by John Walters
A Region To Believe*
Instead of the usual ‘Starting Five,’ let’s take a closer look at America’s best sporting event (that would be even better if they cut it off at 64 schools), region by region
Top Seed: Villanova. Defending champs should play at least four games, all in state of New York (Buffalo, then NYC).
Sleeper: SMU. Ponies are 30-4 and have lost just once, by two at No. 22 Cincinnati, since December 1.
Who Got Boned: Duke. You can somewhat explain the Boo Devils not being a 1 seed, but if that’s the case then they’re the best 2 seed. Instead, they get pitted against the defending national champs and arguably the top overall seed. Maybe after Coach K becomes more of a known quantity they’ll treat him with respect.
Best First-Round Game: UNC-Wilmington versus Virginia in a 5-12 matchup. The Wahoos looked lifeless against the Irish in the ACC tourney and a 12:40 p.m. start in Orlando isn’t exactly a stimulant.
Best Second-Round Game: Baylor versus SMU in an all-Lone Star State battle in Tulsa. Then again, if Duke meets Marquette, it’s Coach K versus Wojo.
Don’t Forget: Florida (4). Four of the Gators’ eight losses were to teams seeded third or higher and three were to Vanderbilt (a 9 seed).
Winner: Duke. I just like Luke Kennard and Jayson Tatum too much and Grayson Allen hasn’t even woken up yet. Frank Jackson is emerging, too.
Top Seed: Kansas
Sleeper: Michigan. Team Project Runway may take that “survive and advance” mantra all the way to Glendale.
Who Got Boned: Creighton, a decent 6 seed who looks like upset nip for 11-seed Rhode Island. Yes, there are two schools from Rhode Island in this year’s tourney (Providence; get your act together, Brown).
Best First-Round Game: Creighton-Rhode Island, despite the fact that it’ll be a 1:30 p.m. local start in the college hoops hotbed of Sacramento.
Best Second-Round Game: Louisville-Michigan in Indianapolis. Not a far drive for lunatic Cardinals fans, but the Wolverines are going to be crowd faves everywhere they go.
Don’t Forget: Vermont, a 13-seed, has nation’s longest win streak at 21 games.
Winner: I hate to go chalk with “Rock, Chalk,” but is Kansas really going to lose two games in Kansas City this month? They already lost to TCU in Big 12 tourney, and second weekend will be there, a veritable home game.
Top Seed: North Carolina
Sleeper: Wichita State. The Shockers are 30-4 with three losses to tourney teams and a fourth to the best at-large team not in the tourney (Illinois State). Didn’t these guys make a Final Four just a few years back?
Who Got Boned: Wichita State. A 10-seed. Between this and where Notre Dame (5) is seeded relative to Minnesota (also 5) and Florida State (3, in same bracket), I’m certain you and I could do no worse at seeding teams in the tourney. This one is the most egregious snub, and I don’t wanna hear about “scrubbing.” That’s a consultant’s term.
Best First-Round Game: Minnesota-Middle Tennessee State in a 5-12 game in Milwaukee on Thursday afternoon. The Blue Raiders took out Michigan State when they were a 2-seed last March in the opening round.
Best Second-Round Game: Wichita State-Kentucky. Remember 2014, just one year after the Shockers made it to the Final Four (losing to Louisville, the eventual national champ by 4), then entered the tourney 34-0 and the committee set them up with a 2nd-round game against Kentucky. It’s a deja vu F.U. from the committee. I like a pissed off coach Gregg Marshall as much as anyone. Gonna be tough to pull of that upset, though.
Don’t Forget: UCLA. The Bruins do have the nation’s top scoring offense, after all, and it’s the 30th anniversary of Steve Alford leading IU to its last national championship.
Winner: This is the glamour region, with blue bloods and blue uniforms UNC, Kentucky and UCLA. I’m going with North Carolina, and hoping Roy doesn’t pull Joel Berry Carroll for too long this time if he gets in foul trouble.
Top Seed: Gonzaga
Sleeper: 4-seed West Virginia. It’s never fun to play the Mountaineers and there’s no good reason they can’t advance to the regional final.
Who Got Boned: Saint Mary’s. The Gaels, whose three losses since December 9 all came against Gonzaga, are only a 7-seed. And, they’re in the same region as Gonzaga. Thanks, much.
Best First-Round Game: Notre Dame-Princeton in the classic 5-12 upset special. The Tigers have won 19 in a row, but the Irish are an experienced bunch and have two starters from New Jersey. Thursday in Buffalo at 12:15, so we won’t have long to wait.
Best Player: Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
Best Second-Round Game: I want to say Arizona-Saint Mary’s (so say it!), but I’m going with the winner of Northwestern-Vanderbilt versus the Zags.
Don’t Forget: Northwestern. Kitties here after a 77-year wait. If you can, watch their game against Vanderbilt with alum Brent Musburger in Las Vegas.
Winner: Arizona. The Cats’ road to the Final Four in Glendale should just be I-10, but they’ll take detours to Salt Lake City and San Jose.
Odds and Ends:
States with most teams: Florida (5)
Surprising Rep: Rhode Island has two schools in, as do the Dakotas.
Most present mascot: Wildcats (Arizona, Kentucky, Northwestern, Villanova)
Best First Weekend Site: Indy, which has potential Louisville-Michigan and Kentucky-Wichita State matchups.