By Ryan Decker
Alas, the bracket has been announced.
Some teams breathed a heavy sign of relief just to be included in the NCAA tournament; others were happy to be a seed or two higher than anticipated. Meanwhile, other teams will be doing a little extra preparation heading into the NCAA tournament or had their bubbles burst all together.
And the fans have the hardest job of them all –– trying to fill out the bracket completely correct.
Okay, maybe playing or coaching in the tournament is a little harder than sitting at home or work and watching it.
Or is it?
Below are the teams that drew a 1-3 seed with the easiest and hardest roads to the Final Four.
Villanova (East region)
The defending national champs are the No. 1 overall seed, deservedly so. Maybe the tournament selection committee gave the Wildcats an easier road back to the final weekend as a reward for the past two years.
We won’t even look at the 1/16 matchup for any of these one seeds. The top seed in each region has never lost the first game. No. 1 seeds are 128-0.
After the warm-up game, Nova will either play (8) Wisconsin or (9) Virginia Tech, both teams with mid-to-low RPI amongst tournament teams, and a combined 6-10 record against Top 25 teams. Nova advances through the first weekend.
No. 4 seeded Florida likely awaits in the Sweet Sixteen. The Gators are good, but not good enough to knock off Jay Wright and company.
Villanova will likely play either (2) Duke or (3) Baylor in the Elite Eight. Both good teams, but Baylor has obvious flaws and the Wildcat defense could be enough to stifle Coach K’s offensive attack of Allen, Kennard and Tatum.
Expect to see Josh Hart’s team in the Final Four.
Arizona (West region)
The Pac-12 regular season and tournament champs were slotted as the No. 2 team in what’s likely the weakest region of the tournament.
Arizona will easily get past its first-round opponent North Dakota, and shouldn’t struggle in the Round of 32 with either (7) Saint Mary’s or (10) VCU.
Likely (3) Florida State, or potentially No. 11 Xavier (my pick), awaits for the Wildcats in the Sweet 16.
FSU is overrated, which is why the Musketeers upset the Seminoles in my bracket. However, both Florida State and Xavier struggled down the stretch of the season, and Arizona should be able to defeat both on talent alone.
Arizona could play any number of teams in the Elite Eight, as the top portion of the West Region is a question mark. Potential matchups include (1) Gonzaga, (4) West Virginia, (5) Notre Dame, and (8) Northwestern.
Arizona can defeat any of those teams. Sean Miller and company should advance to the Final Four.
Kansas (Midwest region)
No. 1 Kansas is a really good team, but the road ahead is tough. History also says the Jayhawks are on upset alert.
Six times under Bill Self Kansas has been a No. 1 seed, and only once has it made it all the way to the Final Four. Here’s why similar fate could happen this time around.
As good of a coach as Bill Self in, there’s something about the tournament that makes Tom Izzo become a wizard, and (9) Michigan State is the potential opponent in the Round of 32.
After facing Sparty, Kansas will likely have to go up against Big 12 Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan, who is going to pose problems. Kansas probably advances, but don’t be surprised if the Sweet 16 is as far as the Jayhawks make it.
The bottom half of the Midwest region is filled with talented teams, including (2) Louisville, (3) Oregon, (6) Creighton, and (7) Michigan.
Kansas passes all tests, and does get to the Final Four in the author’s bracket, but “buyer beware.” It’s an extremely tough road for Kansas.
North Carolina (South region)
This year’s North Carolina team is an interesting one, but is a team that a lot of people will pick to make it to Glendale, Arizona, the site of the Final Four.
But don’t send the Tar Heels deep into the tournament based on seeding alone, take a long look at the path to get there.
It doesn’t look hard, but North Carolina’s road to the Final Four will be far from a cakewalk.
UNC will potentially face No. 9 Seton Hall in the Round of 32, a team that could pose problems, especially with the nation’s leading rebounder Angelo Delgado on the inside. After the Pirates, North Carolina will face off against (12) Middle Tennessee St. in my bracket.
Side note: At least one 5/12 upset is almost guaranteed to happen every year. Middle Tennessee St. over Minnesota is that 5/12 upset.
MTSU is a low-seeded team that analysts and experts are talking highly of. The Blue Raiders play good defense, and are a decent scoring team. They won’t upset Roy Williams’ team, but they will test them for sure.
The South region is likely the deepest region in the tournament, and the bottom half of it is brutal. (2) Kentucky, (3) UCLA, and (6) Cincinnati are potential Elite Eight matchups, which is where the Tar Heels get bounced from the tournament in my bracket.
Louisville (Midwest region)
Rick Pitino’s team is another that’s getting a lot of love from so-called experts, and is expected to make a deep tournament run. I’m not so sure about that.
After an easy first game of the tournament, the Cardinals take a very early exit in my bracket, losing to (7) Michigan, one of the hottest teams in the country.
If the Cardinals make it past the Wolverines, though, a tough matchup against either (3) Oregon or (6) Creighton awaits. The large possibility of playing the region’s top seed, Kansas, also makes the road to the Final Four extremely difficult.
Baylor (East region)
Whereas the top overall seed in the tournament has an easy road through the East region, three-seeded Baylor has a very tough road ahead if it wants to make it out of the East and to the Final Four.
The Bears shouldn’t have any trouble getting past (14) New Mexico St. in their opening game, but after that things will get very difficult.
Likely an under-seeded (6) SMU team awaits Baylor in the Round of 32, which like Louisville, is where they exit the tournament in my bracket.
If Baylor would advance to the second weekend, (2) Duke should have no problem downing the Bears, nor would Villanova.
Baylor’s definitely not making it out of the East.
NCAA Tournament action officially begins Tuesday with a pair of play-in games. Two more play-in games are scheduled for Wednesday, which will truly complete the bracket.
The Round of 64 tips off at 12:15 p.m. in Buffalo, New York between (5) Notre Dame and (12) Princeton.
The Final Four will be played Saturday April 1 and the National Championship game scheduled to be played on April 3.