final Four. This Virginia team has a great scorer in Malcolm Brogdon and is a better offensive team than perhaps their team of a couple of years ago. However, the Spartans are playing some great ball right now and just won the Big-10 conference tournament thanks to Denzel Valentine. The return of Valentine from injury has sparked the resurgence of the Spartans and I think Izzo has some more Final Four magic with this team. I think Virginia will struggle to make it to Houston because of Sparty.
Lastly, we have the Oregon Ducks. The Ducks won the Pac-12 regular season and conference title this season thanks to a fluid moving offense and improved defense. Oregon beat Arizona twice, Cal once, and destroyed Utah in the conference title game to earn this number 1 seed. This number 1 seed was a whole season in the making because early on nobody has the Ducks anywhere near the top 10. The interesting thing to me about this region for Oregon is the fact that most of the teams outside of Duke are not traditional experienced powerhouses for them to go through. Unlike the other regions, this region is filled with a bunch of teams like Oregon that are trying to prove themselves and get on the national stage. Oklahoma is the #2 seed and they spent time as the #1 ranked team in the nation during the season. The Sooners boast arguably the best player in the nation in Buddy Hield and he has a great running mate in Isaiah Cousins. If the Sooners have other contributors and are hitting their three’s then they act like a top team but the Sooners struggled towards the end of the season and who knows who will show up. Texas and an old conference member Texas A&M are also in this region. A&M reached as high as #5 in the AP poll and won the SEC regular season title but lost the conference tournament to Kentucky. The Longhorns are led by first-year coach Shaka Smart and won 20 games. Both the Aggies and Longhorns are capable of making it to Houston for the Final Four in this region when they are playing well but when they go through droughts like they have this season then they can be bounced in one game. I think based off the nature of the tournament and this region I cannot say if Oregon has a stronger than 60% shot to make it to Houston.