Despite what many television analysts might say, seeding does have an enormous impact on a team’s chances to advance in the tournament. Every seed line you move up increases your chances of going further in the tournament. But the seeds don’t always play out that way, and so when the bracket is released we can see exactly what matchups each team will face on their path through the tournament.
Indiana has a clear path to the Final Four
The Hoosiers head the easiest of the four regions. Their 2nd round opponent will be the easiest of the 8/9 matchups (NC State or Temple). In the Sweet 16, Syracuse could provide a stiff test but each other region has a 4 or 5 seed as good or better than the Orange. And the bottom half of Indiana’s bracket is by far the easiest of any region: Miami is the worst 2-seed, Marquette is the worst 3-seed (along with New Mexico) and none of the other teams provide much of a threat. Nobody is ever a shoo-in for the Final Four, there’s too many games against too many good teams, but Indiana definitely increased their odds on Sunday with the path they were dealt.
Also benefiting from this easy bracket is 6-seed Butler, who has a relatively easy path to the Elite 8. Could they shock the world…again…and make it to the Final Four?
Saint Mary’s could make some noise
Sure, going to the play-in game just adds another hurdle for a team to advance, but for Saint Mary’s it’s not all bad news. The Gaels get a beatable Middle Tennessee team in the opening round game before facing the worst team among all top 8 seeds in 6-seed Memphis. Reaching the Sweet 16 would entail beating a tough Michigan State squad but if you’re Saint Mary’s, you have to like the draw you received.
The other teams in the South bracket
Three of the four 1-seeds are legitimate powerhouses–Louisville, Indiana, and…yes, Gonzaga. Simply avoiding them and drawing the most vulnerable #1 seed in Kansas is a big win for Georgetown, Florida, Michigan, and all the other South bracket teams with Final Four aspirations.
Gonzaga was done no favors
There was much debate over whether or not the Zags were deserving of a #1 seed, but regardless of how you would like 1-seeds to be chosen, Gonzaga appears to be more than deserving. In my reward-based Achievement S-Curve, the Bulldogs clock in as the 3rd-most deserving team in the nation, and in my predictive ratings the Zags come in at #4. However, there’s a very real chance that Gonzaga doesn’t even make it to the second weekend because of the draw they were dealt. Waiting for them after they blow out Southern in the 1st Round (no, NCAA, I will not call the 1st Round the 2nd Round) is a severely underrated Pitt team that my predictive ratings rank as the 8th best team in the country. Don’t be surprised if the Panthers take out Gonzaga spurring an endless drivel of outcome-bias-driven columns about how the Zags weren’t deserving of their #1 seed. They are very deserving, but the Panthers are a really good team that can beat anybody on any given night.
The rest of the path isn’t easy either: Wisconsin is the 7th-best team in the country and they could be waiting in the Sweet 16 should the Zags get past Pitt. And Ohio State (or Arizona perhaps) will present a formidable challenge in the Elite 8. Gonzaga could be forced to face the 8th best team (Pitt), 7th best team (Wisconsin), and 6th best team (Ohio State) in order to reach the Final Four. Any team would have trouble with that gauntlet. There’s nothing left for Gonzaga to prove, they’ve already shown they’re a great team, regardless of what happens this month.
Belmont once again will have to earn a tournament victory
It seems every year the Bruins are a sleeper pick and every year they draw a tough matchup. This year is no different as Belmont draws 6-seed Arizona who I have as the 12th-best team in my predictive rankings. Should Belmont get past the Wildcats, the silver lining is that they have a very winnable 2nd round matchup against New Mexico (or Harvard).
UCLA adds insult to injury
The Bruins lost one of their top players, Jordan Adams, to a foot injury on the last play of their Pac-12 semifinal game. That may have dropped them a seed or two, and then they drew a brutal path. 11-seed Minnesota is vastly underrated (10th best team in my predictive rankings) and awaiting them after that is the best 3-seed, Florida. What looked to be a promising turnaround for the Bruins doesn’t look like it will have a happy ending.
Finally, who could make some noise from the low seed lines? Everyone loves the 12 vs. 5 upset and this year has two outstanding candidates in Ole Miss (33rd best team) and Oregon (35th best team). Boise State (55th) is the best 13 seed, Valparaiso (56th) is the best 14 seed, and Iona (98th) is the best 15 seed.
Finally, if you’re hoping for that 1st ever 16 vs. 1 upset…well, this is probably not your year. However, the best 16-seed, Western Kentucky (155th) does draw the worst 1-seed, Kansas. We’ll see if the Hilltoppers have any more March Magic left in them…